by DALE K. MYERS
Fifty-years ago, President John F. Kennedy was murdered in Dallas, Texas. Five decades later, his assassination still haunts the public consciousness. Here are fifty questions and answers that cut to the heart of what happened and who was responsible:
1. Why was Kennedy in Dallas, Texas?
Kennedy went to Texas to help reconcile the conservative and liberal wing of the Democratic Party ahead of the 1964 election. Kennedy won Texas over Richard Nixon in 1960 by just 46,233 votes out of more than 2 million cast (losing the city of Dallas to Nixon). Kennedy hoped to end the infighting and win over the business community.
2. Who planned the motorcade?
A conglomerate of Texas Democratic politicians, civic leaders, and the Secret Service. The trip to Dallas, Texas was first announced in a front page story in the Dallas Times Herald on September 13, 1963, although the article said the visit was still in the talking stage and no date had been set. On November 4, the Secret Service agent in charge of the Dallas field office, Forrest Sorrels, was asked to inspect two possible luncheon sites – the Women’s Building on the Dallas Fairground, or the newer Trade Mart off the Stemmons Freeway. Ultimately the Texas Democratic Party, led by Governor Connally, chose the Trade Mart, the headquarters for the Dallas business community. The White House approved the decision. Jack Puterbaugh, a political advance man for the Democratic National Committee and Secret Service Special Agent Winston Lawson met in Dallas on November 14 to discuss what the motorcade route would be, though it was largely preordained once the Trade Mart was selected for the luncheon. Main Street in downtown Dallas was the traditional parade route dating back to a presidential visit by Franklin Roosevelt in 1936. To reach the Trade Mart from Main Street, the most direct route was to use the Stemmons Freeway. Because a cement median prevented drivers on Main from entering the Stemmons Freeway off Elm, the motorcade would have to turn north off Main onto Houston, left onto Elm and west onto Elm to the entrance to the Stemmons Freeway just beyond Dealey Plaza.
3. When was the motorcade route published?
On Saturday, November 16, 1963, a Dallas Times Herald front-page article said that Kennedy would be in a motorcade that “apparently will loop through the downtown area, probably on Main Street en route from Dallas Love Field” on the way to a luncheon at the Dallas Trade Mart. The article said “the route the President will travel has not been determined,” however, anyone familiar with downtown Dallas would know that the motorcade would likely travel down Elm Street to get freeway access. The Dallas Morning News and Dallas Times Herald published the motorcade route on Tuesday, November 19, 1963 – three days before the assassination.
4. When did Kennedy arrive in Dallas?
Air Force One arrived at Dallas Love Field airport, just north of the downtown area, at 11:40 a.m. The presidential party’s arrival was broadcast live over local television. The President and his wife Jacqueline greeted an enthusiastic crowd of well-wishers then departed Love Field in a motorcade ten minutes later.
5. Who was riding in the president’s limousine?
The 1961 Lincoln Continental convertible limousine, built at Ford Motor Company’s Wixom, Michigan, plant and customized to rigid Secret Service specifications by Hess & Eisenhardt of Cincinnati, Ohio, weighed in at 7,500 pounds and was 21 feet, 8 inches long. The car was equipped with a bubbletop roof (that was not bullet-proof), but Kennedy never used it when the weather was clear. He preferred that the crowds who came to see him got a good chance. In the front seats were two veteran Secret Service agents – driver William Greer and passenger Roy Kellerman. Riding in the jump seats immediately behind the agents were Texas Governor John B. Connally (on the right) and his wife Nellie (on the left). In the rear seats were President Kennedy (on the right) and his wife Jackie (on the left).
6. What was the president’s destination?
The president was scheduled to make a luncheon speech at the Dallas Trade Mart after a 40 minute, nine-and-a-half mile long motorcade parade through downtown Dallas.
7. What happened in Dealey Plaza?
At 12:30 p.m., as the motorcade neared the very end of the parade route, it turned left onto Elm Street and started down a long sloping roadway toward the Triple Underpass. About 150 feet after turning the corner, gunfire erupted hitting both Kennedy and Connally. The limousine sped away heading for Parkland Hospital.
8. How many shots were fired?
There are no known audio recordings of the shots. The vast majority of witnesses, however, reported hearing three shots.
9. How many times was the president hit?
President Kennedy was struck twice – once in the upper right back near the spine, which exited his throat just below the Adam’s apple, and again in the rear of the head in the cowlick area. Medical experts believe the first hit might have caused permanent paralysis, but could have been survivable. The second hit was instantly fatal.
10. Was anyone else injured?
Yes, two others – Texas Governor John B. Connally and bystander James Tague. A single bullet struck Connally in the right back near the armpit at the level of the shoulder blade, exited his chest shattering four inches of the fifth rib, entered the back of his right wrist fracturing the radius bone (one of two bones connecting the arm to the hand), exited the palm side of the wrist, and went on to cause a superficial wound to his left thigh.
