These days ongoing discussions of the JFK assassination tend to focus on either events along Elm Street on that day in Dallas or upon the activities and background of Lee Oswald. It’s even possible to miss the fact that in the earliest days, a great deal of investigative effort was initially focused on Jack Ruby – not simply as Oswald’s killer but as a potential window into the conspiracy which killed President Kennedy. During the months following the murder a number of leads surfaced which suggested that Ruby had prior knowledge of the attack, that his elimination of Oswald was something forced on him by his involvement and that phone calls and visits connecting him to Los Angeles and Los Vegas deserved intense scrutiny.

 

And while the rumors of mysterious deaths related to the Kennedy assassination are often no more than gossip or coincidence, there is no doubt that the investigators and reporters who became too interested in Ruby, especially those who became devoted to ferreting out his true connections, appear to have been uniquely at risk. Most people would be surprised to realize that the Warren Commission itself fielded only two field investigators reporting directly to it. They might be even more surprised to know that both were dismissed for being overzealous in pursuing connections related to Jack Ruby.

 

But there were much greater risks than losing a job, especially for those who knew Jack and had heard certain passing remarks before the assassination – remarks which suddenly had a new and sinister meaning as of the afternoon of November 22, 1963.  Several individuals may well have lost their lives over just that – ranging from women who worked for him at the Carousel Club (although some of those fled for their lives within days and stayed successfully out of sight for years and even decades), to both local and national reporters who decided to dig deeply into his connections.

 

There certainly were people who heard Ruby gossiping before the assassination – about something explosive happening in Dallas during the President’s visit. In some instances they managed to stay out of the limelight, one instance of that can be found in an IRS informant close to Ruby who reported being invited downtown by Jack, to watch the “fireworks” during the motorcade. In some cases those individuals became too visible and died under mysterious circumstances – one young woman recorded as having hung herself in a holding cell in Dallas, a young Dallas vice beat reporter on a personal crusade found dead after being attacked in his apartment, a woman who had warned individuals of the Dallas attack later run over and left by the side of a road in Louisiana and finally nationally known investigative reporter Dorothy Kilgallen – who had declared she would run the conspiracy to the ground after haven spoken to Ruby during his trial in Dallas.

 

I write about most of these individuals in detail in Someone Would Have Talked, presenting the case that Ruby’s connections led back to the west coast and to Johnny Roselli, who arranged for Ruby’s legal defense with a phone call to Melvin Belli’s law partner the weekend after the assassination. The Ruby story is a key one, too often ignored these days. However at last month’s Dallas conference, two speakers presented on their new books – one (Fallen Petals, by her son) dealing with the life of Rose Cherami and the second (The Reporter That Knew Too Much by Mark Shaw) exploring Kilgallen’s initial investigation and why it turned fatal for her.

 

If you are interested in the Kennedy assassination and have not explored Jack Ruby in depth, you are missing a key lead.  It was a lead that the Dallas Police and the Warren Commission chose to avoid but one which was significant enough to get a number of people killed – digging into Jack Ruby was risky business, suggesting that Jack represented a real threat in terms of exposing the conspiracy.

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About Larry Hancock

Larry Hancock is a leading historian-researcher in the JFK assassination. Co-author with Connie Kritzberg of November Patriots and author of the 2003 research analysis publication titled also Someone Would Have Talked. In addition, Hancock has published several document collections addressing the 112th Army Intelligence Group, John Martino, and Richard Case Nagell. In 2000, Hancock received the prestigious Mary Ferrell New Frontier Award for the contribution of new evidence in the Kennedy assassination case. In 2001, he was also awarded the Mary Ferrell Legacy Award for his contributions of documents released under the JFK Act.

