I began this book shortly after leaving the JournalNews in 2013. Publishers were not interested because I had no personal connection to the case nor an interview with Ruppert. When he died in June 2022, the chances for that went out the window, so rather than let all my work languish in obscurity, I present here, for your horror and indignation, the MS draft I was sending to publishers.
PLEASE SUPPORT my effort with a voluntary payment. I would suggest $10, but it's up to you.
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Prologue: The Night Before The Trial
The Night Before the Trial
So it’s midnight before the trial and I’m ready.
Tomorrow morning after I make my opening statement, we’re going to have what we call a view of the premises, and the three judges are going to go through that house down on Minor Avenue.
And it’s June and it’s hot and the storm windows are still on that house, and I know that when they walk through that house they are going to suffocate and gag with the stink of death, which is a smell unique to the scene of bloody destruction.
I hope it is hot and I hope it does stink, especially so Judge Cramer, who tends to be ivory tower, gets a real good whiff of it. That will make it more realistic to him. And maybe he can still have a little whiff of that in his nostrils when he’s pondering some of the novel questions that are sure to be raised in this case.
Judge Cramer is the smartest judge this county has ever had--one of the smartest in the country I’d say. It’s a pleasure to try a case in front of him. The man is brilliant and he really knows his stuff, but he is so lenient. He loves novel questions, metaphysical questions, loves to strain on a word. And really, to be honest with you: He scares me to death in this case.
I’m not worried about Judge Marrs. Judge Marrs is a former prosecutor. Of course nobody’s ever seen a case like this, but Judge Marrs has a realistic approach to criminal justice--and not to say that he is unfair. He’s not unfair, he’s fair. But it’s better to say he’s a no-nonsense judge. He’s a prosecutor’s judge.
Judge Fiehrer is a good solid middle-the-road judge and really I know Judge Fiehrer has found several people to be not guilty by reason of insanity just recently and I am sure that’s why they want him on this case – the defendant – but I’m not worried about him. I think he’s a solid guy and there’s one thing about the Fiehrer family – there were a bunch of brothers, and one of those brothers was a lawyer and assistant prosecutor for 17 years, and there are three more who are businessmen and they came from more or less humble beginnings and they are all successful now – but there’s one thing about them: I’ve never met a Fiehrer who didn’t have common sense, and I’ve never met a Fiehrer who wasn’t a complete gentlemen in every sense of the word.
So anyway, I think about the judges as I get ready to start this case, and I know they are going to have to tour that scene down there tomorrow, and as I think about the view of those premises down there I’ll never forget first going down to 635 Minor Avenue, Hamilton, Ohio, on Easter night, 1975, where I noticed in front of the house a black Chevy van which belonged to Leonard Ruppert, Jr. and parked right in front of it on the same side of the street was a grey Volkswagen which belonged to Jim Ruppert, the defendant. It was chilly, it was cold, it was 35 degrees I believe, we took a photograph of a thermometer inside the house which showed it to be 72 degrees inside.
I walked in the front door and the first thing I saw was, strangely enough, a green Easter basket with yellow carnations in it on a stand.
Underneath that stand in blue slacks, black and white saddle oxfords, and a blue and yellow plaid smock lay Ann Delores Ruppert, age 12 with four bullets in her head, lying in a puddle of blood with her glasses knocked halfway off her face. Moving around the room counter-clockwise there was a couch to the left with a coffee table in front of it and between the couch and the coffee table lay Leonard Ruppert, III, age 17.
He had on high top boots like the teenagers wear today, he had on blue slacks and a blue long sleeve shirt.
Between Lenny, III, and his 16 year old brother Mike there was a little foot stool, then Mike lay on the floor. Michael James Ruppert, age 16.
Moving around the room, still on the beige or greyish carpet with red roses either printed or woven into it, there was a couch on the opposite wall, and on that couch was a blanket or a quilt and a pillow and on the floor right in front of that couch is little Johnny Rupert, age 4, the poor little fellow with a little knit shirt on that had football designs, corduroy pants and black and white tennis shoes. At his feet was a TV Guide and right next to this hand was a chocolate Easter egg in a pink tin foil wrapping. The poor little fellow is lying on his left side looking at the floor with a bullet hole in the side of his head. And he’s lying in a pool of his own vomit which the doctor says is from fear and from being shot.
Johnny I’ll never forget you as long as I live, I hope I can do you justice.
Moving now toward a desk which is directly next to the front door, I see Tommy Ruppert, age 15. Tommy’s been shot in the head. He’s staring out into nothing. He, too, is lying in his own vomit. His glasses are knocked down to around his mouth. He has on a white shirt with sort of green lengthwise design to it. He has on a pair of Levi’s, a pair of work shoes.
On the coffee table in the living room there are two revolvers. On the arm of the couch in the living room there is one revolver.
Moving toward the kitchen I see Leonard Rudolph Ruppert, Jr., age 44, he has on sort of dark blue pants with a black belt, and he has on a white shirt with a yellow and green design in it.
He’s been shot in the back, I can see, and he’s been shot a whole bunch of times in the head.
Moving out into the kitchen now and going clockwise I see a little girl with blue and white tennis shoes on, blue and white plaid slacks and a blue knit shirt with white stripes. She too is lying in a pool of her own vomit and she’s been shot in the head, Theresa Ruppert, age 9.
Her mother’s foot is in her face.
Moving clockwise I see the mother, Alma Ruppert. She’s lying right next to the stove, still has her glasses on. She has on a dark blue skirt, lying in a pool of her own blood. She was actually lying in the blood. She has on sort of a white long sleeve blouse. She’s obviously been shot in the chest although I can’t see it.
Moving over toward the refrigerator I see David Scott Ruppert, age 11. Oh my god, his face is in a pool of blood three feet in diameter. He has on a pink T-shirt, blue pants, black and white tennis shoes. Next to his feet, leaning against the refrigerator is a Marlin rifle.
My god, he looks so much like my ten-year-old son, John, sleeping. And in the pool of blood next to his hand I can see a quarter. Sleep in peace, Dave.
On the other side of the refrigerator is Grandmother Charity. She has on pink slacks and a white blouse with a pink sweater. Her mouth is open. She’s staring at the ceiling. Her glasses are off to the left and she has really been blasted in the chest, blasted right in the heart, I guarantee you.
Moving to the back door now we see Carol Diane Ruppert, age 13, also lying in a pool of blood. She’s been shot at least three times in the head I can see. She has on white tennis shoes, blue Levi’s and a white T-shirt with a little wrist watch on her left wrist. She’s been shot three times in the left side of the head all three shots real close together, with the blood starting to drain out the back door.
That’s my tour of the house, and I don’t know what else to say about it.
I’ve worked hundreds of hours on this case--and I’m not complaining. It’s my job and I love my job and I try to do it the way it ought to be done. I seek no accolades for it or anything like that. It’s just a statement of fact: I’ve put hundreds of hours on it. I’ve cheated my children by not being home. I’ve cheated my wife by being sharp tempered with her and short with her. It’s ruined my relationship with my wife and I certainly hope that will change back when all this is over with. It’s made my wife despondent, not understanding what I’m going through. She can’t comprehend why I’m short with her, or cuss her out and it’s had this effect on me. I’ve thought about it a whole lot, I’ve considered and analyzed what the doctors have to say and I have to say in my heart I believe James Ruppert in his twisted way, not insane, not legally insane, but in his twisted way plotted and planned and set up the murder of his entire family so he could get some stock market money. I honestly believe it.
And I know this, I know he killed 11 people without any excuse. He wiped out the equivalent of 600 years of human existence. That’s what the remaining life span of those 11 people would be. There’s no justification for it, there’s no excuse for it. Now I’m into it; I’ve done the best I can up to this point; I’m going to do the best I can for the next three or four weeks however long it is and I say with all sincerity that’s in me: Jimmy Ruppert you whining, sniveling, yellow little son-of-a-bitch, you belong to me.
That’s it for tonight.
Sunday night, June 15th--Whoops, it’s 12:15, Monday morning, June 16th.
-- Butler County Prosecutor John Holcomb
- Growing Up in a Chicken Coop
James Urban Ruppert always considered himself a loner, the outsider, even within his own family.
“My mother didn’t want me when I was born,” he would later explain to the psychiatrists who examined him after the murder of his family.
He was, he said, the third child of Leonard and Charity Ruppert. Leonard Junior was not yet two years old when James was born. Before him, there had been a son who died in infancy. Charity, known to her friends as Billie, frequently told James that he should have been a girl, the daughter she never had and he believed that was why she always treated him like a girl when she felt like it and a nobody the rest of the time.
“My mother never let me forget that I was a mistake,” Ruppert said. “She insisted more or less on making a girl out of me. That is the way life has been.”
He had been born a month premature, so was always small for his age, and sickly that he never grew out of being physically weak and prone to illness.
Ruppert believed that his mother let his hair grow out in long blond curls that she would comb in a girly way and dress him in feminine clothes.
Leonard and Billie Ruppert moved to Hamilton from Wapakoneta, Ohio, in 1929, before they had children. They lived in a house in Fairfield Township, a lot now in the city of Fairfield, but far enough from Hamilton’s town centers to be considered “the country” at the time, farm land.
People who knew the family then described their home as a “barn-like structure,” jokingly called it “the pigeon coop” as the ceilings were barely high enough for an adult to stand up in. And Leonard Sr. did indeed raise chickens and squabs in the back part of the building, which was no more than 70 feet long and 30 feet wide, the family living in the front. Although there was a screen door between the two portions, there was no wall, only blankets draped over ropes and wires that Leonard at some point replaced with cheap fiberboard. Only one bedroom was partitioned off, for the adults, so James and Junior slept on a couch. There was electricity but it wasn’t well-heated and had no running water, only a hand pump inside the house. It was dirt-poor conditions, neighbors said, but Billie kept it clean and the boys always wore clean clothes.
“I’ve been in houses in lots worse conditions today,” would be the testimony of Paul Line, who grew up a block away.
Leonard Sr., a tall thin man with wavy hair, would slaughter and sell the chickens and squabs to restaurants. He also had a job as a timekeeper at the Mosler Safe Company.
Perhaps, at least in part, because of the constant exposure to bird feathers and the dust from raising animals, the always sickly James began to suffer from bronchial asthma and allergies, conditions which limited many of his physical activities for the rest of his childhood. Neighbors would later recall they had seen him smoking medicated cigarettes when he was only two or three years old. He carried an inhaler when he got older.
“Wherever he went he had to have breathing aids to help him through attacks. You didn't take him anywhere unless you had equipment,” his Aunt Ruby Lee later recalled.
His cousin Don Botkins said that Jimmy was always pegged as a “sissy” by the other kids.
“That kid could hardly walk across the room without gasping,” he said. “We didn’t really understand it then, but I’ll say one thing: He (James) was game.”
He entered school at age six although he was much smaller than children his age, so it was difficult from the beginning. He cried a great deal and felt lonely, left out. At one time he simply left the school yard and walked home. He tried to make friends but it never seemed to work. He remembered being a shy, introverted child who, from his earliest years in school, was routinely teased by other children. He walked hunched over from his illnesses, so sickly that he was not permitted to take gym at school or to play sports with the neighborhood kids, who regarded him as a sissy and wouldn’t have had him anyway.
“He couldn't get into so many other things that other boys his age could do because of his asthma, so he would do a lot of reading,” Aunt Ruby said.
At home, he would later recall, it was literal torture. Incidents stuck in his mind such as the time the family bought Junior a bicycle and Jimmy a tricycle, how Junior would tease him by riding away on his bicycle while Jimmy tried desperately to follow along. So Junior would pretend to take pity and wait for him to catch up, only to ride off fast again and taunt the younger brother over and over in this way until Jimmy would get so upset that he would have an asthma attack. It might seem like mere child's play to most of us, but it was apparently traumatic to Jimmy.
Jimmy was always afraid of the dark, so Junior would torture him by closing him into the closets and other scary places. As they got older, Junior became more and more physically abusive. James remembered incident after incident of 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. Their parents, James would recall, were frequent accomplices to the point of tying him up or holding him down and letting Junior beat on him.
Junior would urge Jimmy to get into a scuffle with a kid in the neighborhood, promising his protection, and then would walk away when it came to blows and leave Jimmy to fend himself in the fight, which he would always lose.
Neither parent showed him any affection. James felt they clearly favored his brother, and when they disapproved of him they whipped him with branches, straps and a two-foot length of hose they kept just for that purpose.
His mother was extremely strict and punitive with him. If she felt he had done something wrong, she would punish him first and then encourage his father to punish him again for the same offense after when he got home. Paul Line, however, would testify that Billie seemed “overprotective” of Jimmy.
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, remembering constant admonishments that he would not be capable of holding a job or supporting himself as an adult.
HIs favorite toy as a child was a BB gun. At first, he went hunting for rabbits, but couldn’t bring himself to shoot them, so he would use the gun for target practice and became a good shot until the gun was stolen.
Leonard Sr. turned ill with tuberculosis in 1946 and the family moved to Wapakoneta for a while to be with family there while he was being treated in Lima. He died at age 36, when James was only 12, and the family situation only got worse in James’ estimation.
“Ever since their father died in 1947, those boys have been two close soldiers. They did everything for their mother,” said their Uncle Rufus “Bud” Skinner. “The educated themselves. Nobody handed them a thing. They did it on their own. Nobody helped them. They’ve taken care of their mother all these years. They did a lot for her.”
James believed that his mother killed his father by antagonizing him for several years prior to his death, that she greatly exacerbated his condition and precipitated his illness. After Leonard Sr. died, Billie turned all of her vitriol toward James, became even more critical of him. He couldn’t please her in any way. She was very demanding upon him, dominated him, she degraded him to others, lowering their opinion of him so he could not find social acceptance with anybody because his mother poisoned their minds against him.
Despite differences with his father, James at least felt he had a little bit of in the way of physical protection so long as the father was there, that the father, in essence, would protect him from any physical abuse on the part of the mother or the brother, but then after the father died he had no protector, no ally and then consequently was subjected to greater physical abuse from his mother and brother.
Charity bought the house at 635 Minor Avenue after her husband died, but rented it out for a year or so while she and the boys continued to live in Wapakoneta where they had some family. Closer to the city of Hamilton, just a block from St. Ann’s Catholic Church in the residential neighborhood Lindenwald, the small, two-story frame house had more living space than their pigeon coop. When they moved into it, the boys shared a bedroom. Shared a bed, in fact, which turned out to be no end of terror for the smaller, weaker brother. Leonard Junior--now called “Pinky” by everyone because of his red-hair and fair complexion--would tease him, frighten him, and hold bedclothes over his head until James would be in utter panic of being asphyxiated.
When they moved back to Hamilton, his mother grew even more demanding, insisting that he take on adult responsibilities for the house and family. 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.
Ruppert said his mother would fake heart attacks to gain attention. He said she was easily angered and violently emotional, that she was a man-hater and hated him most of all.
Although she dated a few men, Billie never remarried after her husband died, and James believed that in spite of her animosity toward him that he was taking the brunt of her sexual frustration. James felt that she would try to be seductive around him. He was 16 when he came down with the flu, and he said she insisted on sleeping in his bed.
“I didn’t think I was that sick, but she insisted that I sleep in the same bed with her,” he said. “She slept in a thin nightgown and snuggled up to me. I woke one night and found my hand between her legs. She must have put it there. She had to pull up her nightgown to do it. I know that I didn’t do that.”
He said he couldn’t understand why she would do such a thing.
At other times, she would parade in her underwear and act provocatively around him, or walk around the house in the nude after a bath. When she put on her nylons, she would always do it in such a way as to reveal her legs. He felt mortified when she asked him to examine her breasts to see if there were any lumps or draw his attention to animals having sex in their yard. Ruppert would later say that he found himself having sexual thoughts toward his mother, but he inhibited any sexual response, willed his mind to keep himself from getting an erection, which he felt became a problem later on when he was impotent with other females.
No one outside the family, however, would ever express a perception of this kind of perverse family dynamic. Rather, they would describe the Ruppert’s as a normal family even though Jimmy was painfully awkward. One of Charity’s friends would testify that when the boys were young, their mother confided, “Jimmy feels like everything is Junior and he’s left out. I don’t know what to do. I don’t want him to feel that way. I don’t think I’m partial to Leonard, but Jimmy thinks so.”
Lester Skinner, their uncle, said all of the time he had been around them, he had never heard them argue.
But at least in James’ mind, his mother showered so much love on the older son as a constant reminder 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;
Jimmy and Leonard were both cheerleaders for Hamilton Catholic High, but Leonard also played sports while James sat on the sidelines; Jimmy was very conscious of being five inches shorter than his brother. His math and science teachers always compared him with his older brother whose grades in the same classes had been superior;
Jimmy rode a Whizzer motorbike to classes at Hamilton Catholic High, recalled Paul Rickert, who grew up just a block from the “pigeon coop” and was in James Ruppert’s classes all the way through school.
“In wintertimes we used to ride and it would be cold and typing was our first class,” Rickert would testify at Ruppert’s murder trial, “and you’d come in and your fingers would be tingly and numb and boy he seemed pretty adept at typing. When everybody else was blowing on their hands he could go right to it. He was pretty good at typing.”
When he was 15 or 16 years old, there was an incident at the dinner table. James got angry Leonard and threw his dessert plate on the floor. His mother took Junior’s side and said they should take him to the basement and beat him with the rubber hose. James managed to escape, however, and ran away from the house. He walked the streets and stayed away until late that night until he thought his mother and brother were in bed. They heard him come in, however, and ganged up on him, severely upbraiding him for his behavior.
That night, tied one end of a sheet to his neck and the other side to a bedpost and tried to go out the window, but lost his courage. The thought of suicide, however, stayed with Ruppert for decades to come.
Until his junior year in high school, James remained a loner, avoiding extracurricular activities, rarely attending ball games or going to dances, and never dating girls. His only distinction in his whole education was being elected treasurer of his class in his junior year, but he said he ran unopposed because no one else wanted the job.
In Hamilton Catholic High School, his homeroom teacher was Brother Frank Purko, but when Jimmy’s picture cropped up in the newspapers after Easter, 1975, Purko didn't recognize him. Other teachers contacted by the press didn't even remember his name.
The only marks left in high school was the official one in the principal's office which showed he was an average student who excelled only in math. That excellence took him to the University of Cincinnati, to take engineering and math courses, but over the course of the years his grades steadily declined. He was a B student earlier in elementary school and junior high school, but in high school and college, his grades sunk to a C level. He finally dropped out of college after two years of courses in engineering, which took him seven years to achieve. His goal was to become a mechanical engineer and he did not reach that goal, but could only progress as far as a draftsman. He was not in military service because of his asthma.
Jimmy’s interests were much more in the direction of cultural things, movies and books. The brother’s interests were more in the area of electronics, using his hands, putting things together, taking things apart. Pinky built the family’s first television set and he and a friend opened up an electronics repair shop in the basement of the Minor Avenue home.
James blamed his health problems on living in a household where he was oppressed by his parents and battered by an abusive, sadistic older brother. Although he grew out of the asthma by the time he was 18, he then came down with a case of spinal meningitis that required a lengthy stay in the hospital.
He felt no better with other relatives. When the family would visit other relatives, he felt that he was rejected by them, he felt he was unwanted, he felt he was treated differently by those relatives. He described problems within the family such as his allowance would be just half the allowance given to his brother and that continued over an extended time even though they were only a year and a half apart in age.
But Jim didn't. He always felt unwanted, a black sheep, especially next to his older brother, who was considered a shining star and a substantial citizen. Pinky graduated from night school with a degree in electrical engineering, whereas Jimmy flunked out of college after two years. Pinky became a successful engineer with General Electric, whereas Jimmy went from job to job, never really finding his niche. Pinky was happily married with eight children, whereas Jimmy never married, was jilted by his only fiancée, and continued to live with his mother.
“All my life, it was a case of my brother being designated the winner and me the loser,” Ruppert said. “Any quarrels that came up, I was always the one in the wrong. When there was a fight, I was the one that lost, physically, and I was the one that would be scolded because of the fight or blamed for the fight.”
Even the extended family tended to favor Pinky, although no one would ever say as much, but it’s apparent in the way they talk about him, versus the way they speak of Jimmy.
“In Lima, where I lived before moving to Florida,” said their Uncle Bud, “I had a lot of electronics equipment. I’m proud to say that I started (Leonard Jr.) in electronics when he was quite young. He was about 11 or 12 at the time of his father’s death. He sure liked to mess around with the stuff in my basement. Junior was a good electronics man. He was a Link Trainer instructor in the Navy.”
Skinner remembered that Junior had a radio electronics shop in the basement at 635 Minor Ave. He would work in the shop and attend the University of Cincinnati at the same time to get his degree.
Somewhere, in the adult world of school and work, Jim Ruppert loosened ties to his aunts and uncles.
The families used to visit, said their Uncle Joseph Skinner of Ada, Billie’s brother. He remembered Ruppert as a sickly boy, brought up by his widowed mother, and knew only that he had grown up to do a job in which “he was supposed to draw up dies.”
After the murders, he reported that he hadn’t seen Jim in five or six years, he said, although Jim's brother Leonard, had kept in touch with the aunts and uncles.
“Pinky generally came to reunion and funerals, and sometimes in between,” he said.
By 1962, Ruppert had become so disturbed by his relationship with his family and his chronic masturbation, that he began seeing a psychiatrist, Dr. Glenn Weaver, who encouraged him to move out on his own.
“I was 26 years old then,” James later said. “That gave her more reason to hate me because I deserted her, broke the apron strings, moved into an apartment. Dr. Weaver made it clear to me that I should not only get away from my mother physically but also psychologically.”
“There comes a time when you have to break the apron strings. That’s what I did in 1962. That’s another reason for them to hate you, like a kid doesn’t have a right to a life of his own. It’s a possession, like it’s an unforgettable [sic] sin to try to have a life of its own.”
The image only worsened over time; and, by James' 30th birthday, he was beginning to see Leonard as the executioner—as a major figure in what he believed to be an emerging conspiracy against him.
2. Sociopathic Masochism
James Ruppert was impotent with women, the psychiatrists said at his trial. He was never able to have sexual relations except in his rich fantasy life.
Although he could never get aroused when he was actually with a woman, he felt that he had a serious problem with masturbation from the time he was 17 or 18 years old. He felt it was a great moral problem for him and was discouraged by his inability to deal with the guilt or control his urges. He described the act as a problem in and of itself, morally speaking, and also caused changes in his body, making him weak and susceptible to sickness. He felt that he was perverted because he could not control himself and masturbated three or four times a day. The guilt was so profound that he confessed about it enough that his priest finally suggested that he seek psychiatric help.
Ruppert denied being homosexual, and the psychiatrists agreed. During his examinations, he sometimes vaguely referred to one episode he had with another man, but would never elaborate upon it or give any details. He was, however, somewhat driven by the perception that he was a homosexual. He was concerned about being too feminine, about the teasing that he had received, people stating and implying that he was queer. He believed that his mother parted his hair on the wrong side because it made him look more like the girl she always wanted. He believed the cleft in his chin identified him to others as homosexual and would prompt them to tease him and make fun of him.
Later, when his paranoia reached its highest levels, he wove that perception into his conspiracy theory, that one of the reasons that the FBI and others were out to get him was because they saw him as a homosexual.
He was only interested in women, and when he fantasized, it was about young girls. But on the few occasions that when he did manage to get into bed with a woman, it was only because she had been the aggressor and he was never able to achieve an erection, being reminded to much of his mother’s provocative behavior toward him.
“I never considered myself totally crippled that way,” he said. “I figured that eventually, when I met a girl who was more submissive, not so aggressive, getting to know her without sex, I would be able to have relations with her.”
But his shyness made it hard for him to approach women that might be more suitable for him, so he never had a serious girlfriend until he was in his early 20s, when he and Pinky would go to Dayton, about 40 miles away, to go to dances with a pair of girls. Ruppert’s girl had been engaged before she met him, but took off the ring when they started going out together. He bought her a ring, but after nine months he wouldn’t commit to marriage, so she broke it off and went back to her fiancé and got married.
“I didn’t advance,” Ruppert said. “I didn’t say anything about marriage, and she put me to the test. She laid it on the line about getting serious and my reaction was no.”
After that, he said he went with “a couple dozen” girls, and did some amount of necking and petting, but never consummated a relationship.
Ruppert didn’t have much of a social life outside of double-dating girls and doing other things with his brother, but that often ended badly. Pinky would tell him he would go to movies with him and then not follow through.
