Jack Ruby shoots Lee Harvey Oswald, by Bob Jackson, 1963

On November 24, 1963, two days after Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested for the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, he was about to be transfered police headquarters to the nearby county jail. Oswald was handcuffed to Dallas detective Jim Leavelle. At 11:21 am, stepping out from a crowd of reporters and photographers, a nightclub owner Jack Ruby fired a Colt Cobra .38 into Oswald’s abdomen on a nationally televised live broadcast.

His motives for killing Oswald were not clear. There was some evidence it was on a whim, for Ruby left his dog, Sheba, in the car. He told that he helped the city of Dallas “redeem” itself in the eyes of the public, that Oswald’s death would spare Jackie Kennedy the ordeal of appearing at Oswald’s trial and that he avenged Kennedy. Ruby was convicted of Oswald’s murder and died in prison.

Although hundreds of cameras and news reels captured the moment, the most famous image of Ruby’s killing was made by the Dallas Times-Herald reporter, Robert H. Jackson. He won the 1964 Pulitzer Prize for Photography for the above photo, which showed “the hunched determination of the assassin, the painful gasp of the handcuffed victim, and the shock of helplessness on the face of a policeman”. 

Bob Jackson had missed the President’s assassination earlier; he had been riding with Kennedy’s motorcade, eight cars behind the president. His assignment was to photograph crowd scenes along the route and then hand his film to a Times-Herald reporter waiting at the corner of Main and Houston. Jackson hurled his film to Jim Featherston, the waiting heavyset reporter who had trouble catching it and ended up having to chase it. Jackson and Featherston were laughing at the fumble when the shots happened.

Jackson saw a rifle protruding from a window in the east end of the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository. He had two cameras, one with a wide-angle lens, the other a telephoto, but no time to reload. He had the dubious honor of being the only photographer in the press corps to miss the assassination. Two days later he went to the Dallas police headquarters.

Before Oswald appeared, a Times Herald reporter walked over to tell Bob Jackson that the transfer was taking too long and that the paper wanted him to leave and go instead of Nellie Connally’s press conference at Parkland Hospital (the wife of Texas Governor John B. Connally was scheduled to appear in public for the first time since her husband was critically hurt in the shooting that killed the president). The press conference was the most important thing, he was told, but Jackson refused to leave.

He remembers the fateful day:

“I walked right in. There was no security to speak of. Nobody checked my press pass.

I had seen Ruby once. He came up to the photo department at the paper and brought one of his strippers. That day there was a feeling in the air that something could happen. When Oswald came out the door, I raised my camera to my eye. I was ready. We stood in a semicircle about eleven feet in front of the door which formed a little clearing.

People yelled out, ‘Here he comes.’ As I looked through the camera, Oswald took eight or ten steps, and I saw a body moving into my line of sight. I leaned over the car to the left, Ruby moved three quick steps and bang. When he shot, I shot.”

Jackson used a Nikon S3 with a wide-angle 35 mm lens.

The technology back then required the use of strobe lights, which took up to five seconds to recycle each time the shutter snapped. Motor-driven cameras, which advance the frames rapidly, existed but no one in the press pool that day had one. Amid the chaos that ensued, Jackson took one more photo, which was underexposed without a strobe light.

When he was the photo, Felix McKnight, co-publisher and editor of the Times-Herald, who had been a Pulitzer juror three times, shouted out: “We’ve got a winner here! We’re gonna win one!” The Times-Herald run Jackson’s photograph the full eight columns. It appeared in national newspapers and in LIFE and Saturday Morning Post.

See more frontpages and another photo taken by Jack Beers who was also there here:

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