16 responses »

  1. Marv Kramer says:

    Back in ’63, there were many people who wanted to get rid of JFK. I’ve mentioned this to you before, that the extreme right in Dallas was connected to Ruby through Gordon McLendon, the “old Scotsman,” who was the baseball announcer for McLendon’s Liberty Broadcasting Company and who was,reported by the Warren Commission, to have met with Ruby the day before he assassinated Oswald. The “warning ad” in The Dallas Morning News on the day of the assassination was paid for by “Bum” Bright who became the owner of the Dallas Cowboys and Bunker Hunt who donated the land to the Aryan Nation. Although never reported, after McLendon committed suicide, it was Bunker Hunt who identified the body. As I believe I mentioned to you before, I was one of three attorneys for the Treasury Department who successfully litigated against H.L. Hunt, Bunker’s father, in the Tax Court as well as being the in-house General Counsel for the McLendon Corporation a few years after the assassination.

    All of this in my estimation is vital today, since the Mclendon, Hunt, Bright axis is at the very root of the extreme right-wing movement we are now facing. The actions of these three men in ’63 allow for a brief glimpse into the political mindset of those who were responsible for the creation of the movement.

    • Marv, I recall that discussion and my comments that McClendon was personally quite connected to David Phillips as well, with the two even floating the idea for a “true CIA” show years later. I think at this point I’ve researched about half a dozen groups/individuals who were talking about, making financial offers and even getting to the point of training rifle teams to eliminate JFK. Certainly the Hunt family would be on that list and Hunt’s behavior after the assassination certainly shows a guilty conscious as do a few other things I know and am not privy to reveal. Given all that I still happen believe that the actually origin and scenario for the attack in Dallas is what I laid out in general in SWHT and more specifically in NEXUS. But of course that’s just my assessment.

      • Marv Kramer says:

        Larry,

        I would never question your assessment in this area as to what really happened.

      • Thanks Marv, I appreciate that although I do question myself every now and then…grin. I’ve gone down so many trails that looked so intriguing and so solid only to come up short in the end. That’s one of the reasons Ruby continues to stand out for me because the more I learn the more obvious it is that he did have advance knowledge..although it was probably not nearly anything like exactly what came to play out. I have to say one of the most educational things I ever did was to literally micro timeline his activities over some 48 hours and map it to the changes in his emotions and even physical reactions. Its a wonderful way to see how his role quickly changed and evolved…

  2. Anthony M says:

    The need to assassinate Oswald has all the appearances of a rushed improvisation with all the attendant risks of errors and loose ends which may account for some of the deaths you describe.
    As it appears that Garrison’s investigation may well have been known of by late 1966, judging by Rosselli putting out story’s of a Castro initiated plot that December, the timing of Ruby’s sudden demise in early 1967 may not be entirely coincidental.

    • I totally agree on both points. If you do an hour by hour analysis of Ruby’s actions, attitude and emotional state on the afternoon of November 22 you can actually tie his new assignment to eliminate Oswald to a telephone calls that afternoon. And there is no other reason for Jack, notoriously a rough and tumble guy, to end up after the calls at his sisters, virtually in shock and quite literally throwing up.

      Again as to Roselli, I provide details on his “revelations” in the 2010 version of SWHT and have blogged on it here; it is extremely significant and my speculation is that it can be tied directly to Garrison’s investigators in Miami becoming known and essentially triggering a trip wire indicating that someone had finally begun to look in the right place and at the right suspects. That was dangerous enough to move Roselli into drastic action, offering up a Castro/Cuban conspiracy scenario rather than the Cuban Exile/Patriot scenario which might very well have evolved out of Garrison’s interest in the unknown Cubans associating with Oswald in New Orleans – which had been a starting point for his investigation.

  3. Anthony M says:

    Hi
    It’s a shame that what must have been some pretty frantic communications on the Friday afternoon and over that weekend don’t leave more of a trace or a clear trail of association back to the major suspects or the people associated with them such as Martino and Ferrie who seem to have been busy making calls on the 22nd…unless I’m missing something of course?