When Jimmy was around 20, however, he and Pinky started going to square dances at the Meadowland in Ross Township, a few miles west of Hamilton. Jimmy met Alma Allgeier there, a girl quiet and shy enough to make Jimmy feel like they might have something in common. She lived in Colerain, south of Ross, and had just gone to work for the Western and Southern Insurance Company but was very serious about square dancing. The Ruppert boys would go and pick her up in their mother’s pick-up truck. Ruppert never said for sure and no one ever knew how serious he was about Alma, but it turned out that she ended up with Leonard.
“Jimmy wouldn’t say much” about it, Alma’s classmate Audrey Scheidt told the newspapers. “He kept those things to himself”.
Pinky and Alma were married at St. Bernard's Church in September, 1956. James Ruppert served as Best Man. The newlyweds performed a square danced at their wedding and continued to go to square dances throughout the state.
“I don’t know why Jimmy couldn’t hit it off with the girls,” Scheidt said. “He liked them all right. My opinion, Jimmy always wanted to get married and have a family. He wanted that very, very much. I don’t think he was very serious about Alma, but that’s something locked up in Jimmy’s heart, too.”
He even once tried going to a prostitute, but that didn’t work out either and he ended up getting robbed.
When he was about 24 years old he left home with giving his mother an address as to where he was going, and for about a year they had little contact with each other. When he finally came back to visit, he caught his mother going through his clothes and his billfold, looking for his address. From his perspective, it showed a lack of trust and respect to do that to a 25-year-old man, and it made him angry.
In 1960, because of the troubles he was having in school, he started seeing the school psychologist who after two months told him that his personality was “all mixed up.”
He discovered at age 26 that he was impotent. “That destroyed me. My mother had succeeded. I wasn’t a man.”
Upon the advice of his priest, he started seeing a psychiatrist, Dr. Glenn Weaver, in April, 1961, around the time of Ruppert’s 27th birthday, once a week at first then once every two or three weeks, 43 times over the next three years.
Weaver would testify that Ruppert was a perfectionist, and although he had an above average IQ in the 125-127 range, he was consciously consumed with guilt over his inability to form adequate relationships with people. He always felt uncomfortable around people, fearful that he would arouse their ire or anger. Ruppert told of going to a dairy bar in Hamilton and just sit there at the counter and apparently his mere presence was so obnoxious to people that he would find himself the victim of a tirade from waitresses or other people that were working there.
“I felt this was an example of his own passivity,” Weaver concluded, “that he continued to collect abuse.”
Events such as this, multiplied many times over in many different situations, Ruppert began to believe that he wasn’t a worthwhile human being, but that even when he got sorely depressed, he was always hopeful there would be something for him later on. Even it were only the after-life, heaven or hell, it couldn’t be any worse than the torture he was going through in this one.
Weaver encouraged Ruppert to build up his defenses, especially in regard to his living circumstances. Ruppert agreed that he would be well served if he moved out of the house with his mother, but he still felt a sense of responsibility toward caring for her.
Ruppert felt his mother was totally disorganized, which was very upsetting to his perfectionist nature, but he also felt that he might be deserving of the abuse he received.
“I must be a bad person,” he told Weaver. “There may be something terribly wrong with me because I have no relationships with others. I can’t have relationships with my own family.”
Weaver said that Ruppert had been depressed since his father’s death in 1946, and ordered psychological tests to evaluate Ruppert’s personality.
“He is small both in stature and body build,” the report from the testing stated. “He was meticulously groomed with each wave and strand of hair in place. He had little to say except in direct response to the tests, but an occasional smile and laugh suggested there was rapport.”
“The tests give a picture of an extremely neurotic character in an obsessive compulsive individual of superior ability but one who is so fettered by fear, anxiety, guilt and ambivalence he is too inhibited to make use of his ability or to be very effective in work or in relationships. He dreams of being assertive and of expressing independence but he seems convinced these dreams will never come true.
“He is a passive, compliant person who has a desire to surrender to more powerful figures. It seems father provided this psychological support and when that support was withdrawn by death, the patient became hostile and depressed. He seems to identify with father and to think of the two of them as ‘dead ducks,’ and as helpless, innocent victims of their environment. There is some suggestion this is partially related to the patient’s asthma and the father’s lung condition. The patient feels restrained by his environment and forced into this passive, unfree position and feels helpless and defenseless.
“He hates himself for being so ‘weak’ and thinks of himself as a chronic ‘worthless, shiftless bum.’ His low self-esteem, feelings of inadequacy and a man and his inability to stand alone make for feelings of frustration and futility. These become acutely painful in sexual situations and in the presence of authoritarian male figures. In such situations he manages by busying himself with trivia and so avoids the problems, but his compulsive defenses are serving him.
“He is a conformist, has high standards, and has a desire to be liked and to please, so much so that he is afraid to be assertive lest he might offend. While this makes for extreme inhibition and prevents him from finding satisfactions, these inhibitions serve as automatic restraints. So although he does experience strong emotions, he is not one to act out in antisocial ways.”
Weaver concluded that Ruppert hated women in general, especially hated his mother’s all-enveloping attitude, and he felt haunted by her wherever he goes. The tests that Weaver conducted concluded that he was “a very neurotic and unhappy person with a sado-masochistic sexual orientation,” who felt himself to be a martyr and accepts undue abuse and hardship.
“Much of this is due to his ambivalence, his need for her,” the test report said, “and his desire for self-assertion and independence. He sees women as sexual objects but thinks of intercourse as a hostile, sadistic attack. He fantasizes about such attacks but these seem under control. His keen interest in feminine clothing, his curiosity and confusion around female genitalia, and the association with oral pleasure suggest aberrant sexual behavior with prominent voyeuristic exhibitionist and oral features. He is guilt ridden and feels a strong need to suffer.”
The tests also concluded that Ruppert might “well to a strong supporting male figure who would not pose a sexual threat. Caution should be used in alleviating the guilt lest he would act out sexual impulses imprudently.”
Weaver said that at the time, however, Ruppert was not psychotic, and after 23 visits, Ruppert experienced “a flight into health.”
Treatment was becoming too threatening to Ruppert, and he felt that Weaver was getting too close, so he underwent what the doctor called “a transference cure,” which really isn’t a cure at all, but made Ruppert feel better, well enough to want to sever his therapy.
“With a long-standing problem such as this one would have anticipated that this man really should have continued treatment, an intensive form of treatment for somewhere between two and four years,” Weaver said in hindsight.
In 1963, Ruppert was able to sever the ties with both Weaver and his mother when he was at last accepted at Ohio State University College of Engineering. Weaver had his reservations, both about Ruppert discontinuing therapy and his feeling that Ruppert wasn’t really up to attending school, especially a course of study as taxing as engineering.
So he made a referral letter to Dr. Phil Rond on Oct. 30, 1963, telling him that Charity Ruppert may have been considered psychotic, based on what her son said about her personality and descriptions of her behavior and abuse, but also pointing out that Ruppert had a tendency to himself in situations where he would be opposed or be beaten down.
Ruppert, however, did not continue therapy when he got to Columbus, and although he was away from his mother, he was finding himself in the same position of having little to do with other people.
In his desire to make a profound change in his life, Ruppert also overextended himself on the school work, too, taking 17 hours of difficult courses.
Weaver believed that Ruppert set himself up for failure.
3. Psychotic Paranoia
By the time he was 30 years old, James Ruppert had sought professional mental health aid four times, and he had never been in trouble with the law, even though he thought the law was after him in a big way.
After he flunked out of the Ohio State University, he stayed in Columbus and took a job in a factory as a quality control inspector, where he first began exhibiting unrealistic thoughts about a vast conspiracy against him, believing that the men were jealous of the fact that he worked harder than anybody and the women hated him because they were of loose moral character and he wasn’t like that. He was fired when for not calling in when he took a sick day and came back to Hamilton to go to work for a contract engineering firm that would send him out on jobs as a draftsman for months at a time to Toledo, North Carolina, Florida, New York, Indiana and Connecticut. Everywhere he went he found signs of the conspiracy and it became increasingly apparent to him that his mother and brother were leading the effort to ruin his life with the aid of law enforcement and “the general citizenry” of whatever community he happened to be in.
The library incident occurred around 1965, a key moment in Ruppert’s growing delusional state.
When he was in Hamilton, Ruppert spent almost all of his time in the Lane Library in downtown Hamilton. One Friday evening, a young female librarian remarked that he must not have much of a social life if he were spending his Friday evenings in the library.
She hit the nail on the head, he thought, and it made him angry. He went to a nearby phone and called her up and cussed her out, calling her a fucking bitch and a cocksucker.
Equally upset, the librarian called the police and said that it sounded like Jimmy Ruppert, so the police came to the house to speak to him.
The patrolman who made the call turned out to be Paul Line, a classmate of Pinky’s, who had known the family since they were boys.
“They didn’t do anything to me, but they told me that was out of their jurisdiction and was a matter for the FBI,” Ruppert would recall to the psychiatrists hired by his defense. “From that time on, things began to happen. I found, naturally, that rumors got around town. My mother and brother knew this. Ever since then things have happened to sabotage any progress I could make.”
He felt that his co-workers were being pushy and aggressive and trying to make him look incompetent, make him look like a poor worker because they were jealous of the fact that he was a good worker. Also, the women who worked there disliked him because they were fast and women of questionable morals and he wasn’t that kind of person.
Ruppert denied making the call, but the incident was very embarrassing for him, to have had a childhood schoolmate speak to him on such a matter.
Although Line said he did not mention anything about the FBI, Ruppert apparently heard it anyway and knew that he was in terrible difficulty, that the FBI was going to be checking on him from that point on and he became much more alert to all the things that were happening to him, the other kinds of experiences he would have. He would wonder if they weren’t part of that investigation and soon began to believe that they were part of the investigation of him.
He would notice a police car, would notices if people would follow him, would notice if people were in the neighborhood of the restaurant, of the library or in the bar, he would notice the same people.
He believed the FBI had involved a lot of people checking on him and watching him. He believed that the FBI was involved in his stock market investments, so he tended to be secretive. He felt that everywhere he was going other people were knowledgeable and involved and in fact there was no way of escaping this plot.
Then two weeks later, the librarian turned up at Frisch’s when he was having his evening meal. And the next day he overheard the waitress saying that he had made a bad phone call. That was proof enough for Ruppert that there was some “very elaborate complex intricate” conspiracy against him, as one psychiatrist put it.
The next week at work, started overhearing comments at work about it, people saying, “I heard somebody made a phone call that shouldn’t be made,” clearly in his range knowing that he could hear it. His boss started making a habit of coming up to him at quitting time and he kept talking to him for 15 minutes or so, and it was became clear to Ruppert that he was doing it deliberately to keep him after work. The boss would sabotage his work by giving him incorrect instructions and then returning the work while making comments like, “Ruppert, you are a marked man.”
Ruppert soon caught on to all of the plainclothes police that followed him everywhere.
“At Frisch’s they’d sit down next to me and say to each other, ‘One of these days we’re going to beat the shit out of him,’” Ruppert said. “They never talked to me, but always in range. Soon I heard a policeman say that “the FBI investigated him and he ought to be put away where he belongs.”
Ruppert told a more or less consistent version of this story to the psychiatrists who interviewed him while he waited for trial, and they were convinced (though paid by the defense) that he was telling the truth as he saw it.
“He put a lot of feeling, a lot of affect into his voice when he talked about the conspiracy in general,” Grinspoon testified, “but particularly when he talked about mother, and Leonard in concern with the FBI.”
By about 1968, age 34, he was already well into the pattern of his delusional thinking and he couldn’t really trust the psychiatrist and so would misinterpret what the psychiatrist would say at the end of the session.
The psychiatrist would say, “Good-bye, Mr. Ruppert” and he would know this was the last time he would see him, that he wasn’t wanted anymore. At that time, the psychiatrist was rejecting him because he said goodbye to him.
Although he was becoming increasingly self-conscious about how people looked at him and the things he would overhear, his delusions didn’t seem to interfere with his career right away, and 1969 he was promoted from a draftsman to a designer with Pratt & Whitney in East Hartford, Connecticut, and went to live there for a while, but his brother found a way to sabotage that job and Ruppert was soon back home and living with his mother. He would be convinced before long that that she was at the center of the conspiracy.
“My mother is basically a man-hater,” Ruppert said. “My brother… has an inferiority complex… All my life my mother pitted the two sons against each other and I was always designated as the one to lose. My brother can’t stand to see me make good. And being a designer, working on an aircraft, doing well, that just wasn’t agreeable to him.
“So he finds ways of talking about people--myself, I mean--behind their back. In this way he belittles and blackballs the person. He wasn’t the only one... There was a number of other people who joined in this blackball operation, talking about me behind my back. My mother was, you might call, the center of the program. By that time, the FBI was involved in the program.”
Ruppert believed it was his brother, under orders from his mother, who was poisoning his relationships with his employers, both the contract company for whom he was working and the company where he happened to be working at that particular time.
“There was a very widespread and very efficient grapevine or information transmission system,” he said. “Everybody knew everybody. I could come home on the week-ends and by the time I got back to my office or living quarters, wherever they happened to be, all of the events while I was home had been transmitted to the office where I was working and the residence where I was staying.
“This has gone on for a number of years now. It includes the CAC – Community Action Commission – which is an organization here in Hamilton,” he said. “It involved just about all of the general citizenry.”
The conspiracy was so carefully plotted, he believed, that the information arrived somewhere, anywhere he went, just before he got there. He suspected that hit was done by telephone and by short-wave civil band radio and included the law enforcement agencies at every level from the local police and sheriff to the state highway patrol and the FBI. He knew that one of them, probably the FBI, had wiretapped his phone because people would often repeat back things he had said on the telephone, as if taunting him. There might have even been cameras or bugs in his room. One night, he took a splinter out of his foot in the privacy of his own room, but at work the next day he kept overhearing people talking about how somebody got up to remove a corn from their foot. His mother also learned of things that were happening to him while he was away on various contract jobs, things he would never have told her about, but she found out anyway. There was no one he could turn to for help, because too many people were in on the conspiracy.
While some of his former employers reported to police that the only issue they ever had with Ruppert was that he was too slow, too meticulous in his work and that made it hard for them to make money off of him.
Ruppert, however, had a different view. He said that while he was working for an aerospace program in Toledo with a number or other contract workers, he felt that they were resentful of him because he was working too hard and getting the work done too fast. Because of their resentment, they soon began conspiring against him. The draftsman at the drawing board behind his was from Hungary. The Hungarian used the expression “my people” a lot, saying things like “When my people are in control everything will be a lot better.” Ruppert, aware that Hungary was Communist country, felt the man was trying to trip him up and confess to being a Communist himself.
The Hungarian told him “there would be no rebuttal” once the Communists were in charge.
“I didn’t understand the meaning of that at the time, but later I realized that it meant that there would be no chance for me to defend myself since everything would be done behind my back. Well, this system and this project had continued for a number of years and it has ever widened reach to the point that it now includes all those agencies that I mentioned and the general citizenry of whatever area I happen to be in.”
In 1969, he left Connecticut and took a job in Florida, hoping that he would be far enough removed from his family that he could get away from the conspiracy, but he heard people talking about him there, too: “He’s weird. He’s strange. He’s different. He’s crazy.” People already had information about him, he thought, and concluded that the FBI had gotten to them.
Even the most casual and innocuous statements were laden with meaning and hints of the conspiracy. When his landlady in Florida said to him, “Oh, you’re left-handed,” he knew right away that she was in on it, too, because for her to say something like that meant that she was thinking he was inferior, that he was unclean, that he was some kind of degenerate, a perverse kind of person. The landlady was also fixated on the big dimple in his chin, he believed, because it meant he was a degenerate person and had the devil inside of him.
When he got back to Hamilton the next year, the police seemed to be even more active than before. They were everywhere he went, and they could obviously anticipate his moves because whenever he arrived somewhere, there would be an undercover officer nearby. His mother’s conversations with him were all laden with veiled hints at his sexual failures, so it was suddenly apparent that she knew all about them and had told the FBI that he was homosexual.
Between 1970 and 1975, he changed jobs frequently, certain that word had been passed from his mother and his brother to people on the job about as he continued to overhear people talking about him and loading their conversations with peculiar allusions to him being a homosexual and a Communist. He once heard someone in a restaurant say, “The FBI should investigate and this person should be put away,” and he knew they were talking about him. He would hear someone say, “They called a while ago and said to look out for-- “and he wouldn’t hear the rest of the sentence, but he knew they were talking about him. He once noticed a man in one of the offices carrying around some kind of electronic device and he knew right away that that was related to telephone bugging. The rooms he was staying in would be ransacked while he was at work but the door remained locked. Food would disappear from his refrigerator and his strong box would be open. The scratch pads on his drawing board would have mysterious coded messages on some of the pages. There were coded messages in the license plates of cars he would see on the street. Those things could only be the work of the FBI, he thought. His co-workers continued to tell him to slow down, to not work so hard, but that was only because they were jealous of his competency and were trying to get him fired.
He bought a Volkswagen Beetle, and the first thing his brother did was stamp his foot down hard on the bumper, tearing it from the bracket so that it would fall off a couple of weeks later. Then Pinky took the car out for a drive and purposefully changed gears without pushing down the clutch in his attempt to ruin the transmission. When the exhaust pipes broke off some time later, he knew it was because his brother had stuffed something in the pipe. Once, the valves in the car were creating problems and when he took it to the garage, they told him the point settings had been changed from 15 to 50 and the carburetor misadjusted. Clearly, his brother had sabotaged the car.
One day he found the points had been changed from 15 to 50. Leonard did it. After changing the oil some days later, he put the oil stick in and found that it was a quart and a half to two quarts high.
He overheard a co-worker in Indiana say, “This SOB is going to be followed all over the world,” and he knew they were talking about him and the FBI. He heard a waitress tell another customer that “The FBI is following him,” and he knew that they were talking about him. He ordered some milk and it had a pubic hair on it. Part of the plot. He’d overhear people say, “Mr. Ruppert ought to commit suicide.”
Early in 1975, a few months before the murders, he had a typist prepare a resume for him after being unemployed for several months. He sent one to a company in Cincinnati in response to a newspaper ad, and when he called to check on it, the receptionist hesitated when he asked for the man he had been told to call.
She said, “Just a minute,” and when she came back to the phone said, “Oh. Is this his brother?” Ruppert took that to mean that Pinky had gotten to the company before him and had sent advance information.
He said, “No, this is Jim Ruppert, not my brother.” She said, ‘Oh, well, he’s not available to speak to you now.”
He wrote the words on a piece of paper--“Oh, is this his brother?”--and kept the paper in his wallet as proof of the conspiracy against him, confirmation that his brother was keeping him from getting a job.
“That’s proof,” he said to one of the psychiatrists in the jail. “It’s hard to get proof about this conspiracy.”
By the time of the week preceding March 30, 1975, the delusions that Mr. Ruppert had were very well developed and essentially affecting all of his thinking most of the time. Included in those ideas were essentially everybody in the city of Hamilton. There were no exceptions to is and include in this conspiracy was the president of the country who was directing the FBI to the congress who was instructed by the president and the entire government. He felt the FBI was involved, the CIA was involved and the Mafia was involved.
4. Eat Sleep Shoot Spend
Roy Zimmers, 71, spent a lot of time in his retirement looking out his front window at 620 Minor Ave., and he would see Jimmy Ruppert coming and going from his mother's home, but never knew where he went, except sometimes he took guns with him.
“It’s no secret Jimmy had guns,” Zimmers told the newspapers after the event of Easter, 1975. “He used to do a lot of hunting and trap shooting. He loved to shoot.”
After losing his job at Production Design Services in Dayton the previous fall, Ruppert moved into his mother’s home at 635 Minor Avenue, where he had also lived from the time he was 12 years old until he moved out for the first time at the age of 28, then off and on again as an adult as his life situation demanded. His mother, Charity Ruppert, known to all as “Billie,” always kept his room ready for him in case he needed it.
Since he’d moved back this time, he’d fallen into a routine. Zimmers would see it begin and end: Jimmy would get into his gray Volkswagen every afternoon and never get back until late, 3 a.m. or later. It happened every day, seven days a week.
Ruppert would later reveal what happened in between to the psychiatrists who interviewed him to determine his sanity. He said would sleep until the afternoon, go to the Lane Library to do some reading for a couple of hours, go to Frisch’s Big Boy Restaurant on Dixie Highway for his one meal of the day, then go to a local bar, the 19th Hole Cocktail Lounge not far from Frisch’s, and stay there until closing time. Sometimes, he would take his guns to the river to shoot at cans, and two or three days a week he would stop in at a downtown Hamilton brokerage office to watch the stock tickers and check on his investments.
At the library, he would read magazines like Business Week and Fortune, then check out a few books. Although the library never revealed Ruppert’s reading list, police found baskets full of books in the basement of the Minor Avenue home, including pop psychology books like “Naked Ape” and “Games People Play,” Ayn Rand’s “The Fountainhead,” and inspirational books.
Some days, he skipped the library and went straight to the bar, where he’d nurse a few Wiedemanns, maybe five or six on a long night, but never getting drunk, mostly keeping to himself.
In his mind, no place was safe from prying eyes and judgment, but the regular places were at least familiar and he was able to cope, at least on an outward surface level, by following his routines. At the 19th Hole, he always sat at the same place at the bar, arranged his pipe and tobacco and ashtray in a particular way. Still, every person he met, even the most innocuous casual encounter, had a role to play in the delusional conspiracy against him. Frisch’s had a number of regulars who would sit with Ruppert at the counter every night, and although to them, he was just a face in the crowd, he always felt all eyes on him. The conversations he overheard were about him and his problems with the FBI or references to his feminine appearance. Still, was able to carry on a polite conversation with the other regulars at Frisch’s and the 19th Hole, and whatever was going on inside his head, many people saw him as a genial, if odd, fellow, although he was more likely to join in a conversation than start one. But when he did engage with people, he seemed intelligent, curious and well-read
One of the Frisch’s regulars was a fellow named Dean Cavett who worked for a shop called The Coin Center, where in addition to the obvious coin trade, he dealt with gold and silver bullion and high-quality guns, “strictly Smith & Wesson,” he told the court. Cavett and Ruppert first ran into each other in 1970 at the Hayden & Stone brokerage firm in the First National Bank building on High Street. Because he was trading gold, Cavett kept up on the stock market as well.
“It was a casual type of thing,” Cavett said. “He would be in there at any given time with six or eight other people, watching the ticker.”
Cavett had a long habit of stopping at Frisch’s for dinner after work, usually arriving before 5:30. He would sit on a stool at the counter with the other regulars. Some would be immersed in a book or the Journal-News, others would be chatting with the person next to them. Sometimes there would be a conversation all around the counter that everyone would chime in on.
He first saw Ruppert there around Christmas, 1974. He was already having his meal when Ruppert sat down next to him and asked if Cavett remembered him from the brokerage. He did, and they talked about what they’d been doing for the past couple of years. After that, he saw Ruppert nearly every night and before Easter had three or four conversations with him.
“We all knew each other and maybe talking to the person next to you or somebody seated two away,” Cavett said. Almost all of the time, when Ruppert spoke with him it was about the stock market. Cavett didn’t know that Ruppert had a family until he heard he killed them.
On one memorable occasion, there was an evening when it was just Cavett and Ruppert at the counter.
“He knew we were handling guns and he asked me if we had any silencers,” Cavett recalled. “We talked a little about the effectiveness of the silencer and about a person shooting through a pillow.”
Kenneth Wayne Stiers worked in labor relations at the Mosler Safe Company in Hamilton and would frequently have his dinner at Frisch’s, but not every night, like Ruppert and some of the others.
“Jim was always well-groomed, clean shaven, nothing unusual, seemed to be a meticulous young man,” Stiers testified, saying that Ruppert seemed to be a gentleman, very polite and quiet, not prone to butt into conversations, but certainly willing and able to carry on conversations, although when he spoke to Ruppert, it was usually the out-going Stiers who started the conversation.
“In fact, he seemed to have a fine sense of humor,” Stiers said. “Jim seemed quite interested and quite adept in asking questions and discussions. Jim asked questions about management strategies, union strategies, seemed to be interested in how we were handling specific labor problems at that time.
“Jim was also a pipe smoker and I’m a pipe smoker and we compared pipes and talked about pipe tobacco and various blends and where to purchase it,” he said.
Ruppert seemed to want to talk about the stock market, but Stiers didn’t know much about it, so it was difficult for him to carry on a conversation in that regard, but he would listen to Ruppert talk about it.
“Jim never discussed himself to any great extent,” Stiers said.
