In my newest work, Tipping Point, I spend a good bit of time digging into Jack Ruby’s background and examining his most likely role(s) in the Dallas conspiracy. The plural form of “roles” is intentional given that his involvement changed dramatically during the afternoon of the assassination.

The good news is that we now know far more about his associations, connections, involvement in Cuban affairs and the manner in which he would have been brought into the conspiracy than the Warren Commission, or the House Select Committee on Assassinations ever exposed. The bad news is that Ruby was one of the most significant leads immediately available to investigation and the primary subject of the Warren Commissions only two field investigators. A recent exchange with fellow researcher Paul Bleau has prompted me to revisit investigators Griffin and Hubert and review what was and was not done in regard to investigating Jack Ruby in early 1964.

We do know that primary members of the Warren Commission were themselves concerned by the fact that their work almost entirely rested on the activities of the FBI, and that they were skeptical that Hoover would fully share information with them.  Their skepticism was justified, we can now document that the FBI itself destroyed evidence related to Lee Oswald, and in more than one case (as with the investigation of Sylvia Odio) Hoover’s responses to the Commission were totally at odds with the FBI’s own internal investigative reports.

Yet despite the commissioners own concerns, the Commission’s own investigators, Burt Griffin and Leo Hubert, were put into the field for only a limited time and separated from the inquiry well before their work was complete. They were tasked specifically with an inquiry into Jack Ruby and years later an HSCA interview with Griffin provided exceptional detail on how they were brought in, their tasking and generally the conditions under which they operated:

http://www.history-matters.com/archive/jfk/hsca/reportvols/vol11/pdf/HSCA_Vol11_WC_3F1_Griffin.pdf

(Specific citations to the document are noted in page numbers in the following)

Griffin’s testimony makes it clear that after a couple of months work neither he nor Griffin felt that the Commission considered Ruby of anything other than peripheral interest and that their investigation was not proceeding as they would like to have conducted it. Specifically Griffin noted that several of the inquiries they recommended were not conducted, a series of  requests were turned down – and that they were specifically advised that they much act “responsibly” or they could “trigger a thermonuclear war” (page 288 of the document linked above).

Interestingly that was not interpreted as a directive to conceal any information which might suggest foreign influence in a conspiracy, but rather in respect to the extreme consequences that anything of that nature had to be handled “very carefully” within the Commission itself.  (page 310)

A memorandum generated by them on May 14, 1964 (page 289) – and addressed to J. Lee Rankin – gives us a clear view of the investigation as Griffin and Hubert wanted to pursue it. Among their top priorities (Summary of Evidence Suggesting Further Investigation) were Ruby’s business activities beyond his Night Clubs (which they felt had not been sufficiently detailed), the possibility that some of his more obvious activities seemed to consume much time to little profit and might have actually served as covers for making money though illegal means, and finally that his ongoing interest and connections to Cuba demanded inquiry and clarification.  They also felt that while a variety of evidence showing Ruby’s interest in or connections to the John Birch Society had been treated as circumstantial, it had not been satisfactorily explained.

The Griffin/Hubert investigative memo is extremely detailed and specific, pointing out a host of “loose ends” which needed to be addressed in what was known and had been stated about Jack Ruby. It deserves to be read in detail by anyone with an interest in the Kennedy assassination.  

In his HSCA interview Griffin related that by May, 1964 there was considerable time pressure to wrap up their work on Ruby and that one intent of the memorandum was to relate how much work needed to be done which had not been up to that point in time. (page 205)  Griffin also noted that while the FBI had delved into Ruby’s Night Clubs, it had not pursued the other aspects outlined in their memorandum. Griffin had no recollection that the FBI ever did expand their work on Ruby nor that the two were allowed to complete the bulk of the investigative work they felt still remained to be pursued.

Griffin confirmed that they felt that Ruby’s Cuban connections and Oswald’s “Cuban interests in Dallas” had not been adequately explored – nor had the FBI been given much of a request to explore such connections and it was an area that was never “explored satisfactorily”. (page 205).  Even more specifically they believed, based on then available evidence, that Ruby was involved in illegal dealings with the Cuban elements who might have been in contact with Oswald. The existence of those dealings was a matter of “surmise” but the investigation had not focused on that area.

After the review of a number of other areas, most related to Ruby’s gambling and crime contacts, a fascinating exchange occurred in which Griffin was asked whether or not the memorandum might have “scared” some people and responded that it likely did so – and that had not been written for “flimsy reasons” and was intended to get attention. Griffin appears to think that it did get that attention because at that point nothing changed in terms of advancing the investigation of Ruby,  rather “the rug was pulled out from under it”.  (page 302)  

During the interview Griffin, then a Judge, attempted to be very precise in his wording, and relatively restrained. He did however affirm that he himself had not been satisfied with “the adequacy of the investigation of conspiracy”.

Researchers have long discussed other aspects of the two Ruby investigators, including the details of their separation and the fact that they were not brought back for the actual Commission interview and polygraph of Jack Ruby. Yet Griffin’s actual, extended testimony to the HSCA is much less frequently referenced.

