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  • Writer's pictureFred Litwin

Did the CIA use a MK-Ultra Psychiatrist to Interfere with Jack Ruby's Case?

Updated: Jun 12, 2023

Dr. Louis Jolyon West

Some conspiracy theorists are now conjecturing that Jack Ruby was subjected to some sort of mind control in 1964. It has turned out that one of his psychiatrists, Dr. Louis Jolyon West, worked in the top-secret CIA MK-Ultra program, which ran between 1953-1964 and was designed to develop drugs and techniques for brainwashing and mind control.

Seymour Hersh broke the story on MK-Ultra in 1974 and hearings were held in Congress in 1977. Since then, MK-Ultra has become a conspiracy theorists' dream - easily graftable onto any story.

One of the first instances of the Jack Ruby - Dr. West story was in an article by Richard Sprague in the April 1986 issue of Freedom Magazine. Sprague alleged that Dr. West was the doctor who "administered the injection [of cancer] to Ruby." Of course this is nonsense -- while Ruby did die of cancer in January of 1967, it was (is) impossible to inject any agent into a human that would cause cancer in a determinable period of time.

You can read the rest of the affidavit, found in Jim Garrison's files, at the link above.

My initial reaction to this affidavit was that it had to be some kind of hoax, or a red herring intended to spread disinformation. I based this on the inclusion of Dr. Louis Jolyon West in the narrative which seemed just a little bit too good to be true—kind of like a conspiracy theorists’ wet dream—mainly because West has so often been linked to a panoply of MK-ULTRA conspiracy theories over the years like some sort of Dr. Evil super-villain in a Marvel comic book series. It’s no secret (as you can read from his wiki page) that West was indeed involved in at least one MK-ULTRA-related project when he injected an elephant with large dose of LSD and accidentally killed the poor creature. But beyond that, his legend grew somewhat ridiculously, I think, mainly because it gave street cred to different supposed MK-ULTRA mind control conspiracy theories that have circulated over the years.

Joan Mellen claimed in her 2005 book A Farewell to Justice that the affidavit was written by Jim Garrison as a spoof: (page 364 in the Kindle edition)

In fiction, Garrison can include details he suspected but could never prove: that Ruby knew Oswald; that Ruby had transported “at least one gunman” to the grassy knoll, the Julia Ann Mercer testimony. In a jibe at James Phelan, Garrison uses hypnotism and sodium pentothal to render Ruby passive. The motive for Sherman’s unsolved murder, he suggests, was the need to keep a secret associated with the assassination. The planner of Ruby’s murder was Dr. West, “who did his best to help people and to work for the security of the United States.” West, of course, is a thinly disguised Dr. Alton Ochsner, who decrees that Ruby must die because if he won his trial, “he would hurt many people, open old wounds.” The witness to the “Affidavit” bears the names of both Garrison’s most virulent antagonist, Walter Sheridan, and his assistant, Richard Townley: “Richard Sheridan.”

I do not believe that Garrison was the author. Someone passed this along to him in the hope he would buy the story. It does show that Dr. Louis Jolyon West is a good vehicle for conspiracy stories.

Gorightly easily rebuts Mellen's contention that the affidavit was a spoof:

Mellen refers to the affidavit as a “brilliant spoof,” but you can read it for yourself and make up your own mind if that’s actually the case. It certainly doesn’t read like a spoof; or if it was a spoof, then Garrison evidently was spoofing himself because the only other source at the time linking Mary and Ferrie to this cancer conspiracy was Garrison’s 1967 Playboy interview.

Not only wasn’t the Russell Affidavit a spoof, it wasn’t particularly brilliant, either. The only reason I can figure why Mellen offered this puzzling explanation was because she probably didn’t know what to make of it, either—not to mention that on its face the Russell Affidavit seems somewhat problematic if, indeed, Garrison actually authored it, as it only undermines his credibility and presents the possibility that he was intentionally pushing a false narrative.

MuckRock then published an article by Emma North-Best about Dr. West and Jack Ruby in 2017. North-Best focused on the details of Dr. West's work with MK-Ultra and provided links to relevant documents. She was somewhat vague in what this all meant, noting that "After he shot Lee Harvey Oswald, Jack Ruby's psychosis was diagnosed by the same CIA doctor who had once killed an elephant with psychedelics."

But it was Tom O'Neill's 2019 book Chaos: Charles Manson, the CIA, and the Secret History of the Sixties that really gave the story wings. O'Neill made the case that there was an abrupt change in Jack Ruby's mental condition after Dr. West's visit, and he surmises that this was due to "toxic psychosis," i.e., psychosis resulting from chemicals or drugs.

And then Tucker Carlson picked it up in December of 2022.