Tague, a relatively unknown victim, felt a sting on his cheek near the end of the shooting sequence as he watched the motorcade pass by. Investigation determined that he was struck by a bullet fragment that had hit some nearby curbing. Analysis of the curb showed a lead smear indicating that the curb was hit by the fragment of a bullet rather than an intact metal jacketed bullet. Tague’s position relative to the limousine and his recollection of being hit near the end of the shooting sequence suggests the fragment in question was one related to the fatal head shot.
11. Where did the shots come from?
The southeastern-most window of the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository – Several eyewitnesses saw a man firing a rifle from or saw a rifle sticking out of the southeastern-most corner window of the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository at the corner of Elm and Houston. One of them, Howard Brennan, gave police a description of the suspect which was first broadcast fifteen minutes after the shooting and at regular intervals thereafter. Photographer Robert Jackson, riding in the motorcade, saw the rifle being drawn back into the window. Photographer Thomas Dillard, riding with Jackson, took a photo of the window but the rifle had already disappeared.
12. Were any shots fired from the grassy knoll?
No. Amateur films show that one minute after the shooting motorcycle Officer Clyde Haygood dashed up the grassy knoll in response to an order from Dallas Police Chief Jesse Curry to check the “railroad yards.” A number of people began chasing him in anticipation of seeing him catch “the gunman.” Even more followed the initial crowd, however, no one was apprehended. Despite reports of suspicious activity, puffs of smoke, cigarette butts and footprints near the corner of the fence, no hard, physical evidence has ever surfaced nor has any eyewitness come forward with believable testimony to indicate that a shot had actually been fired from the grassy knoll. Medical evidence also precludes a bullet strike from the grassy knoll.
13. What did police find in the Texas School Book Depository?
At 12:58 p.m., police found the sniper’s nest – a stack of cardboard boxes surrounding the southeastern-most sixth floor corner window prevented anyone from see the gunmen lying in wait. Three boxes were stacked up near the window sill, as if they had been used for a gun rest. Three spent cartridge casing were found under the window. A long, home-made paper bag lay in the corner. At 1:22 p.m., near the head of the stairway in northwestern-most corner of the sixth floor (opposite the sniper’s nest), police discovered an Italian Carcano bolt action rifle with a mounted scope that had been slid behind some boxes. There was one live round in the chamber.
14. Who owned the rifle found on the sixth floor?
Lee Harvey Oswald. The rifle had been mail-ordered from Klein’s Sporting Goods in Chicago, Illinois, on March 13, 1963, using a coupon clipped from the February 1963 issue of American Rifleman Magazine. The order coupon was signed in hand printing, “A. Hidell, P.O. Box 2915, Dallas, Texas.” It was sent in an envelope bearing the same name and return address in handwriting. It was accompanied by a postal money order for $21.45 ($19.95 for the rifle and scope, and $1.50 for postage and handling) which had also been filled out in handwriting by the same individual. The post office box to which the rifle was shipped was rented to “Lee H. Oswald” from October 9, 1962, to May 14, 1963 – the period during which the rifle would have been received. Handwriting experts determined that the post office box, the change of address card, and all of the documentation associated with the rifle (including paperwork with the name “A. Hidell”) were written by Lee Harvey Oswald. At the time of his arrest, Oswald had a false set of identification cards in his wallet in the name “A.J. Hidell,” and his wife Marina testified that she took photographs of Oswald holding the rifle at his request.
15. Who was Lee Harvey Oswald?
Oswald was a 24-year-old former U.S. Marine, who was born in New Orleans on October 18, 1939, two months after his father died. Raised by his paranoid, selfish mother Marguerite, Oswald was withdrawn and anti-social as a child. Truancy and aggressive behavior followed as a teenager. School psychiatrists recommended therapy for the boy, but his mother refused. Oswald was dyslexic and dropped out of school at the beginning of the tenth grade where he was getting Cs and Ds.
As a teenager, he began reading Communist literature. He embraced the socialist ideals of a Utopian paradise promised by Karl Marx and other leading leftists. In October, 1956, at age 17, he joined the U.S. Marine Corps, in large part to get away from his domineering mother and partly to follow in the footsteps of his brother Robert who was five years older than Lee.
During basic training, he qualified as a sharpshooter with an M1 rifle. Oswald regarded his Marine superiors as unfit to exercise command over him. Like his mother, Oswald felt that his intelligence and ability were overlooked by others. A voracious reader of politics and foreign affairs, Oswald often baited his superiors into discussions about world affairs and when they were unable to carry on a satisfactory conversation, he regarded them as unfit to command him. Fellow Marines said that Oswald would go out of his way to get into trouble, then claimed the punishment was another example of how he was being picked on.
Oswald served at an airbase in Atsugi, Japan, as a radar operator. U-2 spy plane flights over China and the Soviet Union originated from the base, however, there is no evidence that Oswald’s unit dealt with the spy plane’s operations. Oswald served 45 days in the brig on a court-martial conviction for careless handling of a firearm when he accidentally shot himself in the arm in 1957. The experience left him more embittered.
