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"Just Terrible Strange"
The serendipity behind Jack Ruby and Lee Harvey Oswald crossing paths 60-years ago this morning
Sixty years ago today, Jack Ruby’s housekeeper, Elnora Pitts, woke him up when she called between 8:30 and 9:00. She asked whether she should stop by to clean the apartment later that day.
“He sounded just terrible strange to me,” she recalled. He told her to call back at 2:00 before she came over.
Ruby did not get out of bed for another half an hour. His roommate, George Senator, noticed he was a “little worse this day … the way he talked. He was even mumbling, which I didn’t understand.… His lips were going. What he was jabbering, I don’t know. But he was really pacing.”
Ruby turned on the television to listen to the latest news and read the morning’s Dallas Times Herald. At 10:19, while still lounging in the apartment in his underwear, one of his dancers, Karen Carlin, called (her phone record revealed the exact time).
“I have called, Jack, to try to get some money, because the rent is due and I need some money for groceries and you told me to call.”
Ruby asked how much she needed, and she said $25. He offered to send it to her by the downtown Western Union, the only place in Dallas from which he could send money on a Sunday. It would “take a little while to get dressed” he told her.
According to Senator, Ruby got ready slowly. “Jack was never a fast dresser or never a fast washer.… He sure had a moody and very faraway look to me. It was a look that I had never seen before on him …”
Ruby left the apartment a few minutes before 11:00. His drive downtown took him past Dealey Plaza, where he saw the growing tribute of flowers and notes left overnight in memory of the President. That sight brought him to tears, the same as his friends and family had seen him break down the previous two nights. As he drove past the police headquarters he noticed a large crowd. Several hundred had gathered before 10:00 to watch Oswald’s transfer to the sheriff’s custody. If everything had gone according to plan, Oswald would have been moved by the time Ruby drove downtown.
However, the transfer had undergone a series of last-second changes and Oswald was still there. The original plan to transfer Oswald in an armored truck went awry when two armored vehicles arrived that were unusable. One was too small to hold guards, and the other was too tall to fit under the jail’s eight-foot driveway clearance. The police decided to use the larger armored truck as a decoy and move Oswald in an unmarked police car.
One of the biggest delays to the scheduled transfer was caused by the arrival of postal inspector Harry Holmes for a final interrogation. “I had been in and out of Captain Fritz’s office on numerous occasions during this 2½-day period,” recalled Holmes. “On this morning, I had no appointment. I actually started to church with my wife. I got to church and I said, ‘You get out, I am going down and see if I can do something for Captain Fritz. I imagine he is as sleepy as I am.’” When Holmes arrived at police headquarters, the police chief asked if Holmes wanted to participate in the final interrogation of Oswald. Holmes’s extensive questioning about Oswald’s use of his post-office boxes made the session run long. Captain Will Fritz, chief of Homicide, remembered, “We went, I believe, an hour overtime with the interrogation, but we tried to finish by 10:00 …” Holmes remembered that near the end of the session, Chief Curry “was beating on the door.” The questioning lasted more than one and a half hours and did not end until shortly after 11:00 A.M.
At 11:05 Ruby parked across the street from the Western Union station, only a block from police headquarters. He left his favorite dog, Sheba, in the car. He would only be gone a few minutes. At Western Union, he filled out the forms for sending $25 to Karen Carlin. Then he patiently waited in line while another customer completed her transaction. According to the clerk, Ruby seemed in no hurry. It was impossible for him to know that Oswald had not been transferred. There was no television or radio at the Western Union office. Although there was a public telephone, Ruby did not use it. When he finally got to the counter, the cost for sending the moneygram totaled $26.87. He gave $30 and waited for his change while the clerk finished filling out the forms and then time-stamped the document Ruby’s receipt was stamped 11:17.
When Ruby left Western Union, he was less than two hundred steps from the entrance to police headquarters. On the third floor, police had informed Oswald shortly after 11:00 that they were taking him downstairs for his transfer to the sheriffs jail. Oswald asked if he could change his clothes. Captain Fritz sent for some sweaters, and when they were brought to him, Oswald put on a beige one. Then he changed his mind and switched to a black sweater. If Oswald had not decided at the last moment to change his clothes, he would have left the jail five minutes earlier, while Ruby was still inside the Western Union office.
Now, Ruby walked the one block along Main Street and stopped near the eight-foot-wide ramp way. It was guarded by policeman E. R. Vaughn. At 11:20, about fifty-five seconds before Oswald was shot, Lt. Rio Pierce drove a black car up the Main Street ramp as part of the decoy plan. That ramp was normally a one-way entrance into headquarters, but Pierce was forced to use it as an exit since the large armored truck that was originally scheduled to move Oswald was blocking the Commerce Street ramp. Officer Roy Vaughn stepped away from the center of the ramp into the middle of Main Street in order to stop the traffic so Pierce could safely exit.
Ruby slipped inside while Vaughn was distracted. Oswald was about to be escorted through the garage and a contingent of reporters.
Jack Ruby walked down the ramp and into the history books.