In April of 1964, a psychiatrist called Louis Jolyon West visited Jack Ruby in his isolation cell in a Dallas jail. According to West's written assessment, he found that Jack Ruby was "technically insane" and in need of immediate psychiatric hospitalization. Those are conclusions that puzzlingly no one who had spoken to Jack Ruby previously had reached. Ruby had seemed perfectly sane to the people who knew him. Louis Jolyon West pronounced him crazy.

But what West did not say was that he was working for the CIA at the time. Louis Jolyon West was a contract psychiatrist for the spy agency. He was also an expert on mind control and a prominent player in the now infamous MKUltra program in which the CIA gave powerful psychiatric drugs to Americans without their knowledge.

So of all the psychiatrists in the world, what in the world was this guy doing in Jack Ruby's prison cell?

Carlson reported, accurately, that Dr. Louis Jolyon West visited Oswald’s assassin, Jack Ruby, while he was in jail. Carlson noted, again accurately, that West was a psychiatrist on the CIA payroll and participant in the notorious MKULTRA mind control program. “What in the world was this guy doing in Jack Ruby’s prison cell?” he asked. You can loathe Carlson’s political project and still acknowledge that is a reasonable question that the CIA has never answered.

A reasonable question? Does the CIA really need to answer this? The short answer to the Morley/Carlson question, as the documents made clear long ago, is that Ruby's lawyers brought him in.

Is there any evidence that Dr. West was on the CIA payroll in 1964?

This doesn’t prove that the CIA facilitated Dr. West’s exculpatory diagnosis on Ruby for the sake of protecting the Agency, but it certainly lends credence to the notion. It shows the medical diagnosis that propped up the government’s widely disbelieved theory of JFK’s murder was compromised by a secret agenda related to mind control.

O'Neill told Rogan that he had contacted Arlen Specter back in 2002 to tell him he had new information. Specter wanted to see his documents on Dr. West and MK-Ultra, but O'Neill refused to fax them. Specter and O'Neill agreed to meet in person but on the day of the meeting, O'Neill cancelled.

What we do know, thanks to author Tom O’Neill and his book Chaos, is that the CIA intervened in the case of Oswald’s killer Jack Ruby. O’Neill discovered that Dr. Jolyon West, a psychiatrist, who declared Ruby psychotic was in fact a CIA contractor. The Warren Commission never knew.

JFK researchers are now asking a new question that the government and partisans of the “lone gunman” theory have yet to answer: “Why did the CIA interfere in Jack Ruby’s trial?”

Interfere? How on earth did the CIA "interfere" with Jack Ruby's trial?

It is not easy to determine exactly what conspiracy theorists are alleging about Jack Ruby and Dr. Louis Jolyon West. Did Dr. West "scramble" Ruby's mind as conspiracy theorist Max Good, producer of a tendentious documentary on Ruth Paine, suggested in an August 2022 tweet? Was Dr. West doing the CIA's bidding when he wrote his psychiatric reports on Jack Ruby? Did Dr. West prevent Jack Ruby from telling us the awful truth about the conspiracy?

I guess it is easier to keep the story very fuzzy.

So, what really happened?

The documents posted with the MuckRock article clearly show that Dr. Louis Jolyon West was working on human subjects in 1955-1956:

This project started in 1955 and ended in 1956. He basically was testing to see if certain drugs could make it easier to hypnotize people.

MuckRock makes a big deal out of a proposal that indicated that Dr. West wanted to work another eleven years on this project:

I believe that there is a typo in paragraph B and that it should have read 1956-57. If you read the other documents in the file, the fiscal year was not a calendar year. For instance, look at the projected budget, which was for 1956 - 1957:

I think it is quite clear that the proposal in question was only for an extension of one year to 1956-57 and not to 1967. While I can't state this with absolute certainty, it does appear that Dr. West was not working with humans on this project after 1957. By the time Dr. West met with Ruby, MK-Ultra was being shut down.

There is no evidence that Dr. West was conducting any MK-Ultra research when he examined Jack Ruby.

At the end of March 1964, Dr. Hubert Winston Smith, who was Melvin Belli's medical advisor during the Jack Ruby trial, became Ruby's chief counsel. He agreed to conduct "an exhaustive drag-net medico-legal analysis of the Ruby case from cellar to garret."

On April 27, 1964, Smith filed a motion to have Jack Ruby hospitalized and that he be re-examined for sanity. Dr. Smith also requested Ruby undergo hypnosis and to be interviewed after being administered sodium pentothal. He hoped to retrieve information about Ruby's motives in killing Oswald.

Washington Post, April 23, 1964

Note that it was Dr. Smith, and not Dr. West, who asked for hypnosis and sodium pentothal.

Ruby was already experiencing some mental issues:

West was only with Ruby for an hour and decided not to proceed with a "consideration" of the tests that Dr. Smith had requested:

The unexpected discovery that this individual has developed an acute psychotic reaction naturally requires me to postpone consideration of the special examination into his mental status at the time of the shooting last November.