In August, 1959, Oswald was granted a hardship discharge based on the false claim that his mother had injured herself at work and he needed to help her. Oswald arrived home in September and two days later left and booked passage to France.
In October, 1959, one day after his twentieth birthday, Oswald arrived in Moscow and applied for Soviet citizenship. When his request for citizenship was denied, Oswald slashed his left wrist in his hotel room bathtub. He was found semi-conscious and taken to a hospital. After attempting to revoke his American citizenship (a process he never completed), Oswald was granted “temporary residence status for one year” by Soviet officials until they could figure out what to do with him. Oswald’s story made front-page news back home in Fort Worth, Texas.
In January, 1960, Oswald was sent to work at a radio factory in Minsk in the Soviet Republic of Belorussia. His government issued apartment was bugged by the KGB and his friends reported his daily activities during his stay.
In March, 1961, Oswald met nineteen-year-old Marina Prusakova at a dance. They were married a month later. By then, Oswald had already become disillusioned about life in the Soviet Union and longed to return to America. It would be over a year before they were allowed to leave. By then (June, 1962), Marina had given birth to a daughter, June.
Upon his return, Oswald and his family settled in Fort Worth where he began a series of menial jobs and resumed his Marxist activities, subscribing to several socialist publications. Lee and Marina’s relationship continued along a volatile – and sometimes physically abusive – path begun in the Soviet Union. Controlling and manipulative, Oswald kept his wife isolated from American society by refusing to teach her English.
In late January, 1963, Oswald ordered via mail and under a false name (A.J. Hidell) a .38 caliber Smith and Wesson revolver he would later use to murder Officer J.D. Tippit. On March 12, 1963, he also mail-ordered the Italian Carcano rifle he would use to murder John F. Kennedy – again using the alias, A.J. Hidell. Two Sunday’s later, Oswald had his wife take photographs of him posing with his weapons.
After Easter, the Oswald’s talked of moving to New Orleans – Lee’s birthplace. From early May to late September, 1963, Oswald worked another menial job and immersed himself in pro-Castro politics. He attempted to infiltrate an anti-Castro organization and was arrested for disturbing the peace after getting into an altercation with several members of the group who found out that Oswald was distributing pro-Castro leaflets on a street corner. After participating in a radio debate with one of the anti-Castro leaders, Oswald told his wife Marina that he intended to go to Cuba via Mexico City and fight for Castro.
Arrangements were made for Marina (who was pregnant with a second daughter) to stay with Ruth Paine in the Irving suburb of Dallas. Oswald headed to Mexico City where he attempted to get a visa to enter Cuba. However, officials at the Cuban and Soviet Embassies rebuffed him, telling him that three months of red-tape would delay his entry.
Oswald returned to Dallas, Texas, his dreams of being a revolutionary dashed by the “fools” in Mexico. Resigned to another menial job – this one at the Texas School Book Depository – Oswald took up residence at a rooming house in the Dallas suburb of Oak Cliff under an assumed name – O.H. Lee.
On weekends, he rode out to the Irving home of Ruth Paine with a co-worker to visit his wife and two daughters.
16. Had Oswald ever exhibited violent behavior before the assassination?
Yes. On the night of April 10, 1963 – seven months before the Kennedy and Tippit murders – Oswald used the mail-order rifle he had purchased in an attempted assassination of General Edwin A. Walker, an outspoken critic of the Kennedy administration who was well known for helping Cuban exiles in their bid to overthrow Fidel Castro. Oswald’s shot missed by a hair (due to a window sash) and the crime went unsolved until after the Kennedy assassination when Marina confessed her husband’s involvement. The Oswalds move to New Orleans was prompted by Marina’s desire to get away from Dallas before her husband did anything else “stupid.”
17. How and when did Oswald get a job at the Texas School Book Depository?
On October 14, 1963, Ruth Paine and Marina Oswald were having coffee with two neighbors when the subject of Lee’s unemployment came up. One of the neighbors, Linnie Mae Randle, mentioned that her brother had recently found work at the Texas School Book Depository. Marina asked Ruth to call the Depository and see if they had an opening, which she did. Oswald went to the Depository the next day and filled out an application telling his potential employer that he was recently discharged from the Marine Corps (a lie). Supervisor Roy Truly was impressed with Oswald’s manners and wanted to help an ex-service man, so he hired him. Oswald started the next day – October 16.
18. When did Oswald learn of the motorcade route?
Oswald likely learned that the motorcade would pass the building in which he worked on Tuesday, November 19 – three days before the assassination. On Wednesday night, November 20, Oswald reportedly came out of his rented room and watched a television report about the motorcade route. At the conclusion of the report, he returned to his room without saying a word.