Roy Tussey, who lived in the village of Collinsville north of Hamilton but would sometimes stop in to have a bite at Frisch’s on his way to work a late shift at the Fischer Body plant, thought that Ruppert was a pretty good conversationalist. Having worked at General Electric for a time, Ruppert knew about jet engines and aircrafts but could talk about lasers, nuclear physics or any number of topics.
“What I appreciated most was he was a good listener and when I would talk he was very kind and listened attentively,” Tussey would later say.
“He talked about target shooting,” Tussey would later say. “I didn’t give him much encouragement because I was losing my vision, but he did tell me that he had several pistols and went to a range or went to a dump sometimes to shoot rats.
“I invited him out to shoot rats at our dump. He was quite interested and had the art down to a very good science. He discussed one day that he was practicing quick-draw and he gave me a figure of how quick he could draw a gun, but … I wasn’t particularly interested in it and I think I made off-hand kidding remark to the effect that ‘Jim, if John Wayne comes down Erie Highway, he’ll get you before you can clear your holster with your gun.’”
Ruppert seemed to be more reticent to speak to him after that, but would often confront Tussey if he told a story a second time and deviated from what he’d previously said.
“I’ve been very active in public speaking and a lot of times I was quoting other people that I’d heard give speeches,” he told the court. “Of course sometimes you don’t remember all the details infinitely, and so if I should deviate a little bit, maybe in a fact or something, when I mentioned it the second time, he would ask me about what I said before.
“In that way it made me watch what I was saying because I didn’t like to you know be picked up and maybe caught in such a way that I had misstated myself one time or the other,” he said. “He could recognize when I did.”
Bill Ziegler said Ruppert paid a lot of attention to the waitresses.
“He’d keep them laughing all the time, always real friendly with them and talk to them a lot,” he said. “He always seemed like he was in a good mood, always happy. I’d say he was very intelligent.
Bill Williams, a real estate agent who had worked on some rental property sales with Ruppert during better financial times, noticed the same thing: “He was very friendly with the people that worked there,” he said, and called him “a very likeable fellow.”
One time, Ruppert and Williams started talking about cars and then Williams asked him about girls. Ruppert told him he didn’t have a girlfriend and had pretty much given up on having one. Williams asked him if he didn’t want to settle down and get married. Ruppert said that he had to travel too much for his job to have a girlfriend, so he was okay with just talking to the waitresses at Frisch’s when he needed female company.
Williams said that Ruppert seemed smart enough to plan out something as heinous as murdering his family, but found it hard to believe to be true.
People at the 19th Hole, set in the middle of a strip shopping center alongside Ohio 4 a half-mile from Frisch’s, likewise remembered him being quite friendly and jocular as he sat at the bar drinking Weidemann, a cheap local beer, as often as six or seven nights a week for about four years. He was there often enough that if he didn’t show up for a couple of days, the bartenders would worry about him.
“I've even had him help close up here, you know,” said Tom Farrell, the owner of the bar, “to make sure the barmaid gets to her car all right.”
But according to Farrell, he was “strictly a beer sipper... I never saw him intoxicated. We have a standing joke in here that Jim gets his last call at 2 a.m. If we gave him last call at a quarter-past two, he’d never get finished.”
Farrell saw him as a quiet, pensive man--intelligent, well informed, a man who could discuss things without arguing, could carry on a conversation about almost any subject. Stocks and bonds were clearly his favorite subject and he refused to talk about sports.
The bar itself was a half-circle in a large, dim room. Ruppert had a particular place he liked to sit near the door, next to a black wall phone, but if someone else was already there, he would walk all the way to the other side of the circle to sit.
“I’d come in some day and say, ‘Jim, how’s the market?’ and he’d say ‘It’s up and it’s down.’ But on other occasions he would remind me about a stock tip he gave me several weeks back and explain how much money I would have made if I had invested a certain amount.
“He a sit up there and smoke his pipe and a sip on his beer for hours and never say anything,” Farrell said. “He lived in this place.”
“Jim was always very well-dressed, clean. I never had any trouble out of him,” said bartender Sandra Cones. “He always wore a tie, sometimes a sports jacket or suit jacket. He was always very clean and neat.”
Cones was a single mother of a young son and was comfortable enough with Ruppert to ask his advice over a custody matter or other troubles with her ex-husband. She felt that his advice was usually reasonable and she would often follow his suggestions and would even come in the bar on her days off to talk to him.
“If he couldn’t [give advice] he would just tell me what I would have to work it out my own way and do what was best for my son,” she said.
They were friendly enough to have nicknames for each other--“Jimbo” and “Sandy-pooh”--and would tell each other the jokes they’d heard, but never associated with him outside the bar. But Cones said she considered Ruppert a good friend, not someone she would want to date.
“I wouldn’t just open up to anybody,” Cones said. “I wasn’t that kind of person that I could just ask him something personal until I had known him for some time. I would not normally just tell a person that would come in to drink. I would not do that.”
Likewise, she said Ruppert seldom seemed to have lengthy conversations with people.
“Jim would say hi to someone if they came in and he knew them,” she said.
“Jim never caused me one ounce of trouble when I was on duty,” Cones said. “If he couldn’t say anything good about a person, he would never say anything at all.”
Because of his natty attire and general intelligence, his ability to weigh in on some arcane bit of trivia, some people at the bar called him “The Psychologist” or “The Professor.”
Regular John Morgan said that he and some of the others tended to shy away from Ruppert because he tried to analyze people.
“Everyone thought he was a little odd,” Morgan said. “To me he dressed a little old-fashioned. He sat at the bar in a very orderly manner. He had a place for everything in front of him.”
Morgan had a few lengthy conversations with Ruppert, though. About a month before the murders, the talk turned to the bad economy’s effect on the crime rate and stock market. Somehow, they got on the topic of people with a history of mental illness getting away with serious crimes because they pleaded insanity and were sent to hospitals instead of prison, the kind of stuff that makes for good bar conversation memorable on in hindsight when one of the parties has been accused of mass murder.
Sometimes, after a few Weidemanns, Ruppert would dance to the jukebox or with the band that played in there on Wednesday evenings. He liked to do the jitterbug.
Another bartender, however, Mary “Mickey” Cornett testified that she never heard anyone call him “The Professor” but a bunch of other nicknames she wouldn’t repeat in court concerning his appearance as “a little wimp type of person,” derogatory nicknames for homosexuals. So perhaps Ruppert’s fears about people talking about him were not all totally delusional. Some people did talk about him like that. For her part, Cornett believed he was gay.
“I’m saying gay,” she told the court. “They said queer. I don’t know about everyone, but he gave that impression to quite a few people.”
She said that he would listen to other people talk about their problems, but never shared anything personal about himself.
Ruppert’s restaurant-library-bar routine seemed like an effort to avoid being at home, the psychiatrists would say. He would simply come home, go to bed, get up, get dressed, leave the house.
Home was the worst place he could be not only because his mother and brother were at the center of the conspiracy, but he began to believe that there were “microswitches” in his room and that would somehow be monitoring his noises and activities and broadcasting them to some central information gathering place at which point they would then be distributed to the places he went to, allowing everyone access to the false charges of Communism and homosexuality that were being leveled against him.
The other regular patrons of the restaurant and bar were the closest thing Ruppert had to friends. He went to the places he felt the most comfortable and the least conspicuous, but the undercover agents would still be there, and people’s opinion of him would be tainted by his mother and brother before he got there. The more veiled comments he heard about Communism and homosexuality, the more they reinforced the conspiracy. Those places were better than any other place even though they were a terrible place for him.
The only two other things in Ruppert’s life since he had lost his job was shooting his guns and playing the stock market.
Apart from the BB gun he had as a child, Ruppert’s interest in guns was spurred by his delusions about the FBI, somewhere around 1969 or 1970.
Arthur Bauer, one of the few people who actually said he had a personal relationship with Ruppert and the only person on his visitor’s list when Ruppert was in jail, told a story that indicated just how much Ruppert had been practicing in the intervening years.
They would shoot at tin cans together four or five years prior to the murders . Bauer said Ruppert was “a good shot, but not an expert,” and he recalled teasing Ruppert, who was left-handed, because he couldn't shoot a gun with his right hand.
But in the spring or summer of 1974, an acquaintance of Ruppert’s named Vince Isgro saw him practicing on a makeshift shooting range in Fairfield, a reused garbage dump close to the Great Miami River. The sun was shining and it was very warm. When Isgro arrived, Ruppert was wearing a holster and yellow shooting glasses rapid firing two handguns, a nine-shot and a five- or six-shot .22 caliber.
Isgro saw Ruppert throw a beer can out in front of him, and then rapid fire at the can a gun in each hand, chasing it, keeping it moving as he fired, barely slowing down enough to ever let the can settle for long. Isgro said his accuracy was about 80-85 percent.
“That’s some really good shooting,” Isgro said to Ruppert, who explained that it was one of his hobbies, that he’d been doing it for some time. Isgro said that he later talked to his cousin, a Hamilton police officer, who had also seen Ruppert shoot and was amazed at his skill.
Isgro ran into Ruppert again that winter at the 19th Hole. They chatted for a while and Ruppert said he’d been out shooting earlier that day as well.
One evening during week prior to Easter, 1975, Dean Cavett saw Ruppert at Frisch’s for the last time.
“I went in and sat down beside him and he seemed to have difficulty listening to me,” Cavett recalled for the court. “One time he put his hand up to his ear and he had me repeat myself several times on statements I had made and then sort of apologized and said he couldn’t hear me because he had been down to the river practicing with his .357 magnum.”
Stiers saw him there that week, too. Ruppert told him he was going to the 19th Hole afterward to have a couple of drinks with a friend who was being transferred out of town.
Whatever success he had at the shooting range, however, did not manage to transfer to his skills at the stock market, at least not in the months leading up to Easter, 1975.
At one time, he had owned a few different rental properties. He lived in one half of a duplex he owned, but in 1969, he sold his last investment property, a house on Hamilton’s East Side, and made a profit of about $3,000.
Between the lack of work and Ruppert gambling on the stock market, however, his net worth was rapidly dwindling.
In June, 1974, he withdrew $11,000 from his account at Columbia Federal Savings,
From March 1971 to Jan. 31 1975, Ruppert’s account at Merrill Lynch showed a net loss of $21,000 in an “actively traded” account. His earnings from his draftsman job in 1973 was less than $19,000
Ruppert enjoyed trading on margin--selling short--because it allowed him to buy twice as much stock as he paid for and only paying the interest. Although in the long run, he lost a lot of money, he always fulfilled his obligations and the brokerage firm never lost money as a result of his transactions.
The week before Easter, in fact, on March 27, Ruppert cashed in a bunch of stocks to pay off $3,919.89 and cashed in a bunch of stocks to pay them off.
He had been borrowing from his mother and Pinky, owing them around $4,000 at the time of their deaths.
Pinky also once gave his mother $4,500 to fix up the bathroom and put kitchen cabinets in, and Jimmy knew he couldn’t do things like that for his brother, further adding to the tension in the strained family dynamic.
Ruppert said his brother used to insult him because he played the stock market and lost so much money, but that he would share in the profits but not the losses from the money he borrowed from them. He felt that he always could do better investing other people’s money rather than his own.
He indicated that he wasn’t worried about those things because he could live on the $75 a week he received in unemployment benefits, and that he had enough money and assets to be able to cover those loans if he had to pay them off.
His assets were dwindling, however. Zimmers noted that at one time, Jimmy drove a Cadillac convertible, but he wrecked that, then wrecked another sedan and was down to driving a Volkswagen. Zimmers said Jimmy used to have a lot of guns, but had sold some of his collection off. People close to the family would say that Billie was considering throwing Jimmy out, saying that if he had enough money to go out drinking every night, he could help pay some of the bills. But he didn’t.
“If his mother needed something, (Pinky) got it for her,” Zimmers said. “If she needed a davenport, he got it. Her refrigerator broke down, and he got her a new one. Jimmy? I never seen him even bring in any groceries.”
When he left the 19th Hole at closing time Saturday night, early Sunday morning, no one at the bar noticed anything unusual. When he left, Edna Ferrell, the wife of the man who runs the bar, wished Jimmy Ruppert a happy Easter, and that's the last they saw of him, unless you count pictures in the newspaper.
5. Easter 1975
In the summer of 1974, Leonard “Pinky” Ruppert traveled to Brazil for General Electric Aircraft Engines, and stayed there for a month. Alma flew down to be with him for the last two weeks and his mother Billie stayed with the eight children in their Walter Avenue home, just a few miles from her house on Minor Avenue.
With some of the extra money Pinky got for going on the trip, he purchased a new 12-seat black Chevy van, something big enough to haul around the whole family, five boys and three girls, ages 4 to 17.
Leonard bought the black van so the Rupperts could travel to visit their “Uncle Bud,” Rufus Skinner and his family for Labor Day.
“It was their last vacation to Florida,” Skinner said. “They had a station wagon and a small foreign-made car, but even though Lenny, his son, was old enough to drive, Junior decided to buy the van so they could all be together on the trip. They drove over from Daytona Beach and surprised us. They just had a ball.”
The family regularly attended Sacred Heart Church, although not always all together, not far from their Walter Avenue home, but the whole brood went to a late Easter vigil Mass the previous evening. During that service, Father Roetelle lit the candle as a symbol of Christ, intoning "Christ our light" as he proceeded into the darkened church, a gesture he would soon echo at a mass Funeral Mass.
Early Easter morning, Keith Brinker noticed some activity on the Ruppert lawn. Their first Easter egg hunt of the day.
“I saw the older ones showing John, the youngest, where the eggs were,” said Keith Brinker. Brinkers’ wife saw the children chasing the dog through the neighborhood.
After the family finished its egg hunt, 13-year-old Carol Ruppert delivered an Easter basket to the Justice family at 551 Walter Avenue, and helped their five children get ready for Sunday school, according to mother Bonnie.
When Carol had the five children dressed and ready, they all went back to her house to deliver an Easter basket the Justices had prepared for them, a neighborly exchange.
A little while later, Leonard and Alma Ruppert herded their eight children into their big black Chevy van to make the rounds of holiday visits.
Leonard, Alma and their eight children, spending the day together as a family, first drove to Alma’s mother’s house in nearby Colerain Township, a suburban area of Cincinnati about 40 minutes from their Fairfield home.
The black van arrived at Edna Allgeier’s home sometime after 11 a.m. At noon, they ate dinner together, then because it was so cold and windy outside, the children had their first Easter egg hunt of the day inside. Leonard was tired, so he went upstairs to lie down.
Allgeier spent the afternoon talking to her daughter and grandchildren. They were very happy, she said. At around 4 p.m., they began their good-byes in the kitchen and left in the black Chevy fan sometime between 4:15 and 4:30 p.m., heading for Grandma Billie’s house in the southeast Hamilton neighborhood of Lindenwald, just a few miles from their own house in a north Fairfield neighborhood.
Roy Zimmers, the retired fellow from across the street who could see much of the block from his regular chair in the corner, would remember commenting to his wife around 4:30: “Well, everybody’s over there and Jimmy hasn’t gone away.”
Billie spent the day anticipating the visit of her only grandchildren. John Spear, a neighbor, said his 8-year-old daughter took an Easter basket to Billie earlier in the day. She told the girl that she was having a family reunion that afternoon. Another neighbor, Luther Rhodus had planned on taking a piece of wedding cake from his daughter's wedding the day before around 8 p.m., but turned back because it was so cold.
Leonard’s brother James Ruppert also lived at 635 Minor Avenue. James had been unemployed for several months. Most of his money was gone from risky stock market investments, and his $77 a week unemployment benefit was about to run out in three weeks.
His mother, known to her friends as Billie, was 65 and in good health except for some arthritis. There were indications that she was getting ready to evict James from the house. If he had money to go out drinking every night, she reasoned, then he could help out with bills. He didn’t.
Although James would occasionally drop by a stock broker’s office to watch the ticker or go shooting at a local dump or down by the river, most of his days were limited to doing three things. He would sleep until the afternoon, and then go to a restaurant – usually Frisch’s Big Boy on Dixie Highway, but sometimes Hyde’s Family Restaurant a few miles down the road, or the other Frisch’s on Hamilton’s West Side--to eat his one meal of the day. Some days he would go to the library to read until it closed. Then he would go to the 19th Hole Lounge and stay there until closing time. Some days, he skipped the library and went straight to the bar, but always staying until it closed. He never did any other drugs, but the night before Easter, he drank four beers.
“I had been out the night before and slept real late the following day, until 4,” James later told psychiatrists. “I knew the night before that my brother, his wife and children were coming in for dinner and an Easter egg hunt. I got up about the time my brother and the children got here.”
“I exhibited some disbelief that he could sleep for almost 14 hours,” said one of those psychiatrists, Harvard Medical School’s Lester Grinspoon. “He assured me he did, except that he awoke to masturbate once or twice; except for that he slept.”
Ruppert said that he then shaved, cleaned up, visited with his brother and sister-in-law while watching the children hunt Easter eggs. There were some sloppy joe sandwiches at the table, but he was not hungry and did not eat.
“I wanted to get out of the house,” he said. “Always when we were together, especially my mother, she was the moderator, who makes me be silent and lets him do whatever he wants. I was ready to go target shooting.”
“He always did target shooting by himself,” Grinspoon said. “He was a man who had very little in his life, who felt great sexual inadequacy. He owned four guns, three pistols and a rifle. Perhaps he displaced some of his frustration in other areas of life into a kind of satisfaction he could get from mastering a gun.
“He wanted to leave the house that day because he didn’t want them to know his progress in the conspiracy because if they knew, they would attack him much more,” psychiatrist Howard Sokolov testified.
So even though it was only 34 degrees outside with winds gusting up to 32 miles per hour and only a couple of hours before sunset, James went upstairs and retrieved every gun he owned, a .357 Magnum, two .22 handguns, and an 18-shot rifle, to go target shooting somewhere. He took the rifle out of its zippered case. The guns were already loaded. He feared prowlers, he told the psychiatrists, and kept his guns loaded at all times. They were loaded then, even though he had to come through the kitchen and living room, among the 11 members of his family, in order to go get to the front door and his yellow Volkswagen Beetle parked out front. Most of the bullets in the guns were not target-shooting bullets, however, but hollow-point bullets, designed to “mushroom” when the slammed into a target to cause a maximum amount of damage.
As soon as he came down the stairs, his brother started talking to him. Ruppert leaned the rifle against the refrigerator and rounded the corner to stand with his back against the sink, the handguns tucked in his belt. The youngest child, 4-year-old John, was in the bathroom while his sister Carol, 13, waited her turn. Billie sat with Leonard and her and daughter-in-law sat at the kitchen table drinking coffee while two of her grandchildren, David, 11, and Teresa, 9, hovered underfoot. The other children--Ann, Lenny and Mike--were playing in the living room.
“I was standing across from the kitchen table for a while talking about the economy and about foreign cars,” Ruppert told psychiatrists. “My brother said, ‘How much effect do you think this tax rebate will have on the economy?’ I said, ‘Not very much.’ His question is what caused me to stop and get in a conversation with him. I was going to get out of the door and get away. Well, I stopped there, and he jumped and went from the one question about the economy to his question about my VW and something just snapped. He asked me how my VW was running. He had had my VW sabotaged on several occasions. He had valves misadjusted; two quarts of oil were higher in the crankcase, the carburetor. I had to have a new one put in and the distributor was sabotaged. I knew my brother was behind all these activities. When he asked me how my VW was doing, it triggered something. Something snapped. The comment about the car brought all these thoughts about what has been doing with these best years, all the crippling he has done to me, both socially and career-wise. And all these thoughts came in all at one time. Somehow, I had to stop him, and I fired. It was just like all of a sudden I was in a really hot room. All of me was burning and I knew. The thoughts that flashed through my mind were all that he had done to me as part of this conspiracy. I raised the gun and shot him through the chest.”
The sudden shot from the powerful .357 Magnum took the entire family by surprise, and for the briefest instant, James took in the surprised looks on their faces.
Leonard said, “Call the police,” and turned his back away from his brother as he made for the telephone. James shot him again and put him on the floor.
“I just couldn’t stand it,” James said. “Everything came at one time.”
Alma made a move toward him, and he shot her in the side, straight into her heart. Billie lunged for him, too, until two shots into her chest put her down. In terror David and Ann cowered under the kitchen table, practically at Uncle Jimmy’s feet. James put the empty .357 aside, quickly drew one of the .22s from his belt and shot the two middle children in the back. Carol Dianne, who was standing beside the bathroom door, barely got the back door open when two shots in the back turned her around to receive one more in the chest.
“There was no way for them to run,” James said. “They were dazed by what was happening.”
John, the 4-year-old came out of the bathroom clutching a piece of Easter candy to hear what all the noise was about.
Lenny, the eldest, who had been lying on one of the couches in the living room, came to the doorway between the small rooms and began cursing at his uncle.
“You dirty son of a bitch!” he cried.
James grabbed John and held the gun to his head, threatening to shoot him and backing Lenny into the living room again. The youngster struggled in James’ arms, knocking over a wastebasket full of cigarette butts and empty packs next to the door. James shot him point blank into the right temple. The child’s body went limp and he fell to the floor in front of the sofa, still clutching a foil-wrapped piece of Easter chocolate.
The four remaining children cowered in various corners of the room. Now with a .22 in each hand, James opened fire, shooting the three boys in the back. Ann Delores screamed, huddled in the corner. When she turned to see what was going on in the room, Uncle Jimmy shot her twice in the face.
“I must have shot awfully fast, because they were all gone,” James said.
Having emptied the three pistols, he began reloading as his wounded family lay moaning and groaning as they died.
“I just shot at them because I knew they were in pain,” he said. “I wanted to put them out of their pain.”
Ruppert went back around the rooms, checking for signs of life, then putting a kill shot in the brain of those whom he felt needed it.
Forty-two bullet casings were recovered from the scene of the melee. The Butler County Coroner counted 40 wounds, noting that all but one or two would have been lethal on its own.
Charity “Billie” Ruppert, 65, was shot three times, once into the left breast, once into the right breast, once into the right ear into the brain.
Leonard Ruppert Jr., 42, was shot five times, once in the lower back, once in the upper left chest, once in the right ear, once into the right side of the head and once into the rear of the head.
Alma Ruppert was shot once into the right side through the heart and had one wound on the back of the right arm. Some would speculate that he spared her a kill shot to the brain like the others because of his long-abiding love for her.
Leonard III, 17, known as Lenny, was shot six times, twice into the left back, one grazing wound on the left forearm, once into the left side of the head above the ear, twice into the base of the skull into the brain.
Michael James, 16, was shot twice in the back at the right shoulder through the heart.
Thomas Frank, 15, was shot twice in the left side of the head and once in the middle of the back.
Carol Dianne, 14, was shot six times, three times into the left side of the head, once into the back, once into the left low back, once into the left front rib cage.
Ann Delores, 12, was shot four times, once into the left face, twice into the left ear and once into the right face.
David Scott, 11, was shot once in the back at the left shoulder, once into the right side of the head, twice into the left side of the head and twice into the left rear of the head.
Teresa Lee, 9, shot once in the back at the left shoulder, once in the left rear head, once into the left side of the head.
John Ruppert, 4, was shot one time, like his mother, but with a contact wound to the right side of the head. He still grasped a partially wrapped piece of Easter chocolate in his hand.
“That was a sight that shook me to the depths of my soul, and I have never forgotten it,” Butler County Prosecutor John Holcomb said many years later, but that night, all he could say to the Hamilton Journal-News was, “It’s unreal. I thought I’d seen everything.”
Their Uncle Jimmy told psychiatrists that he didn’t know why he shot the children.
“I love the children and I was fond of his wife,” he said. “I shot every human being in sight. If there were other people there, I would have shot all of them. I think I would have. I don’t know why. It all happened so fast. I don’t know why [I shot] the kids, the sweetest, loveliest kids you ever saw. They were moaning and groaning, those poor little things. I couldn’t stop shooting until they were silent. I don’t know why I didn’t run. I could have burned my clothing.
“And then I didn’t know, I was sort of stunned, sort of dazed. I remember falling on the couch. I just lay on the couch staring at the ceiling, and then I got up and went upstairs and changed clothes because I didn’t like the clothes I had on. I thought they looked too feminine,” he said.
