“Wait, you mean that wasn’t John F. Kennedy?”
–Jack Ruby, upon learning that he had been beaten to the punch by the man he had just fatally shot.
Jack Ruby had already been laying low for weeks when Lee Harvey Oswald shot John F. Kennedy in the head, and as a result had never heard the news of the President’s death. In later interviews he revealed that he had been hiding out in a log cabin in the northern part of Florida, where he mostly shot at squirrels for target practice. Of course, because he had opted to use a pistol, simulating a realistic assassination typically meant trying to walk right up to a squirrel and shoot it at point blank range, and as such Ruby does not recall actually harming any squirrels.
“It was abundantly clear from the start that he was the wrong man for this job,” said alleged mafia hitman Frank Sheeran, who claimed to have helped Jimmy Hoffa negotiate the murder contract. “But Jack had entered, by a large margin, the lowest bid for the killing, and you know, the mafia–we don’t waste money.”
At around 9:45 a.m. on this day in 1963, Jack Ruby made his way into Dallas, having been instructed by the mafia several weeks earlier that the President would be in the city that morning or afternoon. “Repeated attempts to contact him and inform him of the President’s assassination were made, unsuccessfully, due to Jack’s decision to forego the courtesy of providing a forwarding address,” explained a frustrated Sheeran. While eating his breakfast in a Dallas diner, Ruby misheard a nearby waitress describing the location of “that guy who shot JFK,” which Ruby simply heard as “that guy JFK.” In his court testimony, Ruby would describe how appalled he had been that a “young citizen” had referred to the President as simply “that guy.”
By eavesdropping on that conversation he learned that his target, mistaken though it was, was scheduled to exit the Dallas police station at approximately 11:00 a.m. Several minutes later he paid his bill and went out to his car, where he loaded his Colt Cobra .38 with just one bullet; he was wary of expensing extra ammunition to the mafia accountant and had, after all, marketed himself as the most economical candidate for the job. Upon arriving at the police station, he waited until his target, surrounded by a police escort, stepped out of the building. “I figured, that’s him, that’s the President, what with all the cops there and everything. Even when I got closer I could barely see his face, but I remember thinking how young he looked for a president. But then again, everybody always talked about how young-lookin’ that Jack Kennedy was.
“Oh, and that’s another reason I took the job—I didn’t like how people called him Jack, ’cause Jack was my name.”
Ruby would later explain to the Dallas press that he had fired at the victim’s abdomen because “I still hadn’t really seen his face […] and I wanted to be sure it was him.” Ironically, however, Ruby shot and killed 24-year-old Lee Harvey Oswald. In mere minutes his mistake became clear to him as reporters began asking him a slew of questions referring to the victim by name. Feeling “just awful,” Ruby wrestled free from the officers who had detained him in order to rush back over to the dying Oswald and offer his condolences, which Ruby himself would later recount at the trial: “Listen, pal, I’m sorry, I gotta tell ya—I thought you were Kennedy.” Although the exact wording of Oswald’s response differs according to the accounts of various witnesses at the scene, it is documented that Oswald almost instantaneously forgave Ruby, explaining that his own killing of the President had been somewhat of a gaffe, as he had really been attempting a rather risky shot just past the President at former college rival James Tague.
History may repeat itself, but that doesn’t mean I have to, although I did say that last week. Tune in next week for an all-new “This Day in Revisionist History”!