19. Where did Oswald go the day before the assassination?
On Thursday morning, November 21, asked co-worker Buell Wesley Frazier if he would drive him out to Irving to see his wife after work. When Frazier asked why he wasn’t waiting until Friday night as he usually did, Oswald said that there were some curtain rods he wanted to pick up for his room in Oak Cliff. After work, Frazier dutifully drove Oswald to Irving. That night, Oswald asked his wife Marina to move back with him and end their separation. Marina refused. Oswald retired early. Before she went to bed, Ruth Paine discovered the light in the garage had been left on. Unbeknownst to her, Oswald had been storing his Italian Carcano rifle in a rolled up blanket in her garage.
20. What was in the package Oswald carried to work on the day of the assassination?
On the morning of November 22, 1963, placed a long, heavy object wrapped in brown shipping paper into the backseat of Buell Frazier’s car. When Frazier asked what was in the package, Oswald said, “That’s those curtain rods I was telling you about.” Unknown to Frazier, Oswald had left his wedding ring in a teacup and $170 in cash (their entire savings) on Marina’s bedroom dresser that morning.
21. Where was Oswald at the time of the shots?
Oswald was last seen a little after 12 noon on the fifth floor of the Texas School Book Depository near the freight elevator shaft. Several co-workers saw him as they raced the two adjacent freight elevators to the first floor. One of them called out for Oswald to join them for lunch. Oswald said he would join them shortly and to leave the elevator gate open so he could call the elevator back up. Although Oswald later told police he was eating lunch on the first floor at the time of the shots, no one was able to verify his self-proclaimed alibi.
22. Did police encounter Oswald in a second floor lunchroom?
Yes. Approximately 90 seconds after the last shot, Dallas police motorcycle escort Marion L. Baker, who had dashed into the Depository, encountered Oswald in a second floor lunchroom near a Coke machine. Building Manager Roy Truly vouched for Oswald, telling Officer Baker “He works here.” Re-enactments after the assassination show that Oswald could have descended from the sixth floor to the second floor lunchroom just ahead of Baker.
23. When did Oswald leave the Depository?
Immediately after Oswald’s encounter with Officer Baker, Oswald was seen by Mrs. Robert A. Reid, a clerk, cutting through a second floor office heading toward the front door with a Coke in his hand. She told Oswald, “The President has been shot, but maybe they didn’t hit him.” Oswald muttered something in reply and continued toward the front door. It is believed that Oswald left the building a moment later – three minutes after the shots.
24. What did Marina Oswald do when she learned shots had been fired from Depository?
Marina was hanging laundry on the clothes line at the Paine home when Ruth told her, “They’re reporting that the shots were fired from the Texas School Book Depository.” Marina’s heart sank. She thought about the rifle she knew was stored in the Paine garage, Lee’s attempted assassination of General Edwin Walker in April, and wondered whether Lee had come out the night before to get the rifle. She tried to hide the fear on her face. When Ruth wasn’t watching, Marina slipped into the garage and looked to see if the blanket in which the rifle was stored was still there. She spotted it lying in the same place it had always been and breathed a sigh of relief, but didn’t check to see if the rifle was still inside the rolled up blanket. When police arrived later in the afternoon and asked her if her husband owned a rifle, she took them to the garage and pointed to the blanket roll. When the police officer picked the blanket roll up and it fell limp over his arm, Marina nearly fainted. That was the moment she realized what her husband had done.
25. Where did Oswald go after the Kennedy shooting?
Oswald fled east 7 blocks from the Depository and flagged down a bus between stops that was headed back toward the scene of the crime. When the bus stalled in traffic, Oswald obtained a transfer and left, headed south. At the Greyhound Bus station, Oswald caught a cab (a highly unusual act given his meager earnings and habitual use of public transportation) and had the cabdriver drop him 4 blocks passed his rooming house (an act of deception). Oswald doubled-back to his room where he changed clothes and armed himself with his .38 caliber revolver. Oswald left and was next spotted nine-tenths of a mile southeast of the room by Dallas police Officer J.D. Tippit.
26. Who was J.D. Tippit?
Tippit was a country boy who grew up on the family farm near Clarksville, Texas. Near the end of World War II he volunteered for the parachute infantry and jumped into France near the Rhine Valley earning a Bronze service star. After the war, he returned to Clarksville and married his high school sweetheart, Marie Gasway. Efforts to make a living as a farmer were burdened by drought and floods. In 1952, Tippit joined the Dallas Police Department and over the next 11 years gained the reputation of being a reliable and well respected patrolman. By November, 1963, Tippit was a 39-year-old father of three who worked as a security guard at a popular teen drive-in restaurant to supplement his police income.
27. What happened on Tenth Street in Oak Cliff?
Tippit, who had been ordered to move into the central Oak Cliff area in the wake of the assassination, was cruising Tenth Street when he spotted a man, later identified as Oswald, walking down the sidewalk. Eyewitness accounts indicate that Oswald spun around and began walking in the opposite direction as Tippit’s car came into view. Suspicious, Tippit pulled over. Oswald came over to the passenger side of the car and spoke very briefly to Tippit through an open vent window. Tippit emerged from the squad car and began walking toward the front of the car, presumably to question Oswald further. As Tippit reached the left front tire, Oswald suddenly pulled his revolver from under his jacket and shot Tippit four times in the chest and head, killing him instantly. Eleven persons in the immediate area saw Oswald either shoot the officer or flee the scene.