    • Actually Ruby’s calls and contacts in the weeks before the assassination and in particular his calls on Nov. 22 do paint very suggestive picture of who would have been driving his involvement…but its important to realize that involvement was relatively minimal and not at all tactical in the sense that he was not involved with the actual attack. In fact there are a number of indications that he felt that while something was going to happen during the motorcade. Among other things that could have been a cover story that there would be a staged incident implicating Castro but with no fatal attack. His lack of knowledge of what was actually going to happen is suggested by his extreme physical response upon hearing that the President was actually shot and his appearance at Parkland.

      The connections start with calls to and from folks who Ruby had dealings with during his earlier activities in Cuba – years before – then it ramps up to a visit from a fellow from LA who showed up in Dallas while Ruby was ostensibly broke and then immediately afterwards his banker saw Ruby with a considerable amount of cash. Then on the afternoon of the shooting there were a series of calls to his club from an individual who would not give his name but who was desperately seeing Ruby and finally calls from Ruby to LA. During that period when Ruby did make phone contact he became literally ill.

      This was all quite suspicious and the WC did interview some of the parties involved – and received almost laughable responses. As to the fellow who visited Ruby after having no contact for many years, he said he had business in Arkansas (unstated) and since Jack lived right next door he thought he would drop by for a visit. When asked why Ruby made a call to Los Angeles the afternoon of the assassination, the answer included the point that Ruby wanted to talk about his dogs. And about somehow marketing something on the assassination to the entertainment industry in LA. The WC staff conducting those interviews were less than skilled, not experienced investigators and failed to pursue the contacts in any further depth.

      Then there was the appearance of a last minute visit by Ruby to Las Vegas and finally what we know was a call from Vegas to bring in Melvin Belli as his attorney, with the cover of the deal being brokered by Jack’s brother. All this is covered in SWHT, with names and times, etc. But in the end, all those contacts point back to Los Angeles and Las Vegas and to individuals associated with John Roselli. If they had been seriously investigated at the time that trail could have been made much more clear; but as with many things pertaining to Jack’s connections, all we have is the record of what might have been grist for a truly serious criminal investigation.

      • Anthony M says:

        Thanks…agree that it is all suggestive…I was originally thinking it was a shame the west coast connections (and Chicago) were not properly followed up at the time, but that is charecteristic of what happened generally.

      • The worst thing about it is that even though there was some follow up, it was just enough to essentially close off such leads without developing them in any serious fashion; basically the Ruby contacts were passed off to WC staff who simply interviewed the individuals involved and recorded their statements. The dialogs generally show no evidence of aggressive questioning – when what would have been called for in several of the contacts should have been criminal interrogation of potential accessories to a crime. The handling of the Ruby contact leads including the suspicious appearance of cash and even the appearance of a covert last minute trip to Las Vegas is one of the best examples of the fact that the WC inquiry was not a true criminal investigation.

        That’s one of the reasons there was so much hope for the HSCA, because even at that late date a true criminal investiation might have succeeded. Yet once a real criminal investigator was removed from leading the inquiry and staff members (generally lawyers without criminal investigative experience) were brought on board to conduct most of the work it turned into the same fiasco. Certainly there were some serious and aggressive staff members but extensive use of standard criminal case practices such as warrants, subpoenas, and even legal “deals” were not supported and made available to them. Nor were “stings” as was made clear to Gaeton Fonzi over one such effort that could have broken the whole thing open. We need to remember such things in discussing the assassination – pointing out that there never was a truly serious and staffed criminal investigation.

  4. roadryder says:

    Larry,

    Can you elaborate on the sting proposed by Fonzi to the HSCA?

    By the way I enjoyed hearing you speak at the Lancer conference last month (my first JFK conference and first trip to Dealey Plaza)

    • I’m very glad you enjoyed the conference! A first trip to the Plaza is a real event for those interested in the JFK assassination; its never what you expect and still effects me after dozens of visits.

