An Eye Witness in Dealey Plaza
I was in Dealey Plaza the day Kennedy was shot, but it was quite by accident. At the time, I was a student at Arlington State College, a commuter school located about 15 miles west of Dallas. I lived in Oak Cliff with my wife who was a first-year school teacher. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t be going into downtown Dallas, but on this particular day, I was headed there to apply for a part-time job in the advertising department of the Dallas Morning News, located at Young and Houston about four blocks south of Dealey Plaza.
I arrived at the Morning News building around 12:15 p.m. As I was entering the building, Jack Ruby was leaving. I had met Ruby briefly in July or August, 1963, while I was visiting with my brother-in-law, Officer W.E. “Gene” Barnett. Gene was a foot patrolman with the Dallas Police Department. He was stationed at the corner of Commerce and Akard Street, about a block from Jack Ruby’s Carousel Club. Ruby would often stop to chat with Gene.
My wife had a summer job at the downtown Sanger-Harris department store, and I would drive into town to pick her up after work. Sometimes I would go early to avoid the traffic, and to kill time I would stop at Commerce and Akard to visit my brother-in-law as he stood in front of the Baker Hotel. We loved to talk football, especially Dallas Cowboy football now that local favorite “Dandy” Don Meredith was set to become the starting quarterback for the 1963 season. Meredith hailed from Mt. Vernon, about 100 miles east of Dallas, not far from the farm where Gene had grown up, so there was a lot of hometown pride involved in the conversation.
The Second Time I Met Jack Ruby
As Gene and I were talking, Jack Ruby came by. He stopped to chat for a moment, and Gene introduced me to him. We shook hands and exchanged pleasantries. Ruby and I looked at each other as though we had somehow met earlier, but neither of us said anything about it. He handed me a business card for the Carousel Club and invited me to come see one of his “fabulous shows,” then walked away.
Gene and I returned to our conversation about the Cowboys, but I was only half listening. I was watching Ruby walk down Akard Street, trying to remember where I had seen him. Then it hit me.
The First Time I Met Jack Ruby
It was about six years earlier at a coffee shop on North Ervay, just down the street from the Downtown YMCA. It was about 9 o’clock in the evening, and I was waiting for a ride home with a friend after work. Ruby sat down on a bar stool beside me and wasted no time. He propositioned me. He offered me five dollars to accompany him to a room at the YMCA. I declined. Without saying a word, he immediately got up and left.
I was 17 at the time. I had no idea who Jack Ruby was. But I wasn’t surprised at what had happened. It was common knowledge among my friends that this coffee shop near the YMCA was a magnet for men looking for sex with teenage boys.
Meanwhile, back to 1963, Ruby continued on down Akard Street until he came to Gene’s Music Bar. I saw him go inside. That sort of clinched it for me. Gene’s Music Bar was one of the first gay bars in Dallas. I guess Ruby was a homosexual, or maybe bisexual. Nowadays, that doesn’t make much difference, but in 1963, it was a very big deal. Nine years earlier, Joe Bonds, one of Ruby’s business partners, was caught having sex with a man. Bonds was convicted of sodomy and sentenced to eight years in prison.
That same law was still on the books in 1963. Homosexuals took a big risk, so Ruby definitely would have wanted to keep it quiet. Maybe that’s the hold that somebody had on him. He did a lot of things that are hard to understand. Blackmail would explain a lot of it.
Ruby didn’t recognize me when our paths crossed again at the Morning News building six years later on November 22. He seemed to be preoccupied. I thought nothing of it and went on into the building. When I got to the personnel department, everyone was gone except the receptionist who had stayed to answer the phones. She told me that everyone else had gone to Dealey Plaza to see the presidential motorcade, and that I should come back about 1:00.
I had nothing better to do, so I decided to walk up to Dealey Plaza. I knew my brother-in-law would be on duty, and I might happen to run into him. The Cowboys were coming off a victory against the Philadelphia Eagles, and I was anxious to relive the glory and talk about the coming game with the Browns.