28. Who was Johnny C. Brewer?
Brewer was the 22-year-old manager of Hardy’s Shoe Store on Jefferson Boulevard in Oak Cliff, six blocks west of the Tippit shooting scene. Twenty minutes after Tippit was killed, Oswald stepped into the shoe store vestibule and feigned looking at shoes in the display case. Brewer thought he looked suspicious - his shirt tail was out, his hair disheveled, and he kept looking over his shoulder at police cars zipping up and down Jefferson, sirens blaring. When Oswald left the vestibule and continued west on Jefferson, Brewer stepped out onto the sidewalk and saw Oswald slip into the Texas Theater behind the ticket-taker’s back further up the street. Brewer walked up to the theater and alerted the ticket-taker who called police.
29. What happened when police arrested Oswald at the Texas Theater?
Officer Nick McDonald approached Oswald and ordered him to his feet. Oswald raised his hands shoulder high, as if giving up, and said, “It’s all over now.” As McDonald reached for his waist to check for a weapon, Oswald slugged McDonald, pulled the revolver, and attempted to fire it. Numerous police officers pounced on Oswald and wrestled the pistol from his hand.
30. What happened when Oswald arrived at police headquarters?
As police officers brought the prisoner Oswald into the third floor Homicide & Robbery Bureau office, several employees of the Book Depository who were giving affidavits identified him as one of their co-workers. Homicide Captain J. W. Fritz arrived a few minutes later and ordered detectives to go out to an Irving address and pick up a Lee Oswald for questioning. Fritz said he was missing at a roll call of Depository employees. An officer told Fritz, “We can save you the trip, Captain. There he sits.” At that moment, Oswald became the prime suspect in the Kennedy assassination.
31. Who was Captain J. W. “Will” Fritz?
Fritz was the 67-year-old head of the Homicide & Robbery Bureau, a position he held since its inception in 1934. Born in Texas and raised in Roswell, New Mexico, Fritz was a cowhand before he joined the Dallas police in 1921. He was involved in the manhunt for depression-era desperadoes Bonnie and Clyde and had gained the respect and admiration of law enforcement officials throughout the country. A perfect gentleman who never cursed, Fritz had a soothing interrogation style. He could analyze personalities very quickly and had a phenomenal memory for details and would often trap suspects with contradictions in their stories. His grandfatherly approach compelled people to talk with him and gained him the much-deserved reputation of being the finest interrogator in the southwest.
32. How many hours did police interrogate Oswald?
Oswald was interrogated about 13.5 hours over the course of the 45 hours he was in custody.
33. What was Oswald’s attitude during questioning?
Arrogant, according to those present.
34. Who identified Oswald as Tippit’s killer?
Helen Markham Barbara Jeanette Davis, Virginia Ruth Davis, Ted Callaway, and William Scoggins all positively identified Oswald in a lineup as the man they saw either shoot Officer Tippit or flee the scene. Six others subsequently identified Oswald as the man they saw fleeing the immediate area.
35. What physical evidence linked Oswald to the Tippit murder?
Four empty cartridge cases discarded at the Tippit shooting scene by Tippit’s killer were fired from the revolver bought and owned by Oswald and taken from his hand at his arrest to the exclusion of all other weapons. The bullets recovered from Tippit’s body had the same class characteristics as Oswald’s revolver – five lands and grooves, right twist – but could not be conclusively linked to Oswald’s revolver to the exclusion of all other similar weapons because they had been fired through an oversized barrel which left striations (scratches) that defied comparison. However, Oswald’s revolver did have an oversized barrel and consequently was among those weapons that could have fired them. In addition to the ballistic evidence, the jacket the killer was wearing and later dumped in a parking lot a block from the Tippit scene contained fibers inside the sleeves that matched the shirt Oswald was wearing when he was arrested.
36. What physical evidence linked Oswald to the Kennedy murder?
Three empty cartridge cases found under the sniper’s nest window in the Book Depository were fired from the Italian Carcano rifle bought and owned by Oswald and found on the sixth floor of the Depository to the exclusion of all other weapons. Bullet fragments found in the limousine and one bullet recovered from Governor Connally’s stretcher at Parkland hospital were fired from Oswald’s rifle to the exclusion of all other weapons. Partial fingerprints on the trigger housing of the rifle were later determined to have been Oswald’s. A home-made paper bag found in the sniper’s nest (and believed to have been used to bring the rifle into the building) contained Oswald’s finger and palm prints. Material used to make the bag had come from the Depository’s shipping room. Fibers found inside the bag matched the blanket Oswald’s rifle had been stored in at the Paine house. Oswald’s palm and fingerprints were found on numerous boxes inside the sniper’s nest including the boxes used as a gun rest. Finally, the clipboard Oswald used on a daily basis (and one he was seen carrying shortly before the shooting) was found with three unfilled orders on it near the location where the rifle was discovered.
