March 10, 1964: Ruby’s Roots

March 10, 1964: Ruby’s Roots

Today is Tuesday March, 10, 1964. The Defense fires their biggest guns, Doctors Towler and Guttmacher, and Jurors look at Jack Ruby’s brain. Continue reading for this episode’s script.

University of Texas at Medical Branch at Galveston Professor of Neurology and Psychiatry Dr. Martin Towler took the stand at 9:00 AM today, the first of the defense’s two major expert witnesses defending Jack Ruby against the charge of murder against Lee Harvey Oswald. He is a diplomat on the American board of Neurology and Psychiatry and on the American Board of Electroencephalography. He came to Dallas on January 27th this year to examine Jack Ruby, and was accompanied by 2 other doctors named Stubblefield and Holbrook. The next day, the group took Ruby to a lab to perform the Electroencephalogram on the accused slayer. But before he told jurors of the results of his test, he related to jurors jack ruby’s history, as told to him by Ruby’s sister, Eva Grant. With more on Ruby’s background, let’s go to Eric Bushman.

Ruby was a large child at birth, weighing 11 pounds. Her mother said that Ruby’s had been a quote: hard birth. At 10, Ruby had scabies; at 13, a tonsillectomy. Other than that, Ruby had no serious childhood illnesses. During the influenza epidemic of 1918, ruby had a bad case of the flu. He never had fainting spells or any loss of consciousness other than a quote fainting episode in 1935 when Barney Ross was knocked down during  a prize fight. Growing up, ruby’s family was destitute, suffering from the alcoholic excessiveness and threatening and abusive behavior on the part of their Father. At some point, Ruby’s mother was incarcerated at the Elgin State Hospital. In school, he was an average student, was promoted regularly, but had frequent fights and dropped out of school in the ninth grade because of his lack of funds and adequate clothing necessitated his need to work to support the family. Finally, jurors also learned that as an adult, Ruby was involved in a number of brawls, including one in 1951 in which the end of the forefinger on his left hand was so severely  bitten that it had to be medically amputated. Ruby told the Doctor that he wanted to keep fit for his job, something that he took pride in. in the months leading up to Oswald’s killing, he was taking Preludin to control his weight.

Ruby also told doctors that he had strange sensations in his head, transient in character, where he felt as though he would blackout, during which he felt dormant and wanted to just sit down and be alone. They lasted approximately 30 to 40 seconds. Based on his history and these peculiar feelings in his head, Dr. Towler testified he could either confirm or rule out a mental disorder with an EEG.

Dr. Towler answered for jurors what it’s like for a person in the throes of a psychomotor seizure. They manifest themselves almost exclusively in physical phenomenon, unusual smells and tastes, sensations of giddiness, impairment, gallantry, an unusual detachment from reality. Some patients feel an overwhelming moodiness, despondency and despair, and unpredictability of behavior. When asked if they can do normal everyday activities, Dr. Towler said they could, and even could with precision, however they were performing those acts as an automaton, one either with quote smattering bits of memory of the event or none at all, as most of these patients are amnesic for the entire episode.

The Doctor told jurors about a term we heard a lot of today and may hear throughout the rest of the trial: confabulation. That term describes when an individual fills in his memory gaps with something that may or may not have transpired. The individual is trying to cover up his memory gap or memory deficit. Perhaps this is why, according to the defense, Ruby would be able to say things that sound as if his memory really does work, but in reality, his mind is filling in the gaps.

Ruby was given the EEG on January 28th and 29th. Those readings were admitted into court today as defendant’s exhibits 7 and 8. Dr. Towler and Chief Defense Attorney Melvin Belli both stood in front of the jurors with these long white printouts of Jack Ruby’s printouts. The first, Defense number 7 was normal. Defense 8, however, showed Dr. Towler, a disturbance of functioning of the brain physically indicative of organic brain damage. With that, according to the Defensive theory, jurors have physical tangible proof of brain damage.

Just before lunch, it was District Attorney Henry Wade’s chance to cross examine the Doctor from Galveston. Through his questioning, Wade pointed out that the subject – Jack Ruby – was a meek, cooperative, 52 year old male, healthy in appearance, without evidence of illness. That his intellectual level is well within the limits of normal, who speaks clearly, coherently and freely, only with an occasional slight lisp. Wade summarized his point with this question, “What I am getting at, everything you asked him, everything that you found out, was normal – your conversation with him, and anything else in talking to him, other than this one thing, this disorder?” The Doctor answered, “right.” Wade followed up by asking Dr. Towler whether he had an opinion that Jack Ruby qualified for the legal test of insanity at the time of the shooting. Prosecutors will surely tell jurors that Towler’s next answers greatly damaged Ruby’s Defense: “I have not attempted to establish that.” He also told jurors he had no way of knowing that Ruby was in a seizure at the time of the killing of Lee Harvey Oswald.

