The Amazing Story Of Barney Ross And Jack Ruby, A Friendship Formed In A Jewish Ghetto In Chicago

By James Slater - 11/20/2023 - Comments

This week, November 22, marks the 60th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. This week also marks the 60th anniversary of the shooting of the man who (allegedly) assassinated JFK – Lee Harvey Oswald. It was just two days after the horrific crime of the century, that the accused assassin was gunned down, this while in the custody of Dallas police, by a local nightclub owner named Jack Ruby.

Why is this going up on a boxing website? Because the story of how Ruby was lifelong friends with boxing great Barney Ross makes for a fascinating, not often spoken about or written about piece of American history, that’s why. Ross and Ruby became friends when they were teenagers, meeting at a downtown Chicago boxing gym in the tough area where they grew up, this North Lawndale.

Both men would go on to become globally famous (or infamous in the case of Ruby). Both men began their lives with a different name – Ross being born Dov-Ber Rasofsky, Ruby being born Jacob Rubenstein. Both men were proud of their Jewish heritage, with Ruby perhaps driven to murder due to a desire to “prove to the world that Jews have guts.”

Ross was born December 23 in 1909. Ruby was born March 25 in 1911. Both men endured some tough, testing times as they grew up. Like his friend Dov-Ber, later Beryl, and then Barney, Ruby witnessed the hell of his mother suffering a nervous breakdown. Both teens are said to have been “runners” for the notorious gangster, Al Capone. Both men also had a love for fighting, and for boxing. Ross went on to become one of the greatest fighters of all-time, the three-weight world champion’s legendary fights at lightweight, light-welterweight and welterweight being some of the most brutal in boxing history. Ross’s fights with the likes of Tony Canzoneri, Jimmy McLarnin, Ceferino Garcia and Henry Armstrong were X-rated affairs. Ruby was in attendance at many of his friend’s fights.

In a career that saw him carve out a 74-4-3(22) record, Ross was never once stopped.

Nobody could stop Jack Ruby from going into the history books himself, but for entirely different reasons.

Ross changed his name in order to become accepted as a boxer in America, and to see to it that his family didn’t know he was a boxer. Ruby changed his name in order to try and make it as a legitimate nightclub owner in Dallas. Before this came WWII, and both men served; Ross as a Marine, Ruby in the Army Air Forces. Quite amazingly, Ross was on the PT-109 boat that went down in the Pacific in 1942, the commander a certain John F. Kennedy.

After the war, Ruby and Ross remained close, the two hanging out until they both moved out of Chicago. Ross moved to New York and worked at an advertising agency, Ruby opened The Carousel Club in Dallas. Legend has it that both men ran guns to other countries – Ross to Israel, Ruby to Cuba. As you will no doubt agree, there is already enough here for a movie. But what came after would make all previous events pale in comparison.

Ruby got in tight with the Dallas police (it was said in 1963 that Ruby, a frequent visitor to the police station, “easily knew at least half of the policemen in service.”) This ability to freely come and go from police headquarters would later prove crucial as far as the shocking events of November 24th.

Ruby is said to have loved President Kennedy, and he took the assassination harder than many. Distraught, the man who was known to have a terribly short temper (Ross knew first-hand why Jack was nicknamed “Sparky,” Ruby punching out a guy who made the mistake of parking his car in front of Ruby’s at a sporting event; Ross watching as his friend threw and landed punches he himself would have been proud of) was inconsolable. And he was angry.

After the assassination, Ruby, his marbles rapidly deteriorating, was obsessed with an advertisement he had seen in the newspaper, the advert critical of JFK. The ad had been paid for by a man named Bernard Weissman, and, in a nutshell, Ruby’s mind wound up fearing the world would somehow be led to believe that Jews had killed Kennedy. A regular face at police HQ once again, Ruby was captured on film as he walked amongst the police and the reporters.

And then, after wiring some cash to one of his strippers, this shortly after 11am on Sunday morning, Ruby re-entered the police station……. Just in time to see Lee Harvey Oswald being walked out for his transfer to another downtime jail, this one said to be more secure. Seeing the “rat” smirk, Ruby, who always carried his pistol, sprang forward and he fired a .38 calibre bullet into the accused Assassin’s abdomen. The bullet inflicted lethal wounds, with Oswald being pronounced dead less than two hours later.

“Why’d you do it, Jack!” a cop demanded of Ruby. “Because you guys couldn’t do it. To show the world that Jews have guts,” Ruby replied.

Nobody, least of all Ruby, felt he would be sentenced to the electric chair. Ruby honestly felt he would get the proverbial slap on the wrist and that he would become a hero for having done the right thing in avenging Kennedy’s death.

Ross, a friend to the end, nevertheless had to admit whilst testifying that Jack was “nuts” and that he was prone to attacks of rage. Ross was called to testify numerous time, with the former champion even testifying as a character witness on Ruby’s behalf. But Ross could not lie. He had to come clean about his friend’s often unstable behaviour.

Ruby was found guilty of murder with malice yet he escaped the death penalty as his sentence was reversed two years later. But Ruby, who later spoke of how he HAD been involved in a conspiracy to kill the president (Ruby saying this when he had completely lost his mind, to the extent that he believed “millions of Jews were being slaughtered” on the floor below his jail cell), died of cancer in January of 1967.

In one more sad parallel between Ruby and Ross, Barney also died of cancer that same year, in fact just two weeks after Ruby died.

Both products of a quite hellish environment, Barney Ross and Jack Ruby will always be remembered, but for vastly different reasons.

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