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Juan Ignacio Blanco††

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James RUPPERT

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 
 
 
Classification: Mass murderer
Characteristics: Parricide - Inheritance
Number of victims: 11
Date of murders: March 30, 1975
Date of arrest: Same day
Date of birth: 1934
Victims profile: His mother, Charity Ruppert; his brother, Leonard Ruppert; Leonard's wife, Alma, and the couple's eight children, ages 4 to 17
Method of murder: Shooting
Location: Hamilton, Ohio, USA
Status: Sentenced to 11 consecutive life terms on July 3, 1975. Overturned on appeal. In 1982 a jury convicted him of two counts of murder and found him innocent of the other nine deaths by reason of insanity. Sentenced to to life terms
 
 

 
 
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In 1975, 41-year-old James Ruppert killed his mother, brother, sister-in-law and eight nieces and nephews at an Easter Sunday dinner in Hamilton, Ohio.

In 1982 he was convicted of two deaths and acquitted of the nine others by reason of insanity.

The 11 victims were shot a total of 35 times. James then calmly waited for police to arrive, making no attempt to flee.

He told arriving cops: "My mother drove me crazy by always combing my hair, talked to me like I was a baby, and tried to make me into a homosexual".

At trial, prosecutors said James planned to take the family's $300,000 net worth for himself, by killing everyone else, getting himself declard Not Guilty by reason of insanity. Then having himself "cured" within a few years, he would be released from the hospital a wealthy man.


Ohioan who killed 11 up for parole

Fort Wayne - The Journal Gazette

June 13, 1995

A man convicted of killing 11 family members 20 years ago advanced past an initial parole hearing Monday and will have his case heard by the full state Parole Board next month.

Joe Andrews, a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, said Monday the board would schedule a hearing for James Ruppert on July 3 or July 5 in Columbus.


Ruppert remains in prison

State denies parole for murderer of 11

The Cincinnati Post

June 24, 1995

James Ruppert, who gunned down 11 relatives at a 1975 Easter gathering in Hamilton, Ohio, is likely to remain in prison until he dies.

The Ohio Parole Board Friday rejected the 60-year-old mass murderer's parole request and ordered him to serve at least 40 more years behind bars. Ruppert will be entitled to a second parole review in another 20 years at the midpoint of the additional 40 years. He would be 80 years old in the year 2015.


A motive is sought in slaying of 11 in a family in Ohio

HAMILTON, Ohio, March 31 - The police had a suspect today but no motive and little idea of how 11 family members who gathered for Easter dinner could have been killed without any sign of a struggle.

"We canít seem to find a motive for this," said Hamilton Police Chief George McNally. "This kind of murder usually has a motive like sex, greed or jealousy. We canít find any of those things here. Some aspects of this case just leave us puzzled."

Hamilton Prosecutor John Holcomb said that James Ruppert had called the police about 9:30 last night and reported bodies in the house. When policemen arrived at a two-story frame house in a middle-class neighborhood they found Mr. Ruppert, 40 years old standing inside the door. While he was talking, the police said they noticed two bodies in the living room.

When policemen entered the house, five bodies were found in the living room and six in the kitchen. Ten of the bodies had been shot in the head and one in the chest. All had been dead up to four hours, according to Mr. Holcomb.

Dead were Mr. Ruppertís mother, Charity, 65; his only brother, Leonard, 42; Leonardís wife, Alma, and the Leonardís eight children ranging in age from 4 to 17.

Mr. Ruppert, an unemployed draftsman who never married, was taken into custody and charged with 11 counts of aggravated murder. Bond was set today at $200,000 and a preliminary hearing was scheduled for Friday. Mr. Ruppert refused to talk to the police about the murders.

Municipal Court Judge John Moser appointed a psychiatrist to example Mr. Ruppert before his preliminary hearing.

The single sign of possible struggle in the house was a tipped wastebasket, the police said. "We hope the path the bullets traveled and the point of entry will determine if the victims tried to dodge the bullets," Chief McNally said. The police counted 31 spent cartridges. Three pistols were found in the living room. A rifle was propped against the refrigerator door in the kitchen.

The Butler County coroner, Garret Boone, said it was possible that some of the victims had been shot once, then shot again to make sure they were dead. "Itís unlikely that 11 people would have been shot and killed unless they were held in some way or were in a position where none of them could escape," he said.