I crossed the street and walked up the west side of Houston Street past Union Station and the Terminal Annex building. I had just crossed Commerce Street when the motorcade reached the intersection of Main and Houston. The motorcade turned right onto Houston Street and proceeded north toward Elm Street.
By the time I reached Main Street, the motorcade was turning off of Houston onto Elm Street in front of the Texas School Book Depository. As soon as the motorcade passed, the crowd of people standing on Houston Street began to disperse.
There were still a lot of people blocking the way on Houston Street, so I moved to my left and walked next to the peristyle on the eastern edge of Dealey Plaza as I continued going north. The Texas School Book Depository was straight ahead. I wasn’t really paying too much attention to the building, but I noticed several open windows with people looking out. One of the windows on the east end of the sixth floor was open, but I did not see a person there, nor did I see a gun sticking out.
Of course, my focus was on the ground level. I was looking for my brother-in-law, Officer Gene Barnett. I could see the motorcade out of the corner of my eye as it moved slowly down Elm Street toward the triple underpass. The motorcade was partially obscured momentarily as I walked past one of the columns in the peristyle.
Shots Are Fired.
The motorcade was on Elm Street about halfway to the triple underpass when the shooting started. I honestly don’t know how many shots I heard, but it seemed more than three. I heard one particularly loud bang. I looked over at the motorcade just in time to see Jackie Kennedy lunge toward the back of the limousine. A Secret Service agent tried to jump over the trunk to get into the limousine. I heard sirens, and then all the vehicles in the motorcade sped away through the underpass. It all happened within seconds.
Then there was mass confusion and pandemonium. A man standing nearby asked, “What happened?” All I could do was shrug and look around without an answer. I wasn’t at all sure what I had just witnessed. The scene was surreal. Everything was moving fast, but at the same time, it seemed like it was happening in slow motion.
There were people running up the slope of the grassy knoll toward the picket fence on the other side of Elm Street. Other people were running down the slope toward Elm Street. Policemen were running in the direction of the Texas School Book Depository and the Dal-Tex Building across Houston Street. Others were running in the opposite direction back toward the picket fence. It was crazy.
I stood there for a few minutes trying to decide what I should do. Some people were hurrying away. Some people were lying on the ground. Others were milling around in a daze, asking and telling each other what they had seen and heard. Children were crying, and their parents were trying to comfort them. Several men over by the School Book Depository were being detained by police. A couple of them were handcuffed and put into a police car.
“Kennedy Got Shot.”
I didn’t know what to do at that point. Many people were walking across Elm Street toward the grassy knoll while others were headed to the School Book Depository. I didn’t think either was very wise. What if there was more shooting? I thought it was probably best to get the hell out of there, so I started back to the Dallas Morning News.
I saw several people on the other side of the street rushing up Houston Street toward Dealey Plaza, I guess to see what was going on. I’m not sure, but I believe I saw Jack Ruby about a block ahead of me walking south on Houston. It looked like the same “waddle” I noticed when he was walking down Akard Street back in August.
I was a couple of blocks down Houston street when something made me look back. I saw two guys in suits running down the street toward me. My first thought was they were plain clothes policemen, so I stopped and turned to face them. However, they paid no attention to me whatsoever.
They ran right past me like I was a light post. I said something to them like, “Hey, what’s going on?”
One of them yelled back without stopping, “Kennedy got shot.” They ran past the Jack Ruby guy who had almost reached the front of the Dallas Morning News building at this point. They must have been reporters, because they both dashed into the building.
I was stunned, even though I had just seen it happen. Hearing those words was jolting. “Kennedy got shot.”
“Damn,” I thought to myself. “I guess they won’t be taking applications for that job today.” Sure enough, they weren’t. There was nobody in the personnel department when I got there. I think everybody was in the newsroom trying to get the story.
