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Feb 1, 2009 (rev. March 27, 2009)
Lee Harvey Oswald (center) Jack Ruby (right)
There's no hard evidence that he did, but numerous people say they saw Oswald at Ruby's club, The Carousel, weeks before the JFK assassination.
by Don Fulsom
Jack Ruby (born Jacob Rubenstein) was a vulgar, violent, lowlife. But a proud one. He had risen from the Mob-dominated slums of Chicago—where, growing up, he'd run errands for Al Capone. Now, in 1963, Ruby ran his own striptease club in Dallas—seedy to some, but to Jack "a f----ing classy joint."
The Carousel was a run-down walkup on Commerce Street where Jack (or "Sparky," as the easily ignitable owner was known) oversaw a master of ceremonies, four strippers and a five-piece bump-and-grind band. On Commerce, flashing neon signs and scores of eight-by-ten glossy stock photos of near-nude gals beckoned horny guys to ascend the stairs and enjoy "Dallas's only nonstop burlesque."
Soon after Ruby murdered JFK assassination suspect Lee Harvey Oswald, Carousel emcee Bill Demar (Bill Crowe in real life) publicly identified Oswald as a recent patron. The magician-ventriloquist said he distinctly recalled Oswald because, as an audience member, Oswald had actually taken part in Demar's "memory act."
"I have 20 customers call out various objects in rapid order," Demar told the Associated Press. "Then I tell them at random what they called out. I am positive Oswald was one of the men that called out an object about nine days ago."1
Carousel patron Harvey Wade supported the entertainer's story, according to Facts on File.
Comedian Wally Weston—who preceded Demar as an emcee earlier in November 1963—claimed Oswald was at the Carousel "at least twice" before the assassination. Weston made the revelation in exclusive July 19, 1976 interview with the New York Daily News.
The same article reported that "Dallas lawyer Carroll Jarnigan told FBI agents he saw Oswald and Ruby together in the Carousel on the night of October 4, 1963, and overheard them discussing plans for Oswald to assassinate Texas Governor John Connally, who was wounded in the fusillade that killed Kennedy."
These people weren't the only Carousel employees or customers to have linked President Kennedy's reputed assassin with Jack Ruby.
At 20, "Little Lynn" (in private life, Karen Carlin) was Jack's youngest stripper. With long locks of artificially colored gray hair, Lynn had the body of swimsuit contestant—but, on stage, wore little other than a big smile, pink heels and a matching G-string. 2
On November 24, 1963, Little Lynn told U.S. Secret Service agent Roger Warner that she, in his words, "was under the impression that Lee Harvey Oswald, Jack Ruby, and other individuals unknown to her, were involved in a plot to assassinate President Kennedy and that she would be killed if she gave any information to authorities." Lynn reportedly died of a gunshot wound in Houston in 1964, according to the Encyclopedia of the JFK Assassination.3
By some accounts, even before her boss murdered Oswald, Jack's featured stripper, 27-year-old "Jada" (real name, Janet Conforto) told reporters that Ruby and Oswald were acquainted. Described by Ruby biographer Seth Kantor as "supercharged with animalism," the orange-haired Jada had been recruited by Ruby from a club in New Orleans. According to the Encyclopedia of the JFK Assassination, that joint was partly owned by the underworld's biggest bigwig in Louisiana and Texas, prime JFK assassination suspect Carlos Marcello. 4
In Dallas, even offstage, Jada acted the part of a star … and of a wild exhibitionist. Usually wearing only a mink coat and high-heeled shoes, she spun around town in a new gold Cadillac convertible with "JADA" embossed on the door. After one notable visit to Mexico, the brazen stripper returned with 200 pounds of marijuana in the Caddy's trunk, according to Dallas sports reporter Gary Cartwright. 5 She got through customs by diverting the attention of border agents. Jada pretended to fall out of her car, and then fell out of her coat—purposely exposing herself to border officers.
Beverly Oliver sang at the Colony Club, a parking lot away from the Carousel. Years later, Oliver said that about two weeks before the assassination, when visiting the Carousel, she spotted Jada at a table with Ruby and another man. "Ruby introduced me: 'Beverly, this is my friend, Lee.'" That man, she later realized, was President Kennedy's accused murderer.