37. Did Oswald have confederates?
There is no indication that Oswald had help in the planning or execution of the Kennedy assassination. The fact that he had only $13.87 in his pocket when he was arrested (and had left $170 on Marina’s bedroom dresser that morning along with his wedding ring) and fled the scene on foot is a strong indication that Oswald was not in league with others. Secondly, and more importantly, Oswald was a sociopath who never allowed anyone to get close enough to him to (a) be unwittingly drawn into a conspiracy, or (b) to willingly join others in a plot to commit murder. The closest person in Oswald’s life and the only person he opened up to was his wife Marina – whom he was separated from at the time of the assassination.
38. Who was Jack Ruby?
Born Jacob Rubenstein in Chicago, Illinois, in 1911, Ruby was a hot-tempered kid who earned the nickname “Sparky.” He was not overly aggressive, but didn’t go out of his way to avoid fights either. He was a hustler, always looking for a way to make a fast buck. However, nothing Ruby ever did really went well. It usually provided him a next meal, but never the easy street he was looking for.
He was drafted into the U.S. Army Air Force in 1943 and wept openly (as did many Americans) when President Roosevelt died in 1945. After the war, Ruby moved to Dallas and bought a half interest in his sister Eva’s nightclub, the Singapore Supper Club which later became the Silver Spur. The joint was in a bad neighborhood and by 1952 Ruby was broke and had a mental breakdown. A year later, he obtained an interest in the Vegas Club but continued to borrow money to keep the IRS from padlocking the door.
In 1959, Ruby turned over operation of the Vegas Club to his sister, Eva, and a year later opened the Carousel Club, a second-story burlesque-style beer hall located on Commerce Street in downtown Dallas. The star attraction was “Ruby’s Girls” who would perform striptease acts. Ruby always saw himself and his club as having a lot of “class” – although people who knew him said he never had an ounce of it. He was a publicity seeker (mostly for his club), a glad-hander, and back-slapper who liked to be where the action was. Former Dallas Morning News reporter Hugh Aynesworth, who knew Ruby, once said that if you told Ruby a secret at one end of the block he would tell three people before he reached the other end. Ruby operated his finances out of his hip pocket (carrying thousand of dollars at a time) and routinely carried a pistol.
He was a “police buff” who knew quite few policemen on the Dallas police force (especially the vice squad downtown) and liked to call them by their first names as if they were close friends. Many were invited to attend his club after hours where they were treated to free food and drink.
39. Was Ruby stalking Oswald?
No. Late Friday night, Ruby showed up at police headquarters looking for KLIF radio reporter Joe Long. Ruby had ten corn beef sandwiches he wanted to deliver to KLIF but needed the control room phone number which he hoped to get from Long. Once inside police headquarters, he hung around the third floor homicide office where Oswald was being interrogated playing the role of “reporter.” This is where the action was, and Ruby loved it. Ruby was still outside the door when Oswald was brought out and taken to the basement for a brief midnight press conference. Ruby later admitted that he had his loaded gun in his trouser pocket and was within three feet of Oswald, but it never occurred to him to shoot the accused assassin.
On Saturday, police announced that Oswald would be transferred to the county jail Sunday morning sometime after 10 a.m., yet Ruby didn’t leave his apartment before 11:00 a.m. – hardly the movements of someone who was stalking Oswald looking for a chance to eliminate him. The only reason Ruby went downtown at all that Sunday morning was to send a $25 dollar money-order to one of his girls who needed rent money.
By then, Ruby had worked himself up into a disturbed emotional state over the President’s assassination. He had read a heartfelt open letter to Caroline Kennedy published in the Dallas Morning News and feared that Jackie Kennedy might have to return to Dallas to testify at Oswald’s trial. Ruby drove to the Western Union office, located a block from police headquarters arriving at 11:15 p.m. With him was his beloved dachshund, Sheba, which he left locked in his car. (Can you imagine anyone taking a dog on a mob hit, as conspiracy theorists have suggested?) After sending the money-order, Ruby walked down to police headquarters where he had noticed a crowd and wondered if maybe they hadn’t transferred Oswald yet. Acting as a self-appointed vigilante, Ruby shot Oswald in a fit of passion at 11:21 a.m., less than a minute after arriving in the police basement garage.
It is well known that Ruby made several telephone calls to organized crime figures between September and November, 1963 – which conspiracy theorists claim is evidence that the mob was behind the Kennedy assassination and that they had hired Ruby to eliminate Oswald. However, all of the calls were made before the assassination (not after Oswald was arrested, as one would expect in a conspiracy) and were all related to Ruby’s efforts to get help to solve his labor problems with two competitors who were using unpaid amateur striptease artists to attract customers.
Both the Warren Commission and the House Select Committee on Assassinations investigated Ruby’s ties to organized crime and were unable to find one shred of evidence to support the allegation that Ruby’s contacts in the fall of 1963 were anything other than related to his labor issue.