As he got up, he saw the bodies and had a vague awareness of his involvement but didn’t recall having feeling any particular emotions or guilt about it. He went upstairs and changed his shirt, thinking that what he had on was too feminine, and picked out a yellow and white striped shirt and a white tie. When he came back down, however, he saw the bodies again and felt overwhelmingly depressed. He sat down on the sofa and stared at the ceiling for another hour or so, thinking about God. His father’s family was Catholic and his mother converted. He hadn’t attended Mass for ten years because he had become disenchanted with Catholicism and the hypocrisy and totalitarian attitude he perceived. He felt he had probably been excommunicated because of non-attendance. Even though he did not read any religious material and religion played no significant role in his life on a day-to-day or week-to-week basis, he contemplated suicide. He decided not to do so because as a Catholic, he believed that suicide to be a mortal sin, eliminating any chance of and that there was no possibility that he would going to heaven--and he would most certainly go to ensuring him a place in hell--if he killed himself.
“I laid there again for quite some time,” he said. “I loaded that Magnum and thought about using it on me, thought that if I didn’t do it I might have some chance--life or the electric chair--of going to heaven. If you kill yourself, there’s no chance. If you don’t, maybe you can repent. I got up and went out and picked up the phone and called the police.”
At 9:41 p.m., Ruppert called the Hamilton Police Department.
“Send a police car to 635 Minor Avenue,” he said simply. “There’s been a shooting.”
“There’s been a shooting?” the dispatcher asked. “How bad is the party hurt?”
The caller, Ruppert, said something unintelligible on the tape playback, according to the Dayton Daily News, but then he said, “They’re dead.”
Hamilton Police Department patrolman Robert Minor was only a few blocks away and arrived at the scene within a few minutes. He walked up the front sidewalk as Ruppert stood between the open doors.
“I could see inside and I asked Mr. Ruppert what was going on,” Minor said. “At this time he didn’t respond, he didn’t answer me, I asked him, ‘How long have you been here?’ He said, ‘Since about 5 o’clock p.m.’”
Minor walked up the steps and saw a body lying on the floor of the living room.
“I walked up the next flight or two and started talking to him, saw several more bodies inside the living room,” Minor said. “After I told him he’d have to come with me, he said, ‘May I go back and get my jacket?’ I told him he could not go back inside the house. He spoke very calm as if nothing were wrong at all, very calm, quiet spoken. He seemed alert.”
“I told him I had been there all day,” Ruppert told the psychiatrists. “They took me outside and searched me, and put handcuffs on me and put me in the police car.”
Minor placed Ruppert under arrest, then waited for detectives to arrive to examine the scene.
Lt. Sam Duley stepped inside the house, the only person to do so until Chief George McNally and the homicide squad arrived.
Duley found five bodies in the living room, six in the kitchen. There were puddles of blood everywhere. In the living room, a doily covered a TV snack tray table that sat in front of one of the sofas. On top of the doily was were two clean paper towels, a handgun carefully placed on each one. Another handgun sat on the armrest of the sofa.
Police Chief McNally later told reporters of the call from Duley.
"’Got a homicide, chief,’” McNally recalled him saying, “and I says when and where, and he says ‘11 of them’ and I says you got to be teasing me," though the colorful chief most likely used a stronger word than “teasing.”
They found five blood-splattered bodies in the living room (Leonard, one girl, three boys) and six in the kitchen, 31 spent cartridges on the floor and furniture, two boxes of ammunition on the sofa.
On the kitchen table were several ammunition boxes, live ammunition, and empty casings. The leftovers from a batch of sloppy joe sandwiches were in a skillet on the table.
"I stepped into all that carnage,” Holcomb said. “It was so bad that when I went into the basement you had to be careful because the blood would seep through the floorboards and it would drip on you."
Chief McNally walked up to a trio of Hamilton Journal-News photographers who were standing together on the sidewalk and asked if one of them would go inside and take evidence photos.
In a move from an old Three Stooges routine, John Janco and Jim Denney both took a giant step backward, leaving Larry Fullerton standing alone like a chump, the reluctant volunteer. But he agreed.
“If you feel like you’re going to be sick,” McNally warned him as they approached the steps, “leave the house. I don’t want you puking all over my crime scene.”
There wasn’t much room to move around in the small living room. Not only was it crammed full of furniture, but there were five bodies and five pools of blood on the floor. The detectives “were concerned about where I stepped,” Fullerton said, “that I wouldn’t touch anything or damage any evidence.
“I remember trying to block in my mind that it was the bodies of dead people I was photographing… I simply concentrated on the mechanics of taking the pictures… Three shots of each body, plus overall pictures of the room and one of a thermometer on the living room wall.”
Eager to flee the scene, Fullerton thought he was done. Then Detective Darrell Philpot led him into the kitchen.
“That was when the shock set in,” Fullerton said. “There were six more bodies in the kitchen. At least in the living room, there had not been a lot of blood (as) most had been absorbed into the carpet. But the kitchen floor was linoleum and there was no place for the blood to go… It simply puddled in the middle of the room.”
Fullerton again concentrated on the mechanics of getting the photos, trying to keep his mind distracted from the horror as he took the photos of the bodies and the skillet of sloppy joe on the table. He imagined himself on a Hollywood set and that they weren’t really bodies at all, simply wax dummies, but his reverie was interrupted by the jarring sound of the phone ringing.
“It rang and rang and rang,” he said. “Nobody made a move to answer it.
“When I left the house, a number of reporters wanted to know what I had seen… how many bodies there were… what the house was like,” he said. “But I had done such a good job of blocking the details from my mind that I couldn’t say much… I was too stunned by what I had seen to be able to relate much of it.”
Most of the neighbors had still been out for their Easter activities or had already left for evening church services when James Ruppert opened fire on his family, so no one heard any of the 40-plus shots. Robin Wroot, who lived across the street at 640 Minor, came home about 3:45 p.m. and was there all evening. At the time of the murders, however, her children were playing in the front room with the television set on and she was in the kitchen cooking.
“I was not aware of anything unusual until the first police car had arrived,” she said.
She went out on her front porch and watched as the scene unfolded.
State Bureau of Crime Investigations arrived at midnight. There were hundreds of people on the scene by then.
A reporter from the local newspaper, the Journal-News, called the Rev. Kenneth Baker, a pastor at Sacred Heart Church, where Junior’s family had attended Easter Vigil the previous evening.
“I thought, well, perhaps I can be of some help at the scene,” Father Baker said, “so I went up to Hamilton to Minor Avenue at the scene.”
Baker arrived around 12:30 a.m. and found that he was not only welcomed, but expected.
“The police chief had been trying to get ahold of me all evening so he escorted me into the residence… mainly to help with the identification of the bodies,” he said. “The bodies were spread all over, not like they had been grouped together and shot in gangland style. The kids looked as though they had been on the floor watching TV in the front room.”
There was no point in administering last rites. Eleven people were dead. The only living member of the Leonard Ruppert Sr. family was the odd son, the black sheep of the family, who now sat in the Butler County jail. The city of Hamilton was anxious to hear the story, to find out why James Ruppert killed his entire family.
“Gee, I wish they would let me go in and see them,” said Lucille Tabler, one of the hundreds of people that stood out in the cold watching the scene unfold. She lived near the Ruppert family in Fairfield. Her brother-in-law, Roy R. Zimmers, lived at 620 Minor Avenue, across the street from Billie and James.
“I just don’t believe it,” Tabler said. “Why would he want to do something like that/ I wish I could talk to Jimmy.”
Tabler had known the family since “Jimmy was just learning how to walk,” she said, and was the first person to notify Billie’s brother and sister in Wapakoneta.
Detective Glenn Ebbing formally charged Ruppert with 11 counts of aggravated murder at 1:30 a.m., before all the bodies had been removed from the scene.
The first victim carried out was 4-year-old John. The blood-spotted sheet covered the body except for two small feet wearing tennis shoes. The crowd gasped and groaned at the sight. Six police station wagons transported the bodies to Brown-Dawson funeral home two miles away, making return trips.
Alma was last to be removed at 3:30 a.m. The chilly crowd dispersed as soon as the bodies were gone, and Robin Wroot finally locked up her house and retired.
“We went to bed,” she said, “we just didn’t sleep because there was a lot of noise. We heard all the hammering and pounding coming from the Ruppert home. I assumed it was from the criminal investigation team that came from out of town and they were doing what they do.”
Yet they did not hear 40 gunshots coming from the same house earlier that evening.
The clock had rolled past 10 p.m. Easter Sunday, and Butler County Prosecutor John Holcomb was still in his office working late on some matters for his private practice, dictating the terms of a deed into the Dictaphone machine, when the call from Detective Glenn Ebbing came telling him about the 11 dead bodies in Lindenwald.
Holcomb liked going into the office on Sundays, at least five or six hours, sometimes as much as 12 hours, and had made a habit of it for several years, even though it meant time away from his family. But without the distractions of the work-week, he was able to get a lot done a lot more quickly, and he made good progress since he got there around 7 p.m. The pile was huge, and at first he cursed at himself for being negligent.
But before that, it had been a nice, lazy Sunday, so he felt rested and productive and had already made a big dent in the pile.
He had been up late the night before, staying up past 1 a.m. with his wife Judy to color Easter eggs for their children. He put some unusual touches on the eggs, writing in the white paraffin crayon before dipping them in the colored vinegar water. He’d written “Pete Rose” on one of the eggs for the youngest, Jeffrey, who bled Cincinnati Red even at 4 years old and was especially into all things related to the man they called “Charlie Hustle.” For 7-year-old Mary Ann he wrote “Curly,” a nickname for her that she hated, but to make up by printing “Princess” on another. For 10-year-old John he wrote “Big Shot John” and “Jerk,” and commented that the kids would think this was one crazy Easter Bunny they had.
Still, he woke early and seeing that Saturday night’s rain had changed to snow flurries, hurriedly hid the Easter eggs in the family room downstairs before climbing back into bed, where he lay all morning, half-asleep and dozing off occasionally, rousing a little when his son John got in bed with him. Together, they watched Dr. Robert Schuller’s “Hour of Power,” the preacher giving his take on the Sermon on the Mount, calling it “the greatest sermon ever preached.” While he listened with his eyes closed, Holcomb once again resolved himself to going to church more often. Or at least go to church, as it had been several years since he last went to a service, although his wife made sure the children went at least once in a while.
When the show was over at noon, he started to stir for real, thinking about going out back and shooting some baskets, about the only exercise he got these days, but it was still bitterly cold and windy. He thought about going to the office then.
It was a holiday, however, and the Reds’ game was being televised, a spring training game against Detroit. If he watched the game, he could get to the office around six and work until midnight. Or he could go at noon, work until 8 or 8:15 p.m. and make it home in time for “Kojak.”
He decided on the Reds. They jumped off to an 8-0 lead in the first inning, which was quite exciting, but by the sixth inning, the Tigers caught up and Holcomb started to doze off again, predicting another second-place finish for the Reds in the upcoming season, then decided to shake himself awake and head for the office.
He was wide awake and raring to go when he got there. His first distraction came around 9 p.m. when an assistant prosecutor, Dan Fischer came sauntering in with his usual six-pack of Budweiser to stash in the apartment-sized refrigerator Holcomb kept in the office. Fischer and Holcomb shot the breeze for just a little while. They both still had a lot of work to do.
At 10:10 p.m., the phone interrupted his dictation, and his chance at getting caught up on paperwork flew right out the window.
“Get down here right away, pal, I’ve got 11 dead ones,” said the familiar voice of Det. Glenn Ebbing, Holcomb’s best friend, whom he considered to be the best detective anywhere, having worked on many homicide cases with him.
Holcomb thought Ebbing was pulling a fast one. A few years earlier, Ebbing and his partner Charlie Reid came into Holcomb’s office with a fake attempted suicide report for a girl he was helping with a divorce. The report went into great detail about the time of the incident and the hospital she was taken to. Then at the bottom it said “Reason for Attempted Suicide: She fell in love with her lawyer, Assistant County Prosecutor, John Holcomb, knew she couldn’t have him and therefore attempted suicide.” Straight-faced Reid and Ebbing stuck with the joke for nearly an hour, not even breaking a smile until Holcomb reached in his desk drawer for a tranquilizer.
So now, he just grunted a skeptical, “Huh?”
“Get your ass down here, pal,” Ebbing said. “I’ve got 11 dead bodies.”
“What in the world is going on?” Holcomb asked.
“Goddamn it, get your ass down here,” Ebbing said firmly and hung up the phone.
Holcomb gave up the idea of a joke and started wondering about the possibilities. Maybe a motorcycle gang shoot-out, he could imagine, but the mass murder of a family was the farthest thing from his mind.
Dan Fischer was the only other person in the office, so though he mostly took care of the civil work, Holcomb asked him if he wanted to go along on the case. As far as Holcomb knew, Fischer had only seen one dead body at the notorious Grand Hotel, since he joined the prosecutor’s office, so he was eager to be in on something as big as 11 dead bodies.
They walked the frigid block to the police station. Officers directed them to a side room. They knocked and entered to find Ebbing sitting behind a desk and two young patrolmen standing off in the corner.
Seating to the side of the desk was a small clean-cut man, neatly dressed in a yellow and white striped long-sleeved shirt, a white tie with a wide clasp, and brown pants with a large checkered plaid design. Ebbing was handing him a phone book.
Fischer knew the suspect, said When we walked in the room Dan Fischer said to him, “Hi Jimmy”, and the man stood up and said, “Hi, Dan” then stood up to shake his hand.
Fischer was a year behind the suspect, James Urban Ruppert, at Hamilton Catholic High.
“He was highly regarded in high school,” Fischer would later tell the press. “He was a fine boy, a good student, active in various school activities. He was not an oddball, not a troublemaker. He never impressed me as anything but a straight, conscientious individual.”
Ruppert took his seat and began to search the yellow pages while Ebbing got Holcomb up to speed.
“We’ve got 11 dead members of the Ruppert family down at 635 Minor Avenue,” Ebbing said.
“How does this man figure into it?” Holcomb asked.
“This is James Ruppert,” Ebbing said. “I gave him his Miranda Warning Card to sign, but he wants to speak to an attorney first.”
While Ruppert flipped through the Yellow Pages, Ebbing updated Holcomb on the situation: Ruppert was a draftsman, but had been laid off from an outfit called Production Design in Dayton. He lived with his mother at 635 Minor Avenue, said he had been home all day, that his brother and his family got there around 4 p.m. He didn’t know all of the children’s names. Ruppert said he’d had nothing to drink nor any medications that day, but he did have a few beers the night before. Ruppert said he’d been to a psychiatrist, but wouldn’t say who. He said that the two handguns found in the house belonged to him. But when Ebbing asked him what happened in there, Ruppert said he wanted to speak to an attorney.
“I see Bert Imfeld’s name here,” Ruppert said, pointing at an entry in the phone book, “I went to school with him.”
Ebbing dialed the number on the desk phone and handed the receiver to Ruppert, who introduced himself and said, “Bert, I sure am in trouble. I need a lawyer ... I’m a suspect in a homicide.”
Ruppert listened a moment, then handed the phone back to Ebbing, saying, “He doesn’t take criminal cases but he recommended Hugh Holbrock, so that’s who I want.”
Holbrock’s recorded message referred them to his partner, Joe Bressler, who said he’d be there in 20 minutes.
“We’re going to need your clothes for evidence,” Ebbing told Ruppert, and gave him an olive drab prison uniform and a pair of sandals to put on, a remarkable contrast from the colorful, natty clothes he had been wearing.
Ebbing had just finished bagging up Ruppert’s clothing into plastic evidence sacks, tagged each item for analysis by the Crime Lab at London, Ohio, when Bressler arrived with his senior partner Holbrock.
The uniformed officers took Ruppert to a different room to consult with his attorney. Holcomb and Fisher decided to go to the crime scene, so they got a ride with Detective Ron Wells.
As they slowed down on Pleasant Avenue just before approaching Minor Avenue at around 10:30 p.m., Holcomb saw the was blocked off by a police cruiser with a flashing lights, thinking that Police Chief George McNally--“P.R. George” he called him--was playing it up for the press.
Then he saw the mass of people gathered around the house, a crowd of about 500 people, he guessed. Wells went around the flashing cruiser and slowly made his way through the throng of people who grudgingly gave way for their vehicle,
As Fischer and Holcomb made their way through the barricade and up the front walk, McNally greeted them and said they’d better go and take a look.
After 11 years with the Prosecutor’s Office, Holcomb had been to many bloody and gruesome crime scenes. His very first one, in fact, came on another holiday, Christmas Eve, 1964, when 73-year-old Ethel Strayer had her throat slit and was stabbed 35 times in her house on Vine Street, and later Ruth Doench, who had a mattock buried in her face.
He thought he’d seen it all, but the scene inside that house was bloody and gruesome beyond his imagination. There were five bodies in the living room and six bodies in the kitchen, but the one thing that stuck with him was the sight of 4 year old Johnny, shot once in the side of the head, lying next to the sofa, his face in a pool of vomit.
“The thing that scared me and it still scares me, and is gonna scare me for the rest of my life I believe,” Holcomb would later say into his Dictaphone, “was that I went through that carnage, and looked at those bodies, and looked that whole place over real carefully and it didn’t bother me a damned bit… Maybe it causes you to chain smoke cigarettes or drink too much or something like that, I don’t know, but it sure is an eerie feeling to think that you are supposed to be a decent person and a sensitive person and a conscientious person, and you can walk in to a scene like that and not have it faze you.”
As he left the house, he stood on the porch and felt not sickness at the gore or sadness at the tragic loss of life, but anger. He felt it rising like bile inside him and made up his mind there on the spot that he was going to steel himself for this case, get hard-nosed about it and carry his anger with him, bust his ass to make sure that James Ruppert, that smug little fancy-pants, got everything he has coming to him.
Holcomb and Fischer got a patrolman to take them back to the police station. It was getting close to midnight and they got there just as Ruppert and his lawyers were all going back into the office where Holcomb had first found them. Ebbing was already there, going through Ruppert’s billfold.
He pulled out several sheets of notebook paper with numbers written all over them.
“What’s all this?” Ebbing asked, laying the pages on the side of the desk in front of Ruppert.
“Stock quotations,” Ruppert said.
Ebbing unfolded a yellow legal document.
“That’s the title to my car,” Ruppert said.
Ebbing counted out the money: $153.33.
Holcomb started growing impatient, and pulled Ebbing aside.
“Glenn, what do we have here?” Holcomb asked. “We’ve got 11 people dead down there and if this Ruppert is some kind of goddamned killer, I don’t want him out on the street while we are fooling around trying to decide whether we are going to charge him or not or while we are waiting to see what kind of evidence we are going to have.”
“Well, the guy said he had been home all day and if he had been home all day he’d sure as hell have to know what happened and he won’t talk about what happened,” Ebbing said. “He said the guns were his, and we thought it was pretty obvious that with those guns laying there in that massacre those guns were probably used, at least it was enough to take a chance on.
“The blood spatters on the side of his shoes,” Ebbing continued, “those could have be explained away by walking through blood in the house, but he had blood spatters like a spray on the tops of his shoes which only be caused by the blood coming at a downward angle.”
“That’s a clincher,” Holcomb said. “Go ahead and book him.”
Shortly after that conversation, the first agent from the Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation in London, Ohio, arrived. Holcomb ordered him to take paraffin casts and fingernail scrapings from Ruppert’s hands, a process that took about an hour. Holcomb noted that Ruppert’s hands and fingernails were quite clean, matching his neat, if gaudy, appearance, except for the yellow cigarette stains between the first two fingers of his left hand.
Ebbing finished booking Ruppert at 1:30 a.m., and it was nearly 2 a.m. before Holcomb and Fischer finished up at the police station and headed back to their office, reporter Dick Perry from the Cincinnati Post tagging along. When they got back, they remembered the six-pack of Budweiser in the little refrigerator. Before Fischer could wrestle three of them out, however, someone started banging on the front door: Reporter Tom Adkins and a crew from Channel 5 News, wanting an interview.
Adkins, Holcomb thought, looked like a million bucks, as usual, wearing a long leather jacket over a turtleneck sweater, his shoes buffed to a shine, while Holcomb was dressed like he was still watching the Reds game from his easy chair with dirty buck shoes, old and worn pair of green and grey plaid denim slacks with a billfold hole in the hip pocket. He imagined himself looking like a rube next to the sharp-dressed TV man, so he put on a red windbreaker to cover his sports shirt, hoping that would help.
When they finished a brief interview, the cameramen said, “Boy, I sure could use a beer, you guys got anything?”
“Yeah, we got a beer,” Fischer said and made for the refrigerator. Out of his instinctive mistrust of the press and their dirty tricks, Holcomb made a start to stop him, then thought better of it and quietly took one of the six beers as Fischer handed them out.
It was well after 3 a.m. by the time the news crew and reporters left, but before Holcomb and Fischer could make their escape, Kyle Hill from Channel 12 showed up with a young female camera operator, and by the time they finished their interview, a reporter from the Associated Press came snooping around. Holcomb started to show his exasperation and became extra cranky when the AP guy started talking about the death penalty. Although he felt sure they had the right man, that James Ruppert was certainly the man who killed those 11 people in that little house on Minor Avenue, he wasn’t sure they had enough evidence to convict him. He spoke boldly, but in his heart, he was putting his faith in the crime lab and Glenn Ebbing’s investigation.
And it was well after 4 a.m. by the time the prosecuting attorney and his assistant were able to get in their cold cars and finally make their ways home. Holcomb had only the one Budweiser to drink all the long day and night, and was still wide awake and keyed up, so he went to the basement for a cold Hudepohl.
He knew it would be another long day on Monday, so he went to bed and tried to get some sleep, but the image of the 4-year-old boy on the floor in a puddle of blood and vomit lingered in his mind. In his mind, he saw his own 4 year old son in the same position, the same blank on his face, the way his body lay sideways on the floor, the tennis shoes that he had on. He rolled out of bed and knelt down beside it and said the Lord’s Prayer out loud, doubting whether he had the words right, it had been so long since he’d said it.
“God Bless my wife and my children,” he said, “and God Bless those poor little kids in that house.”
He climbed back into bed, hoping that his mind would be eased some by the prayer, but he just kept thinking about the 4 year old boy, so it was another half-hour before he started feeling drowsy and settled in to let sleep overtake him.
6. A Community Reels
On Monday morning, March 31, 1975, the world woke up to news about the “Easter Massacre” and the “general citizenry” of Hamilton tried to make sense of what had happened. Reporters and television crews Cincinnati and Dayton and points beyond swarmed Hamilton, trying to get a story from anyone who ever had contact with the Ruppert family.
Cincinnati Post reporter Dick Perry spied two Fairfield High School girls tearfully approach the Hamilton Police officer sitting in his car guarding the Ruppert house on Minor Avenue.
“Did they suffer in there?” one girl asked.
“No,” the officer said gently. “They must have gone fast.”
The girls walked on, crying, Perry reported.
In addition to the pure emotional horror the event generated in the community, it was also a mystery that presented a number of baffling questions. The biggest, of course, was “Why? What could drive a man to kill 11 members of his own family?” The early returns regarding the personality of James Ruppert would not prove very satisfying as he never revealed to anyone, ever, neither the regulars who had dinner every night at Frisch’s nor the people who frequented the 19th Hole and would see him there sipping on Wiedemanns and smoking his pipe every night of the week, anything about the conspiracy and persecution he would reveal to his psychiatrists in the coming weeks.
“This kind of murder usually has as its motive something like sex, greed or jealousy,” said Hamilton Chief of Police George McNally the next morning. “We can find none of those things here. Some of the aspects of the case just leave us puzzled.”
Apart from the motive, however, several newspaper articles in the week that followed posed the same questions: “Why didn’t anyone hear the shots?” and “Why didn’t anyone in the family try to run away?”
Both the Hamilton police and reporters from the Hamilton Journal-News polled neighbors and found that few were actually home at the time. Those that were, however, didn’t hear a thing, not even Roy Zimmers, the retiree who spent his days looking out at the street from his favorite chair. The weather was windy and cold, so all of the homes would have been locked up tight, but still…
“The strange thing that I can't understand,” said Georgia Calia, 649 Minor Ave., “is that the street is so quiet you can hear a car door closed on the street. I don't know why no one heard any shots or anything that night.”
Calia was not home between 215 and 8:45 p.m. Sunday but her mother was and said she did not hear anything.
The Journal-News quoted an anonymous neighbor who had an interesting theory: “We have figured out the time it probably happened. We were watching the Ten Commandments on television, (so) it must've happened at the time the Angel of Death was striking the firstborn of all the people and the women were wailing and weeping for their dead children. It seems to us it could have happened at just that time. We were wondering if they were watching, too.”
Interesting theory, and an interesting insight into the Hamilton psyche, but it would have been impossible for the Ruppert family to have watched “The Ten Commandments,” which didn’t air until 8:30 p.m., as time of death would later be placed at around 6 p.m.