I went back to my car and headed home. Luckily, all I had to do was make a left turn onto Houston Street and head over the viaduct to Oak Cliff. My wife, Betty, wasn’t so lucky. When she came home later that day from her teaching job at Lipscomb Elementary in the Lakewood area, her carpool got stuck in a massive traffic jam on Main Street. It took them almost three hours to get through downtown Dallas.
It’s been nearly 55 years since the assassination. I’ve replayed the scene over and over in my head dozens of times since then. I can still see it, but I still can’t believe it happened while I was there. It all happened so fast. If we didn’t have film and photographs to refresh our memories, I wonder if we could accurately reconstruct the event in our minds?
So why am I just now telling this story? Good question. The event has been lying dormant in my mind for 55 years. Mark’s story about meeting a girl in Cuba who claimed her mother was the assassin started me thinking about it again. Maybe I’m just nostalgic.
A Trip Down Memory Lane
A few weeks after talking to Mark, my wife and I drove up to Dallas, where I was born and raised. I’m happy to report that Joe Campisi’s Egyptian Lounge is still going strong out on Mockingbird Lane. The place looks exactly the same. I spent many a night there eating pizza after a long night of carousing. Without a doubt, the Egyptian Lounge had the greatest pizza in the world. They still do. I didn’t know it at the time, but Joe Campisi had ties to Carlos Marcello, and it may have been Campisi who delivered the message to Ruby to get rid of Oswald, if indeed that is what actually happened.
My wife and I went over to Lucas B&B Restaurant on Oak Lawn at Lemon. The iconic Lucas B&B sign is still there, but the restaurant has become Papadeaux Seafood. My mother was the assistant manager at Lucas B&B for years. She knew Jack Ruby. She said he was polite and respectful—and a good tipper. On the night of November 21, my mother was filling in for someone on the late shift. She saw Jack Ruby talking on the payphone about 2:30 on the morning of November 22. He seemed very agitated.
We went to Downtown Dallas. It’s changed lot. Gone are the Carousel Club and the Baker Hotel. Commerce and Akard is still there, but South Akard is now a pedestrian mall where once there was the Lasso Bar and Gene’s Music Bar, one of the first gay bars in Dallas and where I saw Jack Ruby kiss a man passionately on the lips.
A few blocks west, Dealey Plaza is still there, looking pretty much the same as it looked the day Kennedy was killed. There’s still a picket fence where Jimmy Files fired one of the shots from the front. There’s the pergola at the top of the knoll behind which “Badgeman” may have fired almost simultaneously with Files. And the railroad tracks over the triple underpass where they found the three tramps, and the parking lot next to the tracks where Buell Frazier parked his car the morning he drove Lee Harvey Oswald to work with the brown-paper-wrapped package he said were curtain rods.
The Texas School Book Depository is still there, but it’s been turned into a museum. You have to pay to get in. The window with the sniper’s nest has been glassed in, so you can’t go over and look out the window onto Elm Street. They still say Oswald fired from this window, but I’m not so sure about that. It might have been Malcolm Wallace who fired from this window. They found his thumbprint on one of the boxes by the sniper’s nest. And if Wallace hadn’t been such a screw up, he would have taken the shot while the car was moving up Houston Street toward him completely unobstructed, not while it was moving away from him on Elm Street down an incline with trees in the way. Malcolm Wallace killed a number of people, and he seemed to botch every one of them. Roger Stone says that LBJ hired Wallace to kill JFK. I seriously doubt that. I don’t think LBJ would entrust such an important assignment to someone as inept as Malcolm Wallace.
The Jewish Connection
Across the street, the Dal-Tex Building is still there, too, but now it butts up to the Dallas Holocaust Museum. For some reason, Jack Ruby thought Jews would be blamed for Kennedy’s death. I understand why. There were a lot of Jewish owned companies in the Dal-Tex Building in 1963, including Abraham Zapruder’s company, Jennifer Juniors. Marilyn Belt Company was located on the sixth floor. It was owned by Morty Freedman. The Dallas Uranium and Oil Company was on the third floor. This was a shell company being used for a tax dodge. The phone number for Dallas Uranium and Oil was the same as Morty Freedman’s. It’s also the number Jack Ruby called to tell Morty Freedman that he had a designer friend who needed to rent a small office on the third floor that looked out over Dealey Plaza.