Excitement Over Dinner

Early yesterday, an 8-year-old girl crossed the street to Mrs. Ruppertís home to deliver an Easter basket. When she returned home, she told her father that Mrs. Ruppert was excited that her family was coming for Easter dinner.

The Leonard Rupperts and their eight children spend Saturday evening at Easter vigil services. Yesterday, they pilled into their black van and rode from their home in nearby Fairfield to their grandmotherís house. "They all drove up in this big black van, and pilled out of the car and staged and Easter egg hunt on the lawn," recalled George Wroot.

Twelve hours later, Mr. Wroot was among the neighbors who watched the police remove the bodies from the house. Of all the Rupperts, neighbors said they knew least about James. He gave his address to the police as his motherís house, but neighbors said he traveled.

He was described by various neighbors as a loner, intelligent and an ardent reader. He had no police record. The milkman for Leonard Ruppert knew both brothers "James was the quiet one," he said.

One Neighbor recalled a story that Charity Ruppert had told about her two sons, who wre 10 and 12 at the time their father died. "She said her kids were never allowed to be children," the neighbor said. "They were always men of the house because their father died at an early age. They were very responsible." 


8 Children among 11 Slain; Uncle Is Held

HAMILTON; Ohio, Monday, March 31 - Eight children, their parents and a grandmother were shot to death Easter Sunday in the grandmother's house, where the family had gathered for a holiday dinner, the police said.

The children's uncle, James Ruppert, 40 years old, was arrested and charged with 11 counts of homicide, the police said.

The victims were identified as his mother, Charity Ruppert; his brother, Leonard Ruppert; Leonard's wife, Alma, and the couple's eight children. The youngest child was 4 years old; the oldest was in high school.

Police officers went to the Ruppert home after receiving a telephone call from a man who said there were bodies in the house. Each victim had been shot in the head, except for one woman who was shot in the chest, the police said. There was no sign of a struggle in the two-story house, except for an overturned waste paper basket.

Dr, Garrett Boone, the Butler County coroner, said he had seen the bodies, which were found in the kitchen and the living room. "It's possible that some of them were shot once and then finally given the shot that killed them." he said. "It's unlikely that 11 people would have been shot and killed unless they were held in some way or were in a position where none of them could escape."

Neighbors said Charity Ruppert had invited Leonard and his family to her house for Easter dinner. They said James lived with his mother and spent half of his time at home. One neighbor described Mrs. Ruppert as "the sweetest little woman who ever walked."

John Spear, who lives across the street from the Ruppert house, said his 8-year-old daughter delivered an Easter basket to the house in the morning. Mrs. Ruppert told the girl her family was coming for Easter dinner that afternoon. Leonard and Alma Ruppert's two oldest sons were seen at mass in the morning.

Charity Ruppert's house is in a middle class neighborhood on the south side of Hamilton, an industrial city of 70,000 about 30 miles north of Cincinnati.

An Easter Gathering

Member of the Hamilton Police Department, reached by telephone early today, said that they believed that Leonard Ruppert and his family arrived at his mother's home shortly after 1 P.M. for a family gathering.

The authorities said they were still seeking to establish how soon afterward they were slain. None of Mrs. Ruppert's neighbors who had been questioned reported hearing any gunshots from her two-story wooden frame home at 635 Minor Avenue, a quiet residential street lined with old, modest two-story homes.

The call that alerted the police was received at 9.41 P.M. The police officer sent to investigate was met at the front door by the suspect, described by the police as a draftsman.

James Ruppert was taken into custody without incident immediately after the officer discovered the bodies on the first floor. Six of the victims were found sprawled in the kitchen. The other five were in the living room - four on the floor and the fifth on a sofa. Investigators said that they had "no idea" of a motive for the slaying.


James Ruppert

In 1975 James Ruppert killed his mother, brother, sister-in-law and eight nieces and nephews at an Easter Sunday dinner in Hamilton, Ohio. Ruppert was about to lose his home, and his mother also was demanding a substantial amount of money he owed her. Those impending losses triggered the killings. In 1982 he was convicted of two deaths and acquitted of the nine others by reason of insanity. Grinspoon testified in the defense of James Ruppert.

