Birthday: March 25, 1911
Died At Age: 55
Sun Sign: Aries
Also Known As: Jacob Leon Rubenstein
Born in: Chicago
Famous as: Nightclub Operator
father: Joseph Rubenstein
mother: Fannie Turek Rutkowski
siblings: Ann Rubenstein, Earl Rubenstein, Eileen Rubenstein, Eva Rubenstein, Hyman Rubenstein, Marion Rubenstein, Sam Rubenstein
Died on: January 3, 1967
City: Chicago, Illinois
Cause of Death: Cancer
U.S. State: Illinois
Who was Jack Ruby?
Jack Ruby was an American nightclub owner who rose to notoriety after shooting Lee Harvey Oswald, the gunman who assassinated the 35th US President, John F. Kennedy. Ruby’s act effectively removed the need to put Oswald on trial but did result in persistent conspiracy theories about his own involvement in organized crime and a larger plan to assassinate Kennedy. Born to Polish immigrants, he grew up in Chicago where he had a troubled adolescence, marked with stints in foster homes and delinquency centers. After engaging in minor criminal activities and a first arrest, Ruby eventually joined the army during World War II, ultimately earning an honorable discharge. After his return to civilian life, Ruby became involved in the Texas nightclub scene, managing several establishments and cultivating relationships with several police officers in the course of his work. He was allegedly involved in prostitution and narcotics trading, among other illegal activities, and remained a childless bachelor throughout his life. Ruby became infamous when he shot Oswald on national television a mere two days after JFK’s murder. After particularly hotly contested trials and an overturned conviction, Ruby developed lung cancer and died of a pulmonary embolism in his jail cell. Half a century later, his motives are still cause for speculation, and given the continued interest in JFK’s untimely death, Ruby himself has become a notable figure in American and international pop culture, with references made to him in music, TV, film and literature.
Early Life & Childhood
Ruby was born Jacob Leon Rubeinstein in Chicago’s Lawndale District on March 25, 1911 to Joseph Rubenstein and Fannie Rokowsky, both Jewish immigrants from Poland. He was the fifth of 10 children and by all accounts had a very unhappy home life– his parents had a dysfunctional arranged marriage, with frequent outbursts of violence. Joseph Rubenstein was rumored to be a heavy drinker who assaulted his wife regularly and Fanny, in turn, took her discontent out on her children, who were all subjected to physical and emotional abuse.
Fanny’s fits of violence grew more alarming until she was institutionalized in 1921, when Ruby was ten. As a result, Ruby was only able to live with his mother intermittently when she was not committed. However, by 1923, the situation had worsened enough for Ruby and his siblings to be removed from the Rubensteins’ care by court order and placed in foster homes.
During this period (and afterward), Ruby did not attend school, getting arrested for truancy at age 11. The general consensus now remains that he flunked out of third grade, despite later claiming to have completed eighth grade.
Ruby took to the streets, working with a friend to sell sports tickets, run errands for Al Capone’s associates and deliver payoff envelopes to the police. During these early episodes on the street, Ruby gained both a reputation as a fearsome fighter and the nickname ‘Sparky’ (potentially in reference to a comic-strip character or as a result of his quick temper). Ruby allegedly hated this name and attacked anyone who used it.
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By 1933, the teenaged Ruby was no stranger to a life of crime and had moved to San Francisco with a group of peers to sell horse-racing tip sheets at a racetrack owned by the mob. It is conjectured that this is when he was first introduced to a marijuana-smuggling operation based out of Mexico and Los Angeles.
He moved back to Chicago in 1937, where he began working with a local branch of the Scrap Iron and Junk Handlers Union, ostensibly as a union organizer but in actuality as an enforcer. Here, he cultivated a relationship with lawyer Leon Cooke who was endeavoring to raise the minimum wage for members of the union. However, soon afterwards, Johnny Martin, a gang-affiliated hustler, attempted a hostile takeover of the union and Ruby essentially switched alliances to work with Martin instead. Cooke wound up dead, and Jack Ruby was, for a brief interval, the prime suspect in his murder. Hours after his arrest, however, he was released, and the police eventually deduced that Martin was responsible.