But Beverly kept mum on her Ruby-Oswald sighting at first, she said, because she feared for her life. Oliver did not want to end up like Jada, who she implied had died a mysterious death. 6
In 2007, sports reporter Gary Cartwright confirmed key elements of the accounts of both Jada and Beverly: "After the assassination, Jada told us Ruby once introduced her to Lee Oswald at the Carousel. While they were having drinks, Beverly Oliver, a singer from the Colony Club next door, stopped by and was also introduced … Jada is dead now, but I phoned Beverly not long ago and asked if she remembered. "Sure do," she said. Ruby introduced him as 'my friend Lee from the CIA.'"7
Jada, however, did not die mysteriously. She was killed, at 44, in a 1980 highway accident in New Mexico when a school bus ran over her motorcycle, according to researcher Mark Colgan. Jada is buried under the name "JADA" in a cemetery in New Orleans.8
And how about Beverly Oliver's tale? Highly suspicious say many assassination experts. Renowned researcher John McAdams concludes, "No account of (Jada) saying she saw Ruby and Oswald together appeared in any newspapers, nor anywhere else. And (Jada) explicitly told the FBI that she had never seen them together."9
Curator Gary Mack of the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza in Dallas also thinks Beverly Oliver's claim is dubious. As for a Ruby-Oswald connection, Mack told this writer in an email dated Jan. 10, 2009, “…there's no hard evidence they were acquainted and it's hard to imagine either man linked to the other. Oswald didn't drink, he was never out at clubs, he wasn't cheating on his wife, and Oswald certainly offered nothing of significance for Ruby to advance either himself or his club."10
Mack is correct: There is no hard evidence—like a photograph or a letter—linking these two disturbed loners history has forever joined at the hips.
In the end, however, it doesn't really matter whether Ruby knew Oswald.
What if there were a plot to murder President Kennedy that included two men who did not know each other? Ruby and Oswald could well have been part of this conspiracy; and Ruby could have been activated to kill Oswald after Oswald's arrest. This could be what Oswald was indicating when he insisted, "I'm a patsy." And it could have been what Ruby was referring to when he declared, "I have been used for a purpose."
There is a high stack of circumstantial evidence that both Ruby and Oswald were connected to New Orleans Mafia boss Carlos Marcello. And many JFK assassination experts believe Marcello played some role in the President's murder.
In a new book, Legacy of Secrecy: The Long Shadow of the JFK Assassination, Lamar Waldron argues that the New Orleans godfather actually engineered the JFK slaying. He cites startling newly released 1985 FBI prison files in which Marcello admitted, "Yeah, I had the son of a bitch killed. I'm glad I did. I'm sorry I couldn't have done it myself!"
In the FBI files—based on bugs secretly placed in Marcello's cell—the mobster confessed that he used an associate, Jack Ruby, to kill Oswald. Marcello also admitted that he had set up Ruby "in the bar business in Dallas."
Marcello, according to the New York Post, said he'd brought Oswald into the JFK assassination plot via David Ferrie, a Marcello operative who had known Oswald in New Orleans. 11
The godfather had a major beef against the Kennedy brothers because Bobby Kennedy—organized crime's biggest enemy in the government—once had him forcibly deported to Guatemala.
The disclosure about Marcello in the newly released FBI files supports the conclusions of the most qualified expert on the JFK assassination—G. Robert Blakey, who was chief counsel and staff director to the mid-1970's House Select Committee on Assassinations. In The Plot to Kill the President in 1981, Blakey found that Marcello and two other godfathers—Santos Trafficante of Florida and Chicago Outfit boss Sam "Mooney" Giancana—were complicit in planning Kennedy's slaying in Dallas.
Oswald had Mob ties in New Orleans through his uncle, Charles "Dutz" Murret, who was a bookie for Sam Saia, a gambling kingpin and Marcello sidekick. In 1963, when Oswald was living in New Orleans, he worked for Saia as a runner at Felix Oyster House—one of Saia's French Quarter bookmaking parlors—according to Blakey. In a Nov. 7, 1993 Washington Post article, Blakey also pointed out that John H. Davis interviewed Joseph Hauser, a witness in a federal criminal investigation of Marcello, for his Marcello biography, Mafia Kingfish. Hauser reconstructed for Davis a statement Marcello made to him:
Oswald? I used to know his [expletive] family. His uncle he work for me. The kid work for me to. He worked for Sam outta his place downtown ... The feds came ... askin' about him, but my people didn't tell 'em nothing.' Like we never heard of the guy...
As for Jack Ruby's ties to the boss of America's oldest crime family, back in the '70s Blakey's panel established links between the nightclub owner "and several individuals affiliated with the underworld activities of Carlos Marcello. Ruby was a personal acquaintance of Joseph Civello, the Marcello associate who allegedly headed organized crime activities in Dallas … (and) a New Orleans nightclub figure, Harold Tannenbaum, with whom Ruby was considering going into partnership in the fall of 1963."
