March 14, 2022

The Murderer of JFK's Assassin is Found Guilty

The Murderer of JFK's Assassin is Found Guilty

March 14, 1964. In the first courtroom verdict televised in the US, Jack Ruby is found guilty of the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald, the assassin of President John F. Kennedy.


Cold Open

It’s Sunday, November 24th, 1963 inside a jail on the fourth floor of the Police Headquarters in Dallas, Texas. It's approaching 11.20 AM.

Wearing a pale Stetson hat and matching suit, Detective Jim Leavelle places a handcuff onto his own wrist. Then he secures the other ring onto a 24-year-old prisoner: Lee Harvey Oswald, accused assassin of President John F. Kennedy. Leavelle explains to Oswald that he’s going to be transporting him from the police station to the county jail.

Two days ago Oswald was arrested while hiding out in a local Dallas movie theater. He wasn't just accused of killing President John F. Kennedy, he was also charged with the murder of police officer JD Tippit. And as they proceed through the station, Leavelle notices other officers glaring at Oswald in undisguised contempt.

Leavelle knows that in Dallas alone, there are countless cops, and civilians, who would relish killing Oswald for what he’s done. He doesn't blame them. Leavelle jokes, `Lee, if anybody fires at you, I hope they are as good a shot as you are.’

Out on the bottom floor of the building, Leavelle escorts Oswald into the police parking garage where an armored car is waiting to transport them.

But they are immediately confronted by a mob of reporters from both the newspapers and TV stations. As he guides Oswald past cameras, Leavelle knows they’re being broadcast on live television all across the country.

In the crowd, Leavelle spots a heavy-set, middle-aged man wearing a fedora moving toward Oswald. Leavelle's experienced lawman’s eye tells him this is not another reporter. But he barely has time to react before the man pulls out a gun.

Oswald is shot in the stomach at point-blank range.

"REPORTER: He’s been shot, he’s been shot! Lee Oswald has been shot!"

Oswald’s face twists in pain and his body buckles. He drops to the ground, almost taking Leavelle down with him. The gunman lunges forward again as if attempting a second shot. But officers overpower him and remove his 38 caliber snub-nose revolver. Detective Leavelle drags away the mortally wounded Oswald. Leavelle looks back at the gunman whose fedora has fallen off his balding head. Leavelle recognizes him as a local nightclub owner. But even if he didn't, the gunman wants to be known. He shouts:

`You know me. I’m Jack Ruby!’

Meanwhile, Oswald is rushed to Parkland Memorial Hospital where President Kennedy died just two days ago. Hours later, Oswald’s own death is announced on television. The murder of Lee Harvey Oswald will further confound a nation still reeling from Kennedy’s assassination. But unlike Oswald, Jack Ruby, the assassin’s assassin, will live long enough to face trial and be convicted on March 14th, 1964.


From Noiser and Airship, I’m Lindsay Graham and this is History Daily.

History is made every day. On this podcast—every day—we tell the true stories of the people and events that shaped our world. 

Today is March 14th, 1964: The Murderer of JFK’s Assassin is Found Guilty.

Act One: The Carousel Club

It’s Friday, November 21st, 1963. Nearly 2 AM in downtown Dallas, almost four months before Jack Ruby is convicted of killing Lee Harvey Oswald.

Onstage at the Carousel Club, a 19-year-old exotic dancer named Karen Bennett Carlin is nearing the end of her routine. As she dances, the blinding lights from the back of the room obscure the faces of the men in the audience. But she sure can hear them whooping as she turns her back to remove the last of her outfit.

Known by her stage name “Little Lynn,” Karen has been performing at the Carousel Club for around three months. It’s a busy after-hours place and the nightly show consists of a singer, a ventriloquist, a comedian, and a stripper. Karen has performed in seedy joints so she likes the Carousel. For one thing, the place is frequented by policemen so there’s a lot less trouble. For another, the proprietor, Jack Ruby, seems like a nice man. As the music reaches its crescendo, Karen hopes Ruby is feeling friendly tonight; for she has a favor to ask him.

Before exiting the stage, Karen grabs her clothes and blows the crowd a kiss. Then she darts backstage, puts on a robe, and heads for Jack Ruby’s back office. Karen has learned that she’s very recently pregnant. This means she’s about to lose her income as a stripper, at least temporarily. Her deadbeat husband isn’t bringing in enough money to cover their expenses. And Karen hopes Ruby will lend her $25. But when she gets to his office, the door is locked. He’s gone for the night.

Before going home, Karen asks some of her coworkers about her prospects for getting the loan. The ventriloquist Bill DeMar says the loan is a longshot because Ruby is supposedly deep in debt.

But Karen has heard all sorts of rumors about the club owner: he has mafia ties; he’s a paid informant for the cops; he's a paid informant for the FBI. She doesn’t know what’s fact and what’s fiction. But since taking a job at the Carousel, she’s seen plenty of suspicious activity. Ruby often locks himself in his back office and holds secret meetings with shady people.

