Ruby's Childhood

Family Background

Jack Ruby, born Jacob Rubenstein, was the fifth of his parents' eight living children. There is much confusion about his exact birth date. School records report it as June 23, April 25, March 13, and, possibly, March 3, 1911. Other early official records list his date of birth as April 21 and April 26, 1911. During his adult life the date Ruby used most frequently was March 25, 1911. His driver's license, seized following his arrest, and his statements to the FBI on November 24, 1963, listed this date. However, the police arrest report for November 24 gave his birth date as March 19, 1911.

Since the recording of births was not required in Chicago prior to 1915, Ruby's birth may never have been officially recorded. No substantial conflict exists, however, about whether Jack Ruby was born in 1911. Ruby has one older brother and three older sisters. The oldest children, Hyman and Ann, were born shortly after the turn of the century, before their parents arrived in the United States. The other children were born in Chicago. Ruby's sister Marion was born in June 1906 and his sister Eva in March 1909. Ruby also has two younger brothers and a younger sister. Sam was born in December 1912, Earl in April 1915. The youngest child, Eileen, was born in July 1917. At least one and possibly two other children died during infancy.

Jack Ruby's father, Joseph Rubenstein, was born in 1871 in Sokolov, a small town near Warsaw, Poland, then under the rule of Czarist Russia. He entered the Russian artillery in 1893. There he learned the carpentry trade, which had been practiced by his father and at least one brother and he picked up the habit of excessive drinking that was to plague him for the rest of his life. While in the army, he married Jack's mother, Fannie Turek Rutkowski; the marriage was arranged, as was customary, by a professional matchmaker. According to his oldest son, Joseph Rubenstein served in China, Korea, and Siberia, detesting these places and army life. Eventually, in 1898, he simply "walked away" from it and about 4 years later he went to England and Canada, entering the United States in 1903.

Settling in Chicago Joseph Rubenstein joined the carpenters union in 1904 and remained a member until his death in 1958. Although he worked fairly steadily until 1928, be was unemployed during the last 30 years of his life. The only other group which Joseph Rubenstein joined consisted of fellow immigrants from Sokolov. His daughter Eva described this group as purely social and completely nonpolitical.

Jack Ruby's mother, Fannie Rubenstein, was probably born in 1875 near Warsaw, Poland. She followed her husband to the United States in 1904 or 1905, accompanied by her children Hyman and Ann. An illiterate woman, she went to night school in about 1920 to learn how to sign her name. She apparently failed in this endeavor, however, for an alien registration form, filed after about 35 years in the United States, was signed by an "X". Although she apparently learned some English, her speech was predominantly Yiddish, the primary language of the Rubenstein household. Still, Mrs. Rubenstein felt strongly that her children required an education in order to better themselves. She frequently argued about this with her husband, who had received little, if any, formal education and firmly believed that grammar school training was sufficient for his children.

Childhood and Youth (1911-33)

In 1911, when Jack Ruby was born, his family resided near 14th and Newberry Streets in Chicago, the first in a series of Jewish neighborhoods in which the Rubensteins lived during his childhood. In 1916, the Rubensteins lived at 1232 Morgan Street, where they apparently remained until 1921. This was the fourth residence in the first 5 years of Jack Ruby's life. Earl Ruby described one typical neighborhood in which the family lived as a "ghetto" with "pushcarts on the sirens." His sister Eva characterized it as "below the middle class but yet it wasn't the poorest class." The family generally lived near Italian sections, where there were frequent fights along ethnic lines. The Rubenstein home was marked by constant, strife and the parents were reported to have occasionally struck each other. Between 1915 and 1921, Joseph Rubenstein was frequently arrested because of disorderly conduct and assault and battery charges, some filed by his wife. In the spring of 1921, Jack Ruby's parents separated. In 1937 Mrs. Rubenstein reported that she had desired a divorce 15 years earlier, but her husband had been opposed to it. The predominant causes of the separation were apparently Joseph Rubenstein's excessive drinking and Fannie Rubenstein's uncontrollable temper. She resented her numerous pregnancies, believed her husband to be unfaithful, and nagged him because he failed to make enough money.

