Exclusive: Dallas County DA's office finds cache of JFK memorabilia

February 19, 2008

 More details about newly discovered JFK assassination artifacts and documents locked away in the DA’s office since 1963 – John Judge

Exclusive: Dallas County DA’s office finds cache of JFK memorabilia

01:32 AM CST on Sunday, February 17, 2008

By JENNIFER EMILY / The Dallas Morning News

The Dallas County district attorney’s office has unearthed a treasure trove of memorabilia from the aftermath of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in an old safe on the 10th floor of the courthouse.

It includes personal letters to and from former District Attorney Henry Wade, a gun holster, official records from the Jack Ruby trial, letters to Ruby and clothing that probably belonged to him and Kennedy’s assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, said Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins.

And conspiracy theorists will rejoice over one find: a highly suspect transcript of a conversation between Ruby and Oswald plotting to kill the president because the mafia wanted to “get rid of” his brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy.

“It will open up the debate again about whether there was a conspiracy,” said Mr. Watkins, who at 40 was born four Novembers after Kennedy was killed in 1963.

But the curator of the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza said the conversation could not have happened.

Terri Moore, Mr. Watkins’ top assistant, said she believes the transcript is part of a movie that Mr. Wade was working on with producers.

“It’s not real. Crooks don’t talk like that,” she said.

“If that transcript is true, then history is changed because Oswald and Ruby were talking about assassinating the president.”

Mr. Wade wrote about the movie, Countdown in Dallas, in letters found in the safe. Mr. Wade prosecuted Ruby in Oswald’s death, although the verdict was overturned and Ruby died of cancer in 1967 before his second trial could begin.

“I believe it important for the film to be factually correct, that it come from official files, that the witnesses who in any way were participants should appear in person in the film, and in my opinion, will result in an excellent film not only of interest at present but the record of events for history,” Mr. Wade wrote.

It is unclear if any further work was ever done on the film.

Mr. Watkins is expected to formally announce the finding of about a dozen boxes of materials on Monday at a news conference. The vast majority of the documents are authentic records from the 1960s.

The purported Oswald-Ruby conversation took place on Oct. 4, 1963, at Ruby’s Carousel Club on Commerce Street. It reads like every conspiracy theorist’s dream of a smoking gun that ties the men to a plot to kill Kennedy.

Part of the two-page transcript reads:

Lee: You said the boys in Chicago want to get rid of the Attorney General.

Ruby: Yes, but it can’t be done … it would get the Feds into everything.

Lee: There is a way to get rid of him without killing him.

Ruby: How’s that?

Lee: I can shoot his brother.

Ruby: But that wouldn’t be patriotic.

Lee: What’s the difference between shooting the Governor and in shooting the President?

Ruby: It would get the FBI into it.

Lee: I can still do it, all I need is my rifle and a tall building; but it will take time, maybe six months to find the right place; but I’ll have to have some money to live on while I do the planning.”

Later, Ruby warns Oswald that the mafia will ask Ruby to kill him if he’s caught.

Gary Mack, curator of the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza, laughed when told of the transcript. He has not seen it or any of the other documents found in the safe.

The transcript resembles one published in a report by the Warren Commission, which investigated Kennedy’s assassination and determined that Oswald was the lone gunman. The FBI determined that conversation – again between Oswald and Ruby, but this time about killing the governor – was definitely fake.

Mr. Mack said that it’s well documented that Oswald was in Irving the evening of Oct. 4, at a home where his wife was staying. He could not have been at Ruby’s club.

Mr. Mack suggested that the transcript in the Warren Commission report was probably used as a model for the one found in the district attorney’s safe.

The conversation published in the commission report was a fake account of a conversation between Ruby and Oswald on the same night at the Carousel Club. A now-deceased Dallas attorney “re-created” the conversation after Kennedy’s assassination for authorities after he claimed he recognized Oswald in a newspaper photo as the man he saw talking to Ruby that night.

“The fact that it’s sitting in Henry Wade’s file, and he didn’t do anything, indicates he thought it wasn’t worth anything,” Mr. Mack said of the newly found transcript. “He probably kept it because it was funny. It’s hilarious. It’s like a bad B movie.”