Shortly after the assassination, Jack Ruby's headliner, Jada—rightly, it turns out—threw cold water on Ruby's initial excuse for killing Oswald. Ruby claimed he was a super-patriot who loved President Kennedy, and that his action was politically motivated. Not so fast, said the orange-haired stripper during an interview with ABC’s Paul Good on YouTube: "I believe he disliked Bobby Kennedy … I didn't think he loved (President) Kennedy that much" to kill Oswald. 12
A pre-assassination indication that Ruby might be part of a conspiracy to kill the President came at around noon on November 21, 1963.
A number of Dallas police officers were meeting in the office of Assistant District Attorney Ben Ellis when Ruby entered and passed out business cards advertising Jada's gig at the Carousel. According to Lt. W. F. Dyson, Ruby introduced himself to Ellis and added: "You probably don't know me now, but you will." 13
Before Ruby pulled the trigger on his 38-caliber Colt Cobra in the basement of the Dallas Police Department, did he get cold feet or have second thoughts? Or did he want to get caught before he actually carried out his mission?
Billy Grammer, a Dallas Police dispatcher, says he received a telephone threat against Oswald's life the night before Oswald's murder. He said the tipster did not identify himself, but did greet the officer by name. The caller advised police to change their plans for Oswald's transfer to another jail the next day. The voice on the other end was urgent—asserting, "We are going to kill him!"
Only after Jack Ruby murdered Oswald did Grammer realize he had been talking to a local striptease club operator he knew well. "It had to be Ruby," he later disclosed. Grammer says that phone call convinced him the Oswald slaying was "not spontaneous," but rather a "planned event." 14
While Ruby's stunning crime was witnessed by baffled millions on live TV, Reuters's Ralph Harris was one of the first reporters in the basement to grab a phone and dictate a bulletin to his wire service's editors: "The fatal shot, fired by Jack Ruby into Oswald's abdomen at point-blank range, in the presence of armed police and reporters, had such a stunning impact that the scene froze into a moment of paralyzed amazement, then pandemonium as Oswald dropped to the concrete floor."15
Shortly before his death from cancer in 1967, Ruby secretly slipped a note to Dallas Deputy Sheriff Al Maddox. In a July, 1996 TV interview, Maddox revealed that, in that note, Ruby confessed there "was a conspiracy" to murder JFK, and that Ruby's motive in killing the alleged presidential assassin was not patriotism, but rather to "silence Oswald."16
As soon as he saw the slaying of Oswald on TV, Attorney General Robert Kennedy drew that very same conclusion. Ruby, he felt, had Mob written all over him—so he immediately dispatched his top Justice Department investigator, Walt Sheridan to Dallas to look into Ruby's background. Within only hours, Sheridan "turned up evidence that Ruby had been paid off in Chicago" by a close associate of Mobbed-up Teamsters Union president Jimmy Hoffa, a mortal enemy of the Kennedy brothers. Sheridan said Ruby "picked up a bundle of money from Allen M. Dorfman," a chief Hoffa henchman.
When the attorney general examined Jack Ruby's many pre-assassination phone calls to key Mafia figures, the organized crime expert declared, "The list was almost a duplicate of the people I called before the (Senate) Rackets Committee,” he told David Talbot, author of Brothers.17
Perhaps partly out of fear for his own life, Bobby Kennedy kept his investigation into his beloved brother's murder to himself. And he refused to cooperate with the Warren Commission's probe. In his book Brothers, David Talbot says Bobby intended to reopen the investigation if he became president. Talbot speculates that, in Los Angeles, in 1968, White House hopeful Robert Kennedy may have been gunned down by the same conspirators who killed his brother Jack in Dallas.
1 Los Angeles Times, November 26, 1963.
2 New York Times, November 30,1963
3 Encyclopedia of the JFK Assassination, 122.
4 Encyclopedia, 122
5 Texas Monthly, November, 1975
6 "The Men Who Killed Kennedy," The History Channel.
7 Coverthistory.blog.spot.com, September 19, 2007.
10 E-mail correspondence, Mack with author, 1-10-09
11 New York Post, January 10, 2009, as well as various book reviews.
14 "The Men Who Killed Kennedy."
15 Liverpool Daily Post, obituary of Harris, Jan. 21, 2009
17 Brothers, David Talbot, 21.