If anything that testimony, and their internal WC memorandum, make it quite clear that even in the earliest months after the assassination they were looking in exactly the right places, and were keenly aware of where the inquiry should have gone – the fact that it did was not their fault. We certainly can’t pull together everything they might have learned at that point in time, but I suspect they would be quite interested in what we have learned in regard to their suspicions. And I’m sure they would not be surprised to find Jack Ruby appearing as a significant figure in an actual conspiracy scenario.   

4 responses »

  1. John F. Davies says:

    Interesting that throughout the existence of the Warren Commission, there were a number of occasions when the specter of a nuclear exchange was used to intimidate members of the group as well as investigators and witnesses. It is documented that the possibility of a nuclear war was the cudgel that Johnson used to force both Warren and Richard Russel sit on the body, and from testimony of Judge Griffin, apparently done to subordinates as well.
    Why was Johnson so obsessed with this terror?
    Partly because, as documented in “Surprise Attack”, he suspected that the assassination could be a prelude to a decapitation strike, with a nuclear exchange on the way. There are a number of times when he spoke of this to others both in Dallas and aboard Air Force One.

    And there is also the probability that LBJ was immediately informed of the heightened state of alert that the U.S. Military had placed itself in, and that some commands on their own initiative had their assets at DEFCON III. In many cases, such as with SAC and NORAD, readiness closer to DEFCON II. Recent documents also reveal that the Soviets, Cuba, and a number of other countries put their own military forces at readiness on 22 November.

    From the evidence we have, knowing Johnson’s agitated state of mind at the time, most likely he believed that his worst fears were coming to pass. He wanted therefore to do whatever was necessary to keep things from spinning out of control. And the most likely reason why word of the military response was kept quiet from the public, and official record of its occurrence minimized.

    That there was an actual near confrontation that weekend most likely stayed with Johnson throughout his Presidency, and though he himself privately never believed the Warren report, the memory of what may have been the next most dangerous moment of Cold War may have been a motivation to cover up the true facts behind Kennedy’s murder.

  2. larryjoe2 says:

    I’m afraid I’d have to disagree on this one. First off I find no evidence Johnson had ever really been briefed on the football, on strategic reaction or Presidential military command and control in general – but more importantly he made no effort at all to engage with any of those areas either at Parkland or on the flight back to DC. The extent of that neglect is pretty amazing…. This is something I look at and describe in great detail in SWHT and was one of the reasons I decided to do the work in Surprise Attack – to determine if his response was anomalous as compared to other such crises.

    And to a large extent it was, his contact with his military advisors on AF1 was virtually non existent, while he did communicate with SecDef it would have been hours after any decapitation strike was even a possibility (of course the same could be said for the high level military command as well – they don’t appear to have taken a decapitation strike as a serious option given their slow reaction time). Basically he just showed no real interest in any idea that what happened might have been related to military matters, all his calls, discussions and concerns were political.

    It is true that Johnson brought up “missiles flying” in a personal conversation on AF1 but it was in a very informal matter and he made no effort before or after that remark to actively determine if that were true or to assert any positive command and control.

    In timing his remarks related to a nuclear exchange, it appears to me that it was something that jelled beginning Friday evening and emerged full blown only over the weekend, when the evidence for conspiracy became increasingly visible at the highest levels. I see it more as a damage control tool, useful to contain emerging leads and investigations which would suggest conspiracy. As Griffin described it, a device to ensure that whatever emerged was contained, kept from the public and left strictly within the most senior decision makers discretion. as to any response.

  3. John F. Davies says:

    You are indeed correct about the timing. But its also likely that, with the state of shock that Johnson was in, this may have been a contributing factor in his neglecting to follow the command protocols. But there can be no doubt that Johnson was informed of the military’s status upon his return to Washington that evening. Knowing his state of mind at the time, it most likely confirmed his suspicions and like you say was used as a damage control tool to intimidate and direct any subsequent investigation.

    This was not the only time LBJ would use this as a means of intimidation. During the Vietnam War, every time military or civilian advisors pushed for more aggressive action, Johnson would immediately bring up the specter of a nuclear exchange as a way to silence any consideration of winning the war militarily, which was a deciding factor to America’s defeat there.

  4. larryjoe2 says:

    That raises another interesting thought about the timing, Manchester interviewed McNamara who said he had not really spoken to LBJ until meeting him on his arrival in DC – at that point LBJ greeted him with a general and low key remark on the order of “is anything happening” (paraphrase). I suspect SecDef might have quickly gone over the Pentagon’s response like elevation of DefCon, a special security alert for all facilities etc. That would have occurred before Johnson arrived back at the Capital and it was only then that he had Cliff Carter begin his calls to Texas ordering no charges of conspiracy and backing it up with national security.

    The conversation with McNamara may well have given Johnson (opportunist that he always was) a prompt to begin bringing in the geopolitical risk thing…which he didn’t really begin to leverage heavily until his first two ideas on stonewalling (just an FBI inquiry and report and following that a Texas Court of Inquiry). It was only when he was forced to create a commission and recruit Warren that he really stepped up the leverage of a nuclear war.

    I had not thought of it being quite that iterative but it makes a lot of sense…and as you say, once Johnson had used it then it became a standard for pushing back, even in Vietnam.

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