Others speculated that Ruppert timed his shooting spree to coincide with the chiming of the hour from the bells at St. Anne’s Catholic Church just a block away, the tower visible from the Ruppert’s yard, so that the ringing would drown out the gunfire.
Calia said she has been in the Ruppert home on a dozen times, and gave the newspapers an accurate description of its simple shotgun house floor plan: Living room in front and dining room/kitchen in the back. One could see the front door from the back door and vice-versa.
“If you wanted to escape from something it should have been the easiest thing in the world,” she said. “Even the locks aren’t too good. It should have been simple for them to get out.”
The Ruppert brothers’ cousin Don Botkins pointed out that “Jim is just a little guy,” standing about 5-foot, 5-inches and weighing about 135, “and Junior had two big boys that could surely overpower him. There were a lot of adult-sized people in that house.”
Official sources offered no firm explanation, either, but by and large expressed their own puzzlement.
“To kill 11 people takes time,” County Prosecutor John Holcomb told the Cincinnati Post. “There is a possibility that the victims were picked off one by one as they entered the house. It is a strange situation.”
“We have no idea whatsoever what caused the killings,” said Hamilton’s Assistant Police Chief Gerald Rost. “I wish we did…. It doesn’t ring true. You’d think someone would have attempted to make a break.”
To a different reporter, however, perhaps after he’d had some time to think about, Rost said, “Those people were all related and whether the children or the parents were shot first, there would be a natural tendency for the others to try and protect them. This was a large family, and apparently a well-disciplined family and they probably would have stuck together. There was apparently no attempt to escape. The children all attended parochial schools, and they are generally more disciplined.”
Chief George McNally, a little less kindly, said “They were probably just like sheep.”
United Press International quoted County Coroner “Doc” Garrett J. Boone, who seemed to thrive in the public spotlight and became sought after for his witty quotes, describing a scene of “deliberate execution” done in “a leisurely fashion,” by a gunman sitting on a davenport in the doorway between the two rooms.
“The man was sitting there with three guns with him,” Boone was quoted as saying, “with complete control over the line of fire… They probably felt he would never go through with shooting them.”
He would back off of that speculation when it got him in some hot water with his colleagues.
“He may have been standing up,” he quipped later. “I don’t know. It’s very hazardous for reporters to ask leading questions. I think the reporter maybe misunderstood his own question.”
He said the house is very narrow and you can see both exits from almost anywhere. “If anybody was going to escape they’d have to jump out of a second floor window.
“I’ve talked to so many reporters from towns I never thought about,” Doc Boone said. “They all want to know how someone can kill 11 people and none of them got away and I tell them to send out 11 reporters and I’ll show them.”
Police Chief George McNally, known to be enigmatic and evasive when he talked to the press, being more inclined to direct a reporter to a different source of information rather than have his name attached to a comment, came up blank and offered a conventional police-speak answer rather than speculation: “We are working on the facts we've already gathered and we are continuing our investigation in several additional areas.”
He did say that the Easter Sunday slayings doubled the murder rate for Hamilton, which had been averaging about five homicides a year. There were two in 1974 and six in 1973.
The more news that came out about James Ruppert, the more puzzling it seemed. What monster lurked inside that quiet, bookish, tidy, short little man?
Mary Lou Huentelman, said that in the 20 years she’d lived at 628 Minor, she’d never seen Jimmy with a friend.
Calia said he was “quiet but friendly” and “an introvert” on the occasions that she spoke with him, but she didn’t know him well because he kept late hours. She told the reporter it was because he had a night job. The possibility that Billie told people Jimmy worked nights was story she told the neighbors to cover her son’s real habit of spending his nights in a bar could one of the few outward signs of strife between James and his mother, whatever was going on inside his head, at least to the people who lived around them.
While there were hints that Billie could be a little “stand-offish,” that didn’t mean she was unfriendly or unhelpful.
“Mrs. Ruppert was a very nice, kind person,” Calia said. “She was quiet and minded her own business, but she would always speak or stop and talk to you. And she was devoted to her sons and her grandchildren. She would always hire the children to do her yard work.”
Billie was “always ready to help somebody,” said Faye Pieper, another neighbor.
Tom Farrell, owner of the 19th Hole Cocktail Bar, might have seen more of Ruppert in the months leading up to the murders as anyone, but even he was baffled.
“I wish to God I could shed some light on it to help out,” Farrell told the newspaper. “You get all the scuttlebutt on everyone when you're running a bar, but I don't have a thing on Jim.”
While there was a palpable pall around the Minor Avenue neighborhood near the small shingle-sided home, a collective horror laced with confusion and fear, not quite two miles south on Walter Avenue in the bedroom community of Fairfield, where Leonard and Alma Ruppert had lived with their eight children, the neighborhood was thoroughly in mourning.
“It was very quiet up and down Walter Avenue this morning, Neighbors of the Leonard Rupert family talked quietly, their eyes red from crying,” wrote Ercel Eaton, a popular columnist for the Journal-News, an afternoon newspaper. Eaton lived just a few blocks away and was there bright and early Monday morning, early enough to catch the milkman on his rounds to allow him to express his horror.
“I went to school with both those boys (Leonard and James Ruppert) at Hamilton Catholic,” said John Kreke, who delivered milk for Meyer Dairy. “I remember James as a very quiet person.”
Eaton also quoted Jim Irwin, a local attorney who would later figure prominently in the second trial. But on the morning after Easter, Irwin was just the Rupperts’ close neighbor.
“That was the best looking, smartest bunch of kids I've ever seen,” Irwin said. “The two oldest boys Lenny and Michael, came up your everyday and I took them to school at Badin”
“That Mike,” said his wife Pat, “was a tremendous kid. He was involved with life. An artist. A dreamer. And he was so creative.”
Even those who were well-acquainted with James Ruppert for a long time, didn’t really know him, as it would turn out. Arthur H. Bauer, who had known Ruppert since he was 22 and was the only person on his visitors list at the county jail not a relative, was the first and only person who stepped forward to say he was Ruppert’s friend, even though they’d fallen out of touch. When he heard that Ruppert spent his nights in a bar, Bauer said he didn’t know Ruppert liked beer.
When they first met in 1956, Bauer had just come to the United States from Holland and was living at 3001 Pleasant Ave., just around the corner from 635 Minor, across Pleasant Avenue from St. Anne’s Church. Bauer married in 1958, but he, his wife and Ruppert we're together often. Ruppert would visit them nearly every night for several years,
“Jim and I became very close friends,” Bauer said in one of his several newspaper interviews. “He was going to the University of Cincinnati at night and working during the day.
“We always asked him to come along with us. If we went swimming, we took him along. If we went elsewhere, he came, too,” said Bauer.
“He was an intelligent individual,” Bauer described Rupert. “He was sensitive, and moody, at times... Like anybody else, I guess. He like his work, in fact, he was proud of his work.
“Jim was quiet,” Bauer said. “He never got mad. That's what disturbs me.”
Bauer, just like those who only knew him from the restaurant or bar, said Rupert seldom talked about himself or his family.
“He’d tell us about the girls he dated,” Bauer recalled. “He was engaged once to a girl in Dayton, but that didn’t work out. He was in the dumps about that for a while.”
Asked if Ruppert got along with his brother, Bauer fell silent, then measured his words and said, “I know they like to compete with each other. I don't know whether they got along or not.”
He said Jim never spoke too much about his brother, and Bauer did not know Pinky or Alma very well, but recalled meeting them once at the Minor Avenue house. He did have several conversations with Billie, however. When Ruppert started doing contract work and would leave town for long stretches, Bauer would call Ruppert's mother and ask if Jim was back yet from wherever.
“She was always concerned about Jim,” he said. “He used to have an apartment on North 6th Street, but she always had his room ready at home whenever he wanted it... Upstairs it was always there.”
Ruppert would drop by Bauer’s house from time to time, but as the years passed, the visits trailed off.
“The last time I saw him was sometime last year when he was coming out of the library on N. Third Street,” Bauer said. “He spent a lot of time at the library. He did a lot of reading.
“He's not violent at all. I can't believe he did it. I sure would like to talk to him,” he said the day after the murders, not realizing that he would soon get a chance.”
But even though Ruppert had stopped visiting Bauer, and had repeatedly promised to stop by and didn't, Bauer went to see him Tuesday at the county jail.
“He knew me,” Bauer said later. “It seemed like he wanted to talk,” but Bauer had been warned by police not to discuss depending murder case with his friend.
“He asked if I took off work to see him and I said I did...That's what a friend is for, if you need him.
“I told him to write me... I had to repeat 5-1-3 (the street number) three times before he could remember it. I think he was still in a state of shock... Half in a daze. He should remember where we live. He came here everyday for a long time.”
In their thirst for stories and their quest for answers, the newspapers tried to track down anyone who knew him or could shed some light on the mysterious personality of James Urban Ruppert, but he was such a low-key individual that few people seemed to take much notice of him and his job as a mechanical draftsman made him virtually itinerant. Hired by design firms and farmed out for specific projects, he worked 20 jobs between 1964 and 1974. He left a paper trail, informative as a job resume, but no one he worked for or with had any stories to share.
His last job, in 1974, he was hired by Production Design Services of Dayton and contracted out to different firms for short term assignments. The bookkeeper there that paid Ruppert wages remember him saying we were aware he existed. He called in once a week and reported his time, but that was all they knew.
Ruppert’s last assignment was a five-month job at Vindale Corp., also in Dayton, but company Paul Riedel didn’t remember him.
But Paul Riedel president of the Vindale, didn’t remember him.
“They do work for us of a temporary nature, he said. “They come and go.”
E.G. Schleintz, owner of Production Design Services, said Ruppert was a model employee and only left because the contract with Vindale ran out.
Ruppert left a rare trace when Belcan, a Cincinnati design firm, send him to work for Teledyne, in Toledo, from October 1972 to May, 1973, and instead of having his checks from Belcan sent to a post office box, as was his custom, he had them sent to a rooming house where he stayed.
Nell Taylor, the woman who ran the rooming house, remembered that he stayed in one of her three single bedrooms, but never spoke to him or saw him except when he was paying his rent. Indeed, her only real memory of his time there was that he wrecked his Volkswagen while he was living there, and that he got another one.
“He mostly just came and paid his rent,” she said.
In Hamilton Catholic High School, his homeroom teacher was Brother Frank Purko, but Purko didn't recognize his picture in Monday's papers. And another homeroom teacher didn't even remember his name.
And as an adult, James Ruppert fell out of contact with his extended family, which included eight aunts and uncles and a ton of cousins on his mother’s side.
The families used to visit, said James’ uncle Joseph Skinner of Ada, Ohio. He remembered Ruppert as a sickly boy, brought up by his widowed mother, and knew only that he had grown up to do a job in which “he was supposed to draw up dies.”
He haven't seen Jim in five or six years, he said, although Jim's brother Leonard, had kept in touch with the aunts and uncles.
“Pinky generally came to reunion and funerals, and sometimes in between,” he said.
But Jimmy didn't.
“I just can’t understand what could have happened,” said Rufus “Bud” Skinner, another of Billie’s brothers.
The Thursday after the murders, 66 men and boys gathered in chill sunshine at 5:30 p.m. on the front steps the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Fairfield, waiting silently while a procession of 11 hearses--all that were available in both cities of Hamilton and Fairfield--slowly drove up to the church. Each hearse carried a dark green metal casket containing the body of a Ruppert family member.
In an eerie echo of the night of the murders, the first casket to arrive contained the body of 4-year-old John. Six boys grabbed the silver handles and carried the casket to a wheeled bier waiting inside. Just inside the door, they were greeted by a boy carrying a candle, another youth with a cross and two priests.
As he crossed himself and splashed the casket with holy water, Father John Roetelle intoned, “I bless the body of John Ruppert with the holy water that recalls his baptism, of which Saint Paul writes, ‘All of us who were baptized into Christ were baptized into his death. By baptism into his death we were buried together with him, so just as Christ was raised from the dead with the glory of the Father, we too might live a new life. For if we have been united with him by likeness to his death, so shall we be united with him on the day of his resurrection by likeness to his resurrection.”
A boy dressed in a white surplice pulled a white pall over the moss green casket while the priest said, “On the day of his baptism, John put on Christ. On the day of Christ’s coming, may he be bathed in glory.”
Two men wheeled the casket up the aisle of the flower bedecked church and placed it to the far left of the altar rail. Then followed John’s seven brothers and sisters, and the priest intoned with each, “I bless the body of Ann Ruppert… I bless the body of Teresa Ruppert… I bless the body of David Ruppert… I bless the body of Thomas Ruppert… I bless the body of Michael Ruppert… I bless the body of Carol Ruppert… I bless the body of Leonard Ruppert…”
The caskets of the children filled two rows of four across the front of the sanctuary, separated by the communion rail.
“I bless the body of Alma Ruppert… I bless the body of Leonard Ruppert… I bless the body of Charity Ruppert…”
The caskets of the three adults were placed in the aisle. There was no more room up front.
A woman dressed in gray moved from casket to casket, placing a photograph on the top of each one. When she had finished. The priests began the celebration of the word for the dead.
“Blessed are you, O Lord our God, King of the universe, clothed with majesty and glory, wrapped in a robe of light,” he began, then read from Lamentations, from Revelation and from the Book of John.
Then the silent crowd of relatives and friends stood while he gave the general intercession for the dead, ending with the words said all together by all in the church: “Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let they perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace. Amen. May their souls and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.
Then they sang a hymn, “To You, O Lord, I lift up my soul. In You, O Lord, I place all my trust. Look down on me. Have mercy. O Lord, forgive all my sins, behold all my grief…”
Some people walked through the front doors of the church for the visitation and paused, stunned at the surreal sight of 11 pall-draped coffins, unsure how to proceed. An usher had to approach them and quietly reassure them it was alright to walk up the aisle and past the 11 caskets.
“It seemed not so much the enormity of the crime as the enormity of death that caused many to pause at the entrance before pressing tentatively to the altar,” said one newspaper account.
Estimates ranged from 600 to 800 the number of people who stayed after the visitation to attend the Mass of Christian Burial at 8 p.m., officiated by seven Roman Catholic priests.
There were at least half as many teenagers as adults, many of them wearing green varsity jackets of Badin High School, where Leonard III and Michael Ruppert attended.
Ed Gutfreund, a Cincinnati guitarist specializing in liturgical music, and Lady Grace, a musical group composed of Teresa Edell and Lou Anderson, Cincinnati, accompanied the choir and congregation in singing during the service.
When Lady Grace a folk singing group of two women, and a man finished singing at the rear of the church it fell quiet and glass shutters high above the congregation clicked noisily until an usher shut them.
In extending sympathy to the family and friends of the Ruppert and Allgeier families, Fr. Roetelle said “I've never been involved in a funeral... where the parish and even the town seems to sense the lost as a family.”
Fr. Roetelle recalled the lighting of the paschal candle during the Easter Vigil service held last Saturday evening. The Rupperts had attended that service as a family just 24 hours before their bodies were found. During that service the candle was lighted by the priest as a symbol of Christ. As he proceeded into the darkened church, the priest intoned “Christ is our light.”
Fr. Roetelle said, “In our day we don't have to look for the darkness--any more than Moses in his day or our Savior in his. It’s all around us.
“Things happen to disturb and upset, events occur that are disgusting and revolting; some happened to shock and terrifying, some to depressed and demoralize us.
“The darkness is all around us, but in the darkness we, too, have to find the light that is Christ.”
That light, said Fr. Roetelle, represents mankind's salvation with Christ “giving to men the tools to dispel the darkness…”
Some would say that Fr. Roetelle’s sweet homily and the folk singing kept the service from being too trying emotionally, with just the occasional sniffle or choked sob.
At the conclusion of the Mass, most walked slowly out of the church as Lady Grace the Sacred Heart choir sang: “I am the resurrection and the life; He who believes in me will never die.”
Remaining seated in the reserved section of the church long after the choir had gone were members of the victim's family.
Scattered throughout the church in quiet contemplation were other small clusters of people.
When the mass was over and the people solely filed out, groups of teenage girls huddled in the lobby by the entrance. The rough on their cheeks showed faint lines, and her eyelids were red.
“Did you cry?” asked one of the girls as she grabbed her friends hands and held them
“Yes, did you?” Her friends said. “I cried through the whole thing.”
They giggled anxiously as they began crying again.
Inside the church, many remained after the Mass some still kneeling, some holding rosary beads.
Following a brief prayer service at 10 a.m. on Friday, the seemingly unending line of caskets was slowly and solemnly carried from Sacred Heart Church of Jesus Christ into 11 waiting hearses en route to the Arlington Cemetery in the nearby town of Mt. Healthy.
Dan Fuerst, church music director, sang a hymn as the coffins were removed.
Perhaps because of the distance to the cemetery, perhaps because of the bone-chilling wind that swept through that part of the world that morning, but only about 100 people made the trek to Arlington, and the 11 bodies were put to rest quietly, and the city of Hamilton waited for answers as to why Ruppert killed his family, why no one heard the shots and why no one was able to escape the massacre.
None of the answers would ever seem totally satisfactory.
7. Too Many Reporters, Too many Shrinks
Prosecutor John Holcomb did not want to have to try this case outside of Butler County, so he always tried to be as cooperative and as courteous with the press as he possibly could without violating the rules of evidence.
But they were a goddamned thorn in his side. He would have gotten more than an hour’s sleep that first night if it hadn’t been for the reporters and television news crews.
When the alarm went off at 7 a.m. Monday morning, Holcomb began to steel himself for a trying day, and it started before he could even get in a shave and a shower.
“The phone started ringing and the first two were jerks from the Dayton papers, the Dayton Journal Herald and the Dayton Daily News,” Holcomb said in his dictated journal. “I know the newsmen have a job to do, but Dayton newsmen are jerks. They are creeps. They badger you. They ask you phony questions. They reverse the questions. They try to get you to, they draw inferences from things you don’t even say. They’re cheap-shot artists and besides that, they are the ones that always call at seven o’clock in the morning.”
Not that there was a lot to report yet anyway. Besides having found a body and arresting the only other person in the house that day who admitted to owning the guns that obviously killed 11 people, Holcomb didn’t have a lot to do yet until the evidence started coming in.
Detectives from the Hamilton Police Department and the Ohio Bureau of Crime Investigation were going through the house on Minor Avenue while others fanned the streets to get statements from anyone and everyone who knew James Urban Ruppert. The autopsies, much to Holcomb’s chagrin, wouldn’t be ready for several more days.
The press was already working against him. As he was making his way to the office, Chief of Police George McNally was already filling in reports on what was needed to be done, mentioning the paraffin tests on Ruppert’s hands, ballistics tests and of course the eagerly-awaited autopsies which would contain all the gory details of the massacre.
With so much evidence still being out, one reporter suggested, doesn’t that make an arrest seem hasty?
“The county prosecutor ordered us to arrest the man,” the chief snapped. “If you go over to the police station I think he'll have the statement for you.”
Indeed, as Holcomb predicted, until he left the office after 6 p.m., he had spent the entire day talking to reporters “from all over hell,” including the Associated Press in Washington and the New York Times, and the enormity of what had happened in this little river city began to sink in. McNally, not to be one-upped, reported interviews by newspapers in New Zealand and France.
The only official motion on the case took place early Monday morning at a brief arraignment in Hamilton Municipal Court, Ruppert still wearing his drab prison clothes. Acting Judge John Moser set bond at $200,000 and scheduled a preliminary hearing for Friday.
On Monday afternoon, Dr. Donald W. Ormiston, a clinical psychologist from Oxford, was the first of nine psychiatrists to examine the defendant.
“He saw himself as a loner,” Ormiston would tell the court. “He didn’t like this about himself. He disliked his poor ability to communicate to other people. He was embarrassed and felt guilty about his sexual impotence.”
Ruppert told Ormiston that he contemplated suicide twice in his life, once when he was 16 and tried to hang himself with a bed sheet and again right after the murders of his family.
“He felt that his future was hopeless, that life wasn’t worth living, that he might as well be dead,” Ormiston said. “He wished he had been born of different parents, that he had been sort of cursed in the beginning by parents who never wanted him and he very much longed for a successful career which he hand not been able to bring about. He had been unemployed for several months just before the shooting. He blamed this for not being able to have sexual relationship with a woman. He said that he tried but that he could not obtain an erection.”
Ormiston gave Ruppert a battery of personality tests, beginning with a life history questionnaire.
Responding to a question about previous psychiatric treatment, Ruppert began to weep so hard after writing the word “masturbation” that he wasn’t able to go on, had to stop and collect himself.
After that, “He tried to turn his back to me so I couldn’t see what he was writing down,” the doctor reported. “It showed unusual guardedness... irrational guardedness since I was going to see it later anyway.
“He also became upset when he felt that I was implying that he was mentally ill, because of the questions I was asking him,” Ormiston said. “He also acted suspicious toward me, thought I had been questioning his friends about his asthma and from similar sources I gained information about his mother acting seductive toward him. Both of these things I gained entirely from him.”
Ormiston would testify to his opinion that Ruppert’s motive for shooting the children were incomprehensible, especially the youngest child, John, whom Ruppert said he loved very much, but perhaps Ruppert resented them as symbols of his brother’s success in life, “but I think it was more an overflow of rage that he was just out of control with such an intense emotional state that he was unable to stop himself. He just kept shooting.”
The next day, Ruppert received three visitors, the first his aunt Ruby Lee of Wapakoneta, Billie’s sister.
“This thing has knocked us out,” she said. “We can’t see any reason for it. (James and Junior) got along fine. There was no bad feeling between them.”
She said she asked him what happened, then “he broke down and cried like a little baby and then said ‘I don't know’.
“I believe him,” she said.
He then saw his cousin, Don Botkins of Delphos, Ohio, who said he couldn’t believe his ears on Monday when he heard the words “Hamilton,” “Ruppert” and “murder” in a radio news report. He came to visit Cousin Jim “to let him know the family isn’t down on him,” he said. “We don’t have money, but we’ll help all we can.”
He said his cousin was glad to see him, but he was emotional.
“He was at the point of crying,” Botkins told the press. “He had tears in his eyes the whole time we talked.”
Ruppert told him he had been warned by his lawyers not to talk about the case to anyone, “but he caught himself a couple of times while we were talking.”
The third visitor was his old psychiatrist, Dr. Glenn Weaver, who said that his former patient looked like “a beaten up little man” who burst into uncontrollable tears when he saw the doctor.
“He told me he had had increasing reverses dating back to about 1965,” Weaver later testified, “that he had continued finding himself in difficult situations, arousing the anger of others. He trusted no one. He felt that the prisoners, the ones in jail, the custodians, the ones in charge of the jail, would do harm to him. He wasn’t aware of how they would do harm to him. He wasn’t sure that he trusted me. He trusted no one.
Weaver believed that Ruppert’s setbacks might actually have saved his life.
“If he had continued with his masochistic trends he might well have suicided,” he said. “But in the certain instances the person will convert their feelings of depression or masochism from self-destruction to becoming a threat toward others.”
By Tuesday, reports started trickling Holcomb’s way. BCI reported 26 fired cartridge casings identified to one of the pistols in the house, the nine-shot Astra, .22, which meant the gun had been loaded three times. They also matched two fingerprints on the gun to Ruppert.
With that information in hand, Holcomb decided that he would bypass the preliminary hearing scheduled Friday in Municipal Court and call an early session of the Grand Jury. A normal session was already set for the following Monday, but it had 60 cases on the docket, and Holcomb knew that the Ruppert case might take most of a day to present.
“The presentation on this matter will take a good deal of time and I don’t want to disrupt the regular docket Monday,” he told the press, but only after they’d asked. Reporters from the Post would complain that Holcomb never made any announcements about the case.
“When word spread that the prosecutor had plans such a special session, reporters begin cornering him one by one to ask the question,” Ken Bunting wrote a week later in an article that rankled Holcomb on a number of levels. “He’d say ‘Yes there will be a special session,’ and ‘no comment’ to anything else they'd ask. Reporters who never got around to asking the prosecutor were simply not told at all.”
Bunting makes a good point. If Holcomb had set aside time each day for a press briefing, it might have saved him some headaches and aggravation from being hounded by the press all day long, day after day. But he may have preferred it his way. His journal entries carp constantly about dealing with the media, but there also seems to be some enjoyment on the prosecutor’s part for the cat-and-mouse game that he plays with reporters. Dick Perry of the afternoon Cincinnati Post seems to be a favored opponent.
However, there was also a matter of law compelling Holcomb to play his cards close. He wanted Ruppert to plead not guilty by reason of insanity.