Psychiatric Report

Young Jack soon showed the effects of parental discord. On June 6, 1922, at the age of 11, he was referred to the Institute for Juvenile Research by the Jewish Social Service Bureau. The reason for the referral was "truancy and incorrigible at home." On July 10, 1922, the institute recommended to the bureau that Jack be placed in a new environment where his characteristics might be understood .and where he might be afforded the supervision and recreation that would end his interest in street gangs. In March 1923, the institute advised the bureau that "placement in a home, where intelligent supervision and discipline can be given" was appropriate.

The institute's psychiatric examination, which served as a basis for these recommendations, took place in 1922, prior to the advent of many techniques and theories of modern psychiatry, but it is the most objective evidence of Jack Ruby's childhood character. According to the psychiatric report, Jack was "quick tempered" and "disobedient." He frequently disagreed openly with his mother, whom he considered an inferior person with whose rules he did not have to comply. Jack told the institute's interviewer that he ran away from home because his mother lied to him and beat him. Although Mrs. Rubenstein was severe with her children, she was described as totally incapable of coping with them "because of their delinquencies, i.e., principally their destructive tendencies and disregard for other people's property." His mother's "extreme temperament" and quarrelsomeness were cited as possible causes of Jack's "bad behavior."

Self-administered questionnaires revealed that Jack felt his classmates were "picking" on him and that he could not get along with his friends. They also indicated that, although Jack described himself as a good ballplayer, he did not belong to any clubs and was not a member of any athletic teams. Jack's psychiatric interviewer reported:

He could give no other good reason for running away from school except that he went to amusement parks. He has some sex knowledge and is greatly interested in sex matters. He stated that the boys in the street tell him about these things. He also claims that he can lick everyone and anybody in anything he wants to do.

The interviewer noted that during "mental tests" he reacted quickly, often carelessly, and his attention was apt to wander so that he had to be reprimanded.

A letter recommending the boy's placement in a more wholesome environment stated:

He is egocentric and expects much attention, but is unable to get it as there are many children at home. His behavior is further colored by his early sex experiences, his great interest [in sex] and the gang situation in the street. From a superficial examination of his mother who was here with him, it is apparent that she has no insight into his problem, and she is thoroughly inadequate in the further training of this boy. Recognizing that the sketchiness of the case record precluded complete diagnosis, Dr. Raymond E. Robertson, currently the superintendent of the institute, reported nonetheless that it seems "firmly established * * * [that] his unstable and disorganized home could not provide Jack with the necessary controls and discipline."

Placement in Foster Homes

On July 10, 1923, a dependency hearing involving Jack, his younger brothers Sam and Earl, and his sister Eileen, was held in Chicago's juvenile court. The petition alleged that the children were not receiving proper parental care. They had, until then, been in their mother's custody, living on Roosevelt Road, the border between Jewish and Italian districts. The juvenile court made a finding of dependency. It appointed the Jewish Home Finding Society guardian with the right to place the children in foster homes, and it ordered Joseph Rubenstein to pay the court clerk $4 per week for the support of each child. On November 24, 1924, this order was vacated, which apparently signified the termination of the guardianship and the return of the children to their mother. On April 8, 1925, the case was continued "generally," meaning that it was inactive but could be reactivated if the court so desired.

Despite court records, the exact circumstances and length of time that, Jack Ruby lived away from home are not entirely clear. Records indicate that Jack, Sam, Earl, and Eileen Rubenstein were wards of the Jewish Home Finding Society "for a short time in 1922-23." However, Jack and Eileen stated they spent. about 4 or 5 years in foster homes. Earl testified that he and Sam were originally sent to a private foster home and then lived on a farm for a little more than a year, while Jack was on a different farm "some distance away." Subsequently the three brothers lived together in another foster home.

