A LOVERS' QUARREL?
All right, Dallas' most famous assassins: If you're straight, take one step forward.
Not so fast, Jack Ruby.
BY DANIEL KUSNER
The most extraordinary moment captured on live television was when Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald. While the world was still in shock from Kennedy's assassination, no one could believe that these two loners could have single-handedly changed history. There had to be a connection, right?
Y'all can spend a lifetime digging through theories that establish links between Ruby and Oswald. But a gay connection?
Well, at least one exists: meet Rose Cheramie.
If you've seen Oliver Stone's "JFK," the story begins with a woman being thrown from a car near Eunice, La., presumably on Nov. 20, 1963. That's Rose.
At the time of the assassination, Cheramie (birth name, Melba Christine Marcades) was 41 years old. Born in Houston, she had a rap sheet a mile long: vagrancy, car theft and prostitution. After a suicide attempt in 1947, some folks believed Cheramie was insane.
Louisiana State Police officer Francis Fruge found Cheramie hitchhiking along Highway 190 and thought she had been in a traffic accident. Rose was taken to a state hospital for examination.
Cheramie wasn't too banged up, but eventually, she started suffering from heroin withdrawal. When the cops questioned her, Cheramie said she was going to Dallas "to get some money, pick up my kid and kill Kennedy." The cops ignored Cheramie's claims, thinking she was just a chatty addict going cold turkey.
But two days later, Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, on a Friday. Police remembered what Cheramie had said, but she was still in no condition to be questioned. So authorities decided to wait until the following Monday.
On Sunday, Ruby shot Oswald. On Monday, Nov. 25, Cheramie was talking to the police.
She said she was working for Ruby on a Miami-to-Houston drug run. Cheramie said she was riding in a car with two "Latin-type men," who tossed her out after they got into an argument. They were supposed to go to Dallas to kill the president. While in Dallas, the men were to collect $8,000, then travel to Houston to buy eight kilos of heroin from a seaman who was shipping the dope into Galveston Bay.
When the police checked her story, Galveston customs officials said the seaman whom Cheramie had named was indeed on board a ship. And that Cheramie had correctly established the ship's docking time.
The drug transaction was scheduled to go down at a Houston hotel. So officer Fruge and Cheramie flew to Houston. In the airport, Rose read a newspaper headline about how the Dallas police couldn't find a connection between Ruby and Oswald. Cheramie laughed and told officer Fruge that she worked as stripper for Ruby at the Carousel Club. She also said Ruby's nickname was "Pinkie," and that he and Oswald "had been shacking up for years They were bed partners."
And that's the gay link between Oswald and Ruby.
On Oct. 21, 1964, Cheramie was arrested in Louisiana for loud and erratic behavior, which produced the mugshot featured in this article. On the night of Sept. 4, 1965, Cheramie was walking along Highway 155 near Big Sandy, Texas, when she was involved in a car accident. She suffered head injuries and died. And the strange circumstances surrounding her death are up for debate.
CHERAMIE'S STORY LIVES ON
Depending on whom you ask, a gay relationship between Oswald and Ruby often gets buried. But not always. This week, I played phone tag with Sally Kirkland, the Oscar-nominated actress who played Cheramie in "JFK."
Kirkland lives in Malibu and is now a reverend. On Mondays, she hosts a radio show about spirituality and was most recently featured (in blackface) on an episode of "The Simple Life." Over the summer, when Paris Hilton was in jail, Kirkland led a group of protesters who demanded the incarcerated heiress' release.
In the three messages Rev. Kirkland left me, she couldn't have sounded nicer. In light of her recent support of Hilton, some have questioned Kirkland's sanity. But Kirkland says, "At the time, Oliver Stone was very helpful in faxing me copious amounts of information about Rose. But anything about a gay relationship between Ruby and Oswald was never mentioned to me."
Between messages, Kirkland asked where I unearthed the gay connection. I pointed out that the claims about Ruby and Oswald's homosexual partnership are all over the Internet, but Cheramie's gay allegations are also included in a 1979 report made by the U.S. House of Representatives' Select Committee on Assassinations.
"I don't think I can add anything to that. However, I find it all truly fascinating," Kirkland said, before she blessed the city of Dallas.
This week, I also contacted Vincent Bugliosi, the district attorney who prosecuted Charles Manson, wrote "Helter Skelter" and earlier this year released "Reclaiming History," the exhaustively researched, 1,600-page argument that says Oswald acted alone.
"There's nothing to the Cheramie thing," Bugliosi says. "She's a drugged out narcotic addict with no credibility. A pathetic figure who's been exploited by conspiracy theorists throughout the years."
Any chance Ruby and Oswald were "bed partners?"
"That's nonsense. There's no evidence that those two ever met. But there's been all types of apocryphal allegations that they had sex together and all that. That's just insanity. Crazy talk. And there's no evidence to support it," Bugliosi says.