“Holbrock and Bressler are quite competent attorneys (and they) are going to go on a deep sea fishing expedition and find out from my witnesses what all of my evidence is,” he reasoned. “I don’t want that because if they can see the evidence I have and if they can see holes in it, they might take this man strictly on a not guilty plea and take a chance on winning the whole case and walking him out. What I want them to do is think I have a strong case and thereby force them to go with a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity… an admission that you committed the act, but you are not responsible because you are insane.”
To forego the preliminary hearing and directly to the Grand Jury was part of that strategy. A hearing would be a public event, “a circus,” in Holcomb’s vernacular, and he would have to present evidence. But if he took it to the Grand Jury himself, well, they meet in secret, even the defense attorneys would not be present, and he could continue to sandbag his evidence as much as the law would allow. Police Chief McNally had already unwittingly played into Holcomb’s strategy by telling reporters that he wasn’t limiting the investigation to James Ruppert, but was exploring other avenues and accommodating a reporter’s suggestion that the arrest had been made hastily.
First thing Wednesday morning, Holcomb went to the police station and called a meeting of all the detectives working on the case to lay out his strategy for forcing an insanity plea.
“In my view, since the case was starting to shape up pretty good against Ruppert, his only out could be that of not guilty by reason of insanity,” he told the detectives. “Since the law requires the defendant to carry the burden of proof on that issue, I don’t have to prove that he’s sane. He has to prove that he is insane.
“I made up my mind that with 11 people going into the ground in this case, I’m gonna hit him as hard as I can and if he’s insane he’s gonna have to prove every damned inch of it,” he went on. “I think the best thing to do is to interview all the neighbors, all of his former schoolmates, all of his former employers, his co-workers, friends and acquaintances, and get statement from them hopefully to show that he is the most normal guy in town prior to Easter--that he never heard voices, never acted abnormal, that he went to work on time, made money in the stock market, he was an avid reader--things that would show he was normal.
“We’re not being cagey about it. If somebody says that he had some kind of a problem or that he was a weirdo or something like that, write that down, too. That’s all part of it.
“It’s my theory right now that when he gets to trial over there his lawyers and his psychiatrists are gonna have him nuttier than a fruitcake. And it’s gonna be up to me to show that he was sane.”
The other side of the coin, however, was finding a motive. If Ruppert wasn’t insane, then why in the world did he kill his family?
Holcomb knew that was a big hurdle to overcome.
“Everyone says, ‘A guy would have to be crazy to kill 11 people like that in his own family,” the prosecutor told the detectives. “My secretaries say it and I cuss them out.
“But you see, I can’t even concede that,” he said. “And I have to keep looking for some motive and whatever his reason was I have to fight this thing and try to show that he was sane.”
Then he went upstairs to Chief McNally’s office to see if that suited him. It did.
After spending the rest of Wednesday lining up witnesses for the Grand Jury--all police officials who had been at the scene--Holcomb went to the Fraternal Order of Police’s monthly dinner meeting. He was their legal advisor, but he could also enjoy a “passable” meatloaf supper, relax and have a few beers with his police friends.
He knows one other thing is going to happen before he leaves: Dick Perry from the Cincinnati Post will call him there.
“He waits until eight o’clock,” Holcomb said. “He knows I’ve had a couple of beers and I’ve got my belly full of a good supper and that maybe I’m gonna let a little bit more slip than I would otherwise.”
This night was certainly no exception.
“We end up having an argument about what I can tell him and what I can’t tell him,” Holcomb said, conceding that it was “an argument between friends.”
By 11 a.m. Thursday, when the reporters for the afternoon papers had to file their stories, six of the seven witnesses Holcomb called had already testified and the seventh, an agent from BCI, was in the room, which happened to be the courtroom of Common Pleas Court Judge Fred Cramer, who expected to be the judge on the Ruppert case.
Chief George McNally told reporters that he was still looking for a motive by interviewing “previous employers and associates” of James Ruppert.
“The investigations is highly routinized at this point,” McNally said. “It requires a lot of hours and leg work to obtain as many facts as possible for submission to the prosecutor prior to the actual trial. We're still waiting for the final reports from the 11 autopsies and the final laboratory report from the Bureau of Criminal Investigation.”
While his courtroom was in use, Judge Cramer pulled Doc Boone aside and criticized him for making statements to the press.
“Now, don’t get mad, Doc, but there is going to be a change of venue,” Cramer cautioned. “You mark what I say. And it’s all your doing.”
“I don’t see that I have done anything wrong,” Boone said.
But after testifying, Boone was the only one who spoke to the reporters gathered outside the courtroom, but they didn’t get much out of him.
“I can’t talk to you unless you’re Truman Capote,” he quipped. Asked what was discussed, Boone said, “The weather.”
Because of the widespread publicity the murders and investigation has been getting, Boone said that the county has decided to postpone release of autopsy reports on the 11 victims, maybe until after the trial.
“There are rules of evidence that make it inappropriate for you all to print all this information,” he said. “It used to be different.”
Boone, who had told reporters on Tuesday that he would release the autopsies before the end of the week, tried to assuage them now by telling them a death certificate showing cause of death, approximate time of death and confirming the existence of an autopsy report would be filed for each of the victims at the Butler County Courthouse shortly after the Grand Jury session ended.
“You can all get certified copies at the courthouse for $1 each,” he said.
Reporters challenged Holcomb when he confirmed that they were going to withhold the autopsy reports, claiming that coroner reports are public information.
“Sometimes there is a conflict of interest between him and getting a fair trial and the freedom of the press,” Holcomb said.
“Should the officials go through with their plan cover up of the autopsies, it may be months before the number of times each person was shot, the angle from which they were shot and the caliber of weapon used become known,” the Post complained. All they knew at this point was that police said all of the victims were shot more than once and all except one had been shot in the head.
McNally stopped short of coming out against withholding the autopsy reports from the public, but seemed to be attempting some conciliation: “It would be foolish to try and cover up certain facts in this case. It would be foolish to try and hide, for example, that 11 people were killed. People are going to write about it and people are going to read about it. I'm not one who believes that jury can't be found to try a man just because they write about him in the newspaper.”
At noon, the Grand Jury voted on an Indictment charging James Urban Ruppert with 11 counts of aggravated murder with a specification as to each count that it was a purposeful killing involving the death of two or more persons as a result of a common course of conduct by the defendant. That specification made it a capital case, as would killing a police officer or torturing and killing someone. Ruppert could go to the electric chair. Without announcing it to the press, Holcomb went back to his office and began drafting the indictment. He wanted to take his name, make sure that it was letter-perfect to avoid any problems with appeals down the road, but at 2 p.m., a “drove of reporters,” mostly print with one local radio guy, descended on his office asking what the delay was.
“There is no delay,” Holcomb told them. “I am utilizing my time in a legitimate manner.”
Johnny Clark, a reporter from the Cincinnati Enquirer, a morning newspaper, said he couldn’t miss his deadline and he was going to make some speculations about what the indictment was going to be.
“That’s fine,” Holcomb said. “You make all the speculations you want but I’m not gonna tell you anything.”
Holcomb’s account of the exchange said it was a friendly one, but he knew that Clark was trying to draw him out, and he knew that they both knew that given the circumstances, of Holcomb by-passing the regular routine because he had BCI evidence, “anybody with any sense” could guess that it would be an indictment of aggravated murder with specifications. So speculate away, he said confidently.
He told them they would have to wait until morning, and went back to work. Before his day was over, however, TV crews came in the office with lights blazing.
“I have to go through the whole thing again,” Holcomb complained to his Dictaphone. “It’s getting to the point where I don’t want to talk to any member of the press and I don’t want to be on TV, don’t want anybody taking my picture. I just want to be left alone so I can do my damn job without being bothered with a bunch of questions which quite frankly I think are stupid and don’t amount to anything anyway.
“And pretty soon, you see, you get to the point where you refuse to cooperate with the press at all,” he said. “Pretty soon you tell them no comment to everything because if you tell one of them something and that comes out in the media then pretty soon the next one comes in and says well you told them such and such now what about this and that. They get in a contest with each other. Each one trying to outdo each other and I’m the guy that they’re doing it to.
“And then pretty soon if I don’t watch myself I’m gonna be telling them about my case, about the evidence, and I’m gonna end up trying this thing up in Cleveland or Ashtabula or something like that instead of here in Hamilton, Ohio.
“It might be past that point already I don’t know,” he said.
Defense attorney Hugh Holbrock visited with his client at 7:30 p.m. Thursday night, the time that the Funeral Mass was being held for his victims.
“At a moment like this,” Holbrock said, “I feel like I should be with my client. He's a very religious person. Anything I can do at this moment is important.”
Holbrook stayed with Rupert until 8:45 p.m. He said he told Rupert the funeral service was in progress... Rupert answered that he was aware of the funeral schedule.
Just a little before 11 p.m. that night, Detective Don Gabbard, whom Holcomb called “Red Dog” and who a decade later would begin his first of four terms as Butler County Sheriff, brought in a statement that thrilled Holcomb to the marrow. It was from Dean Cavett, who ran a coin and gun shop, who would testify that Ruppert had asked him about a silencer just a few months earlier.
“It keeps getting better and better,” Holcomb said.
Holcomb filed the indictment at 9 a.m. Friday morning, as promised.
Ruppert was served with the indictment in his cell the Butler County jail at 10:05 a.m.
A deputy read all 11 counts of the indictment to him one-by-one. When he got to the victim's name Leonard Ruppert III, Ruppert reportedly interrupted him.
“That's not his name,” he said.
“Then what is his name?” the deputy said.
“I can't remember his full name,” Ruppert replied, and the deputy continued.
Coincidentally, the reading of the 11 counts of aggravated murder to Ruppert in his cell coincided with the departure time of the motorcade carrying the 11 victims to the mass burial in Mount Healthy.
That afternoon, police re-opened the house, which had been sealed since they finished their inspection Monday, for another four-hour search, after which they removed several additional items from the scene, including a shirt that looked like it had blood stains on it.
Also that afternoon, Ruppert underwent a second interview, this time by one of the doctors hired by Holbrock and Bressler, Dr. Phillip Mechanick, a psychiatrist and a professor of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania. Except for reading a brief article in the New York Times, Dr. Mechanick knew nothing about Ruppert’s crime and his personal history when he arrived in Hamilton.
He told Ruppert that when they first sat together.
“Do you want me to tell you why I am here?” Ruppert asked matter-of-factly. “I am here for aggravated murder, first degree, on 12 counts, which means my mother and brother and sister-in-law and eight children.”
Although he said it calmly (and got the number of indictments wrong), he burst into tears and began sobbing and, as with Dr. Ormiston, had a good deal of trouble regaining his composure.
“I did it,” he said through his tears.
“I did it.”
Worried that Ruppert wouldn’t be able to proceed with the interview, Mechanick tried to calm him down.
“Tell me what happened,” he said calmly. “I want to understand.”
Ruppert told him about the murders, about how Pinky sabotaged his VW. He continued to struggle with his emotions, however, and remained distraught.
Mechanick again sense that they would not be able to continue, given the gravity of Ruppert’s state of mind.
“Whatever you are feeling inside yourself must be unbearable,” Mechanick said.
Ruppert began sobbing again, “It’s hopeless. Nothing is left.”
Either he was a “consummate actor”, Mechanick would testify, or else Ruppert’s thoughts, no matter how bizarre or disjointed they sounded, were very meaningful to Ruppert and having tremendous emotional impact on him.
“Are you thinking about suicide?” Mechanick asked.
“I’ve got a towel up there,” Ruppert said. “You can rip it in strips and there is a ledge at the top of the bars. I can get a three-foot drop before it drops,”
“Why are you telling me this?” Mechanick asked. “You know I will take steps to prevent that from happening.”
“I’ll just find another way,” Ruppert said. “Maybe I won’t tell you about it.”
Throughout the four-hour interview, Ruppert remained intermittently distraught, depressed, agitated, tearful, then would become ice cold and unemotional as he talked about the plot against him with his mother and brother and the FBI, “as if he were reciting something out of the newspaper. Very detached, very cold, very unemotional.
Holcomb went home that night with a pizza and dozed off while he and his oldest son John watched television. At 1 a.m. “on the button,” Hugh Holbrook called, saying that he was at the Holiday Inn in Fairfield with Dr. Phillip Mechanick,
Holbrook told him the call was urgent because Ruppert is paranoid, extremely depressed, and feels an urgent need to commit suicide, so he wanted Holcomb to order a 24-hour suicide watch.
Holcomb agreed to make the call, but asked to speak to Dr. Mechanick to ask how the event occurred. Mechanick filled him in on his interview with Ruppert and laid out the feelings of paranoia and how his brother asking about the Volkswagen sent Ruppert into an uncontrollable rage.
Mechanick also revealed that Ruppert felt that his lawyers, especially Joe Bressler, were betraying him.
Ruppert apparently heard Bressler ask a cop at the police station for a cup of coffee. An officer gave Bressler a cup of coffee and said, “That’ll cost you, brother,” and Bressler replied, “OK, that’s a deal.” So now Ruppert thought that Bressler made a deal with the police to betray him.
They made arrangements to meet again at 9 a.m. at Holbrock’s office, and Holcomb called the jail to order an extra guard on the defendant, then called Chief McNally and got him out of bed to relay his exchange with the doctor.
The next morning, Saturday, April 5, Holcomb met with the defense team and Dr. Mechanick, who went into more detail about his interview with Ruppert.
The doctor said that Ruppert is “grossly psychotic” and had been for 10 years, beginning with the phone call to the girl at the library.
“He was a little man who felt persecuted by the world,” Mechanick said, and said Ruppert’s motivation was notoriety.
“He is suffering from a paranoid type of schizophrenia,” Mechanick said. “There are some people whose minds are so profoundly and fundamentally impaired that they are so alienated from reality, so much out of the world, so much caught up in an inner mental world that we call it a major mental disorder or psychosis.
“He was so significantly out of contact with reality that it impaired his ability to function in a major way,” he concluded. “It was a delusional system, a set of false ideas, to which he had already become well-adapted. It doesn’t matter if the person might be in touch with reality in other areas.”
Holbrook told the prosecutor that they were going to enter an insanity plea at the arraignment on Monday, convinced that he was presently insane and could not stand trial.
“There is no point dragging this thing out over many months if we can wrap it up right now,” Holbrook said.
Holcomb agreed with the procedure and said he would, in addition to the court-appointed psychiatrists, have his own man, Dr. Daniel Thomas from Dayton, examine him as well.
Back in his office later that morning, Holcomb received a couple of visitors from colleagues in law who gave him quite differing views on the case. The first was Dick Wessel, the former county prosecutor who hired Holcomb for the office, his mentor and still a frequent confidante. “He’s really the most honest man I’ve ever met in my life,” Holcomb said. “He’s so honest sometimes he makes me feel uncomfortable and I’m honest.” He told Holcomb he’d “give his right arm” to have had a case like Ruppert.
“He’s like an old race horse who is still chomping at the bit to go when something like this comes up,” Holcomb said.
“Wessel was a real bulldog of a cross-examiner,” he said.
Wessel told him to “take a hardline” approach to the Ruppert case, to not be impressed by the big-city psychiatrists the defense is flying in just to say the guy is nuts.
After Wessel left, Jim Irwin, the attorney who lived next door to the Ruppert family in Fairfield and whom Holcomb said was “one slick cookie,” stopped by, started talking about the Ruppert children, and broke down in tears.
“I was really impressed that Irwin is so sensitive,” Holcomb said of the visit. “I’m also worried even more that I’m so insensitive about these type of things. Irwin said that he thought the best thing to do if the man was truly insane was to wrap it up right now on the basis that he is unable to stand trial, get a full confession to release to the community so that the community won’t think there’s some mad slayer at large, and let it go at that.
“I can see his thinking. That is the compassionate thing to do really. But I’m really convinced that even if I honestly do feel that this man is insane which he very well may be but even if there is any doubt in my mind I think I still have to prosecute him to the full extent of the law.
“I can’t give him the benefit of the doubt,” he said. “And I’m not gonna give him the benefit of the doubt in this case.”
The next hurdle to overcome was the competency hearing, which would determine if Ruppert is of sound mind enough to stand trial. Holcomb was confident that Ruppert would pass the two tests: First, that the defendant can understand and appreciate the nature of the charge against him, and second that he is mentally capable of furnishing his counsel the facts essential to the presentation of a proper defense.
“Now even though Ruppert has all kinds of problems without a doubt, I think he still passes that test,” Holcomb said.
On Tuesday morning, April 8, an army of deputies, police and attorneys walked a handcuffed Ruppert from the Butler County Jail across the street to the courthouse. Wearing a white shirt with his jail-issue trousers and sandals, Ruppert was arraigned on 11 counts of aggravated murder in a 25-minute appearance before Judge Fred B. Cramer in Butler County Common Pleas Court. Ruppert attorneys entered pleas of not guilty and not guilty by reason of insanity to all 11 counts.
Under close guard by two deputy sheriffs, Ruppert stood quietly, his hands clasped behind his back, before the judicial bench between his attorneys as he listened to the 12-minute reading of the indictment by the clerk. Holbrock entered the pleas for him. When asked by Judge Cramer to confirm that those were his pleas, Ruppert said softly, “Yes... Yes.” Otherwise, he said nothing and appeared “expressionless” and “displayed little emotion,” according to newspaper reports.
Holcomb was puzzled by the dual pleas, saying that Ruppert and his lawyers were “trying to take two bites out of the apple.”
“He is in effect by his plea of not guilty saying, ‘I didn’t do it, and by his plea of not guilty by reason of insanity he is saying that “But if you find that I did do it, then I was crazy’,” Holcomb spoke in his journal. “ And I really think that was a mistake for them to do that.”
In one final piece of business, Cramer ordered Ruppert referred to the Butler County Forensic Center for psychiatric examination and set aside the Hamilton Municipal court order setting bond at $200,000. He noted Ruppert now stands indicted on offenses which carry the possible death penalty and he ordered held without bond.
After the show, the press asked Bressler if he was going to seek a change of venue for his client.
“It depends on how much publicity is generated between now and the time of the trial,” he said. “I think it would be very difficult to find 12 impartial jurors today in Butler County because of the publicity this case has had.”
There was another option, however, to a jury trial, to have the case tried before a panel of three Common Pleas Court judges.
As soon as Holcomb returned to his office, he got a call from Sheriff Harold Carpenter saying that a young man named Jim Mense, a local insurance agent, had just shown up at the jail with a handwritten letter from Ruppert requesting that Mense come and visit him. Around noon, Mense himself--as per his instructions from the sheriff--called to relay the conversation to the prosecutor.
Mense, as it turned out, was a classmate of Ruppert’s at Hamilton Catholic High. The last time they had seen each other, except for passing in the streets occasionally was at a class reunion nearly a decade earlier. Mense told the prosecutor that Ruppert always seemed like a normal kind of guy, then and now.
Ruppert asked Mense whether or not he thought Holbrock and Bressler were competent lawyers. Mense said he thought that they were. Ruppert asked whether Mense thought his lawyers would try to make a deal with the prosecutor, to “sell me down the river”. Mense replied that Holbrook and Bressler were men of integrity and he didn’t think they would make a deal unless it would be in Ruppert’s own best interest.
Then Ruppert asked Mense whether or not he should bring in a nationally-known criminal lawyer to handle his defense, Mense advised against it.
Ruppert told Mense that he had never been in any sort of trouble before.
“That may be,” Mense replied, “but you’re in big trouble now.”
And then Mense said that he just had to ask him whether or not he did it and Ruppert said that his lawyers advised him not to talk about it.
Mense said that the only odd thing about the exchange is that Ruppert kept shushing him when he talked above a whisper and motion toward a deputy sheriff standing close by. Ruppert apparently didn’t want the deputy to listen in on the conversation.
It would later come out that Ruppert had also sent a letter to Kenneth Stiers, the human resources man from Mosler Safe Co., to ask his advice, but Stiers did not come.
The murder was over a week away now, and since the next bit of legal business--Ruppert’s competency hearing--was over a month away, real news on the case began to slow to a trickle, but the papers continued to make hay while they could. On Tuesday, April 9, the Cincinnati Post published a story by Ken Bunting that caused quite a furor. With the headline: “Hamilton drama is the only topic of talk in town,” the article played on the conceit that with the exception of the defendant, the players in the Ruppert trial seemed to come from central casting in Hollywood.
“James Ruppert, short, bespectacled, staid-looking, seems an unlikely pick for the leading role in this drama,” Bunting wrote.
“The supporting cast,” however, “fit their respective roles a lot better:
“John Holcomb, County Prosecutor: chubby and balding. His favorite line to newsmen is no comment.
“George McNally please chief: Tough, talkative and candid with the press.
“Dr. Garrett Boone, County Coroner: Loves the spotlight perhaps most of all; a kindly, grey white haired, grandfatherly type.
“Judge Fred Cramer, presiding judge of Butler County Common Pleas Court: short with salt and pepper hair.
“Defense attorneys Joseph Bressler and Hugh Holbrock: Walking contrasts. Bressler, young and fashionably dressed, doesn't like to comment to reporters. Holbrock, whom courthouse sources say is the best criminal lawyer in town, repeats his comments over and over while lines of radio reporters get personal interview on tape.”
Bunting went on to register his complaint about Holcomb not keeping the press informed about the special Grand Jury he called.
Holcomb, as you might guess, was livid: “The first shot out of the box (Thursday morning), Dick Wessel comes through the door and he’s jumping up and down, a copy of the Cincinnati Post from yesterday in his hand and he has underlined in red “balding and chubby”. So I know that I’m really going to take a shellacking over this.”
Holcomb did confess, however, that he stopped by Tom’s Cigar Store, a Hamilton landmark, and bought five copies of the Newsweek magazine that had his name in it.
Some of the newspaper stories between the murders and Ruppert’s trial do seem to have an air of desperation about them. People were still interested in the story, so even Holcomb’s trip to Chicago to consult with psychiatrists was deemed worth of reporting, even though one headline read “Prosecutor mum on Chicago trip.”
The Hamilton Journal-News published a story about a rumor that Truman Capote, author of “In Cold Blood” about a mass murder in had called Hugh Holbrook requesting to write about the Ruppert case, only to be turned down. The attribution on the story was “according to reports,” duly noting that Holbrook was unavailable for comment. The follow-up story the next day--with the kicker “‘Lousy reporting,’ says Ruppert attorney”--quoted a Capote secretary saying, “Mr. Capote says those reports are totally false,” and Holbrock saying “I’m tired of being quoted for things I didn’t say.”
Although Holbrock denied saying it, and it may indeed have been sloppy reporting, but that he might say something like that was not beyond credulity.
In his journal, Holcomb conceded that Holbrock was a fighter and would go to the mat for a client, but posited Holbrock didn’t “know enough law to put in a thimble.”
“I wonder if he even uses good sense in the way he fights because it’s mostly a bunch of loudmouth stuff more than anything else,” Holcomb told his Dictaphone. A lot of times it’s even funny. It’s hard to describe him unless you actually know him. Because most of the things he says don’t even make sense.
Holcomb told the story that one morning a few years earlier during the Watergate scandal, he and Holbrock and a few other attorneys were standing around the first floor of the courthouse having coffee.
“And (Holbrook) started to tell us how Jaworski, the special Watergate Prosecutor, called him up and asked him to come to Washington to help him prosecute the Watergate trials,” Holcomb said. “He told that with a straight face. Now that’s a goddamn lie. But the thing of it is, I think Hugh really believes it. Another time he told us he was gone for a couple of months, I don’t know if he was on vacation or in the hospital or what, but he comes back to the office and said he had a hell of a big murder trial out in San Francisco. And the defendant was found not guilty and Melvin Belli was a spectator and asked him to join his law firm. He tells that stuff with a straight face. And expects people to believe it and like I say I think he believes it himself.”
The press seemed unaware, however, of the stream of psychiatrists and psychologists interviewing Ruppert in the Butler County Jail. By the time the trial started on June 16, Ruppert would have been examined by nine private psychiatrists, two court-appointed psychiatrists and four psychologists. While his mode of delivery might vary from doctor to doctor, the stories he told were consistent, from his childhood in the pigeon coop to the vast conspiracy against him organized by his mother and orchestrated by his brother.
But there were occasional glimpses of doubt.
Victor H. Thaler, a clinical psychologist from Dayton who interviewed Ruppert on May 6, felt that his conspiracy story was offered too voluntarily.
