His case file looked like all the others in the storage facility for the DA’s Office in Dallas: a collection of a dozen or so dusty brown and white banker boxes. The difference? The name written on the outside: Jack Ruby.
I’m writing to share how I came to be involved in preserving the file for the public. I’m also including links to the transcript and a podcast I did to celebrate the 55th anniversary of the Jack Ruby trial.
It wasn’t long after I started at the DA’s Office in 2002 that I heard talk around the Dallas County Criminal Courts building about it for the first time. One of my supervisors happened to be on the same elevator with me and some others, including a well-dressed man whose baritone radio voice politely announced to the other passengers he needed to exit. When the man walked out, the supervisor turns to me and says, “That’s Bill Alexander. He prosecuted Jack Ruby.”
I suppose he was looking for an awestruck reaction. And he would’ve gotten one had I known what he was talking about.
Sad but true. Growing up, I was more concerned with sports and music than history. I knew about the assassination of JFK, sure; but if I ever heard of Ruby’s trial before that day, I honestly can’t remember.
There is an ever-present mystique about that trial at the Courthouse, and random chats like the one in the elevator happened all the time. I was introduced to a bailiff who was in the basement when Ruby killed Oswald. A friend of mine gifted me a transcript of Bill Alexander’s closing argument. He even got Mr. Alexander to sign it.
As time went on, I began handling cold cases. Some of those required me to locate old files in the DA Storage facility. That’s when I first saw Ruby’s file. I was curious about the contents of those boxes when I saw them, but didn’t have a reason to get permission to go through them. I thought it a shame, though, that this major piece of American history sat in secret, untouched for years at a time.
Fast forward to 2016. My days of trying cases behind me. I got into a debate with some folks around here about the biggest trials to have ever occurred in Dallas. We can debate that list sometime, but Ruby usually ranked first over everyone else (e.g.,Walker Railey, Darlie Routier, Darryl L. Cain, Michael Rodriguez, Charles Albright, Randall Dale Adams).
I thought back to that dusty set of boxes, and decided to try and bring it to the public. I couldn’t think of a better place than the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza to help. I partnered with then-District Attorney Susan Hawk and made arrangements to have the file loaned to the Museum on a 10-year-basis. In exchange, the Museum will properly care for it, and is arranging to have the file scanned and made available online. Stay tuned for more details about the release.
Once the arrangements were made, the DA’s office made the file available to me to review and organize. Part of me wondered whether the file would be somehow unique compared to the other files I’ve handled or created working up a case for trial. Perhaps there would be something special in it, some document or picture immediately indicating this was the case file for the “Trial of the Century.”
In some ways, the file didn’t disappoint: Ruby’s copy of a partially torn full-page ad published in the Dallas Morning News Ruby’s on the 22nd entitled “Welcome Mr. Kennedy to Dallas,” Ruby’s holster that ostensibly carried the .38 Colt Cobra he used to kill Oswald, a number of his push-cards advertising “Jada” as the star dancer at his Carousel Club, Carousel Club member cards, a hand drawn, scaled crime scene diagram of the Sixth Floor of the Texas School Book Depository, scores of letters from all over the world praising and scolding District Attorney Henry Wade for Ruby’s prosecution, and reels of film and audio recordings.
The hours I spent going through those boxes flew by in seconds. It was an exhilarating journey, full of discovery and surprise. One day, I found a transcript of a tape recorded conversation between Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby from days before the assassination.
I nearly had a heart attack.
For about 30 minutes, I thought I’d uncovered a single piece of evidence that would have rewritten the history books until I realized it was a part of a movie script written in the 70’s. In my defense, it did look like an official transcript, numbered margins and all. But, it was not to be. Looks like the history books are safe for now.
Mostly, however, the file was remarkably familiar. The witness statement forms and prosecution report layouts looked like they do today. Same with the property lists and receipts from the Dallas Police Department. Lee Harvey Oswald’s autopsy report looks the same as autopsy reports generated today. Henry Wade’s closing argument notes written on canary-yellow legal pads look like they could have been left by a lawyer in my courtroom yesterday.
I organized the file as best I could, and transferred it to the Museum. Combined, we were able to piece together a transcript of the entire proceedings – from the initial bail hearing to the change of venue hearing, voir dire through closing arguments. A few months later, the Museum allowed Toby Shook and me access to some of their spectacular digital archives to create a case study called “The Assassin’s Assassin.” The Museum hosted the event, and put some of the items on display. Check out this article in the Dallas Observer written by Stephen Young with some great pictures by photographer Brian Maschino of some of the case file items.
To celebrate the 55th anniversary of the trial, WBAP Newsman Eric Bushman and I did a daily podcast summarizing each day’s testimony from the first witness to the verdict. The Closing Argument Episode is easily my favorite because of the unique combination of Ruby trial fans who read actual portions of the closings that we recorded in my Courtroom: District Attorney John Creuzot as Henry Wade, Toby Shook as Joe Tonahill, Steve Eagar as Jim Bowie, Attorney Nigel Redmond as Phil Burleson, Prosecutors Bryan Mitchell and Leighton D’Antoni as Frank Watts and Bill Alexander, respectively. I am grateful to each for sharing their time and talents in the name of history.
Take a listen to the Jack Ruby podcast, and let me know your thoughts.
The Texas State Library Digital Archive houses the entire Jack Ruby Trial Transcript: If you want to go to a specific day of the trial, click below (Each volume corresponds to a single day of the trial, beginning on Wednesday, March 4th, 1964).