Dan Abrams has written a book called “Kennedy’s Avenger” about the Jack Ruby trial. I can’t wait to read it when it comes out on 6/1. I’ve spent a lot of time studying that case, and along the way got to meet Dallas Detective Jim Leavelle. He survived Pearl Harbor, testified in the “Trial of the Century,” retired a legendary detective, and attained the age of 99. While researching a presentation Toby Shook and I did for the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza called “The Assassin’s Assassin,” the tall man in the light suit wearing the Stetson hat in Bob Jackson’s famous, Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph told me all about his experience with Jack Ruby, the man who killed Lee Harvey Oswald. Links to follow.
At the beginning of his career, Leavelle was tasked with making sure Dallas nightclubs followed the rules – closed when they were supposed to and stopped serving booze at certain times, among other things. Ruby’s clubs were on Leavelle’s beat. As such, Leavelle and Ruby knew each other for nearly 15 years before Ruby made that fateful walk down the ramp into the basement of the Dallas Police Headquarters and into history.
I asked him what he thought of Ruby: “He was always honest with me. He never caused any trouble. He was sometimes hot-headed and picked on the drunks he knew he could whoop. But he never lied to me, and always followed the rules.”
The day after Ruby killed Oswald, Det. Leavelle escorted Ruby to the Dallas County Jail from DPD headquarters. Along the way, Ruby told Leavelle why he did it: “he just wanted to be a hero. He wanted to have the glory of killing the man who killed a beloved president.” Ruby thought he’d be arrested and charged, but he thought the Grand Jury wouldn’t indict him. Or if they did, he wouldn’t get more than a few years. Then he’d return to his night club, where people would come from far and wide to be seen at the club owned and operated by a legend.
Instead, Jack Ruby was sentenced to death, a verdict that surprised Leavelle. “I didn’t think he’d get the death penalty. I thought he’d get life in prison.”
The Detective was nice enough to come to the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza to listen to the “Assassin’s Assassin” Case presentation in 2017 (as were the others in the picture above). He sat in the front row and listened intently. Here I was recounting a story I had to piece together from old transcripts and a couple black and white videos. He was there. He lived it. He interrogated Oswald. He questioned Ruby. He testified against Melvin Belli and Joe Tonahill. It scared me to death.
I didn’t want to screw it up, but I did.
When the presentation was over, and before asking for his autograph, I asked him what he thought. He said, “you forgot to tell ’em what he told me the next day.” Thank you, Detective. Today, I won’t forget.
Links of Interest
Dan Abrams Book is called “Kennedy’s Avenger. Assassination, conspiracy and the Forgotten Trial of Jack Ruby.”
The 2017 presentation of the Jack Ruby Case Study at the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza is on their YouTube Channel. In 2019, WBAP’s Eric Bushman and I did a podcast on the case called “Jack Ruby: The Original Trial of the Century.”
Watch Detective Leavelle here in 2012 on a panel discussion moderated by Gloria Campos with Bob Huffaker from KRLD radio, Fred Rheinstein from NBC, Gary DeLaune from KLIF and Bob Jackson the Photographer from the Dallas Times Herald. Here is a 45 minute discussion with former Museum Curator Gary Mack as part of the Museum’s 45th Anniversary program series.
In 2007, Det. Leavelle and Eddie Barker sat down for about an hour. Mr. Barker was the news director for KRLD-TV/Channel 4 in 1963, and was the first to announce President Kennedy’s death. The two were introduced by Judge Joe B. Brown, Jr., son of Judge Joe Brown who presided over Jack Ruby’s trial in 1964.
This post is updated from one that originally appeared on 8/30/2019 after Det. Leavelle passed away.