And Karen knows firsthand that he’s got a volatile temper too, sometimes he’s rough with the clientele. But he treats the girls well, for the most part, and Karen likes him. She also likes his adorable dachshund, Sheba, who he carries around the club and introduces as his “wife.” He doesn’t drink, he doesn’t smoke and, unlike a lot of club owners, he doesn’t hit on her. Best of all, he’s offered before to help her financially. So when she arrives at her home in Fort Worth later that morning, she decides she’ll call Ruby on the phone and ask for the loan… after she gets some sleep.


Hours later, Karen is startled awake when her husband bursts into the room and tells her to turn on the television. Glancing at the clock, she sees it’s just past 12.30 PM. In a frantic voice, her husband explains, “The President has been shot here in Dallas!”

Moments later, Karen is watching the CBS news bulletin in shock. President Kennedy and his wife Jackie were traveling in a motorcade through Dealey Plaza when three shots were fired from a nearby building, seriously wounding the President. And then, about a half hour later…

"CRONKITE: From Dallas, Texas, the flash apparently official: President Kennedy died at 1:00 PM Central Standard Time, 2:00 PM Eastern Standard Time, some 38 minutes ago."

Karen is inconsolable. She can't imagine who would do such a terrible thing. 

She wonders what sort of world she's bringing a child into, and that reminds her that later that afternoon, she'll need to visit the Carousel Club to ask Ruby for the loan. But when she arrives, the club is closed and Ruby isn’t around. Apparently, he didn't open the club out of respect for the President. So Karen goes back home. And there, her eyes are glued to the television as the day's events unfold.

At around 7.15 PM, the news reports that a man was arrested at the Texas Theater in Oak Cliff for shooting a police officer. The report suggests that this was the same man who assassinated President Kennedy. He is identified as Lee Harvey Oswald.

Throughout the weekend, Karen repeatedly calls Ruby to ask for the $25 loan. Finally, on Sunday morning at 10:30, Ruby answers the phone. He sounds grumpy and distracted but agrees to wire her the money via the Western Union on Main Street. He says it’ll be there within the hour. Karen thanks him profusely before hanging up.

Ruby is true to his word. He drives to the Western Union, with his dog Sheba in his lap. And after completing the money order at 11:17 AM, he leaves the car, and the dog, and walks one block to the Dallas Police Department. He carefully makes his way to the police parking garage. There, he sees a mob of reporters crowding around Lee Harvey Oswald who is handcuffed to a detective. Ruby reaches inside his jacket, pulls out a .38 Colt Cobra Revolver, strides toward Oswald, and shoots him dead.

There are now two shots fired in Dallas that weekend that will echo around the world. And soon enough, Jack Ruby will be called to account for his crime. On March 14th, 1964, America will watch as the jury delivers the first televised verdict in US History.

Act Two: Malice of Forethought

It’s March 4th, 1964 at the Dallas County Criminal Courts Building. The first day of Jack Ruby’s murder trial.

Inside the courtroom, Defense Attorney Melvin Belli sits beside his client Jack Rubenstein, more commonly known as Jack Ruby. Belli and Ruby are fielding questions from an army of reporters who’ve been given unprecedented access to the courtroom. But Bellis doesn’t mind the distraction. He enjoys being the center of attention. That’s why he took this case pro bono.The publicity is all the payment he needs.

Belli is a personal injury lawyer from San Francisco and his flamboyant personality makes him stand out in a conservative city like Dallas. While many of the other lawyers wear Stetson hats and sober suits, Belli wears fashionable Italian footwear and an expensive tailored suit from Savile Row in London. He harbors ambitions to be an actor and so when he addresses the press he does so with Shakespearian grandeur, but his performance is lacking. Already he has insulted the people of Dallas. When asked on television what he thinks of the jury, he replied that their intelligence is “much higher than the cross-section of Dallas.”

And during the trial, that jury is told that the charge against Jack Ruby is that he “voluntarily and with malice of forethought killed Lee Harvey Oswald with a gun.” Belli knows that the only way he can save his client from the death penalty is to prove that the murder was not premeditated.

So in his opening statement, Belli tells the jury that he intends to prove that “the fates conspired against Jack Ruby.” Overcome by a “sudden passion” to avenge his fallen President, Belli asserts that the defendant committed murder in a state of insanity. Belli explains that Ruby just happened to be carrying a gun that morning because many Dallas businessmen carry guns when they deal in cash.

To make his case, Belli calls a number of psychiatrists to the stand. These experts claim that when Ruby shot Oswald he was suffering from “psychomotor epilepsy”, a kind of fugue state in which Ruby would have mentally blacked out.