Subsequent Home Life

When Jack Ruby returned to his family, the unit was still disordered. His father remained apart from the children at least until 1936 and perhaps until a few years later. Mrs. Rubenstein's inability to manage her home, which had been reported by the Institute for Juvenile Research in 1922, apparently continued. For example, in 1937 Marion Rubenstein observed that her mother "has never been any kind of a housekeeper, was careless with money, and never took much interest in the children's welfare * * * she was selfish, jealous, disagreeable, and never cared to do anything in the home but lie around and sleep." Dr. Hyman I. Rubenstein, the son of Joseph Rubenstein's brother, recalled that Jack Ruby's mother ran "an irregular household" and appeared to be "a rather disturbed person of poor personal appearance with no incentive for cleaning or cooking."

Mrs. Rubenstein's domestic shortcomings were accompanied by symptoms of mental disease. In about 1913, 2 years after Jack was born, Mrs. Rubenstein began to develop a delusion that a sticking sensation in her throat was caused by a lodged fishbone. Each month Hyman, her oldest child, took her to a clinic. And each month the examining doctor, finding no organic cause for discomfort, informed her that there was nothing in her throat and that the sensation was but a figment of her imagination. According to Hyman, this practice continued for a number of years until Mrs. Rubenstein tired of it.

In 1927, Mrs. Rubenstein once again began to visit clinics in connection with her fishbone delusion. Three years later, a thyroidectomy was performed, but she subsequently said it did nothing to relieve her discomfort. According to the Michael Reese Hospital, whose clinic she had visited since 1927, Mrs. Rubenstein was suffering from psychoneurosis with marked anxiety state.

By order of the county court of Cook County, Mrs. Rubenstein was committed to Elgin State Hospital on July 16, 1937. She was paroled on October 17, 1937, 3 months after her commitment. On January 3, 1938, the Chicago State Hospital informed Elgin State that the family desired that she be readmitted to the mental hospital. The family reported that she was uncooperative, caused constant discord, was very noisy, and used obscene language. A State social worker observed that Mrs. Rubenstein refused ever to leave the house, explaining that her children would have thrown her things out had she left. Mrs. Rubenstein rebuffed a suggestion by the social worker that she help with the dishes by stating that she would do nothing as long as her "worthless" husband was in the house. She was readmitted on January 14, 1938.

Mrs. Rubenstein was again paroled on May 27, 1938, and was discharged as "improved" on August 25, 1938. She stayed in an apartment with Marion, and her separation from the rest of the family apparently ended most of the difficulties. Subsequently, Jack Ruby's parents were apparently reconciled, since their alien registration forms, filed in late 1940, indicated that they both resided at Marion's address.

Fannie Rubenstein was admitted to Michael Reese Hospital on April 4, 1944, as a result of a heart ailment. Her condition was complicated by an attack of pneumonia and she died at the hospital on April 11, 1944. Hyman testified that, perhaps because she favored the education of her children and they recognized her difficulties in rearing them during a turbulent marriage, they all remembered Mrs. Rubenstein with warmth and affection. The evidence also indicates that Jack, notwithstanding his earlier attitudes, became especially fond of his mother. Following his wife's death, Joseph Rubenstein stayed with the children in Chicago, where he died at the age of 87, on December 24, 1958.


Records provided by the Chicago Board of Education revealed that Jack Ruby attended Smyth Grammar School from October 24, 1916, through the 1920-21 term, completing kindergarten to grade 4B. He repeated the third grade. During the 1921-22 school year Jack finished the fourth grade at the Clarke School; he attended Schley School for the 1924-25 term, when he completed the sixth grade. Ruby's relationship with the Institute for Juvenile Research and the Jewish Home Finding Society may explain the lack of academic records for the 1922-23 and 1923-24 school years. While there is some uncertainty about Ruby's education subsequent to September 1925, it seems likely that he completed the eighth grade in 1927, when he was 16. Although Jack Ruby and others have stated that he attended at least 1 year of high school, the Chicago Board of Education could not locate any record of Ruby's attending Chicago high schools. Considering the absence of academic records and Jack's apathetic attitude toward school, the Commission deems it unlikely that his education extended into high school.

Records of the Institute for Juvenile Research revealed that, as of June 1922, Ruby had no religious education outside the public school system. However, according to their children, Jack's parents made some effort to inculcate in them a desire to adhere to the tenets of Orthodox Judaism. Jewish dietary and festival laws were observed and several of the children accompanied Joseph Rubenstein to the synagogue. Earl Ruby stated that all the boys received some Hebrew school training until the breakup of the Rubenstein home in 1921. However, Hyman Rubenstein testified that the instability and economic necessities of the household and the children's relationships outside the home frustrated the religious efforts of Ruby's parents.


