Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Jack Ruby - The Mark of Evil


Good people can do evil things.

When I began writing Shadowed Demise, I focused on the Dallas tunnels. It seemed the tunnel system with its half-deserted halls and occasional restaurants would be a nice symbol to use in my story about secret evils in the city. After going to Dallas to complete research for my book, I changed focus completely.The tunnels are still in the book, but they're not a symbol or a theme. The symbol is Jack Ruby. The theme is: good people can do evil things.

On November 24, 1963, Jack Ruby shot a man named Lee Harvey Oswald. Oswald was accused of assassinating US President John F. Kennedy. When police prepared Oswald for the move from the Dallas city jail to the county jail, Jack Ruby entered the police station. As Oswald, hands cuffed, was led to a waiting car,Jack Ruby emerged from the crowd and fired.

From the other side of the hall a policeman shouted, “Jack, you stupid son of a bitch!”

The police pounced on Jack Ruby, and arrested him.

Police rushed Oswald was to Parkland Memorial Hospital. It was in that same hospital where, two days earlier, surgeons fought to save President Kennedy's life. In the operating room across the hall from the room where President Kennedy was pronounced dead, Oswald breathed his last.

Jack Ruby was charged with the murder of Oswald, and convicted. He appealed. A new hearing was granted, but before it happened, Ruby died of cancer.

That's what Jack Ruby did. But who was he?

Jack Ruby loved to be a protector, a provider, and a tough guy. He boxed in Chicago, years before he moved to Dallas, and he worked as a bouncer for his own nightclubs. He lent money freely to the people he cared about. It made him feelgood, having people rely on him.

Frequently, Ruby took sandwiches to the Dallas police station. He knew almost every police officer in the city. Remember what I said before, about a police man yelling after Ruby shot Oswald? He called Ruby by his first name, because he knew Jack.

A lot of people knew Jack. Policemen,reporters, musicians, restaurant owners, strippers, lawyers...they all knew Jack back in 1963. They ate with him, went to his clubs,joked with him, teased him, drank with him, argued with him. If you can find any of them today, and if they're willing to talk about Jack, they'll say this about the shooting of Oswald: “I don't understand why Jack did it.”

The people who knew Jack Ruby didn't think he was a thug, a hit man, or a bad guy. Many of them liked him.After his death, a group of the strippers from Jack's Carousel Club wrote a book about him, honoring him with their best and most colorful memories from their time as Jack's girls.

Did Ruby talk big? Sure. He liked to think everyone needed him and looked up to him. He always wanted to be more than he was.

Was he a thug? If you mouthed off to him or went to far with one of the girls in his club, Jack would throw you down the stairs or beat you where you stood. He'd been a boxer, back in Chicago – Sparkling Ruby – and took a lot of pride in keeping his fists at the ready. But the same man who lost a finger in a fight with a musician, carried his pet dachshunds around like they were babies, and let his strippers bring their kids into the club on the off hours so they could play with the dogs and eat pizza in the kitchen.

One of the most popular conspiracy theories I read / heard about the Kennedy assassination was that the whole thing was orchestrated by the mob. The mob hired Oswald to shoot Kennedy then hired Ruby to shoot Oswald. I ain't touching the first part. As to the second, I'm convinced the mob never hired Ruby to shoot Oswald. Jack Ruby was the last person you'd hire to be a hit man, because the man was incapable of keeping a secret. Oh, he'd try, but Jack loved to boast about Jack. If someone wanted him to take down Oswald, all of Dallas would know it from Jack's own lips.

Why was Jack in the police station when Oswald was being moved? Because no one stopped him. I've heard other theories, like someone was bribed to let him in. Given the chaos surrounding the move, it's more likely that Jack just slipped enduring an unguarded moment. And who would question his appearance,once he was inside? It was Jack. Everybody knew Jack.

Why did he have a loaded gun? Because Jack always carried a loaded gun. He didn't believe in banks,choosing instead to carry large wads of cash on his person and to be his own protection. It was a dangerous thing to do, and Jack knew that. He went so far as to buy a safe for one of his clubs. But old habits die hard, and Jack still carried a loaded gun.

Why did Ruby shot Oswald? Because something inside Jack Ruby's head malfunctioned, and for a split second, he didn't know the difference between right and wrong. Call it temporary insanity. It's the defense Ruby wished his attorneys used in the first trial, and was one of the grounds for Ruby's appeal.

There are several things that could have caused / contributed to insanity:

Mental illness – There was a history of mental illness in Ruby's family. His mother spent time in an asylum. Ruby himself was known for violent and sudden mood swings; he may have had an undiagnosed mental illness.

Preludin - Ruby was taking an appetite suppressant, Preludin. This drug has since been outlawed in the US.Preludin is a stimulant. Continued use may have disrupted Jack's sleep patterns and perception.
Brain tumor – the cancer that killed Ruby was not limited to his lungs. After his death, multiple tumors were also found in his brain. Who knows how that affected his mind.

After his arrest, Ruby tried to justify his actions. He said he shot Oswald to spare Mrs. Kennedy a trip back to Dallas for a murder trial. Ruby's justification was, I think,thought of after the fact. I imagine him sitting in his jail cell,desperately trying to explain to himself why he shot Oswald. The justification fits with his personality as a protector.

You may disagree with my interpretation of history, and Jack Ruby. Regardless, I hope you can agree with this: good people can do evil things. A man with hard fists and a heart of gold can, in a bad moment, gun down a defenseless man.

But does one evil decision make you evil?

Shadowed Demise, available in paperback and e-book.

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