But thanks to the widespread media coverage, Belli’s argument comes to the attention of the President of the National Epilepsy Association. Incensed that the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald is being blamed on a form of epilepsy, he contacts the Dallas District Attorney and directs them to his own experts. Within days, the prosecution puts these psychiatrists on the stand and they quickly dismantle Belli’s argument. Still, Belli remains confident; he can prove Ruby did not premeditate the crime. So he calls for a character witness who he hopes will help him make his case.


On March 7th, Ruby’s former employee Karen Carlin, also known as Little Lynn, climbs the steps of the Dallas Criminal Courts Building. Now heavily pregnant, Karen wishes she had never met Jack Ruby. Her landlord asked her to leave her apartment due to her association with the killer, and her relationship with her husband is hanging on by a thread.

Just as Karen reaches the top of the building stairs, her eyes go wide when a man in a convict outfit charges toward her pursued by policemen. As he barrels past Karen, he bumps into her and nearly knocks her down the stairs. Thankfully, one of the policemen catches her fall. She’s confident she and her baby are okay, but still, it’s an unsettling way to start an already unsettling day. 

Then on the stand, Karen describes Ruby as having a volatile temper. She says she’s witnessed him commit acts of violence toward customers in the club. This testimony supports Belli’s depiction of Ruby as an impulsive hothead, not a premeditated murderer.

Karen also confirms that she asked Ruby to travel to the Western Union Bank on her behalf and that he agreed to do it less than an hour before Oswald was killed. The time of the bank transaction was just four minutes before the murder took place which helps demonstrate the unlikelihood of “malice of forethought.”

As the trial nears its end, Belli stresses how haphazard Jack Ruby’s behavior was in the hour before he killed Lee Harvey Oswald. He hopes that in this way he can spare Ruby the death penalty. But the State prosecution has yet to make its full case. And after they’re finished, on March 14th, 1964, a jury of twelve Dallas citizens will decide Jack Ruby’s fate.

Act Three: Verdict 

It’s March 13th, 1964 at the Dallas Criminal Courts Building. The day before Jack Ruby receives his sentence.

In his typically exuberant style, Melvin Belli begins his closing argument by declaring that he could have been a brain surgeon. He hopes this assertion will convince the jury that he knows his stuff when it comes to the human mind. Staring at their faces, they don't look impressed.

Belli then reminds the jury of how much his client loved his dog, Sheba. Belli asks if they truly believe a man so attached to his pet could knowingly drive her to the scene of a pre-planned murder and leave her in an unlocked car before proceeding to shoot a man dead.

Belli knows he’s grasping for straws. The trial has been a disaster. One of his star witnesses, a psychiatrist, buckled under cross-examination, admitting to the court that she doubts ‘psychomotor epilepsy’ would compel someone to commit murder.

Not only that, but several police witnesses testified that Ruby was perfectly lucid after the shooting, openly claiming that he fully intended to kill Oswald. The prosecution also exposed the fact that Ruby had been following Oswald for days.

Indeed, at Oswald’s press conference, held on the evening of Kennedy’s assassination, Ruby was there, lurking among the crowd of reporters. This fact supported the State’s case that Ruby’s “unnatural desire to be around Lee Harvey Oswald” suggested premeditation.

Soon, Belli watches as the State attorney makes his closing argument. In a loud, booming voice, the prosecutor declares that by killing Lee Harvey Oswald before he could face trial, Ruby had “mocked American justice while the spotlight of the world was on Dallas.” He adds that “it didn't take guts to shoot a manacled man” and that “this was not an act of an automaton.” He urges the jury to “show Jack Ruby the same mercy, sympathy, and compassion that he showed Lee Harvey Oswald.”

The following day, on March 14th, the jury return with their verdict. As a television camera broadcasts the moment live to the nation, the head juror declares that Jack Ruby is guilty of murder with malice. Immediately afterward, Ruby receives his sentence: the death penalty.

But two years later, Ruby’s conviction and death sentence will be overturned. The following year, Ruby will be diagnosed with cancer while awaiting a second trial. Eventually, he will pass away at Parkland Hospital, the same place where President Kennedy and Lee Harvey Oswald also died.

The full truth surrounding Jack Ruby’s murder of Lee Harvey Oswald remains a mystery and the subject of countless conspiracy theories. As with Lee Harvey Oswald, any secrets Jack Ruby may have been harboring died with him. But much of what is known was first exposed at his trial, the conclusion of one of the most shocking events in American history, which came to an end on March 14th, 1964.


Next on History Daily. March 15th, 44 BC. Dozens of Roman senators carry out a plot to assassinate Julius Caesar on the "Ides of March".

From Noiser and Airship, this is History Daily, hosted, edited, and executive produced by me, Lindsay Graham.

Audio editing by Mollie Baack.

Sound design by Mischa Stanton.

Music by Lindsay Graham.

This episode is written and researched by James Benmore.

Executive Producers are Steven Walters for Airship, and Pascal Hughes for Noiser.