JFK Assassination: The Facts and Theories
A Killing on Live TV
Oswald was taken to the Dallas Police and Courts Building downtown.
At 7:10 that evening, a justice of the peace visited to arraign Oswald on charges that he killed Patrolman Tippit. Six hours later, at 1:30 a.m. November 23, he was arraigned by the same justice in the murder of Kennedy.
Oswald was questioned at Dallas police headquarters for some 12 cumulative hours over the two days following his arrest. Capt. J.W. Fritz of the Dallas police homicide bureau conducted most of the interrogation.
FBI and Secret Service agents often were present and sometimes asked questions of Oswald.
The Warren Commission said, "Throughout this interrogation he denied that he had anything to do either with the assassination of President Kennedy or the murder of Patrolman Tippit."
Nonetheless, Oswald faced a daunting catalogue of evidence:
The Smith & Wesson .38 Special used to shoot Tippet was wrested from Oswald during his arrest.
Nine witnesses identified Oswald as the cop's killer—six in person, three by photographs.
He had access to the sixth floor of the Book Depository building, and witnesses saw him there prior to the shooting of Kennedy.
Forensic evidence indicated he had been at the window where the shell casings were found, and his palm print and clothing fibers were found on the rifle used to shoot Kennedy and Connally. (The purity of this evidence has been the source of great debate.)
The gun had been purchased by someone using the name A. Hidell, an alias that Lee Oswald had used frequently.
Investigators found two photographs showing Oswald holding the rifle and the pistol.
At about 11 a.m. Sunday, November 24, Oswald was to be transferred from the Police and Courts Building to the Dallas County Jail—standard procedure once a crime suspect had been charged with a felony.
But the transfer was anything but routine.
Anonymous threats against the accused assassin had been phoned in to authorities, and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover later said that he had sent a message to Police Chief Curry asking that Oswald "be afforded the utmost security."
Curry would claim he never got the message.
Just the same, it surely had occurred to Dallas cops that Oswald might be endangered. He was being moved, after all, in an armored truck.
Curry decided to make the move of Oswald a media event by staging a photo opportunity in the basement of police headquarters.
He indicated to reporters that the transfer would happen after 10 a.m. Sunday, November 24.
A crew of 14 cops cleared the basement of all but police personnel at 9 a.m. Sentries were placed at the six doors to the basement area and at the tops of two auto ramps connecting the basement to streets above.
After the basement was secure, cops allowed journalists to re-enter. The scribes and shutterbugs were positioned opposite the door through which Oswald and his escorts would emerge. Uniformed cops and plainclothes detectives also poured into the basement for a glimpse at the accused assassin.
By 11:20 a.m., an estimated 50 newsmen and 75 cops were assembled waiting for Oswald.
On live national television, Oswald walked through the doors surrounded by lawmen. After he had walked perhaps 10 feet, a stout man stepped between newsman at the edge of the crowd. He extended his right hand, which gripped a Colt .38-caliber revolver, and fired "a single fatal bullet into Oswald's abdomen," as the Warren Commission report put it.
The man was soon identified as Jack Ruby, a Dallas nightclub owner who had many friends in the city's police department.
But he claimed he hadn't been tipped off to the transfer or given special access by a friendly cop. He said he simply walked down the auto ramp from Main Street.
As the Warren report said, "The Dallas Police Department, concerned at the failure of its security measures, conducted an extensive investigation that revealed no information indicating complicity between any police officer and Jack Ruby. Ruby denied to the Commission that he received any form of assistance."
Further investigation would reveal that Ruby didn't really need one cop's help. He had been given the run of police headquarters simply by showing up.
The Warren Commission determined that Ruby, known to act impulsively, closed his nightclub on the night of Kennedy's assassination and attended a memorial service at his Dallas synagogue. Driven to contribute in some way to the investigation, he stopped at a deli and bought sandwiches and sodas for cops.
He then went to police headquarters, where he left the food in his car and walked into the building alongside two news reporters, then rode an elevator to the third-floor pressroom, down the hall from where Oswald was being grilled.
Although he had no press credential, Ruby told anyone who asked that he was a translator for the Israeli media. Film of a press conference late Friday night at which Oswald was presented to the media showed Ruby standing on a table beside reporters.
A Dallas detective, Augustus Eberhardt, recalled having a brief conversation with Ruby, who commented that it was "hard to realize that a complete nothing, a zero like that, could kill a man like President Kennedy."
After the press conference, Ruby buttonholed District Attorney Henry Wade and Justice of the Peace David Johnson, who had arraigned Oswald. He introduced himself as a nightclub owner, and later helped arrange a phone interview with Wade for KLIF radio in Dallas.
Ruby then drove to the KLIF studio, distributed his sandwiches to staffers and hung out for a couple of hours. He later stopped at the Dallas Times-Herald building, where he spoke with several composing room employees about seeing Oswald—"a little weasel of a guy," as he put it—at the press conference.
On Sunday morning, November 24, Ruby showed up in downtown Dallas just before the Oswald transfer.
He parked his car near police headquarters and opened the trunk, where he left his billfold and the car's ignition key. He then tucked into his suit pocket the revolver he normally kept in a bank moneybag in the trunk.
He walked down the block to a Western Union office and sent a $25 wire transfer to one of his nightclub's dancer's, who was stranded in Fort Worth.
Ruby claimed he then saw a bustle at police headquarters and wandered over to see what was happening.
Perhaps his timing was an educated guess. More likely, he had been tipped off to the time of the suspect's transfer; some have claimed the tipster was his pal W.J. "Blackie" Harrison, a Dallas police officer.
Whatever the case, he apparently managed to walk down the auto ramp into the basement of the law enforcement building, where he shot Oswald.
He gave several explanations of why he did it:
He wanted to be a hero.
He wanted to prove that "Jews have guts."
He wanted to spare Jackie Kennedy the heartache of returning to Dallas for legal proceedings against Oswald.
He told the Warren Commission he was overwhelmed by "the emotional feeling...that someone owed this debt to our beloved President to save her the ordeal of coming back. I don't know why that came through my mind." Ruby swore he was not part of a conspiracy to silence Oswald.
Ruby was charged with murder and stood trial in February and March 1964. His attorney, Melvin Belli, argued for an insanity verdict, but the jury convicted Ruby and condemned him to die.
Ruby won an appeal on grounds of fairness because he had been denied a change of venue. A Texas court ordered a new trial, but Ruby died of cancer on January 3, 1967, before it could be held.