After Dr. Towler finished, The court recessed for lunch, after which the Defense called Dr. Manfred Guttmacher, a psychiatrist with the Supreme Court of Maryland, graduate from Johns Hopkins University, with experience working with epileptic patients. Perhaps seeking to repair the damage from Wade’s cross examination of Dr. Towler, the Defense started out their examination of Dr. Guttmacher with his final opinion: Jack Ruby was not capable of distinguishing right from wrong, and did not realize the nature and consequences of his act at the time of the alleged homicide committed against Lee Harvey Oswald. The author of textbooks on the subject such as the “Mind of a Murderer” told jurors he began working on the Jack Ruby case shortly after November 22nd, and formalized his opinion in a report he wrote on January 7th, 1964. With more on that opinion, Eric Bushman.

According to Dr. Guttmacher, Ruby’s background played a significant role, and he shared more about that background with jurors. Ruby’s father was a drunken immigrant carpenter who tyrannized his family. Ruby was placed in a foster home when he was 8 and was in half a dozen foster homes from then until he was 15 or 16. His mother suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, the cause of her forced hospitalization. Ruby’s brother was also hospitalized for acute depression. The family history does not have a direct relationship between the number of epileptics who have parents with paranoid schizophrenia, but he said that there is a general consensus that the more psychiatric disease in one’s background, the more likely one is to have it.

At this point, Guttmacher told jurors what he thought happened to Jack Ruby when he killed Lee Harvey Oswald – the centerpiece of Ruby’s Defense: “I think we are dealing with a very abnormal individual with a very abnormal personality structure. He has a very weak ego structure. He was under tremendous emotion impact of a period of a couple of days. I think he was struggling to keep his sanity. He had an unusual degree of involvement in the whole tragedy, and I think he came upon this perpetrator of the assassination and that this caused a disruption of his ego. I think there was a temporary, very  short lived, psychotic episode.  All of his defenses crumbled, and the deep heavy hostile aggressive part of his makeup, which is very strong became focused on this Lee Harvey Oswald and the homicide was the result of it.”

Dr. Guttmacher was also described for jurors some of the paranoid behaviors exhibited by Ruby. During the pretrial preparations, Ruby exhibited distrust of his lawyers and his psychiatrists. He would look under the table and in the ceiling to make sure there wasn’t a wire. “There is a very definite paranoid flavor to his thinking, unusually beyond normal,” the Dr. Guttmacher concluded.

And what about President Kennedy? How did Ruby feel about the President? Guttmacher told jurors that Ruby said he quote “fell for that man,” using the kind of terms for the president which one uses for someone that one is in love with.  The fact that President Kennedy was himself a member of a minority group, and his determined stand on civil rights, had a special impact on Jack Ruby according to Ruby himself. Dr. Guttmacher described Ruby’s psychological relationship to President Kennedy as a very unusual one. Ruby saw President Kennedy as not only the head of state, but the idealized and idolized father figure, the leading member of a perfect family group. Because of his own wretched early life, Ruby became the vicarious participating member of his own family group. This type of identification with the nations ruling family group and feelings for the president intensified with the President’s death.

Through Dr. Guttmacher, we now know what Jack Ruby himself says about the day he killed presidential assassin Lee Harvey Oswald:  On Sunday, he left his apartment around 10:30 telling his friend he was going to go to send the telegram, and go to his club and walk the dog. He had a dog with him, he stopped on the street and talked with a neighbor, talking about fences. He parked his car outside the western union office, and sent the telegram to his dancer. He said the newspaper reported that Oswald would be transferred from the police station to the county jail somewhere around 10. On walking out of the Western Union office, he saw a crowd gathering outside the police station. His curiosity led him there. He thought District Attorney Wade or Captain Fritz would be talking and he might be able to get a scoop for one of his friends at the radio station. Suddenly, much to his astonishment, Oswald appeared between two guards. “He had a very smirky expression, he looked cunning and vicious, like an animal, like a communist, I felt like I was looking at a rat. I don’t recall if I said you killed my president or if I said anything at all.” Ruby professes a hazy memory of the actual events. He doesn’t’ know why he didn’t shoot more than once, nor whether he was wrestled to the floor in the elevator. He recalls saying “you don’t have to beat my brains out. I’m Jack Ruby.” He said it flashed in his mind, why are all these guys jumping on top of me? I’m a very known person to police and everybody else. I’m not somebody who is a screwball.