"Ruppert was clearly a person who suffered from severe paranoia and operated under a well-developed delusional system," Grinspoon said. "He believed that the FBI was in concert with his mother and his brother to demonstrate that he was a homosexual." An innocuous remark by his brother that Ruppert interpreted as "tainting him" triggered the shootings, Grinspoon said. He is still serving a life sentence at the Allen Correctional Institution in Lima.


Jame's life and day

The case of James Ruppert demonstrates in dramatic fashion that things aren't always what they seem to be. The 41-year-old resident of Hamilton, Ohio hardly seemed likely to commit mass murder: He had no police record and, except for thick glasses and small stature, was undistinguished in appearance.

Even after he had brutally murdered eleven relatives, neighbors still recalled the five-foot six-inch, 135-pound Ruppert as being a quiet and responsible member of this industrial community of some 63,000 people. Defense attorney Hugh Holbrock later said of James Ruppert, "He's one of the kindest human beings I have ever met. He would do anything to help people."' 

The scene of the mass slaying was the house which Ruppert and his mother shared: a small two-story, two-tone wood-frame structure situated on a quiet, tree-lined residential street in Hamilton. The occasion was Easter Sunday, 1975 - the day after James's 41st birthday. Ruppert's ailing 65-year-old mother, Charity, had invited the entire clan to the house: her two sons, James and Leonard, and Leonard's family including his wife Alma and their eight children ranging in age from 4 to 17. 

The day began happily enough. Shortly after arriving, the members of Leonard Ruppert's family gathered together on the front lawn, where they had an Easter egg hunt. Then, they all went into the house for the yearly family reunion and dinner. Everyone mingled in the living room and kitchen - everyone, that is, except Uncle James, who was on the second floor of the house making his final preparations. 

Charity Ruppert was fixing sandwiches at the kitchen range, while Leonard and his wife Alma sat together at the kitchen table. Their youngest child was in the bathroom; one of their daughters stood waiting her turn by the bathroom door, as the other six children played in the living room. 

Moments later, James Ruppert, gun enthusiast and crack marksman, walked calmly down the stairs carrying three revolvers - a.357 magnum and twin .22 caliber handguns - and an 18-shot rifle which he immediately propped against the refrigerator door.

With his back to the kitchen sink, Ruppert fired first at his brother Leonard, who fell backward onto the floor; he then shot his sister-in-law Alma and his mother, who lunged toward him in a last futile effort to save her family and her life.

Before anyone had a chance to think - let alone, escape - Ruppert had fired 31 shots, stopping only to reload. The first round was disabling; the second and third rounds finished off his victims. Ten of them were shot in the head at close range; one was shot in the chest. Nobody screamed; nobody ran. All of them were dead when Ruppert called the police some three hours later. "There's been a shooting here," he told the police over the phone. 

Minutes later, the police found James Ruppert standing inside the front door of the house. They also found five bloodsplattered bodies in the living room and six in the kitchen. None of the victims had been tied or restrained in any way, yet the only sign of a struggle was an overturned wastepaper basket. 

The police had a suspect but no motive. James Ruppert was taken into custody and charged with eleven counts of aggravated murder. He refused to talk to the police about the killings and pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. 

The Ruppert murders and trial provoked what one local observer called "a three-ring circus." For weeks following the tragic event, James Ruppert was the topic of conversation in town. Street sales of Hamilton's only daily newspaper doubled; hundreds of neighbors congregated outside the Ruppert home, sometimes long past midnight. For six hours after the funeral, 400 cars carrying enthusiastic curiosity-seekers - some in taxicabs - cruised past Arlington Memorial Gardens, where Ruppert's eleven victims were buried. 

During the trial, curious spectators began arriving early in the morning - some by six AM - to wait outside the stone-faced, three-story courthouse for one of the sixty seats in its warm, stuffy third-floor courtroom. They ran for the stairs or elevator, hoping to beat the crowds to the courtroom door. Those who couldn't get seats stood around the walls of the courtroom or waited outside on benches in the corridors.

For the duration of the proceedings, spectators in the hallway peered through the glass in the door, straining to get a glimpse of the defendant who sat impassively throughout most of the trial. As reporter Dick Perry later recalled, "It was a free show!"' 

One year following Easter Sunday, 1975, the Ruppert home was unlocked to auction off its household possessions -the furniture, appliances, clothing, and odds and ends. Dozens of people came searching for bargains and bloodstains.