Born in a home that disintegrated when he was 10 and boasting no substantial educational background, Jack Ruby early found himself on Chicago streets attempting to provide for himself and other members of his family. An avid sports fan, he, together with many of his friends, "scalped" tickets to various sporting events. He also sold numerous novelty items and knickknacks, particularly those connected with professional and collegiate athletics. Even in his youth, Ruby declined to work on a steady basis for someone else.

According to his brother Hyman, Jack Ruby's only legal difficulty as a youth resulted from an altercation with a policeman about ticket scalping. Hyman, then active in local politics, was able to have charges arising out of the incident dropped. Ruby has indicated that during the depression he served a short jail sentence for the unauthorized sale of copyrighted sheet music.

The only other member of the Rubenstein family who appears to have had any difficulty with the law while a youth was Hyman. On May 1, 1916, Chicago's juvenile court declared Hyman incorrigible, a term covering a wide range of misbehavior. Because of the absence of informative court records and the ]apse of time, the misconduct that occasioned this proceeding could not be ascertained, but Hyman is not known to have encountered subsequent difficulty. Some of Ruby's childhood friends eventually became criminals; however, Hyman Rubenstein, his sister Mrs. Eva Grant, and virtually all of Ruby's friends and acquaintances who were questioned reported that he was not involved with Chicago's criminal element.

The evidence indicates that young Jack was not interested in political affairs. Hyman was the only Rubenstein to participate actively in politics. Sponsored by various political officials, he became a sidewalk inspector and warehouse investigator for 8 years. On one occasion, he obtained a permit for Jack to sell novelties from a pushcart located in a business district during the pre-Christmas buying rush. Eventually the complaints of enraged businessmen led licensing authorities to declare that a mistake had been made and to revoke Ruby's permit.


The evidence reveals striking differences of opinion among childhood friends and acquaintances of Jack Ruby about whether he possessed violent tendencies. Many persons stated that he was mild mannered, quiet, and even tempered. Former welterweight champion Barney Ross, whom Jack Ruby idolized from the inception of his boxing career, stated that Ruby was "well behaved," was never a troublemaker, and was never involved with law-enforcement agencies. Another friend, who became a successful businessman on the west coast, said that, as a youth, Ruby never started fights even though he was adept with his fists. Other friends declared that he would, if at all possible, avoid clashes.

But many other friends and acquaintances recalled that he had a hot temper and was quickly moved to violent acts or words. One friend explained that in the "tough" Chicago neighborhood where they lived, self-defense was vitally important and added that Ruby was fully capable of defending himself. Another friend described Ruby as quick tempered and, though unlikely to pick fights, willing to accept any challenge without regard to the odds against him. Young Jack also interfered in fights, particularly when the person he was aiding appeared to be taking a severe beating or in a disadvantageous position. Others reported that he had the reputation of being a good street brawler. One school friend recalled that when Jack argued vehemently about sports, he occasionally used a stick or other available weapon. He reported, however, that after Ruby's anger subsided, he reverted to his normal, likable character.

From early childhood, Jack Ruby was called "Sparky" by those who knew him. According to his sister Eva Grant, the nickname derived from the way Jack wobbled when he walked. He was thought to resemble the slow-moving horse called "Sparky" or "Sparkplug" depicted in a contemporary comic strip. Mrs. Grant testified that her brother became incensed when called "Sparky" and that from the time he was about 8 years old he would strike anyone calling him by that name. A childhood friend also recalled that Jack hated the nickname and would fight when called by it. Mrs. Grant was unsure whether the nickname "Sparky" did not also result from his quick reaction to the taunts of young friends. Hyman Rubenstein thought that the nickname derived from Jack's speed, aggressiveness, and quick thinking. The many accounts of Ruby's lightning like temper lend credence to the theory, widely held, that his nickname was connected with his volatility.

Source: Warren Commission Report