This week, I also interviewed Hugh Aynesworth, the legendary journalist who scored the first interview with Marina Oswald, was in the basement of the police headquarters when Ruby shot Oswald and was asked by Ruby's family to be a pallbearer at Jack's funeral in Chicago (Aynesworth turned down the request).
"The Rose Cheramie stuff is a bunch of crap. If you put one iota of stock in her story or anything she said, you are wrong," Aynesworth insists. "It came up after she died. And there's no evidence that Ruby and Oswald knew each other — except a couple of entertainers who said they saw Oswald at the Carousel Club. Rose is one of about 50 people who have come forward with an intriguing story with no basis in fact. But they still live on because they're more fun."
JIM GARRISON — THE GAY INSINUATOR
Queer threads are stretched all over conspiracies about the JFK assassination. And most of them were spun by Jim Garrison, the controversial New Orleans district attorney who wrote "Trail of the Assassins," which Oliver Stone partially adapted for "JFK."
Garrison famously prosecuted Clay Shaw, a successful gay businessman from New Orleans. In a convoluted yet fascinating argument, Garrison linked Shaw to David Ferrie, a gay pilot who was fired from Eastern Air Lines after supposedly putting his jet on autopilot while joining the mile-high club. It's also alleged that Ferrie hypnotized Oswald into shooting Kennedy.
Garrison's main objective was to connect Shaw to "Clay Bertrand," an alias given to the Warren Commission by lawyer Dean Andrews (played by John Candy in "JFK"). Andrews said Bertrand was a bisexual who had asked him to represent Oswald. Since Bertrand and Shaw were both queer and both were named Clay, they must be the same person.
In 1982, Aynesworth interviewed Garrison for the Dallas Times Herald about the notion of gay aliases: "They always change their last names, but never their first names." Garrison told Aynesworth.
"To an extent there's some truth to that," Aynesworth explained this week. "If you're walking go down the street, and someone you know sees you, they're likely to call you only by your first name. And that's how it would work for anyone using an alias — not something that only applies to homosexuals."
The crux of Garrison's conspiracy plot was ridiculous. Investigative reporter James Phelan's essay collection "Scandals, Scamps, and Scoundrels" (1982, Random House) contains this passage (in italics, below) from the article "Jim Garrison vs. Clay Shaw:"
In an effort to get Garrison's story into focus, I asked him the motive of the Kennedy conspirators. He told me that the murder at Dallas had been a homosexual plot.
"They had the same motive as Loeb and Leopold, when they murdered Bobbie Franks in Chicago back in the '20s," Garrison said. "It was a homosexual thrill-killing, plus the excitement of getting away with a perfect crime. John Kennedy was everything that Dave Ferrie was not — a successful, handsome, popular, wealthy, virile man. You can just picture the charge Ferrie got out of plotting his death."
I asked how he had learned that the murder was a homosexual plot.
"Look at the people involved," Garrison said. "Dave Ferrie, homosexual. Clay Shaw, homosexual. Jack Ruby, homosexual."
"Ruby was a homosexual?"
"Sure, we dug that out," Garrison said. "His homosexual nickname was 'Pinkie.' That's three. Then there was Lee Harvey Oswald."
But Oswald was married and had two children, I pointed out.
"A switch-hitter who couldn't satisfy his wife," Garrison said. "That's all in the Warren Report." He named two more "key figures" whom he labeled homosexual.
"That's six homosexuals in the plot," Garrison said. "One or maybe two, okay. But all six homosexual? How far can you stretch the arm of coincidence?"
Compared to the 1960s, Garrison's gay finger pointing wasn't as ridiculous as it sounds today. Forty years ago, being called a 'queer' was not unlike the screaming little girls from the Salem Witch Trials.
"Back then, you could say someone was a nasty dad who beat up their kids, and no one would care. But if you said they were queer, it was very hurtful. A horrible thing," Aynesworth remembers.
GARRISON WAS QUEER?
"I don't know why Garrison came up with the homosexual 'thrill-kill' plot," Aynesworth says. "Maybe it was because some people said Garrison was bisexual."
Bugliosi discredits the rumor about Garrison's bisexuality, but he acknowledges its delicious existence: In 1970, accusations surfaced that Garrison sexually molested a teenage boy in the sauna of the New Orleans Athletic Club. But nothing came of it because the boy's dad was reluctant to make the alleged incident public.
Bugliosi says the rumor is crazy and irrelevant. "Unless you're trying to connect — as some people have tried to do — that Garrison prosecuted Shaw because of his, Garrison's, own sexuality. That's extremely tenuous and not realistic. But Garrison's 'homosexual thrill-kill' plot was his theory du jour, which he constantly changed. In the end, he accused Shaw of being in the CIA."
Both Aynesworth and Bugliosi believe if there was a patsy, it wasn't Oswald — it was Shaw.