What has become a major point of contention and argument throughout the trial has been Ruby’s ability to actually remember, or whether some of the memories Ruby recalls aren’t memories at all but “confabulation.” According to Dr. Guttmacher, Ruby hates to feel that there’s a period in his life when he was awake and yet doesn’t know what was going on. There’s a great tendency on the part of most people to fill in this void. The Doctor concluded by saying that there is a very strong possibility that a good deal of what Ruby says he remembers is something that he actually got from others.

Guttmacher was also asked to tell jurors what Ruby thinks about the man that he killed, Lee Harvey Oswald. In Dr. Guttmacher’s opinion, “there isn’t any real guilt about it. Ruby has used the word “rat” on several occasions when talking about Oswald. He feels that he’s an exterminator, and that’s what he did – he killed a rat. Ruby denies the humanity of Oswald.” When Dr. Guttmacher asked Ruby about the effect of the killing on Oswald’s wife and children, he said, “you have no right to ask me a question like that. That’s an unfair question. He’s such a vile man. I couldn’t think of him as a father.” In Dr. Guttmacher’s opinion, Ruby had no real feelings of guilt about taking the life of another human being because he doesn’t consider him to be one.

Tension between the lawyers erupted during Dr. Guttmacher’s testimony. When Henry Wade objected the “rambling” answer given by Guttmacher, Belli exclaimed: “I resent this cornball talk, Judge. This is a learned scientist, and to say he’s rambling on is insulting to him, from a sophisticated town like Dallas. Are we going to put up with it?” Mr. Wade replied, “Well, I object to it and I think he is rambling.” Belli: That’s because you don’t understand, and for one person who doesn’t understand to say someone is rambling, I think is the height of Ignorance!” Judge Brown wasn’t having any of it: “Let’s get on, counsel!” he commanded.

Prosecutor Bill Alexander cross-examined Dr. Guttmacher this afternoon, reading from the book written by Dr. Guttmacher himself: “A form of disorder frequently encountered in the courtroom though not elsewhere, is temporary insanity. A man without any history of mental abnormality prior to the act, and exhibiting no symptoms upon examination afterwards is about as likely to medical men as a momentary uremia in a man with perfectly normal kidney function.” Prosecutor Alexander is hoping jurors will apply this reasoning to Jack Ruby, the man they say was able to successfully run night clubs and had no mental history until now that he’s on trial for murder.

We also know what the Judge was reading during the trial. While the attorneys, doctors and jurors huddled of Jack Ruby’s EEG tracings today, Judge Brown occupied his idle moments on the bench reading a magazine. The title in bold, red letters plainly visible to spectators and newsmen? “The Ruby Trial.”

For all the people making their way to the historic trial, if you can get a seat, you can watch. Except for one person. Lee Harvey Oswald’s Mother Marguerite. The instant she arrived at the courthouse this morning, Captain Buckalew served her with a subpoena to appear as a witness. Who issued the subpoena? Henry Wade and  his team. Sheriff Decker took her before Judge Brown who swore her in as a witness, automatically barring her further entrance into the courtroom unless called to testify. She left the courtroom and answered questions for the press. “I am here as a spectator and as a mother. I have the courage to stand up for the American way of life. That’s why I am here.” The prosecution made no immediate comment as to when she might be called to testify.

Day 5 of the Trial of the Century is in the history books. Join us tomorrow as we cover day 6. The defense is expected to continue with their medical testimony. —End of Episode


The transcript of the trial on the merits of the Jack Ruby trial is publicly available online from the Texas State Library and Archives Commission, Texas Digital Archive in the Court of Criminal Appeals Centralized Court Case Files Collection (each volume corresponds to 1 day of testimony).

From the Dallas Times Herald on location at the Sixth Floor Museum as donated by Dallas Times Herald Reporter Bob Fenley:

  • Judge Gets Inside Info, March 10, 1964, evening edition.
  • Oswald’s Mother Barred At trial, March 10, 1964, evening edition.