Although Ruby indicated a desire to take over the union, it became a local chapter of the Waste Handlers Material Union, run by a racketeer Paul Dorfman. Ruby continued to work with Dorfman for a few months but left soon afterward to work with Ben Zuckerman, a noted gambler and bookie.
Zuckerman and his associates were killed by mob associates, who Ruby (according to his own records) ran afoul of. Other reports indicate, however, that he was approached to work for the mob in Texas. Whatever the reason, Ruby left Chicago in 1947 to work with his sister Eva and help run her nightclub, the ‘Singapore Super’. Around this time, Ruby and his siblings officially changed their surname from Rubenstein to Ruby, stating that ‘Rubenstein’ was too long and they were already well known by the Ruby name.
Ruby bought his sister’s club soon and renamed it ‘The Silver Spur’, and thus began his operations in Dallas. Although he was noted as the manager of strip clubs and nightclubs, reports from 1949 indicate that Ruby was a ‘syndicate lieutenant’ sent to Dallas as a ‘liaison for Chicago mobsters’ and that he was in charge of payoffs for the Dallas police force.
Ruby visited Chicago occasionally, but primarily remained involved in prostitution and narcotics in Texas (and Mexico), until days before he shot Oswald. In the course of his work, he developed several close relationships with police officers and was known to provide them with free alcohol and prostitutes.
Ruby never married and had no children at the time of his death in 1967.
He primarily became infamous for shooting Lee Harvey Oswald on November 24, 1963 in Dallas. Oswald, in turn, was suspected of shooting sitting President John F. Kennedy as he drove through downtown Dallas in an open motorcade with his wife Jacqueline Kennedy on November 22, 1963. As the motorcade neared the building where Oswald (an ex-Marine with ties to the Soviet Union) had been employed for a month, he apparently released three bullets in an assassination that has continued to fuel speculation in the 55 years since. Kennedy died soon afterwards, and Oswald was apprehended after shooting a police officer who questioned him.
On the 22nd, Ruby was proven to be a mere five blocks away at the offices of a newspaper when the president was shot. Later, after Oswald was arraigned, he was seen several times at Dallas Police headquarters where he allegedly impersonated a reporter.
Two days later, he drove into Dallas with a pet dog and then sent a money order to an employee at 11:17 AM. He then proceeded to the basement of the police building and, at 11:21 AM, as the police escorted Oswald to the county jail, Ruby shot a single round directly into Oswald’s abdomen. The shooting was broadcast on national television to millions of viewers– Ruby was subdued immediately afterward and reportedly shouted out, “You all know me. I’m Jack Ruby.” Oswald died soon afterwards at the same hospital as President Kennedy, while Ruby claimed that he was motivated by grief and wanted to spare Jacqueline Kennedy the ordeal of coming back to he city of her husband’s murder.
Ruby was represented pro bono by noted defense attorney Marvin Belli. Although he was convicted and sentenced to death in March 1964, Belli managed to get the conviction overturned in 1966 on a technicality and by delcaring that negative publicity in Dallas guaranteed an unfair trial in the city.
Ruby continued to declare his innocence in any plot to assassinate Kennedy and even petitioned the Warren Commission investigating the incident several times. During a meeting with Earl Warren, he stated that he wanted to be moved since he was in danger in Texas and also that he could not tell the truth there. While preparations were underway for a new trial in February 1967, Ruby was admitted to hospital with pneumonia in December 1966. Doctors then discovered cancer in his lungs, liver and brain and Ruby died unconvicted on January 3, 1967 in Dallas of a pulmonary embolism.
Despite persistent rumors of a larger mob conspiracy to assassinate the president, the Commission failed to find any evidence linking Ruby to such activities and even concluded that he had no significant ties to organized crime. Furthermore, his friends and family have stated that he was genuinely upset about the president’s death (to a point where he began crying on occasions and closed his club for 3 days to mourn) and that, due to his talkative nature, no one would entrust a job of this importance to Ruby. Detractors claim that Ruby was motivated by money alone and would never have acted so impulsively without the promise of a profit.
The fedora Ruby was wearing as he assassinated Oswald fetched $53,775 at an auction in Dallas in 2009.
An acquaintance claims that Ruby told him that he had been injected with cancer cells.