They wound their way through the tiny backyard into the living room and kitchen and up the stairs into Ruppert's second-floor bedroom. As eyewitness Nancy Baker reported in the local paper, "Babies asleep in strollers ... housewives in curlers ... men smoking big cigars - all added to the carnival atmosphere."' 

It wasn't all fun and games, of course. Indeed, the Ruppert slayings provoked widespread anxiety throughout the Hamilton area. Townspeople had plenty of questions, but very few answers. Until the trial, the local newspapers did little more than report surface information - mostly about the who, what, and where, but little about the why. As though to fill the need for news, rumors were spread everywhere - rumors which attempted to explain why the killings occurred and what effect they might have on the community: 

"Alma had wanted to commit suicide and take one of her children with her. She started the whole thing by harrassing Jimmie." 

"Ruppert went beserk when he learned his mother had made Hamburger Helper for Easter dinner." (Though said in jest, the police actually found a skillet on the stove in which Charity Ruppert had been preparing Sloppy Joe's for her grandchildren.) 

"If Prosecutor John Holcomb loses the Ruppert case, he'll quit." 

"The Ruppert house is haunted." 

"Kids snuck into the Ruppert house on Minor Avenue and said everything, was covered with blood." 

"The new occupants of what was formerly the Ruppert house were newcomers to Hamilton who weren't told that the mass murder had taken place there." 

"Though confined in a mental hospital since the trial, James Ruppert has an extensive wardrobe, loves to eat ice cream, and continues to receive the Wall Street journal on a daily basis." 

Psychiatrists report that grieving over the loss of a close relative or friend frequently begins with denial: survivors reject the reality of a death until such time that they are psychologically ready to deal with it. Denial seems to be especially common in cases of murder where a large number of victims are involved.

The enormity of the crime provokes widespread disbelief: "How could only one person have killed all those people?" "Why didn't at least some of them escape?" "How could they have gone to the slaughter like lambs?" The answer, of course, is that even the victims themselves couldn't believe what was about to happen. 

Christians went to the lions like lambs; Jews went to the "Showers" like lambs; and the Ruppert family members were just as incredulous. The body of one of the Ruppert children was found lying only a foot or so from the back door which she apparently had managed to open slightly before being gunned down by her uncle. None of the other victims even came close. 

We like to think of the family as a crucible of love and affection. Hence, murder by the hands of a family member (especially a son killing his mother) can be too much for the mind to fathom. What is more, the family is typically a closed unit in which conflicts and disagreements are kept from the prying eyes and ears of outsiders. Consequently, people who considered themselves to be familiar with the perpetrator and his victims responded in utter shock. 

Ruppert's friends and relatives couldn't believe it: James's uncle, Rufus Skinner, insisted that "Jimmie and his brother Leonard were two close soldiers" who "did everything for their mother ... ever since their father died in 1947." Arthur Bauer said of his close friend, James: "He's not violent at all. I can't believe he did it ... how could anything like that happen?" 

A retired court stenographer, Mrs. Lucille Tabler is an intelligent, active woman who lived in the Hamilton area for seventy years and knew the Rupperts as their family friend and neighbor. The gray-haired Mrs. Tabler denied what she couldn't understand. Upon hearing about the mass killings, she told reporters that she was thoroughly stunned: "I just don't believe it. Why would he want to do something like that? ... I wish I could talk to Jimmy."'

Even after being informed of Ruppert's undisputed confession, his presence at the scene of the crime, his fingerprints on the weapons, the victims' blood on his clothing, and his internally consistent recollections of the circumstances of the crime, Mrs. Tabler steadfastly refused to acknowledge that James Ruppert was a killer.

Seven years later, she faithfully reconfirmed her confidence in the man she knew from childhood, visiting him in jail and defending his name among the locals. To this day, she asks: "Why was the whole world against the Ruppert family?" 

A community can deny only so long after the occurrence of an extraordinary murder. As more and more information about the killings comes to public light, denial quickly turns into anger and community members begin to look for someone or something to blame. 

For several months following the slayings, people in Hamilton were profoundly outraged. After all, there were eleven bloody bodies, eight dead children, an entire family whose members had been completely wiped out in one fell swoop. A close friend may not have exaggerated when she told us, "Everybody wanted to go out and shoot Jimmie - I was always arguing for him." 