“It was too defuse,” he would testify. “It came from all different directions. It just didn’t have that same kind of characteristic of a solid, stable paranoid delusional system. I’ve dealt with other paranoids where you can’t get that out for years.
“I can’t tell whether he had built up a story from being examined seven times (which) can yield strange results.
He gave Ruppert a sentence completion test. Question 36 was “To be a good liar one must ______________”
Ruppert wrote “have a good memory.”
Still, like all the others, Thaler concluded the same as the others, that Ruppert believed the bizarre stories he was telling.
“There is no indication of overt behavior, of faking or trying to misuse the test,” Thaler said. “It has a somewhat peculiar kind of pattern and I tried very hard to see something similar in the literature because there are many, many studies indicating different kinds of patterns on this test… It is similar to the records in which people were asked, specifically, to fake a record of paranoid schizophrenia.”
He concluded that Ruppert was not psychotic, but did suffer from a personality disorder.
Even Holcomb’s own man, Dr. Dan Thomas, who examined him on May 8, said he believed even though Ruppert may or may not be delusional, he still concocted the conspiracy out of his own feelings of persecution.
“Mr. Ruppert knows that he has always been a very inadequate individual who has tried to make friends and has always felt rejected from early development to adulthood,” Thomas reported.
Ruppert brought up the idea of the conspiracy himself in an offhand way in the middle of the interview, “as if he picked his time,” Thomas said. The remark “baffled” the psychiatrist at first because an individual with strong delusional feelings would think the examiner is part of the conspiracy and would not be so anxious to reveal it.
He also gave an account of an interesting bit of dialog from their first interview:
Q: What do you think is going to happen to you?
A: They’ll probably put me in the electric chair
Q: Why? Do you think you can counsel with your attorneys, that you can help them to defend yourself? Do you trust them? [Ruppert starts crying]
A: Won’t you – I told you the FBI is behind this. The FBI controls everything that I do.
Q: Do you think they are controlled by the FBI?
A: I think everything is controlled by the FBI.
Q: Do you think we’re controlled by the FBI?
A: Why sure. If they tell you – Have you ever seen what the CIA can do?
Q: What can they do? Tell me.
A: They can do anything. They can assassinate foreign leaders. They can stage anything.
Q: Is the CIA involved in this also with the FBI in this?
A: Yes, I guess. I don’t know about them. Probably so. There’s nothing they can’t do. They can rig a jury. They can cause assassinations. They can commit assassinations. There’s nothing they can’t control.
Thomas said it seemed out of the ordinary, however, that Ruppert’s lawyers and another psychiatrist were in the room during his interview with the defendant. He felt that Ruppert was being guarded in his responses and there were interruptions when the others in the room would whisper and talk.
At the end of the interview, Ruppert asked Thomas if he believed him about the conspiracy. Thomas said he did not “personally” believe what Ruppert told him and felt it a little out of context for him to have asked that.
Dr. Leigh M. Roberts, who spent a total of 10 hours with Ruppert on six different occasions, noted that Ruppert was properly groomed, soft-spoken and functioning intellectually a level of a college student.
“His palms would be moist at times,” Roberts would report. “He would break out in sweat. He would be restless. He would look frightened when he talked about (the conspiracy). So there seemed no question but that his inner experience was one of great fear, even terror.”
Roberts said Ruppert demonstrated no insight into his mental illness, but simply believed that people do not understand him.
“He can present himself to other people if he doesn’t get into talking about his fears, his experiences, the ideas that he has and if his behavior at that moment is under control,” he said. “He can appear to other people as perfectly normal. It has to do with his trust and because he doesn’t trust other people he does not share with other people the ideas that he has buried. They would not know there was anything unusual in his thinking unless he chose to share it.
“The only time it would be evident to others would be if his behavior gets out of control and he simply could no longer control it, then it would be evident to other people,” he said.
Dr. Lester Grinspoon of the Massachusetts Mental Health Center, examined Ruppert for four hours on May 10, two days before his competency hearing.
“He occasionally glanced fervently around the room, ceiling and particularly into the corners of the ceiling,” Grinspoon noted. “He was certain there were devices that were recording our conversation. There was one device, my tape recorder was there, but he was convinced that there were other devices. He didn’t want people in the place to hear, (so) he would lower his voice very much that indeed I had difficulty getting it for my tape.
“His general attitude and behavior, he seemed markedly suspicious. He is markedly anti-social, moderately passive, dependent, guarded and despondent, and mildly obsequious and fearful. He seemed moderately depressed, slightly anxious. His effect was slightly flat. His facial expression is moderately tense, suspicious, worried and hyper-vigilant, and mildly perplexed.
“On the positive side, he is helpful and pleasant. He is not uncooperative or overtly angry. There is no reported impairment in goal-directed activities.
“An unusual motor feature present is a slight tremor. His affect is slightly flat and mildly inappropriate. His mood is moderately labile. He does not appear to be angry. He speaks with a very soft voice. His rate of speech is average and productivity is average. He is neither incoherent, irrelevant nor evasive. This patient has marked ideas of reference and moderate suicidal ideation and obsessions.
“Symptoms of sexual difficulties include potency and fears of homosexuality. Delusions are definitely present, including marked persecutory delusions, which have marked influence on his behavior. There is no evidence of grandiosity, bizarre thoughts, phobias or compulsions.
“His appetite is poor and he is normal in regard to energy level. He sleeps excessively. The patient has no insomnia, psychophysiological reactions or unwarranted concern with his physical health.”
While they were having lunch together, Grinspoon asked Ruppert if he could see the contents of his wallet. He saw the stack of papers with stock market quotations and the sheet of paper with “Oh, is this his brother?” written on it. He asked Ruppert about it and got the story.
“I saw all of these things in his billfold and they sort of looked esoteric,” Grinspoon would testify. “It is not uncommon for schizophrenics to have kind of magical notational system in which they keep all sorts of things.”
Grinspoon said that when Ruppert started talking about the conspiracy, he said he wasn’t “too sure.” about his lawyers.
“”Hugh Holbrock has been a criminal lawyer for 21 years. Now I assume most of the law was here in Hamilton. If that is true, then it has been established as a rather compatible and compromising relationship with the law enforcement people. I know these things to exist. The client gets thrown to the wolves.”
Bressler, Ruppert said, “would sell me down the river in a minute. I know this has a lot of publicity and I know they are going to make out quite well, my attorneys, no matter how the verdict goes.
“Nobody would expect an acquittal. A life sentence would be light in the eyes of most people. That means they didn’t do such a bad job, even if I got life. It’s like an advertisement in the Wall Street Journal – publicity – money for future cases.
Then he burst into tears and said that Holbrook was under the control of the FBI.
“If they tell you what to do, they do it.”
“You see, I’m desperate!” Ruppert cried out of control. “I don’t know what to do.”
Grinspoon would diagnose Ruppert with “paranoia,” calling it “a classical case, characterized by a gradual development of an elaborate intricate expanding delusional system, but which is unaccompanied by hallucinations.” That is, his paranoia didn’t make up the conspiracy, but misinterpreted Ruppert’s reality.
“I think that he was just acutely psychotic,” Grinspoon would tell the court. “His ego was completely overwhelmed, and it was something comparable to what’s been described in Malaysia and parts of Africa as “running amok”... paranoid people who just start running amok, means they go out just shooting, just killing and they simply can’t stop it until they’re killed themselves. I think it is comparable to something or someone in wartime situation who can do things that are just sort of automatic. He does not lose his skills or his capacity to do a thing although he is or isn’t really cognitively aware of what he’s doing. He just carries on in sort of an automatic way.
“I think if there were more people in the house they might have been killed, too,” Grinspoon said.
Before his interview with Ruppert was over, the defendant said, “I know they will put me in the electric chair if they should get half a chance.”
Grinspoon asked him if that’s what he wanted and he said he did.
“When I was lying there on the couch, I wanted to put the gun to my head, but I couldn’t. If they give me a life sentence, it will be a very short one,” he said, certain that the FBI would eventually get around to killing him.
Ruppert’s competency hearing, May 12 and 13, went entirely according to Holcomb’s plan as both of the psychiatrists who examined Ruppert on behalf of the Butler County Forensic Center--Sokolov and Ormiston--agreed that although Ruppert was suffering from a paranoid psychosis, he was capable of going to trial.
Under cross-examination by defense attorney Bressler, Sokolov said Ruppert indicated he had spinal meningitis in 1953. The doctor admitted that disease can produce brain damage but he saw no evidence of such impairment during his examination of Ruppert. He said he did not conduct physical neurological tests.
County prosecutor John F. Holcomb called Dr. Dan A. Thomas, a psychiatrist with the Dartmouth Behavioral Sciences Center in Dayton. Thomas testified that he examined Ruppert for three hours on May 8 and believes Ruppert is mentally competent to stand trial.
In their cross-examinations, Holbrock and Bressler kept “harping on their theory,” Holcomb said, that their client does not trust them and is not mentally capable of furnishing his counsel with facts sufficient to prepare a defense thus this impairs their ability to defend him, one of the requirements of competency.
McDevitt testified, however, that Ruppert exhibits feelings of distrust for people and that distrust extends to the legal system, the courtroom and his own attorneys, but not to the extent of inhibiting his ability to confer with them.
Cramer question McDevitt about the meaning of “paranoia.”
“I’m sure you’re not using it in the same sense it is popularly used,” he said.
Thaler said he couldn’t speak to the popular use, but said the medical description is “generalized suspiciousness, a difficulty in relating to people, feelings of persecution and a tendency to project one’s feelings and needs onto other people.
Throughout both days of the hearing, Ruppert sat at the defense counsel table, moving only to confer with his attorneys. In the mornings, before the hearing began, he sat at the table alone, bathed in the glare of TV camera lights. As photographers milled around him, he sat motionless, his eyes gazing straight ahead.
Holbrock and Bressler did not put on a defense, so Judge Cramer declared Ruppert sane, noting the courts have held that the presence of mental illness in a defendant is not sufficient to preclude his mental ability to stand trial. He set the date for the trial at June 16.
Holbrock said he had no legal quarrel with the judge’s decision, and snapped at a reporter, “I can’t say I was surprised because I sat through the hearing and heard the testimony.”
The law provides that a defendant has the right to be tried by a 12 jury or may waive that right and be tried by a three-judge panel. As a precaution, Cramer ordered a special venire of 75 prospective jurors to be drawn for the case at 2 p.m. that afternoon. Although the defense said it would decide at least a week before the trial if they wanted judges or a jury, Holcomb complained that drawing the venire was a waste of time.
The decision, Holbrock said, will be based on “whether we feel a fair trial can be granted our client by a jury or whether the issues can be best understood by a three-judge panel.”
Holcomb and Holbrock both anticipated a long trial with many psychiatrists and psychologists involved. Holbrock said he believes a jury trial could last a minimum of three weeks and a trial before three judges would take about two weeks.
In the days and weeks leading up to the trial, Holcomb and his team worked until midnight nearly every day, sometimes staying as late as 2 or 3 a.m. Holcomb tried to make a habit of walking to work, but that meant he was without a car all day and when it got too late, a quick way home.
He made it a point to go over every bit of evidence time and time again, calling meetings with the coroner and his team a week before the trial to go over all of the details. At 10 a.m. Tuesday, June 10, Holcomb was in the office of Dr. McDevitt at Good Samaritan Hospital in Cincinnati, for one last briefing, knowing that Judge Cramer put a lot of faith in his testimony at the competency hearing.
“He told me that in his opinion James Ruppert was psychotic with regard to the killing of his mother and his brother but he was much less certain with regard to the other nine,” Holcomb said, a foreshadowing of the final verdict in this case. “He said (Ruppert) liked the other nine and the other nine weren’t part of this alleged conspiracy that he thinks was against him and McDevitt wasn’t quite so certain about that.”
The very word “psychotic” worried Holcomb, but he felt better when McDevitt said he believed Ruppert was clever enough and organized enough to be entirely capable of formulating and carrying out a plot to get the inheritance.
McDevitt also told Holcomb that had he seen Ruppert the day before Easter, he would not have hospitalized him. His condition was not that severe. He would have treated him as an outpatient.
The flow of shrinks slowed considerably at the Butler County Jail between the competency hearing and the trial, so Ruppert spent most of his time sitting quietly in the 6-by-8-foot holding cell A-2 just inside the restricted receiving area of the jail where he could be easily seen by anyone coming or going, in plain view other inmates and police. The cell wasn’t designed for long-term use, but he was moved there on Holcomb’s orders when Mechanick told him about Ruppert’s suicidal thoughts. A-2 didn’t even have a toilet, just a bunk and a table, so he had to ask to use the facilities and silently follow a guard to a restroom down the hall. He would sometimes ask one of the guards or a deputy about the weather, but he mostly keep quietly to himself, reading.
Life in jail was as much a routine as his life outside for prisoner No. 007909. He slept a lot. He read a lot, mostly paperback books and magazines from the jail library or from his lawyers, while smoking his pipe. Some of his reading material is religious. He liked biographies of noted people, but he is not allowed to read newspapers. His outgoing mail was not censored and his incoming mail is only checked for contraband, but not read, standard procedure for all prisoners. His appetite is good, even though the only exercise he ever got during his confinement was walking back and forth between the jail and the courthouse. His weight stayed the same, about 135 pounds. When he returned from his public appearance, he takes off the dress clothes and puts on his jailhouse uniform.
Neither Ruppert nor his lawyers complained about the lack of privacy.
“The sheriff’s department is doing the best it can under the circumstances,” Holbrock told the press.
On Monday, June 16, 1975, presiding Judge Fred B. Cramer called to order the trial of James Urban Ruppert for the aggravated murder of 11 members of his family, a case that would eventually result in one of the most bizarre verdicts in the history of jurisprudence.
But not this time. It would take seven years for this case to receive a final verdict, but no one involved knew that, although the smell of retrial was in the air from the beginning. When Ruppert and his lawyers decided to put his fate in the hands of a panel of judges rather than to prove his insanity in front of 12 jurors, they immediately put the case on shaky, untested legal ground.
“We thought they could handle psychiatric testimony better that a jury, said defense attorney H.J. “Joe” Bressler.
No one being tried in a capital case in the state of Ohio had yet chosen the three-judge option, at least not under the current Ohio Revised Code, which contained conflicting provisions as to whether the three judges had to reach a majority or a unanimous verdict in capital cases. One of the provisions was apparently a copy-and-paste portion of the old criminal code that had not been repealed when the new code had been adopted, because no capital defendant had chosen a three-judge panel, the Ohio Supreme Court had never ruled on the discrepancy. So whatever happened, the Ruppert case was about to make history on a number of levels.
The law places the burden of proof on the prosecution to establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt as to the charges and the specifications, but with an insanity plea, it is up to the defendant to prove that his mind and ability to reason was so impaired at the time of the criminal act that he either did not know that such act was wrong or he did not have the ability to refrain from doing it.
An acquittal on insanity grounds, however, didn’t mean he was free to go and collect his inheritance. The law required that in a finding of not guilty by reason of insanity, the defendant would automatically be remanded to the Lima State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. From there, he would be confined until a judge of the Allen County Court of Common Pleas (the county in which the hospital is located), the superintendent of the hospital and an appointed alienist (a psychiatrist who specializes in mental competency issues) sign off that his sanity has been restored and his release into society would not be dangerous. Even then, he would be subject to annual review and re-confinement if the panel decided he again presented a threat.
A finding of guilty on the charges but not the specifications that he killed two or more persons would be an automatic life sentence for Ruppert. A finding of guilty on both the charges and the specifications would give the panel the option of imposing life imprisonment or the death penalty.
So it seemed somehow fitting that there be a little more drama to start the proceedings, something like a 32-minute blackout in the Butler County Courthouse.
Hamilton Journal-News reporter Jim Newton and other members of the press were standing in a crowded elevator with Judge Arthur Fiehrer, one of the three Common Pleas Court judges assigned to the case, heading up to the third floor courtroom. As soon as the doors of the elevator closed, everything went black. The doors closed, but the elevator did not go up.
A woman standing near the panel button board of the elevator jokingly insisted she was not guilty. Some of the men joined forces to pull open the doors and walked out into the lobby to discover that the entire building was dark. Judge Fiehrer decided to take the stairs to the third-floor courtroom.
The lights came back on shortly before 8:45 a.m. It would later be reported that a squirrel “jumping about the upper electrical structures” of a city’s substation had caused about one-fourth of the city, including the central business district, to be blacked out. The squirrel died from the effort.
It was indeed the circus everyone expected it to be. People began lining up outside the courtroom door in the early morning hours, but they remained orderly and relatively quiet. The Cincinnati Post reported that most of them were under 30, students with the summer off, as well as “the courthouse regulars,” a group of retired gentlemen who hang out daily on the stone ledge surrounding the well-kept courthouse lawn. As the spectators entered the courtroom, they were studied carefully by members of the sheriff's department. A deputy stopped a man carrying a paper sack, revealing a tape recorder. The deputy relieved him of the device and said he could get it back when the trial recessed. The judges were permitting members of the press, which were occupying the jury box, to have tape recorders with the provision that the tapes would not be broadcast. The elderly bailiff wouldn’t let anyone under age 18 into the courtroom.
Throughout the trial, the old-fashion wooden courtroom was filled to capacity--which was only 48--with spectators while twice as many more waited in the hall outside, some periodically peeking through the worn painted glass of the courtroom door to catch a glimpse of the proceedings, hoping that someone will leave so they can take the open seat. No one ever leaves, though the number of spectators lining up each morning grew each day. On Wednesday, the bailiffs lightened the restrictions and allowed people to stand around the perimeters of the room. By Friday morning, spectators began arriving at the courthouse at 4 a.m., according to one man in line, who complained that even by getting there that early he was not sure he would get inside the courtroom. He was admitted and stood with others throughout the morning session after all the seats had filled. After each morning session, however, the courtroom is emptied, and those who got there early have to give up their seats and return to the end of the line, so except for those who managed to make other arrangements, there’s a different set of spectators for the afternoon session.
Even more people stood outside, waiting to catch a glimpse of Ruppert as sheriff deputies escorted him the Butler County Jail just across Court Street. Journalists call it “the perp walk.” Ruppert unfailingly stared straight ahead, seemingly disinterested, acknowledging no one.
A half dozen or more photographers followed Ruppert and his Deputy Sheriff escorts into the courtroom into the courtroom when the defendant was led in by a sheriff deputy. Flashbulbs snapped furiously until defense attorney Hugh Holbrock asked photographers to be considerate enough to not have any pictures showing Ruppert or being released from his handcuffs. They complied and held back until Ruppert was seated at the counsel's table. Then the flashes resumed, and Ruppert stared straight ahead with nary a flinch or sign of attention.
The trial attracted a cast of spectators even more colorful than the gruff, hard-nosed prosecutor and the flamboyant defense attorney in the cowboy suits. A woman who called herself “Fifi” paraded about the courthouse in hand-made gowns made from wigs of various colors cascading down her back and open at the front to display “her sagging attributes,” as Mary Anne Sharkey the Dayton Journal Herald described them. Fifi said she also attended the Watergate hearings in Washington, D.C., a few years earlier and takes a bus from her Cincinnati home to trials and public events all over the country.
“Past the prime age for wearing revealing clothes, Fifi pounds defense attorneys on the back, proclaiming, ‘You’re doing real well. You’re going to get him off’,” reporter Mary Anne Sharkey wrote.
Fifi had not met Ruppert, but had taken a liking to him, delivering him a copy of the Wall Street Journal to the jail every day, although he’s not allowed any newspapers, and a Lucky Buck lottery ticket once a week.
“I’m taking care of my boy,” she said.
Ruppert’s Aunt Ruby Lee, barred from being inside the courtroom because she is a witness in the case, took up a daily vigil on a bench just outside. The reporters have dubbed her “Aunt Boots” because of her footwear.
“It’s better than climbing the walls,” she said, nervously fingering her beaded purse. “I’m the only relative Jimmy has here… I’m his aunt and I care for him.” During breaks in the trial, she was sometimes joined by members of the Allgeier family--Alma’s mother, two sisters, a brother and a sister-in-law--who would drive to Hamilton from Mt. Healthy every day to hear the testimony. They would take their lunches together on the courthouse benches.
Butler County Prosecutor John Holcomb, still a little skittish about all the publicity even though it had been going on for two and a half months, said that he felt pretty good going into the first day of trial, well-rested but admittedly battling sweaty palms and the “pre-game jitters” that he remembered so well from his days as a high school basketball star.
“We took our places at our table in court and all of the photographers ran up and started taking our pictures and turned the TV light on us and I remember feeling how phony it is,” Holcomb said later. “How are you supposed to act when all those lights are on you? What are you supposed to look like? You can’t sit there and tell jokes cause prosecutor’s aren’t supposed to do that, so you try to pick a spot on the wall and stare stonily straight ahead and try to look tough.”
But he was restless and a little tense and couldn’t stare for long, so he soon started scanning the courtroom. He noticed Ruppert--staring stonily straight ahead into space, as would become his own custom, though his expression was more vacant than tough--while Holbrock laughed and carried on and Joe Bressler kept his head down, somber in his work.
The press took over the jury box and included reporters from the Associated Press, the Dayton and Cincinnati newspapers and television stations as well as the Journal-News reporters.
Despite the power issues and the hubbub of the crowd, the trial started only 10 minutes late. Presiding Judge Cramer called court to order and informed spectators that the three judges expected no comments nor outbursts and admonished that they could not leave while the trial was in progress.
Sending Ruppert back to the Butler County jail for the duration, at his lawyers’ request, the judges then left to visit the scene of the crime, the house on Minor Avenue. Holcomb stayed behind, too, to finish last-minute preparations on the more than 101 pieces of evidence he was about to submit.
A crowd of some 50 neighbors and area residents were at the scene when the judges arrived. The house had been boarded at the front and back doors with large sheets of plywood for over two months. A bold red and black sign on each store read “No Trespassing.” The first floor windows were covered by venetian blinds, shades drawn over second floor windows. Major John Bohlen of the Butler County Sheriff's Department used a crowbar to pry of the plywood covering up the front door with a loud creak and a popping sound.
“One could imagine the dust inside settling over the remnants of terror,” wrote Nancy Baker in the Journal-News. “We found the atmosphere inside oppressive, and everyone who walked through the tiny house walked in silence. The air was still and smelled dirty. It made you want to hold your breath as long as you could. Venetian blinds were drawn tight, and the dimness helped blunt the linger image of horror in the house.”
The house was cluttered, Easter baskets and candy among the debris strewn about the cramped living room with its worn furniture, the threadbare carpet with big pink roses. Police said the home was well-kept but they had torn it apart looking for evidence. Blood stains and vomit were still on the carpet, shredded by investigators, in the living room and the linoleum floor in the kitchen. A collection of plaster religious statues occupied a table near the old television set. Toys were everywhere. The kitchen was crowded with chairs and a sewing machine. Dirty dishes and coffee cups littered the small table, alongside a bottle of salad dressing and a skillet with congealed hamburger, the sloppy joes Charity Ruppert prepared for her grandchildren.
“And down on the floor,” Baker wrote, “a coin--a quarter speckled with dried blood--lay on the scuffed linoleum.”
The judges, likewise, walked through the house in silence.
That out of the way, Holcomb began his opening statements at 10:15 a.m. and laid out his theory that Ruppert “planned, calculated and designed” the scheme to kill his family, purposefully get caught and plead insanity so that he could inherit more than $300,000. He was going to prove that James Ruppert was an expert shot and had been practicing just three days before the massacre.
It was “murder for money,” he said.
The defense, as Holcomb expected, deferred making opening statements until the state had presented its case.
So for the rest of Monday, all of Tuesday and until the middle of Wednesday afternoon, Holcomb and his team methodically laid out the case against Ruppert, beginning with the testimony of Hamilton police Patrolman Robert Minor, the first law enforcement on the scene and the officer who took Ruppert into custody. The 29 witnesses called by the state included the police who responded to the scene and who first interviewed Ruppert that night, detectives who found books on psychology in the house, agents from the Bureau of Criminal Investigation who processed the evidence, and bankers and brokers who discussed the financial situation of all of the Rupperts. With the exception of Ruppert’s Aunt Ruby Lee, who testified under cross examination that there was a family history of mental illness, there was no mention of insanity, conspiracies or a torturous family life.