      The sting began with Fonzi’s development of an exile source who was deep inside the more radical part of the Miami community in 1963, he was verifiable familiar with many of the exile activists – if you have SWHT look for Rolando Otero in the index and that will take you to the details. After a good bit of cultivation Otero did identify at least one individual associated with the conspiracy and most interestingly related that the individuals involved had taken photos taken in Dallas on Nov 22 – something that turns up independently in other sources and appears quite possible.

      After some time and work by Fonzi, Otero disclosed the name – Bernardo de Torres and agreed to set up a meeting that would elicit information from de Torres. The details are in The Last Investigation. In some fashion word of this got back to Fonzi’s supervisor at the HSCA. That is pretty interesting in itself suggesting that either Fonzi was under surveillance by HSCA assets or that someone informed on his activities. As the sting was literally beginning, Fonzi got a call telling him to back off, that activities of that sort were not authorized. Fonzi immediately understood that if such basic practices were off the table then he was not part of a true criminal investigation.

      The target of the sting was Bernardo de Torres, who Fonzi was forced simply to bring in as a confidential interview subject (the cover for that identified him as Carlos). The interview was fruitless. The importance of this, as covered throughout SWHT, is that Fonzi most probably had his man, and that de Torres (using his brothers PI agency in Miami) had been the watchdog in Miami after the assassination. That becomes clear in his activities related to the Garrison inquiry in Miami, when he disclosed and essentially torpedoed in its earliest days.

      • roadryder says:

        Thanks Larry. I’m re-reading SWHT right now (originally read it 6 or 7 years ago). Its obvious that the HSCA (post Sprague) was nearly as bad as the WC in closing off avenues of investigation that got too close to the truth.

        Yes, Dealey Plaza was a very moving and fascinating experience. I hope to return again.

      • I hope you have the 2010 paperback version, it is substantially updated. If you do I would also recommend a reread of Chapter 15 which discusses the timing and details of the “damage control” after the assassination. I’ve come to think that tells us as much about the nature of the conspiracy as anything else and reveals the extent to which it was a full national security crisis, with implications far beyond the death of a President (as terrible as that was in itself). That study was what led me to go on and tackle the larger subject of command and control / crisis response that I explored in Surprise Attack.

        The strange thing to me is that aside from endless dialog on the Z film and the subject of body alteration, not all that much contemporary dialog occurs on the larger picture of the first 72 hours and then the first two weeks after the events in Dallas.

  5. roadryder says:

    Thanks for the tip on SWHT – just got the updated Kindle version. Agree on the importance of the immediate aftermath – how and why the coverup started so soon and involved those ostensibly not involved in the plot (SS, FBI, LBJ). I did read Surprise Attack this past summer, an excellent synthesis of the common threads in government attempts to plan for and respond to unexpected events.

    • Thanks, in regard to Surprise Attack, one of the things I learned from doing it was that the events on and immediately after the attack on President Kennedy were not as unique as I had initially assumed. That would be in regards to actual command and control as well as damage control. A broader perspective really helps appreciate that. The extent to which LBJ was able to cover up his huge mistakes over both the Gulf of Tonkin incidents and the Liberty attack are truly amazing, and all for his own political self interest. With that in mind, his actions on and after Nov. 22 are consistent, if despicable (not that I have an opinion or anything).

      This conversation has made me think it might be helpful to do a follow on post about the aftermath of the attack in Dallas, perhaps I can offer some thoughts on directions to look for particularly suspicious behavior. One indicator seems to be that those who had talked of eliminating JFK but had no direct involvement in the actual attack tended to panic while those who were actually involved had enough forewarning and presence of mind to immediately move to divert attention. Not to run and hide – which is suspicious – but to actually “engage”, aggressively promoting an alternative conspiracy. Its sort of like the guys behind the fence, running would give them away – moving forward, engaging the police and then melding into the approaching crowd is the proper trade-craft. If you are guilty – never run.

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