Angry feelings toward James Ruppert sometimes became generalized in a free-floating sort of hostility which could have taken a dangerous turn. Members of the Donald Ruppert family were lucky to have escaped with their lives. The only Ruppert remaining in the Hamilton telephone directory, Donald isn't so much as a distant cousin of James Ruppert.

Though not related to the killer, Donald Ruppert's family was constantly harassed by townspeople for at least six months following the mass slayings. He finally decided to change his name for a period of time in order to avoid the dirty looks and obscene phone calls. According to Donald Ruppert, even those people who had known him well weren't really sure that he wasn't implicated in the crime: "At work they thought I did it .... Some wanted to know when I was going to get the money .... I hate it every time I see something about the trial in the newspaper."" 

At his June 1975 trial, James Ruppert entered a plea of insanity. Defense Attorney H. J. Bressler argued that the very act Ruppert had committed was itself "insane" - that Ruppert had been insane for ten years and that he was incapable of controlling his actions. Several expert witnesses agreed.

Dr. Howard Sokolov described Ruppert as suffering from "a paranoid psychotic state," one symptom of which was "departure from reality in terms of thinking and behavior." Ruppert, he suggested, was inclined to be excessively suspicious, jealous, and angry. 

Defense psychiatrists also testified that Ruppert was absolutely obsessed with the belief that family members, the police, and the FBI were involved in a long-standing conspiracy to persecute him. Dr. Philip Meehanick saw an even wider deficiency in Ruppert's personality: "His ability to evaluate is impaired, his view of others is warped, he sees virtually no one in a kindly light." 

Harvard psychiatrist Dr. Lester Grinspoon testified that Ruppert's deadly reaction may have been uncontrollable: "His ego was just completely overwhelmed by this rage, this suppressed rage which had been accumulating over some ten years or more, actually since childhood, that there was no way in which he could avoid doing that act. In fact, if there had been more people in the house, they might have been killed also." 

Thus, the defense attempted to show that James Ruppert had gone totally beserk - that he was a victim of self-delusion who had acted from sheer impulse; the perpetrator of a brutal yet purposeless crime. 

But appearances can be deceiving; and the prosecution called twenty-nine witnesses and presented two hundred exhibits to develop an entirely different line of reasoning, namely, that James Ruppert was as much a victim of self-delusion as Attila the Hun. Rather, he had carefully plotted and schemed to kill his entire family in order to collect more than $300,000 - money tied up in life insurance, real estate, savings accounts, and other investments owned by his mother and his brother, Leonard.

Prosecuting attorney John Holcomb convincingly argued that Ruppert's arrest and indictment were actually part of his master plan "to enter a plea of not guilty by reason of temporary insanity ... to be sent to Lima, a state mental hospital where he would eventually be declared sane and then walk out with $300,000 in his pocket."

It was indeed reasonable to posit an economic motive. Under Ohio law, Ruppert could not have inherited his victims' estate if he had been found guilty of murder. If, however, he had been declared innocent by reason of insanity, he could have gotten everything. 

The family estate was a sizable amount by almost any standard. A prosecution witness and member of the real estate and probate committees of the American Bar Association testified that James Ruppert, as sole heir, stood to inherit the entire proceeds of his brother's life insurance, his mother's estate, and half of the property of his brother's children.

Leonard's home was valued at $40,000; property belonging to Leonard's family was assessed at $19,500; and his mother's home was worth $14,000. Leonard's life insurance coverage at General Electric was $62,000. His personal coverage was another $100,000. And Leonard invested in savings bonds, stocks, and mutual funds. His family also held savings accounts amounting to almost $30,000. 

James Ruppert could have used the money, having been out of work for some time, having little money of his own, and being seriously in debt to his mother and brother. What is more, he had invested and lost thousands of dollars in the stock market and was about to be evicted from his rent-free room in his mother's house. 

The defense sought to show that Ruppert had acted spontaneously out of impulse rather than deliberately by plan or scheme. But psychiatric testimony for the prosecution consistently emphasized the plausibility of the profit motive. Two psychiatrists and a psychologist testified that Ruppert was aware of what he was doing, knew right from wrong at the time of the slayings, and had the ability to resist his aggressive impulses.

