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