A Jewish man named Morris Irving Jaffe had just such an office. Jaffe, who was part owner of the Dal-Tex Building, also was an officer in the fashion companies Miller-Cupaioli and Edward-Barry. These two companies took up the entire third floor, except for the small office used by the sham Dallas Uranium and Oil Company. This is the office Pilar moved into in October, 1963. It’s the spot from which Pilar shot Kennedy.
It’s interesting to note that Morris Irving Jaffee also was a partner in the powerful law firm Wynne, Jaffe & Tinsley. The Wynne family in Dallas was part of the “big oil” group that hated Kennedy.
None of this means there was a Jewish connection to JFK’s assassination. It was simply a case of a guy (Jaffee) trying to make a few extra bucks off the books by renting a mostly vacant office for a couple of months, paid in cash by Ruby. Jaffee had no idea that Pilar would use the office to shoot Kennedy, but I’m pretty sure Ruby knew Pilar was involved in something besides fashion design. The fact that Ruby was Jewish is beside the point. He could just as easily have been a Southern Baptist.
When we left the Dal-Tex Building, my wife and I walked down Houston Street toward The Dallas Morning News building where I had gone to apply for the job on November 22, 1963. The building is gone now. I didn’t get the job. It’s probably just as well. The publisher at that time was Ted Dealey, a radical right winger on the order of Steve Bannon.
Dealey allowed the publication of the notorious “black-border ad” attacking JFK on the day of his visit. A couple of years earlier, as a guest at the White House, Dealey had insulted JFK to his face, calling him and his administration “weak sisters.” Adding insult to injury, Kennedy was murdered in a plaza named after George Bannerman Dealey, Ted Dealey’s father,
Oh, and that “black border ad” in the Dallas Morning News attacking Kennedy? It was paid for by a Jewish man named Bernard Weismann, causing Jack Ruby even more angst about Jews getting the blame for JFK’s death.
The City of Hate
Fortunately, no one blamed the Jews. The nation was too busy blaming the city of Dallas. In the court of public opinion, every man, woman and child in Dallas was guilty of murdering our beloved president. Dallas, “the city of hate,” had killed JFK. Dallasites believed it, too. Maybe that’s why we never talked about it.
As my wife and I drove back to Houston, we discussed how we had been so close to the Kennedy assassination when it actually happened, yet we were completely oblivious to it. I had met Jack Ruby on more than one occasion. My mother knew Jack Ruby through her job at Lucas B&B Restaurant. My wife and I attended a political rally that Lee Harvey Oswald also attended. General Edwin Walker was the speaker. He said some very nutty things. My wife and I walked out, closely followed by Oswald. Officer Gene Barnett, a close relative of ours, was on duty at the scene of the crime when JFK got shot, and Lee Harvey Oswald walked right past him as he left the Texas School Book Depository. We certainly weren’t part of the story, but we definitely had front row seats to the drama. So why isn’t the event emblazoned in our minds?
In the days and weeks immediately after the Kennedy assassination, I don’t recall even talking about it, at home, school or work. It was as though it had never happened. We celebrated Thanksgiving with my family in Dallas less than a week after the assassination. We deliberately avoided the topic. Kennedy’s name didn’t even come up. I believe we were too ashamed to bring it up. In fact, from 1963 to 2017, Kennedy’s assassination was pretty much a non-event for me. I moved out of Dallas in 1966 and never looked back.
I think most Dallasites had similar feelings. Collectively, we felt tainted, so we did our best to block it from our memory.
But the rest of the nation remembered. Dallas did it! Heck, even the Dallas Cowboys got blamed. When the television announcer in Cleveland gave the score of the Cowboys-Browns game on November 24, 1963, he said sarcastically, “Cleveland Browns 27, Dallas Assassins 17.”