Dr. Charles Feuss, Jr. told the court he did not believe the slayings were carried out in a robot-like manner; yet there simply was no explanation for the killing of the sister-in-law and the children, since they had never been implicated by Ruppert in the alleged conspiracy against him. Butler County Coroner Dr. Garret Boone called the Ruppert slayings "pretty much of a deliberate execution." 

In his retrial in 1982, a three-judge panel found Ruppert guilty in the deaths of his first two victims - his mother and his brother - but not guilty by reason of insanity in the other nine slayings, This decision suggests that Ruppert intentionally killed his two immediate family members for some reason like revenge or money, and the others he killed almost as though he were an automaton, just because they were there. 

What are the factors which led James Ruppert to kill his entire family? One of the most important may have been frustration, that condition which results from failure to meet an objective, fulfill a goal, or satisfy a need. The person is said to be frustrated who works with all his might to obtain a raise or promotion only to be blocked by an unappreciative boss; an aspiring tennis star is regarded as frustrated who spends a childhood in rigorous training but suffers a debilitating illness or accident that ends her career. 

James Ruppert looked normal, but a close look at his biography reveals that he actually led a life of frustration. When James was a young boy, the Rupperts lived in a long barn-like structure which lacked indoor plumbing and running water. His father raised chickens and squabs in the rear of the house. At the same time in his life, James began to suffer from a case of asthma - an allergy to dust and feathers - which left him sickly and limited many of his physical activities for the rest of his childhood.

He simply couldn't perform like other children his age. He walked hunched over from illness, so sickly that he was not permitted to take gym at school or to play sports with the neighborhood kids. Even without asthma, his frail appearance and short stature could have severely limited his success in competitive sports. 

James Ruppert was regarded a "sissy" by the other kids in the neighborhood. He remembered being a shy, introverted child who, from his earliest years in school, was routinely teased by other children and had few, if any, friends.

Until his junior year in high school, James remained pretty much a loner, avoiding extracurricular activities, rarely attending ballgames or going to dances, and never dating girls. The events of childhood had a lasting effect: Try as he did, James Ruppert was impotent; he was never able to have sexual relations with a woman, except as they occurred in his rich fantasy life. 

Ruppert's memory of his father was that of a frustrated, unsuccessful man who displayed a violent temper and little affection for his younger son. Ruppert also thought that his father had had no confidence in him, recalling his father's warnings that he would not be capable of holding a job or supporting himself as an adult. 

It didn't help that Ruppert's five-foot eleven-inch 36-year-old father died of complications from tuberculosis when James was only 12 years old, forcing him to assume adult responsibilities from an early age. Ruppert told psychiatrists that, after his father's death, his mother would beat and taunt him and would encourage his brother Leonard to do the same.

From James's viewpoint, his mother had made very clear to him that his presence was a mistake; that she had wanted a girl, not another boy in the family. At the age of 16, things at home got so bad that Ruppert ran away and later attempted suicide by hanging himself with a sheet. Though he failed in this attempt, the thought of suicide was something that stayed with Ruppert for decades to come. 

Ruppert's mother showered love on her older son, who became a constant reminder to James of his own inadequacies. Leonard was the male head of the household after their father's death, whereas James always felt like an outcast in his own family; Leonard played sports while James sat on the sidelines; James was very conscious of being five inches shorter than his brother; James's math and science teachers always compared him with his older brother whose grades in the same classes had been superior; Leonard graduated from night school with a degree in electrical engineering, whereas James flunked out of college after two years; Leonard became a successful engineer with General Electric, whereas brother James went from job to job; Leonard was happily married with eight children, whereas James never married, was jilted by his only fiancťe, and continued to live with his mother. Moreover, James had dated the woman whom his brother would later marry and had even introduced them to one another. 

By his own standards, James was as much a failure as his brother Leonard was a success. To make matters worse, Leonard was, at least in his younger brother's mind, a vicious sadist and torturer - in a word, he was the enemy. Going back to early childhood, James still remembered his brother locking him in closets, tying him with rope, beating him with a hose, and sitting on his head until he screamed out loud. The image only worsened over time; and, by James's 30th birthday, he was just beginning to see Leonard as the executioner - as a major figure in what he believed to be an emerging conspiracy against him. 

The paranoia really escalated in 1965, when the Hamilton Police Department determined that James had made an obscene phone call to an employee of the local public library where James spent much free time. Although admitting making the call, James was convinced that his mother and brother were attempting to discredit him by informing everyone of his transgression and reporting to the FBI that he was a communist and homosexual.

