Do you believe in fate and destiny? Or do you believe that nothing has to be, that there’s always another path, another way things might have worked out?
That’s a fascinating question that has been the basis of endless sci-fi/fantasy stories and spawned the pseudo-historical genre known as “counterfactuals,” which asks how the world might be different if the South had won the Civil War, if Hitler had been assassinated in 1939, if Nixon had destroyed the White House tapes, if Napoleon had been 6-2, etc.
Another such counterfactual is: “What if Dallas nightclub owner Jack Ruby had not killed accused assassin Lee Harvey Oswald the day after JFK’s murder”?
Had Ruby not killed Oswald, Oswald would have gone on trial for killing Kennedy. If he was the lone killer, as I’ve always believed he was, he might have confessed as the state built its case against him. Or he might have revealed co-conspirators and puppet masters if they existed–CIA rogues, vengeful Fidelistas, shadowy Texas oilmen, Russian moles, Martians, etc.
Whatever happened, we’d most likely have a much clearer understanding of this endlessly tangled case than we have now. In the absence of an Oswald trial, confession, conviction or–imagine this–acquital, the fertile ground was sown with a thousand conspiracies involving ricocheting magic bullets, tramps on the railroad tracks, military-industrial overlords, Umbrella Man and so on.
What brought all this to mind? The other day Joe R. Cody died. I didn’t know Cody from Adam, but the headline of his obit caught my eye:
“Longtime Dallas Officer Bought Gun for Jack Ruby”
What? What? I scanned, then read, and to my amazement learned this:
Mr. Cody met Mr. Ruby while drinking beer with other officers after completing an evening shift. The men later became friends after meeting at the ice skating rink at Fair Park.
One day, Mr. Ruby asked Mr. Cody about buying a safe to protect the $2,500 to $3,500 in cash club proceeds he carried out each evening. Mr. Cody suggested a less expensive answer would be to keep the money in his left pocket and pack a lightweight Colt Cobra revolver in his right pocket.
“If somebody starts robbing you, say, ‘Just a minute,’ and pull the pistol out and then shoot ’em,” Mr. Cody recalled in his oral history for The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza.
On Jan. 19, 1960, Mr. Cody took Mr. Ruby to Ray Brantley’s Hardware Store on Singleton Boulevard and purchased the weapon and ammunition for $62.50, saving the nightclub owner $18 because the officer didn’t have to pay tax.
The next time Mr. Cody saw the revolver was on television on Nov. 24, 1963, while stopping at a small grocery in Louisiana.
Mr. Cody was in Louisiana for a gar fish rodeo at Lake Bistineau. He had stopped at the grocery, where a television displayed coverage of the Oswald shooting. The broadcast repeated the shooting footage many times, while Mr. Cody and others watched.
“And finally, they said, ‘We’ve just now determined his name is Jack Ruby.’ And I thought, ‘Oh, my God,” Mr. Cody said in his oral history.
Is that a what-if, or what? What if Officer Cody had said, “Jack, you’ve got no business with a gun. You might shoot one of your strippers by mistake. Get yourself a nice big safe for that cash, friend.”
It’s certainly possible that Ruby would have found another gun and used his easy access to the Dallas jail to kill Oswald anyway. But maybe not. And if not. . . if not. . . the present might be a very different place.