Fifty years after he became a household name, Chicagoan Jack Ruby continues to baffle historians and millions of American citizens who want to know why he did what he did on Nov. 24, 1963.
Americans still reeling from the assassination of President John F. Kennedy watched in horror, live on television, as Ruby fired a shot at point blank range into assassin Lee Harvey Oswald, as he was being transferred from Dallas Police headquarters to the Dallas County Jail. For decades, speculation has swirled over whether Ruby's crime was that of a lone gunman, or part of a more sinister plot to silence Kennedy's killer.
"He was a news junkie and a cop hanger-on," says former Dallas reporter Hugh Aynesworth. "Every time he saw something happen at any magnitude in Dallas, you'd see Jack Ruby there!"
Aynesworth was at every venue of the assassination drama. He was in Dealey Plaza in downtown Dallas when Oswald fired the shots which killed President Kennedy. Hours later, he was in the Oak Cliff neighborhood where Oswald murdered Dallas police officer J.D. Tippit. And he was present in the police garage when Ruby fired the shot which silenced Oswald forever.
He knew Ruby well. But Aynesworth does not remember him with great fondness.
"I didn't like him worth a damn," Aynesworth says today. "He was such a bragger."
And while conspiracy theorists see Ruby as the hired gun in a larger plot to silence Oswald, possibly on the orders of the mob, Aynesworth scoffs at the notion.
"The mob would not hire anybody that is as loud mouthed as he was," he says. "This wasn't a guy who anyone would depend on to keep a secret."
Cleveland Judge Burt Griffin agrees. Five decades ago, Griffin was a staff attorney on the Warren Commission, in charge of investigating Ruby's background.
"If Ruby is part of organized crime, then organized crime needs a new human resources director," Griffin said, quoting the testimony of a Dallas police detective versed in the city's underworld. "He was a hustler. He knew all sorts of people. Sure he knew people who were bootleggers, and stuff like that. But he came to Dallas to make money!"
Ruby ran an upstairs nightclub called the Carousel. Among the "showgirls" who worked in his employ, 75 year old Nancy Myers recalls him as a kind man who always stood by his girls.
"Jack was a great guy," she said, sitting in front of a poster depicting her in more scantily-clad days, performing under the stage name "Tammi True". "The first thing I told the Warren Commission….when I walked in, I said, 'I am not saying one bad thing about that man.'"
Myers laughed at suggestions that Ruby was an agent of organized crime.
"We had local criminals, gamblers, pimps and prostitutes. They would come to the club. But we also had lawyers, politicians, and just normal average people coming in."
"He was a hustler. He was from Chicago," she said. "But he obeyed all the rules. He was not a criminal in any sense of the word!"
So why did Ruby do what he did? Griffin said he and his fellow Warren Commission staffers put together a detailed timeline of his movements in Dallas that morning. And it does not show evidence of a broader plot.
"He thought that the shooting of the President might be part of some anti-Semitic conspiracy to blame it all on the Jews," Griffin recalled. An anti-Kennedy ad had been placed in the Dallas Morning News, the morning of the assassination, signed by an individual named Bernard Weissman. Ruby was obsessed with the ad, and that it might foment anti-Jewish sentiment.
"He was the first conspiracy sleuth," Griffin said. "He looked in the phone book, coldn't find Weissman's name, went to Temple that Friday night and asked his rabbi if he ever heard of Weissman. The rabbi had never heard of him."
"When Ruby was wrestled to the ground and taken upstairs….one of the things he said was, 'I had to show the world that a Jew had guts.'"
Myers recalled how her boss was overcome with grief over Kennedy's murder, so much so that he shuttered his club, and expressed outrage that other bar-owners did not do the same.
"Jack thought it was just horrible that weasel could kill the President of the United States," she said. "He was extremely upset that the President of the United States had been assassinated."
She saw it all unfold, live on television.
"As soon as I saw the back of his head, I knew it was him," she said. "My heart sank again. Not only was I devastated about Kennedy, now the guy that I worked for shot Oswald!"
Aynesworth, who was in the garage and witnessed the shooting, says he asked Ruby about it in a phone call from prison.
"He said he just did it spur of the moment," he said. "He said, 'I didn't have it in mind.'"