He also believed that the FBI was tapping his telephone not only at home, but also in the restaurants and bars he happened to visit. Over the years, he felt, the intrusion of the FBI into his personal life continued to grow. Other groups were also implicated by Ruppert in the plot to sabotage his career, his social contacts, and his car. By 1975, he told psychiatrists of being followed by the State Highway Patrol, the local Sheriff's Department, private detectives, and the Hamilton Police. 

Ruppert did have a frustrating life, but so do lots of people, and they don't commit mass murder. By itself, frustration simply isn't enough to explain Ruppert's criminal behavior: He must also have had access to an effective weapon of mass destruction - a means of eliminating eleven people at once. That's why Ruppert's long-standing love affair with handguns is important to consider. 

Obviously, Ruppert was not unique in his use of handguns - many other brutal murders have been committed in the same way. Handguns are effective weapons, though the dull-silver barrel, brown grips, and tiny bullets give the appearance of a child's cap pistol. Yet handguns effectively distance the killer from his victim; they are easy to obtain, easy to conceal, and easy to shoot. Their high-velocity bullets penetrate quickly, assuring instantaneous results. And, as we have seen, the very presence of a handgun may act psychologically to arouse aggression. 

Guns played an important role in Ruppert's life. They represented a "manly" activity that had been denied him as a sickly child with asthma, while other boys expressed their masculinity through competitive sports. Police Chief McNally described James Ruppert as a "gun freak." He collected guns and passed his leisure time alone on the banks of the Great Miami River, "walking" tin cans along the ground with his pistols. 

As recently as two days before the Easter Sunday massacre, witnesses recalled seeing Ruppert by the river, where he repeatedly fired his .357 magnum revolver at tin cans. Moreover, a gun store employee claimed that a month or two before the Easter killings, Ruppert had asked him where he could obtain a gun silencer.

The implication was clear enough: Ruppert may have been planning for some time to eliminate the members of his family. The exact time of death was yet to be decided, depending on the right events to raise his level of emotion and provide the opportunity. 

Though Ruppert had endured a frustrating childhood and had access to guns, his crime depended on the operation of certain triggering events. In general, the triggering events may occur over a period of weeks or even months before a murder, or they may occur immediately prior to it. In a number of family mass murders, the killer had given up trying to find a job and was deeply depressed about it. In other cases, a husband killed all the members of his family upon learning that his wife intended to obtain a divorce or shortly after the separation actually occurred. 

Psychiatrist Shervert Frazier argues that family killers are frequently seen as "gentle" and "passive" individuals. They carefully sublimate their hostility toward family members so long as they receive some kind of reward in return, be it psychological or economic. But when such rewards are withdrawn - for example, when they are kicked out of the house or deprived of money - an explosion of anger is likely to occur.

Family killers are frequently "loners" who depend almost exclusively on the family to satisfy their emotional needs. The threat of separation by family members is a particularly painful and threatening event. 

In Ruppert's case, the triggering mechanism consisted of certain precipitating events which, just prior to Easter Sunday, served to magnify the intensity of his negative feelings and to separate him further psychologically from others in his family. The testimony of Wanda Bishop, a 28-year-old mother of five who was separated from her husband and frequently met James Ruppert at her place of employment, the 19th Hole Cocktail Lounge, shed some light on these feelings.

Mrs. Bishop told the court about their meeting at the 19th Hole bar on the evening before the shootings. Ruppert talked about his financial troubles, his unemployment, and his family. He had a "problem" which had to be taken care of immediately: his mother had told him that "if he could drink seven days a week, he could help pay the rent. Otherwise, he would have to leave home." 

Mrs. Bishop testified that Ruppert left the bar at eleven PM, only to return later. When she asked whether he had taken care of his problem, he answered, "No, not yet." He stayed at the bar until two-thirty, when it closed. 

Notwithstanding his hostile feelings, Ruppert nevertheless depended heavily on his family for both emotional and economic support, and their yearly reunion was special to him. But Easter Sunday, 1975 was to be different: Ruppert was on the verge of eviction, and his mother had been ill, so his brother's family came late in the day. 