William J. Alexander, the only surviving prosecutor from Ruby’s trial for killing Oswald in the days after Kennedy’s assassination, told the district attorney’s office he’d never seen the Ruby-Oswald transcript. But it’s labeled with a sticker that says, “Plaintiff’s Exhibit 27.” Typically, exhibits for criminal trials are marked as state’s exhibits or defense exhibits.

The DA’s office said Mr. Alexander, who rarely talks about the Ruby trial, declined to be interviewed.

While the two-page transcript is most likely fake, Mr. Watkins says he’s never believed Oswald acted alone.

“You know me: I’m always a conspiracy theorist,” Mr. Watkins said. “It was too simple of an explanation. I don’t see that.”

Mr. Watkins, Ms. Moore and several investigators from the DA’s office found the boxes of materials about a year ago because they had heard that the gun used to kill Oswald was somewhere in the courthouse. They didn’t find the gun, which Mr. Mack said is privately owned, but instead found the records and other items.

For the past year, they’ve been trying to determine what they discovered and began scanning some of the documents. The process is not complete.

The boxes probably sat in the safe since being moved when the courthouse opened in 1989. Mr. Watkins said he plans to donate the files to an entity that will authenticate and preserve them, as well as make them available to the public.

“It’s interesting, and it’s not ours,” Mr. Watkins said. “It’s the public’s.”

No one has yet thoroughly read all of the documents, so it’s not known whether they contain information previously unknown to the public or the Warren Commission.

Mr. Mack, the museum curator, said many of the court files and even personal letters to Mr. Wade and Ruby have been widely circulated. The museum already has a transcript of Ruby’s trial, as well as his medical records.

Still, he said, he would be eager to obtain the documents and authenticate them to see “anything and everything that can help answer lingering questions.”

“These records may not have any particular value,” he said. “But 100 years from now, who knows what’s going to be important?”

The district attorney’s office discovered about a dozen boxes of materials in a courthouse safe that included items and documents from the Jack Ruby trial. Ruby was convicted of killing Lee Harvey Oswald, but the verdict was overturned. He died before a second trial occurred.

Many of the records, including interrogations with Ruby, his family and witnesses, are undated, and it’s unclear which agency or people conducted the interviews. Other documents are signed and dated. A sampling of what was found:

• Transcripts of interviews with prospective jurors.

• Notes to District Attorney Henry Wade about prospective jurors from people, possibly in the DA’s office, who knew them. One note mentioned that someone was Catholic. Others said a person had mental problems or was likely not to consider harsh punishment.

• Letters that show Mr. Wade was working on a movie deal for a documentary-type film to be titled Countdown in Dallas.

• A typed, undated, unsigned memo from the DA’s office with Mr. Wade’s name on the letterhead that says Ruby said he planned to kill Oswald because he did not want President Kennedy’s widow to have to testify at his trial. Mr. Ruby also said, according to the memo, that there were no conspirators in his plan. The memo says in an interview that appears to have taken place after the trial that Ruby “said there was absolutely no blackout, that he had premeditation with the intent to kill Oswald if he was there.”

• Typed notes from an interview with Ruby before the trial where Ruby said he did not recall anything after walking down the ramp into the area where he shot Oswald.

• A document that says that during an interview Nov. 24, 1963, in Dallas police Capt. Will Fritz’s office, Mr. Ruby said he “felt Oswald was a Red” and he “felt Oswald was alone in the assassination.”

• The files also contain hundreds of pages of copied letters and cards sent to Ruby before and during his trial. Some letters and cards sympathize with Ruby. At least two women – one from Philadelphia and another from Plainfield, Ind. – sent Ruby checks for $2. Others sent Valentine’s Day cards, and at least one sent a St. Patrick’s Day card.

• Other letters lash out at Ruby. One handwritten, unsigned note apparently sent to him says: “You expect a fair trial. So did Mr. Oswald. It would not be a happy situation if the assassin of the assassin were himself assassinated.” Others are addressed “Dear Killer” and called Ruby a “Commie Jew.” One man typed a letter using red ink because he said the black ribbon was out.

The Dallas County district attorney’s office will hold a news conference at 10 a.m. Monday to discuss documents related to the Jack Ruby trial found in the safe at the Crowley Courts Building. The news conference will be held in the lobby on the 11th floor.

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