I can remember this so clearly,’ Gene Etchason said. ‘My dad was reclining in his easy chair, while mom was in the kitchen getting dinner ready. We were watching the mid-day news, when, all of a sudden, dad sat up straight and said ‘Jack Ruby!’
‘On the television screen was the scene where (Lee Harvey) Oswald was being taken from the Dallas jail when a dark-haired man holding a gun stepped forward.
Within 15 minutes, there was a banging on the front door. There stood Wilson Hill, and he rushed in the room saying, Ruby! Jack Ruby!
It was then my dad, Earl Etchason, told me the story of how he came to know the man who became famous for killing Oswald.
I recently sat down with Gene Etchason to talk a little history. He had read an earlier story I wrote about George Pugsley and his nefarious business dealings in Bingham, and told me he had something to add.
From Gene, I learned that not only did Ruby come to Bingham in the late ’40s to quail hunt, he was visiting Ramsey a good three years before, befriending local farmers so he could hunt on their land.
From what Gene remembered, Pugsley kept a private club (a.k.a. bar) in Ramsey on Superior Street in the building that housed the old Hayes Opera House. Gene thinks this is probably where his father, Earl, would have had the opportunity to make the acquaintance of Ruby.
Gene remembered that Pugsley would give him nickels to put in a slot machine, and every so often the money could come back out. What a thrill for a little boy! The slot machines were in closet-sized rooms, each with a door. There was a whole row of doors along one wall of Pugsleys club.
Gene told me, My dad kept bird dogs, many of the local men did, because this was a popular sport. Jack Ruby loved to quail hunt, and came to the house to go hunting with dad. Slim Moore and Ross Lovelace were two others that hunted with my dad and Jack Ruby.
For many years, Dad had an old 12-gauge Winchester 97 pump that he would let me use. It was a great bird gun because it was full choke and had been cut down at some time. Dad took the butt plate off and replaced it with a rubber recoil pad before he handed it down to me to use.
From time to time, people would borrow the gun, including George Pugsley. In fact, he borrowed it so much, I figured he must have been the one who gave it to my dad.
On the day he saw Jack Ruby on the TV, my dad turned to me and said, You know, that old bird gun you like to use? Jack Ruby gave that to me. He would do that if he liked you.
Wilson Hill was a young teenager at the time, and Ruby would occasionally hire him to take him around the area to meet farmers, paying him $20 a day. That was big money in those days.
Tornie Carter told me that his dad, Ernie, was one of the farmers who let Ruby hunt on his land near Bingham.
Wilson had a little white terrier dog that had been given to him by Jack Ruby. I remember the dog. It had been Rubys dog, and he dressed it up in clothes. The terrier had been taught to sit up on his haunches, and theyd put him up on a barstool or on the bar.
Wilson liked the dog, and one day Ruby just gave it to him, clothes and all.
Im not sure when Rubys connection with Fayette County ended. Gene thinks that Ruby gave his dad the gun about 1945 or 1946. In his memory, it seems that about a year or so later that the visits stopped.
It would have been about this time that Jack Ruby came to the Etchason house about 2 a.m. He was in a van-type vehicle, and had a couple of guys with him. Jack told Earl that he had a van-load of new $150 suits, and he wanted Earl to find one his size and take it. Earl told Jack he didnt want anything to do with the suits, and to just forget he had even stopped at the house.
Gene questioned some of his fathers old hunting buddies about Ruby, and the gun, and they to a man knew that the Winchester had been a gift to Earl from Ruby. Earl liked the way the gun handled, and Ruby, seeing him admire the weapon, just up and gave it to him.
All of the men were willing to make a notarized statement to that fact, a paper that Gene stores with the gun in a safe location.
Pugsley was killed in a vehicle accident near Cicero in 1953, and if Ruby hadnt already stopped coming to Bingham and Ramsey by that time, he would have soon after.
In the early-to-mid-1950s, Ruby was implicated in the death of a union boss of the garment workers union in the Chicago area.
One local legend that follows Ruby around is that he was given a parking ticket in downtown Vandalia during the time that Chick Brannon was sheriff.
Weve had some interesting visitors to Fayette County. Add Ruby to the list.