Ruppert had a severe case of the "holiday blues." He spent the afternoon asleep in the upstairs bedroom of his mother's house. At four PM he awoke and went downstairs where he chatted with his brother about politics and the stock market, and watched his nieces and nephews as they gathered Easter eggs. The opportunity was at hand.

After spending a few minutes with the family, Ruppert said he was going target shooting. He went back upstairs, collected three pistols and a rifle, and came back down to the first floor where his family was gathered together. As he walked through the kitchen-still in a state of apparent calm - his brother asked him "with a mocking smile," - "How's your Volkswagen, Jimmie?"

According to psychiatrists at the trial, Ruppert believed his brother had been trying for several months to sabotage his Volkswagen. He was convinced that Leonard had gotten into the crankcase, had purposely destroyed the carburetor and the distributor, had sabotaged the windshield wipers, had loosened the bumper, and had blown holes in the muffler. Thus, Leonard's apparently innocuous question precipitated an entire surge of "thoughts, memories, fantasies" about what his brother had done to him since childhood.

From Ruppert's point of view, Leonard was mocking him about the car; and Ruppert "reflexively" drew his gun. James would see to it that Leonard never again hurt him; he would finally get the better of the brother against whom he had never quite measured up; he would deprive Leonard of life and of the lives of those whom he loved; and he would make sure that he had enough money to live the life he felt was rightfully his. 

A three-judge panel decided in favor of the prosecution. James Ruppert was found guilty of murder and sentenced to the Ohio State Penitentiary. On a legal technicality, however, he was later transferred to a mental hospital and granted a new trial. 

Finally, on July 23, 1982, the now-bearded 47-year-old Ruppert was sentenced to two consecutive life terms in prison after being found guilty of murder in the death of his mother and brother, but not guilty by reason of insanity in the death of his nine other victims. The inheritance was forfeited.


Man killed his mother and 10 other relatives

Every Easter revives memories of small-town massacre in 1975

HAMILTON, Ohio - Twenty-five years ago on Easter Sunday, James Ruppert shot and killed 11 members of his family at his mother's home, a crime that continues to haunt law enforcement officials.

"I remember it every Easter, and more often than that, too," Butler County Prosecutor John Holcomb said of the March 30, 1975, rampage. "I worked on that case, beginning Easter Sunday evening, worked on that exactly 20 hours a day, 33 days in a row."

Ruppert, then 41, admitted killing his mother, Charity Ruppert, his brother, Leonard Ruppert Jr., his sister-in-law, Alma Ruppert, and Leonard and Alma's eight children, ages 4 to 17.

"It was mass carnage, no question," City Councilman George McNally said. "I can understand the heat of passion. I can't understand someone doing that to kids or their mother."

McNally was chief of police at the time in this Butler County city about 20 miles north of Cincinnati.

"I suppose my overriding sentiment is anger, at him and the system that lets him live," he told the Hamilton Journal-News for a story published yesterday.

During a 1975 trial, prosecutors said Ruppert reloaded his guns four times during the killings. They argued he planned the killings to get his family's $343,000 inheritance.

A three-judge panel, on a 2-1 vote, found him guilty and sentenced him to 11 consecutive life terms on July 3, 1975. That ruling was overturned on appeal, and in 1982 a jury convicted him of two counts of murder and found him innocent of the other nine deaths by reason of insanity.

He was given two life terms. Prosecutors did not seek the death penalty in the second trial, "because it was obvious there was mental impairment, which is always a mitigating factor," Holcomb said.

The shooting scene left indelible images in both men's minds.

"When I walked through that front door, right into the middle of all that carnage, I saw that little 4-year-old boy, with blue bib corduroy overalls on, a long-sleeve blue cotton shirt and lying on the floor at the foot of the couch, stretched out with a bullet hole in his head," Holcomb said.

"In his outstretched right hand, he had partially opened the tin-foil purple wrapper off a chocolate Easter egg. That was a sight that shook me to the depths of my soul, and I have never forgotten it."

Prosecutors said Ruppert waited in the house for three hours and changed his clothes before calling police. When they arrived, he surrendered without resistance.

"He was placed under arrest and was as submissive as could be," McNally recalled.

Ruppert is serving his sentence at the Allen Correctional Institution at Lima, Ohio. His first parole hearing was in 1995; his next one is scheduled for 2035, when he would be 101 years old.

 

 

 
 
 
 
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