But Dr. West did notice a change in Ruby:

As indicated earlier, Tom O'Neill felt that this was suspicious. He noted that "by then nearly half a dozen psychiatrists, many equally renowned, had taken stock of Ruby's condition, finding him essentially compos mentis." But what they had determined was that Ruby was sane enough to stand trial. Remember, Melvin Belli's strategy for Jack Ruby was to plead innocent by way of temporary insanity.

Ruby was on a downward spiral. The trial, the guilty verdict, the imposition of the death penalty all caused Ruby to become increasingly mentally unbalanced. What really affected Ruby was the right-wing notion that Jews were behind the assassination of JFK. The reaction of the far-right John Birch Society got to him. They always referred to Ruby as Rubenstein so as to emphasize a Jewish component of a supposed conspiracy to kill JFK. And that made Ruby worry that the Jews might be blamed (however unfairly) for the murder of Kennedy.

Robert Kaplan, a forensic psychiatrist from the University of Wollongong in Australia described his downward spiral in a 2015 paper:

Even at Ruby's trial, several witnesses wondered about his sanity. Here is an excerpt from the testimony of William Serur, a friend of Ruby's who testified on his behalf:

Here is how this was reported in the New York Times:

New York Times, March 11, 1964

During his appeal, his lawyers asked for time to prepare a history of Ruby's mental issues. Here is an excerpt from the book Moment of Madness by Elmer Gertz, who served as one of Ruby's lawyers: (page 168)

We reminded the court of the importance of such pretrial conference and of the several vital outstanding problems, requiring "an enormous amount of previous planning and preparation." The requisite proofs of Ruby's mental capacity entailed extensive and thorough psychiatric and psychological examinations of Ruby and interviews with members of his family and others; these would take a minimum of sixty days in the first instance and the employment of additional counsel and no less than thirty more days to utilize the reports. We reminded the court that Ruby's emotional instability extended back to his tenth year, that he and various members of his family had been treated at various times for mental disturbances, that the available reports were more than seven months old and inadequate for our purposes.

Even if Dr. West had wanted to do something untoward, what would that be? Give Ruby a dose of LSD? Hypnotize him? Administer sodium pentothal?

Right after Dr. West's report on Ruby, he was then examined by Dr. William Beavers. He actually considered the possibility of "toxic psychosis" but noted that it was "unlikely because of the protected situation and the fact that his thought and his mood seemed to be extremely closely related."

Conspiracy theorists are grasping at straws. Dr. Louis Jolyon West made a bad mistake taking part in MK-Ultra. But there is no evidence that Jack Ruby was part of his supposed experiments, or that Dr. West's interactions had anything to with his CIA work in the 1950s.

By the way, MK-Ultra was a failure. Stephen Kinzer wrote in his book Poisoner in Chief: Sidney Gottlieb and the CIA Search for Mind Control:

For ten years, Gottlieb directed systematic, intense, and far-reaching research into mind control. Finally he and his comrades were forced to face their cosmic failure. Their research had shown them that mind control is a myth -- that seizing another person's mind and reprogramming it is impossible.
Wark believes conspiracy theories like MK-Ultra help us come to terms with tragic events by providing a convenient, pre-formed narrative about institutional agency and its ability to be corrupt – something that’s far easier to understand because it’s an idea with so much cultural capital, especially in recent years. He gives the example of Sandy Hook deniers entering into the mainstream thanks to controversial pundits such as Alex Jones.
“MK-Ultra is packaged in a narrative that’s a part of our popular cultural heritage,” he says. “We still tell these stories, in movies and TV shows and comics and books. So long as governments commit injustices and atrocities, conspiracy theories like MK-Ultra will translate these onto an individual scale. So long as politics are polarised, it’ll be all too easy to identify ‘them’, the other side, as this agency. MK-Ultra endures because it tells us a story about institutional power that we’re already primed to hear: ‘it was a cover-up.’”

Of course, there is no organization as evil as the CIA. Even Clay Shaw recognized that back in 1967:

"It is, in short, the most un-American of activities, and the average American has a most ambivalent attitude toward it. Of course, everyone knows and admits, that as long as the other great powers, particularly Russia, maintain intelligence systems, we must do the same. And yet, most of us consider the CIA with abhorence [sic], and a man who works for it, is considered not a patriot serving his country but as a kind of E. Phillips Oppenheim villain ... a somewhat sinister James Bond."

I should note that there was one person in the JFK case who did administer sodium pentothal and hypnotize an important witness -- Jim Garrison.

Does anybody seriously think that Jim Garrison was part of MK-Ultra?

Thank you to Paul Hoch for editing this blog post and contributing links and comments.

Previous Relevant Blog Posts on Jack Ruby

Dr. Cyril Wecht says it is impossible.

A look at why Jack Ruby shot Oswald.


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