Everyone who actually knew Jack Ruby agreed that the notion the Ruby killed Oswald for the mob was laughable. Nevertheless, conspiracy theorists who never knew Ruby continue to claim otherwise.
40. How did Ruby get into the police garage?
As Ruby approached the Main street ramp that led to the police basement garage, a squad car emerged that needed to make an illegal turn onto a one-way street in order to join the police escort that would carry Oswald to the county jail. When the police officer guarding the entrance stepped into the street to make sure it was safe to make the illegal turn, Ruby took the opportunity to slip passed him and walk down the ramp into the basement garage. Television videotapes show Ruby was there less than a minute before Oswald emerged from the jail elevator. The timing is such that it would have been impossible to coordinate Ruby’s arrival with Oswald’s departure, proving that the encounter was in fact a spur-of-the-moment event.
41. Was the 1964 Warren Commission a cover-up?
No. The Warren Commission performed a monumental task during a ten-month period – independently taking sworn testimony from 489 witnesses and receiving more than 3,100 exhibits into evidence. In addition, the FBI (which conducted the bulk of the field investigations) conducted approximately 25,000 interviews, and the Secret Service conducted over 1,500 interviews for a total of 30,000 pages of reports. The Commission’s final report was submitted on September 24, 1964, and established beyond a reasonable doubt that Kennedy and Tippit were killed by a lone gunman – Lee Harvey Oswald. In addition, the Commission stated that of the evidence it saw (a carefully worded phrase); there was no conspiracy, foreign or domestic. In the years since the Warren Report was released, it has been discovered that the FBI and CIA withheld certain information that would have been pertinent to the Commission’s investigation – chiefly the Kennedy administration’s efforts to assassinate Fidel Castro and Oswald’s connections in Mexico City.
42. Did the 1978 House Select Committee on Assassination (HSCA) uncover acoustic evidence of a conspiracy?
No. The 1978 HSCA investigation claimed to have uncovered evidence of four gunshots – three from the Book Depository and one from the grassy knoll – on a Dallas police recording of radio transmissions. This acoustic evidence formed the basis of the HSCA’s conclusion that Kennedy was probably assassinated as the result of a conspiracy.
However, in 1982 the National Academy of Sciences determined that the portion of the recording allegedly containing the gunshot evidence had actually been recorded at least one minute after the assassination. Analysis of films and photographs taken at the time of the assassination support the NAS conclusion.
43. Did the government seal the assassination files for 75 years?
No. This is one factoid that has reached mythical proportions in the last five decades. In fact the government never sealed the files, the vast majority of which have been available for more than a decade – many much longer than that. Conspiracy advocates often quote how Earl Warren told reporters shortly after the release of the Warren Report in September, 1964, that some things would not be revealed in our lifetime.
In fact, Earl Warren told reporters on February 3, 1964, on the first day of hearings before the Warren Commission – six months before the release of the Warren Report – that after listening to Marina Oswald’s first day of testimony (there were two more days to come) it was possible that national security matters might come up because of Oswald’s attempted defection to Russia and his trip to Mexico, but that “we don’t know yet what that will involve.” Warren went on to say that in view of this, “Yes, there will come a time - but it might not be in your lifetime. I am not referring to anything especially - but there may be some things that would involve security. This would be preserved but not made public.” This single quote – taken out of context – has fueled the belief by many that Earl Warren, having seen all the evidence and heard all the testimony, ordered the files sealed for seventy-five years.
In reality, in an April 5, 1965, written response to questions over whether the Warren Commission files should be placed under an automatic National Archives policy of keeping all archival files (not just Warren Commission files) sealed from disclosure for a period of seventy-five years, Warren urged “the fullest possible disclosure.”
As a result, by July 19, 1966 – less than three years after the assassination - approximately 80% of records from federal agencies (FBI, CIA, etc) that the Commission had turned over to the archives had already been released to the public. By 1992, the percentage of Warren Commission records that had been released had risen to 98%. Today, the National Archives contains about 2,000 cubic feet of assassination records – including those of the Warren Commission (1964), the House Select Committee on Assassinations (1978), and the Assassinations Record Review Board (1992), as well as the investigative files of the FBI, CIA, Secret Service, and on and on – representing over 350,000 documents totaling over 5 million pages. Nearly 100% (99.9) had been released to the public by 2001 - more than a decade ago.
More importantly, Judge John Tunheim, of the ARRB, told author Vincent Bugliosi that of the one-tenth of one percent still being withheld, either he or another member of the Review Board personally looked at all the redacted material and that there was “nothing in any of the documents that was central to the assassination. There’s no smoking gun, and no substantive information was protected and not released by way of redaction.” What the various agencies did protect and redact, according to Tunheim, were sources and methods – i.e., the names of intelligence agents, methods of intelligence gathering (some still in use today), matters pertaining to presidential security - and in a few cases, matters involving personal privacy.
Those remaining documents are scheduled to be released in 2017.
