In his 78 years, Rusty Robbins has accumulated a lot of stories, though he is quick to point out that he considers them reports.
“I call them ‘reports’ and not stories,” said the Flower Mound resident. “I don’t add anything to my reports. Just facts as I recall them.”
Those reports range in topic, from scuba diving to his time as a police officer. In fact, his 30 years with the Dallas Police Department have provided a wealth of reports.
And as the nation recognizes the 50-year anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, a few reports in particular have been crossing Robbins’ mind lately.
Robbins was working the downtown beat when Kennedy came to Dallas in November 1963. He was one of several officers in charge of monitoring the parade route that went through Dallas during Kennedy’s visit.
“I worked the 1800 block of Main Street,” Robbins said. “As the motorcade passed, I was instructed to watch the crowd and protect the president by not letting anyone rush out and do anything stupid. I glanced at the president, just like every other officer did.”
Robbins’ job was essentially done once the motorcade passed by, so as people turned to go back into their shops along Main Street, Robbins returned to the police headquarters to change clothes.
As he was about to leave the station to head home, someone came through, yelling that the president had been shot. Instead of ending his shift, Robbins went to his supervisor’s office to wait for direction.
Robbins soon found himself at a nearby hotel, where the president’s communication center was set up. While Robbins waited in the hotel hallway, a man emerged from the communications room and asked Robbins if he could drive him to Love Field so he could board Air Force One.
As the two men reached Love Field, they could see the presidential plane was already starting to leave the runway.
“I told him that I knew a quick way around the back to get to the plane,” Robbins said. “That would have been the wrong thing to do. I was young and stupid. I think machine guns would have been pulled out, and we would have been shot to pieces if we had pulled up alongside Air Force One in an unmarked police car.”
The man left Robbins to catch a civilian flight. Robbins said he never found out who the man was, but he said his involvement in the incident wasn’t over yet.
Two days later, local club owner Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald, whom police had arrested in connection with the Kennedy shooting, as police were transporting Oswald from the Dallas city jail to the county jail.
Thoughts on Jack Ruby
Robbins said he was familiar with Ruby, saying The Carrousel Club owner made a point to hang around Dallas police.
“In the year prior to the assasination, I worked the police beat in downtown, which held all three strip joints in Dallas,” Robbins said. “I routinely went to Jack Ruby’s place as part of my regular duties. Jack was always so friendly and welcomed all police officers. There was later talk that Jack was tied in with the local police. If he was, I didn’t know about it. But we went there because he was friendly. That’s how I got to know Jack Ruby, and that’s why I would have an opinion about him concerning the assassination later.”
Robbins recalled a time when Ruby invited him to go bowling “probably to bolster the friendship,” Robbins said. He said one antic by Ruby at the bowling alley was telling of what he was capable of, Robbins said.
“After the fifth or sixth frame, Jack got a strike,” Robbins said. “Jack ran three lanes this way and three lanes the other way to get people to look at the scoreboard to see what he had done. He was trying to be somebody. That’s why he was arm-around-neck buddies with the police. It made him a bigger person if he had police friends, in my opinion.”
On Nov. 24 Ruby found his way into the police department’s garage and shot Oswald.
“I can see how Ruby’s character allowed that to happen,” Robbins said. “Jack wanted to be acknowledged and validated. He had the desire to be known for something. I 100 percent believe that he shot Oswald because it would make him important.”
As for the notion that the shooting was simply retaliation for Oswald shooting Kennedy, Robbins said he believes the shooting was spur-of-the-moment and more about Ruby wanting to be somebody.
“Records prove that Ruby was down the street at the Western Union office, sending a small sum of money to a stripper so she could catch a bus and come up here and work at his strip joint,” Robbins said. “This was less than 20 minutes before Ruby shot Oswald. He had to know he would be arrested and go to jail. A sane man wouldn’t do that. A man with a plan wouldn’t do that.”
Guarding Oswald’s body
News reporters and photographers lined the hallway of the morgue at Parkland Hospital, where Oswald’s body was being tended to, Robbins said.
Robbins and officer Sam Sorsby were directed to stand at the door to the morgue, armed with shotguns, to prevent anyone from getting in.
One photographer got a picture of both officers guarding the door. Robbins still has the photo, which appeared in the Dallas Times Herald. Robbins found the same photo in a book about the assassination at the Sixth Floor Museum years later.
The day of the autopsy, a Fort Worth funeral home delivered a casket to Dallas for Oswald’s body, and Robbins was part of a police escort to take the casket back to Fort Worth.
Robbins said that officially ended his involvement in the series of events.
Recently, Robbins has spoken publicly about the events of that week, though he said it’s not something he has spent a lot of time thinking about during the last 50 years.
“This is something you would never forget,” Robbins said. “However, it did not weigh heavily on my mind. I was not much into politics or world affairs. I was just looking out for my family and personal interest. Like everyone else, I wished it had never happened here or anywhere, for that matter.”