"Shaw was Garrison's vehicle to attack the Warren Commission, which is what he wanted to do. And there's no evidence pointing to Clay Shaw. Garrison just terribly destroyed a life," Bugliosi says.
WAS OSWALD GAY?
Much has been made of Oswald's "marital problems" and that he was separated from Marina. Could he have been bisexual like Garrison suggested?
"No way," Aynesworth says. "They had marital problems because he married her on the rebound. Plus, he didn't want Marina to speak English."
WHAT ABOUT RUBY?
While Aynesworth and Bugliosi immediately dismiss rumors about Oswald's sexuality, they're not so sure about Ruby: a lifelong bachelor prone to over-emotional and violent outbursts. Aynesworth makes Ruby sound like a crazy mix of hothead and drama queen.
"Jack Ruby would have cried at the drop of a hat. If he didn't have a hat, he'd cry anyway. He's the kind of a guy who'd go to a fire and cry," Aynesworth says. "He was really sensitive. And that's why he got into so many fights."
Aynesworth remembers sitting on the steps of the Adolphus Hotel, which was across the street from a Sigel's liquor store and the Carousel Club. Aynesworth saw a homeless man walking out of Sigel's.
"He tried to bum a quarter off of Ruby, and Ruby picked up a liquor bottle and smashed him with it. Ruby was mean. A showoff. But he was also emotionally sensitive," Aynesworth says.
"There were some ambiguities whether Ruby was bisexual," Bugliosi says. "Some people said he had sex with every girl at the Carousel. Some said that he was friendly with them but he never had sex with any of them. And people speculated that he was homosexual. But there was no concrete evidence one way or the other. He did have a pretty close girlfriend by the name of Nichols that he was thinking of marrying at one time."
Aynesworth remembers the girlfriend, too: Alice Nichols. Ruby dated her for 11 years. And she testified before the Warren Commission.
"She was very straight-laced, maybe five years younger than Ruby," Aynesworth remembers. "Once a week, they went to the movies. But they never went out or danced. And she had nothing to do with the Carousel Club."
UNTIL NEXT YEAR …
Re-examining the conspiracy threads is always fascinating. While researching this article, the name Breck Wall popped up, whom Garrison said was Ruby's "queer ex-roommate."
Breck Wall (birth name: Billy Ray Wilson) is famous for the comedy revue show "Bottoms Up," which played at the Adolphus Hotel during the assassination before becoming a decades-long success in Las Vegas.
In 2004, Wall gave an interview to the Las Vegas Sun, remembering his friendship with Ruby, and that Wall was the last person Ruby spoke about before he died. The reporter who conducted that story gave me Wall's phone number. However, as of press time, Wall hasn't returned the call.
OSWALD'S 1st TARGET: GEN. WALKER, PARK CRUISER
On the night of April 10, 1963, retired Major General Edwin Walker was sitting at a desk when a bullet struck a window frame in his dining room. An extreme conservative, Walker was an anti-communist who spoke about "liquidating the scourge that has descended upon the island of Cuba."
Walker's home was located at 4011 Turtle Creek Blvd. right down the street from Park Cities Presbyterian Church on Oak Lawn Avenue. Authorities had no leads on the attempted murder. But after Kennedy's assassination, Marina Oswald testified that her husband had fired the shot: Lee left her a note written in Russian with instructions in case he was caught. Luckily, Walker was only injured by fragments that hit his forearm.
Fast forward to June 23, 1976, when a 66-year-old Walker was busted for public lewdness. Walker followed R. J. Stevens, an undercover policeman, into a public restroom at Cole Park on McKinney Avenue, about three blocks from Walker's house.
After he made a "physical advance" to the officer, the police arrested Walker, not realizing he was a public figure. Walker pleaded no contest, was freed on $200 bond and eventually fined $1,000 plus court costs and given a 30-day jail term probated for one year.
But then it happened again.
On March 15, 1977, Walker was busted a second time for public lewdness in the men's room at Reverchon Park. According to the Dallas Morning News, the undercover officer said Walker made "suggested sexual overtones."
While tracing Walker's steps, I recently drove from his address to Cole Park and then to Reverchon Park (noticing that the Dallas Theater Center and Lee Park are in between). Walker wasn't even venturing outside his own neighborhood. His idea of anonymous sex was cruising dudes he might run into at the local grocery store.
Walker died in 1993. He never married.
TEXAS THEATER OPENS
On Monday, the famous Texas Theater will screen "Oswald's Ghost," a documentary that blends historical footage and contemporary interviews to create a thorough account of the Kennedy assassination and aftermath, while examining why this event continues to haunt the nation. The screening is free but good luck getting a seat. Sixth Floor Museum, which is co-sponsoring the event, is already out of tickets.
Texas Theater, 231 W. Jefferson Blvd. Nov. 19 at 7 p.m. 214-747-6660.
DALLAS VOICE | 11.17.07