44. Is there any evidence of a Cuban connection to the assassination?
There is no hard evidence that Fidel Castro ordered Kennedy’s assassination or that any members of Cuban intelligence took an active part in a plot with Oswald. However, there are indications that Oswald may have been encouraged by Cuban intelligence agents and pro-Castro supporters in committing the assassination in exchange for a passage to Cuba. The truth about Oswald’s activities and contacts in Mexico City have been clouded by limited access to files maintained by the Soviet KGB, Cuban Intelligence, Mexican police, the CIA, and those individuals living and dead who had contact with Oswald during his stay there. If there was any effort to encourage Oswald’s lone actions, the evidence is in his trip to Mexico City in September-October, 1963.
45. Have a large number of witnesses died mysteriously?
No. A 1967 London Sunday Times article claimed that the odds that 15 people named by Penn Jones, Jr., a leading conspiracy theorist, as having died mysteriously within three years of the assassination was “100 trillion to one.” (The list included Oswald, Tippit and Ruby – none of which had died mysteriously.)
In 1978, the legal manager of the Times told the HSCA that the article was based on a “careless journalistic mistake” and should not have been published. The odds had been calculated based on fifteen named people out of the population of the United States dying within a short time instead of fifteen people mentioned in the Warren Commission Index (about 2,479 people) dying within a short time. The corrected calculation lowered the odds substantially – within a range that would be considered completely normal. In addition to the normalcy of the odds, the vast majority of people on the list were either not connected to the case in a substantial way or died a completely natural death.
46. Did the Secret Service kill Kennedy?
In 1992, author Bonar Menninger’s book, Mortal Error, claimed that Secret Service agent George Hickey, riding in the car immediately behind the presidential limousine, accidentally shot Kennedy’s head off when he grabbed an AR-15 automatic rifle to defend the chief executive. Hickey, who died in 2009, sued St. Martin’s Press in 1995 over the outrageous claims made in Menninger’s book only to be told that he had waited too long after the book’s initial publication to file against the publisher. Hickey later settled with St. Martin’s Press, who apologized.
The theory was resurrected in 2013 by Aussie detective Colin McLaren and Reelz’s “JFK – The Smoking Gun.” Nine Secret Service agents were within a few feet of Hickey and all testified before the Warren Commission or gave statements about the day’s event and yet not one of them said they saw or heard Hickey’s AR-15 fired that day.
Menninger himself notes that Kennedy aide and close personal friend Dave Powers, riding in the car with Hickey, said, “Someone a foot away from me or two feet away from me couldn’t fire the gun without me hearing it.”
Finally, and conclusively, the amateur film of the assassination made by Charles Bronson shows Hickey seated and unarmed at the moment of the fatal head shot.
47. Is Kennedy’s brain missing?
Yes, the brain turned up missing in 1966, however, it‘s pretty clear what happened to it. On April 26, 1965, at the direction of Robert F. Kennedy, the President’s personal physician Admiral George Burkley transferred a steel container containing what was left of JFK’s brain, tissue sections, and all other autopsy materials to a footlocker in the personal care of the President’s secretary, Evelyn Lincoln. One month later RFK sent his personal secretary Angela Novello over to Lincoln’s office to move the footlocker. She was given the only two keys.
A year later, on October 31, 1966, the footlocker was delivered to the National Archives as a deed of gift, opened, and an inventory made of the items inside. It was discovered at that time that the brain and tissue slides were no longer in the footlocker. Kennedy family friend Burke Marshall told investigators that he believed RFK had disposed of the brain and slides himself. Marshall said that Robert Kennedy feared they would be put on display in the future and he wanted to prevent that possibility.
Conspiracy theorists who claim the brain was destroyed to cover-up the big conspiracy, fail to note that the brain wasn’t always “missing.” The three autopsy surgeons saw it, examined it, weighed it, and photographed it. They testified that the left side was intact that all the evidence indicated Kennedy was shot from behind through the right side of the brain.
48. Why have conspiracy theories flourished?
Conspiracy theorists have been pounding away at every nuance of this case for the better part of five decades. They have taken what is in essence a very simple murder case and made it complex. Some have hijacked it in order to expound a certain political point of view. Consequently, it has become more difficult to separate fact from fiction. The Internet has made it even easier to disseminate falsehoods and perpetuate myths. The waters have become muddier, not clearer over time. In the last few weeks, more old theories and information have been sold as “new and explosive” by a media more interested in entertainment than truth. In fact, the assassination story has been rewritten so many times that the truth about Kennedy’s death has become unrecognizable to most.
49. If there was a conspiracy, who are the primary suspects?
Oswald was a pro-Castro Marxist who hated everything that America stood for. Any co-conspirators would be cut from the same cloth. Again, it is highly unlikely that there were any co-conspirators; certainly there is no believable evidence that anyone else was shooting at Kennedy in Dealey Plaza.
50. Will the truth ever be known?
The truth is already known – Lee Harvey Oswald murdered John F. Kennedy and J.D. Tippit. The real question is when will people accept the truth?