By Gerald Posner
Jack Ruby’s long-distance telephone activity jumped significantly during the months before JFK was assassinated. Some people cite it as evidence that Ruby was involved in a Mafia conspiracy to kill the president (this despite the fact that most of the calls were made before the President’s trip to Dallas was publicly announced and long before the motorcade route was set). In fact, the calls marked Ruby’s failed efforts resolve a dispute with the American Guild of Variety Artists (AGVA), the union responsible for the strippers at his Dallas nightclub. Ruby was trying to convince AGVA to intervene to stop his competitors, Abe and Barney Weinstein, from introducing amateur strip teasers not covered by the union.
Were any of Ruby’s calls evidence of a Mob plot to kill JFK?
The House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) in the late 1970s did an extensive computer analysis of Ruby’s five home and business telephone numbers for 1963. The HSCA checked each number Ruby telephoned, as well as the records of every person he called, and concluded that most of the increases in his long-distance bill were due solely to his AGVA problems.
But three of those calls, said the HSCA, were of possible significance to the Kennedy case. However, my own investigation reveals the calls were not as mysterious as the Select Committee assumed.
The first was to Chicago bail bondsman Irwin Weiner who often represented Mob figures. The HSCA feared he might have been a link for Ruby to crime bosses. Adding to suspicions, Weiner refused to cooperate with the FBI in its Warren Commission investigation.
“I gave Irwin Weiner’s number to my brother,” Earl Ruby told me in 1992. “I had gone to school with Weiner; we graduated high school together. I used to see him on visits to California. He was a big bondsman for everyone, and he handled the Mafia. It was in the newspapers—you could read about it. I thought he might be able to help Jack with the union. Jack didn’t even know Weiner, for God’s sake.”
Weiner later admitted that Ruby called him once, about his AGVA problem; however, Weiner admitted he did not offer Ruby any help.
The second call was to a trailer park in New Orleans, to the office of Nofio Pecora, a lieutenant to New Orleans godfather Carlos Marcello. This October 30, 1963, call was of interest to the HSCA since it proved Ruby had contact with a high-ranking aide to Marcello less than a month before the assassination. However, it turns out the call was not even intended for Pecora.
Harold Tannenbaum, a fellow nightclub owner and friend of Ruby’s, lived in that trailer park, the Tropical Court Tourist Park. Tannenbaum had arranged the deal that allowed Ruby to bring one of his top strippers, Jada, from New Orleans to Dallas, and Ruby often called him at both his trailer-park home as well as his French Quarter nightclub to complain about his contractual problems with the temperamental dancer.
In 1978, Pecora told the Select Committee that he did not know Ruby nor did he remember ever speaking to him.
However, Pecora, who ran the trailer park from his one-man office, admitted he occasionally took a message for someone in the park, but did not remember doing so for Ruby. But apparently that is exactly what he did. There is no way to know if Ruby first telephoned Tannenbaum’s home since if no one was there, there would be no toll record. The call to Pecora’s office lasted less than one minute. Within the hour, Tannenbaum apparently received the message from Pecora and returned Ruby’s call, collect, for twenty-one minutes.
The third call that stumped the Select Committee actually comprised three calls, two on November 7, and one on November 8, all to Robert “Barney” Baker, an aide to Teamster boss Jimmy Hoffa. Baker had been released from prison in June 1963. The committee was concerned since Hoffa had such a well-known hatred for both John and Robert Kennedy. However, Baker and Ruby did not know each other before Ruby called him on November 7, 1963.
When the FBI contacted Baker in 1964, he spoke to them openly. He told the agents that on November 7, Ruby had telephoned, but Baker was not in and his wife had taken a return number in Dallas. When Baker got home, he called that number collect. Ruby introduced himself, explained his labor-union problems with his club, and sought Baker’s assistance. Baker did not help, nor did he remember the last call the following day.
What is critical is that at the time Baker spoke to the FBI and talked about Ruby’s AGVA problems, it was independent of knowing that Ruby had also told the police that the conversations were about union problems. Moreover, Baker, who thought the FBI tapped his phone lines (most Hoffa associates assumed the Federal government had them under constant surveillance) reportedly challenged the agents to check their tapes and listen to the conversation if they had any doubts. Unfortunately, there apparently was no surveillance of his line.
Despite Ruby’s intervention with the AGVA board and his pleas to organized crime figures, no one came to his aid. His dispute with AGVA was still unresolved the weekend the President was assassinated.
Finally, even if there was a plot to kill Kennedy and then silence Oswald, it is difficult to imagine that Oswald would have been allowed to get away from the shooting alive. The three days during which he was interrogated were more than enough time for him to expose the conspiracy. If he was really a patsy who did not know anything, there was no reason to kill him. The conspirators could not know where Oswald would be arrested or whether state or Federal authorities would have jurisdiction over him. The only way that Ruby was useful to a conspiracy was to penetrate the police security at the local Dallas jail. But that Oswald would be captured and placed there was only one of many things that could have happened to him. Therefore, conspiring with Ruby in September and October, when Ruby made the calls examined by the HSCA, made no practical sense.
Why inform Ruby about a plot to kill the President when he had no need to know? If he was really given a Mafia assignment to kill Oswald, his telephone activity would have increased from the afternoon of the assassination until the day Oswald was killed. But Ruby’s long-distance calls were all made much earlier, not during the assassination weekend.
@Copyright Gerald Posner, 1993, 2013