Real estate man Jim Cecere gave appraisals of the three Ruppert homes: $40,000 for the Walter Avenue house and $19,500 for their previous residence on Hill Avenue, which they were renting out, and $14,000 for the Minor Avenue house. A General Electric payroll supervisor testified that Leonard had five life insurance and pension plans totaling $200,000 in death benefits, including policies for Alma and all eight children. Leonard’s supervisor said that an automatic group insurance plan Leonard enrolled in was based on three times his annual salary of $20,800 and that he also participated in other programs involving coverage for his wife and each of the eight children, other policies on his own life, and various pension and investment programs including savings bonds, stocks and mutual funds. Home State Savings Association also testified Tuesday that Leonard and Alma Rupert had a certificate of deposit totaling $7,870 dollars.
A preliminary tax report filed with the County Probate Court and entered into evidence estimated the value of the slain family’s estate at $343,000, with $225,000 of that coming from life insurance.
Aware that he was in the national spotlight and not wanting to look like a rube, Holcomb made sure he and his team presented the case professionally, and it went like clockwork, although there were elements of drama when the personalities involved peeked through. At one point, Bressler “disdainfully” (Holcomb’s word) threw a witness’ signed statement onto the prosecution’s desk.
“He kept on with his cross-examination and about five minutes later he decided he wanted that statement back,” Holcomb said. “He walked over to my table and he says, ‘Give me that statement!’
“It just made me mad and I slapped my hand down on that statement. It made a loud noise and I said, ‘Whenever you want something from me, you say please.’
“And he said, “Please, may I have the statement, sir?’
“So I said yes, and I gave it to him.”
While the prosecution questioned the bank officials, the defense loaded the judges’ bench with books and court citations to bolster their frequent objections.
“They’re all the same,” Cramer said, pushing a book aside. “How many times do I have to overrule your objections?”
“Until I get my way,” Holbrock quipped.
While questioning Louis J. Hofstadter, Hamilton attorney and expert in probate law, Holcomb asked the judges to take notice of two sections of Ohio Revised Code, including a section titled “murderer not to benefit”, which prohibits a person convicted of aggravated murder or murder from inheriting or taking any part of the estate of a person killed.
The defense counsel, making one of its many objections, argued that an expert witness can only inform a court not familiar with the law.
“This court right here is composed of the highest expertise of any court in the country,” Holbrock said.
“We don’t want to hear any speeches,” Holcomb grumbled.
Cramer thanked the defense counsel for the compliment, then said, “The rules permit the court to inform itself in this manner in its discretion. However, the court is not necessarily bound by the witness’ testimony.”
He overruled Holbrock’s objection.
The final witness for the prosecution was James Mense, the insurance man, who testified about visiting Ruppert in jail, and Ruppert asking his advice on whether or not to hire a “name” lawyer, one with a reputation for going into a case “with two strikes against them,” when there is a foregone conclusion that the client is guilty, but they get him off anyway. In his summation, Holcomb argued that Mense’s testimony proved that Ruppert was concerned about getting the money from his brother’s and mother’s estates. “Most men charged with 11 counts of aggravated murder would be glad to make any kind of deal they could make,” he said. “This man doesn’t want a deal, though… Any deal he makes, he loses. He loses the money. He loses the fortune.”
Throughout all of the testimony laying out the case against him, Ruppert sat emotionless, expressionless, and impassive except for one fleeting moment. The reporters, from their vantage point in the jury box next to the defense table, had a clear view of Ruppert and certainly kept a close eye on him, but he never seemed to move or flinch during the testimony or response to any of the people moving around him, his blue eyes fixed on the floor or wall straight ahead of him. He rarely moves from his standard sitting position with his legs crossed at the ankles, his hands resting in his lap. Only when his Aunt Ruby testified that there was a history of mental illness in the family--an aunt and a cousin who had been in mental institutions and two other cousins who were suicidal--did a single tear well up in Ruppert’s eye, but not so much that he acknowledged it or tried to wipe it away. His demeanor, as psychiatrists would soon testify, was due to the delusion of the conspiracy and his constant state of being on guard. It was the same reason that no one else knew about the conspiracy. Either that, or he was just that cold inside.
Ruppert remained impeccably groomed throughout the trial, freshly shaven every morning, his hair always neatly parted and combed, clean clothes brought to him every day by an aide from Holbrock’s office. His shirts, one reporter noted, were all short-sleeved. Sometimes, he goes without a tie and opens the shirts at the neck. His trousers usually match the shirt. They are usually a solid color, maroon, blue or tan. His socks are dark and he wears the same brown and tan shoes every day with brown-striped shoelaces.
After the state rested its case, the defense made a motion for acquittal. The state failed to prove, Bressler argued, that Ruppert knew about the existence of any insurance policies or the wealth of his brother and mother, nor that Ruppert had done anything in advance to plan the shooting.
“You have to infer that the defendant knew of his wealth,” Bressler said. “You have to infer that that the defendant planned this and there is no evidence to indicate either of the two. You have to add one inference on top of another to establish the state’s motive in this matter, therefore we ask for a motion of acquittal.”
It only took the three judges 15 minutes in recess to agree to overrule the motion, saying the court had enough evidence to convict. Cramer acknowledged that the prosecution didn’t prove a motive, but said that a motive wasn’t a necessary element for conviction, but would be necessary to prove “a calculated and designed” murder.
It was now up to Holbrock and Bressler to prove their case for insanity, but because their first witness--a Harvard psychiatrist--wasn’t going to be available until Friday, the court took a day off of the case.
Holcomb wasn’t about to take any time off, however. He put his partners to work on lining up the rebuttal witnesses, people who knew Ruppert from Frisch’s, the 19th Hole, the stockbrokers, etc., who would all say he looked and acted like a normal guy. He sent his buddy Glenn Ebbing, the HPD detective assigned to the prosecutor’s office, to double-check Ruppert’s stock market wins and losses, and to follow up on other witness statements. Holcomb, for his part, began brushing up on his psychology and psychiatry, armed with a copy of every article Dr. Lester Grinspoon of Harvard Medical School ever wrote, gathered up for him by the lawyer Jim Irwin who lived down the street from the Leonard Rupperts, preparing himself to go up against the high-profile psychiatrists the defense had hired to say Ruppert was insane.
Thursday evening, Ebbing came to Holcomb’s office with “a bombshell” that made the prosecutor’s skin tingle. Ebbing had been to visit Martha Carr, one of Billie Ruppert’s closest friends, and found out that she and James Ruppert had been writing letters back and forth.
She had apparently started the exchange, because the earliest letter, which she gave to Ebbing, from May 9, Ruppert wrote that he regretted that she wouldn’t be able to come and see him--“Thanks for asking”--but he’s only allowed three names on his visitor’s list and it is filled.
Most of the letters were concerned with questions about her job and family, but in the third letter, dated May 31, Ruppert asked for a favor: “Just a note to ask you to please bring me the items listed on the enclosed card. You can bring these items any hour of the day and leave them at the control room, the window marked information just inside the front door here at 123 Court Street. Just tell the deputy at that window to give them to me right away. Tell him that I said for him to pay you out of the money in my property. You can probably get most all those things at Ontario’s and the barbershop there in the Plaza Shopping Center. Matches at Super-Value store near the Ontario Store….”
His list, written on back of the card:
2 boxes of pad matches - 50 pads per box
1 pair of sponge rubber insoles - men’s size 8
1 container of Mennen shave talc
1 scalp massager, they cost about .75 and can be bought at barbershops and other places - they are plastic about three inches in diameter and have many prongs on the underside that massage the scalp.
“We’re going to call her as a rebuttal witness,” Holcomb said of his plans. “She doesn’t think that he did it and she thinks he’s normal. Those letters aren’t the work of a crazy man.”
That alone was a pretty good discover, Holcomb thought, but that wasn’t the really good part, the bombshell.
Carr told Ebbing that the week after the murders she went to the Goody Shop for lunch. The Goody Shop was a long-standing Hamilton fixture, run for more than 30 years by Gus and Edna Skalkos, now an elderly Greek couple, and was near the Ohio Casualty office where Carr worked.
“Mrs. Skalkos told her when they were talking about these murders--(Martha Carr) told her that she was a real good friend of the family--and Edna Skalkos said, ‘Why, those boys were in here Saturday morning!’”
Mrs. Skalkos said the “taller boy” ordered breakfast and took some back to James in a booth and they ate their breakfast together. While they were eating Leonard “kept making motions with his hands like he was bawling Jim out, like he was giving him hell about something although they were talking low and she couldn’t hear what he was saying,” Holcomb said.
“That’s my bombshell,” he said. “That’s the one I’m going to drop in their lap. Because what happens sure as hell is that Jim’s financial trouble with his stock market transactions and now he went to this brother for another loan and his brother’s giving him hell saying why don’t you save your money and put it in the bank instead of blowing it in the stock market.”
In his opening statement Friday morning, Joe Bressler called the events of Easter Sunday the act of a man “unable to control his own being,” who had been insane for 10 years. To support the claim, the first defense witness was their heavy-hitter: Dr. Lester Grinspoon, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, who described James Ruppert as a classic, but rare, case of psychotic paranoia.
Grinspoon outlined Ruppert’s biography as it was told to him during a four-hour interview in the Butler County Jail, describing the dirt-poor surroundings as a small child and his ill health, the way his family would abuse and torture him, beating him with a rubber hose, how his mother taunted him for not being the daughter she always wanted and made him dress and wear his hair like a girl. He told about his mother’s sexual advances on her teenage son and how as a result he was impotent by the time he was 26. Grinspoon related how Ruppert told him of the conspiracy against him that began in 1965 when he made an obscene phone call to a librarian, a conspiracy spearheaded by his mother and carried out by his brother and the FBI in an attempt to ruin him by proving he was a homosexual and a communist. Grinspoon told the court about Ruppert’s belief that he brother was sabotaging jobs and his Volkswagen. He described how all that and more came to a boil at an Easter family gathering when his brother tauntingly--to Ruppert’s mind, anyway--asked “How’s the Volkswagen?” And how Ruppert, who was getting ready to go target shooting and had all of his guns with him, opened fire on his brother, and then methodically gunned down every member of his family and would have killed anyone else who might have happened to be in the house at that moment.
Grinspoon scoffed at the idea that Ruppert was faking it.
“The idea that he is feigning insanity is only slightly less impressive as a delusion as the conspiracy is as a delusion,” he said. “I had no question in my mind that he was telling me the truth about this conspiracy as he believed it.”
He went so far as to say he wished he could take Ruppert back to Harvard to use as a textbook example of true paranoia, an extremely rare affliction to this degree.
“That made me so goddamned mad I couldn’t see straight,” Holcomb spoke into his journal the next day as he recalled his version of the cross-examination, which he was very proud of and disappointed that none of the newspapers picked up on his brilliance. “So I thought that I would just get right down to brass tacks with this Ivy League pompous son-of-a-bitch. I thought he was nice before he had to pull that Ivy League bullshit on me and he ended up being a smart aleck bastard, pardon my language.
“Anyway I thought I’d get right with it with him and I said: ‘Doctor would you repeat that last answer please so I get it absolutely straight?’
“‘Well I’m not sure I remember it exactly,’ he said.
“I said, ‘Well let me help you. You said that that is only slightly less impressive an illusion--’
“He said, ‘Let me think a second--That is only slightly less impressive an illusion than the delusions of the defendant.’”
[The trial transcripts and newspapers reported Grinspoon using the word “delusion” throughout. The use of “illusion” is Holcomb’s recollection.]
Confident that he had the psychiatrist on the defensive, Holcomb plunged ahead.
“Doctor, I don’t mean to be offensive but state the exact terms of your employment with the defendant,” he said.
Holbrock jumped out of his seat to object, but Cramer overruled, so Grinspoon explained he got $600 a day plus expenses, and billed for two days and two round-trip airline tickets, and spent a total of four or five hours interviewing James Ruppert in jail. In his questioning, Holcomb also pointed out that Grinspoon interviewed Ruppert several weeks after the killing, and that all of his opinions of the defendant were based on just those interviews and previous psychiatric reports and not interviews with relatives, co-workers, neighbors or acquaintances. It was “S.O.P.”, the doctor said, to make the judgment strictly on what the defendant tells him and other psychiatrists.
Holcomb asked about the history that Ruppert gave him specifically with regard to homosexuality. He only committed one homosexual act, the doctor replied.
“And then I asked him if he gave him any history about what Ruppert did the day before Easter,” Holcomb said. “And he related about being in a bar drinking that night.”
“What did he tell you about the daytime?” Holcomb asked.
“Did you ask him?”
“Doctor, did the defendant realize the purpose of your examination and that you might be called into court to testify as to his mental condition?”
“Might a man who faces the death penalty if convicted exaggerate the symptoms of abnormality during a psychiatric exam?
“Yes, that might be true but I don’t think the defendant was.”
“Doctor are you on the belief that a person’s every act is determined by forces over which he has no control?”
“No, I’m not.”
“Well, it would be your belief then that a person does exercise some free will?
“Yes--however, let me qualify that: Not when a man is as sick as this defendant.”
Holcomb started getting excited. The Ivy League doctor was trying to bait him into a discussion of psychiatry, and area where “he
could beat my brains out,” but was instead taking Holcomb’s bait. He planned to hang the doctor with his own words.
“Isn’t it true, Doctor, that the inability of trained psychiatrists to agree on diagnostic classifications has been shown time and time again?”
“Yes, to a certain extent.”
“Isn’t it true that this disagreement increases with the fineness of the differentiation attempted and the number of psychiatrists involved? In other words, when you once determine that a man’s psychotic and then you try to fit into what category that psychosis is, like paranoia, schizophrenia, that type of stuff, doesn’t the disagreement increase?”
“No, absolutely not.”
Holcomb was so excited he could barely contain himself, but he remained calm, taking his time as he walked over to the counsel table and opened up his briefcase. One by one, he removed copies of all of the articles Grinspoon had written and “just flopped them in a stack.”
It took a couple of minutes, because the one that he wanted, he had purposefully put on the bottom of the stack just for this display.
Leaning across the table looking at Mike Gmoser, Holcomb waved the document at him and said in a loud enough voice that the people in the first row could hear: “I’m going to shove his illusion up his ass.”
Back to the witness stand, he continued, “Doctor, of the 81 articles you have written I’ll direct your attention to one you wrote in June, 1965, ‘Autonomic and Psychomotor Correlates of Premorbid Adjustment in Schizophrenia,’ which appeared in Volume 27 of the “Journal of Psychosomatic Medicine.’ Do you remember that?”
“Doctor, I’m going to read the first paragraph of that statement to you:
“‘The inability of trained judges to agree on the diagnostic classification of psychiatric patients has been repeatedly demonstrated. Disagreement increases as a function of the fineness of the differentiation attempted and the number of judges involved. The immediate consequences of diagnostic unreliability are heterogeneous symptoms among patients bearing equivalent diagnoses and common symptoms among patients bearing disparate diagnoses. Thus a given diagnosis conveys minimal information concerning individuals so classified, and empirical studies based on such designations are correspondingly difficult to evaluate.’
Holcomb then asked three clarifying questions with an emphasis on the last sentence about a diagnosis conveying “minimal information.” He caught a glimpse of the judges and noticed how Cramer peered expectantly over the top of his glasses, amused and impressed by Holcomb’s style, aware that the prosecutor was having a ball.
“Now, did you write that paragraph?” Holcomb asked the doctor.
“No, I didn’t actually write this paragraph, but I co-authored that article so I guess I have to take responsibility for it.”
Grinspoon then read the paragraph out loud himself, in a very loud and fast “rat-a-tat-tat,” Holcomb said later. And while Grinspoon spent the next two or three minutes explaining why that paragraph had no relevancy to this case, Holcomb just stood with his back to the witness box, slowly shaking his head. When the doctor was finished, Holcomb turned around, took the copy of the article from him and said, “Thank you very much, Doctor. Have a pleasant trip back.”
Holcomb said he felt like a million bucks when he saw the smiles on the faces of the other two judges as he sat down. Afterward, his mentor Dick Wessel came up and shook his hand enthusiastically.
“John, I just want to tell you that that was the most masterful cross-examination that I’ve ever seen,” he said as he pumped Holcomb’s arm.
It meant a lot to Holcomb because the eight years that he and Wessel worked trials together, Wessel was the cross-examination and expert-witness man. Holcomb, he said, was “the razzle-dazzle,” who would make the jury cry. So he was so touched by the complement that he choked up.
The defense’s other witnesses echoed both the history and the diagnosis of the Ruppert case, including the court-appointed Dr. Howard H. Sokolov, a consultant with the Butler County Forensic Center, said Ruppert’s psychosis would be hard to detect in normal situations because the defendant is a “very reclusive person. For the first half hour I talked with him I had no indication he was psychotic.”
Sokolov called the murders “a rage reaction in which there was so much pent up emotion and that emotion was based so much on charged thinking that I feel it was consistent to an explosion of psychotic rage.”
Before court adjourned for the weekend, the judges heard the strange testimony of Valeta Spears, who met Ruppert for the first time at Frisch’s about five months prior to Easter as he sat among the regulars and engaged in general conversation.
About three weeks before Easter, she testified, she was talking to Ruppert when he put his fingers to his lips for her to be quiet.
“I’m listening to Castro,” he told her. When Ruppert saw that she was startled by the remark, he grinned, leading her to believe that he was joking.
The next night, she asked him, “What did you hear from Castro?” and laughed, but he did not, and seemed disturbed that she should make light of the subject.
Holcomb asked her if she made the connection between Ruppert’s strange behavior and any kind of mental problem.
“No,” she said. “I thought he was either using ESP or something.”
Sears also said Ruppert often told her she should put her money into stocks.
Dr. Philip Mechanick from the University of Pennsylvania was the next in the parade of psychiatrists to testify, taking the stand first thing Monday, June 23.
Mechanick gave similar testimony as Grinspoon and Sokolov, saying that Ruppert simply “exploded” when Pinky made his “simply inquiry” about the Volkswagen.
“It was as if those words were code words,” he said in testimony that not only mixed metaphors, but tossed them like a salad and pureed them for good measure. “It was an automatic response, like scratching an itch… He went for the guns in a psychotic rage like a man drowning grasps for a straw.”
That, he said, was an example of Ruppert’s unrealistic way of thinking.
“I have never had a car that operates right,” he said. “There is always something wrong, but I don’t attribute it to anything but the manufacturers who don’t make very good cars.”
He said that after the initial burst of rage that left 11 bodies dead or dying in the kitchen and living room, “He treated the children like injured horses, and he had no comprehension of what was right or wrong at the time.
“The only thinking or contemplation which he described to me (during the incident) was when he heard the moaning and the groaning of the children, at which point he thought that he should put them out of their pain…. The very nature of his thought processes make that clear. That if it’s right to assist a suffering child by putting the child out of his misery, that’s as wrong as anything I can imagine. That’s treating the child like an injured horse, which you can shoot. I can conceive of no way of picturing that as any kind of reasonable comprehension of what is right.”
Also like Grinspoon, Mechanick said it was impossible for Ruppert to be faking his psychosis.
“Even a well-trained psychiatrist could not simulate this condition,” he said, as “the totality of Ruppert’s responses, facial responses, tears, flushing, blanching, all those things, don’t admit of training” as Ruppert could not know in advance “exactly what would be the appropriate response” to questions.
He said he diagnosed Ruppert as “psychotic with paranoid tendencies” who could probably not be cured in a lifetime in an institution.
Dr. Henry Bachrach, a clinical psychologist also of the University of Pennsylvania, said Ruppert showed “a fearful, suspicious and passive quality in his personality,” a kind of “Caspar Milquetoast.”
Bachrach had examined and tested Ruppert without knowing the charges against him, “but from the test results, I knew it was a violent crime and probably murder (because) his thinking was so permeated with violence.”
One of the tests Bachrach gave showed a picture of a boat with smoke, but no smokestack.
“I asked him what was missing,” Bachrach said. “He said, ‘The little windows with people peering at each other.’ The normal response should be smokestack.”
Holcomb challenged the interpretation. “That picture of a boat may be easily recognized in Philadelphia,” he said, “but not in Hamilton, Ohio, which is a dry dock.”
“I assume that school children in Hamilton know what a boat looks like,” Bachrach replied.
The psychologist also said that from his battery of tests he discovered that Ruppert’s opinion of women is that “they lead you on but they never come through.”
“But isn’t that the experience of all mankind?” Holcomb quipped, causing a ripple of laughter in the courtroom.
Hamilton psychiatrist Dr. C. Donald Stevens, who spoke with Ruppert just the previous Thursday when court was recessed, testified that “the conspiracy is all-consuming in Ruppert’s mind.” Ruppert told him he believed that Dr. Stevens himself was involved in the conspiracy.
“He told me that since the trial began there’s been an FBI agent posing as a reporter,” he said.
As to Ruppert faking insanity, Stevens said it wasn’t possible for someone to fake it so seamlessly. “He could have expressed all kinds of hallucinations and answered test questions differently,” he said. Ruppert can’t be faking mental illness because he doesn’t believe he is mentally ill. “He thinks there’s something wrong with everybody else.”
For his cross-examination of Stevens, Holcomb had another bit of sleight of hand up his sleeve. He had a previous insanity case--the Roscoe Barnett case in which a man was charged with murdering his landlady--with Dr. Stevens in 1967 and remembered his testimony in that case was that there is no test you can give a patient in the present time that can determine the state of mind or mental condition at any previous point in time.
First, he asked Stevens if at the time of the murders if Ruppert knew the difference between right and wrong. Stevens said he couldn’t answer that question, he did say that it was “an irresistible impulse.”
Holcomb turned from the witness and started walking back to the prosecution table, telling Fischer, “Hand me the Roscoe Barnett transcript.”
Fischer handed him what was obviously the transcript of a legal case with long brown covers on it. Holcomb made a big production out of opening it up and reading from a piece of paper he had stuck inside it, because it wasn’t really the transcript for that case. One didn’t exist because Barnett was found guilty of first degree murder, was sent away for life and never appealed so there was no reason to type one up.
Looking inside the big, imposing volume, Holcomb asked, “Isn’t it true that there is no test known to psychiatry which you can administer now which accurately can determine a man’s mental state at any previous given point in time?”
“That’s right,” Stevens agreed.
On Tuesday, Dr. Glenn Weaver, the psychiatrist whom Ruppert had seen in the early ‘60s to help with his masturbation problem, related a dream that Ruppert had written down in November, 1961.
“In my dream,” he wrote, “I was seated at a long table (about 15 ft.). I had been condemned to death (for no known reason) and my friends were gathered around me… There would be no mention of the way I would be put to death but each time I would think of it (in dream) I pictured myself being electrocuted… Each time it came to me, I was happy at the thought that the end (destiny of either heaven or hell) was so close.”
The mourning crowd around him, however, made him afraid at the uncertainty of whether there was life after death and more uncertainty if he would go to heaven or hell. In the dream he had two minutes to make his appeal to the court or accept his fate, and he was having a hard time making the decision. He could have a few more years of life, or he could have an eternity. But what kind of eternity would that be?
He awoke before he could make the decision, however, and at first felt happy that it was only a dream.
“Then I immediately fell into a very deep sadness and cried loud and very hard, begging God’s forgiveness for all that I’ve done wrong, and feeling happy that I wasn’t really dying in sin.”
And Weaver’s take on whether Ruppert was faking his psychosis: “This is too well organized.”
The conspiracy was the reason Ruppert moved from job to job, Weaver said.
“He felt he was giving them the slip by leaving,” he said, “Everything would be okay for a while and then he would see indication that people at work were in on it, then the next thing you’d know, he’d take off.”
The sixth and final psychiatrist to testify was Dr. Leigh M. Roberts, a psychiatrist with the University of Wisconsin Medical School and a specialist in forensic psychiatry, who said that the fear of a conspiracy is reflected in the way Ruppert sat impassively during the trial, staring straight ahead and very rarely appearing to be listening as witnesses testify.
Roberts, who spent four hours testifying (Holcomb would say he believed Roberts testimony was in lieu of the defendant testifying himself), said he believed that if Ruppert had not had a gun in his hand Easter afternoon, the mass shootings would not have occurred. He said if Ruppert had had to go upstairs to get the gun after his brother’s comments about the car, the shootings would not have occurred.
“He is in great fear of his life,” Roberts said. “It’s not that he doesn’t have feelings. He’s expressive and articulate outside the courtroom, but because of his intense fear of the proceedings here, he feels he must maintain his passiveness.”
Roberts said that even though Ruppert felt his mother was at the center of the conspiracy, he remained living in her house because “Hamilton was as safe to him as anywhere else” because the conspiracy had spread throughout the country, and agreed with earlier testimony that if Ruppert didn’t have the guns on him when Pinky made “that unfortunate remark,” the tragedy would not have happened.
On the other hand, he said, if there had been 10 more people in the house, they also would have been shot to death.
Bressler asked him if the psychotic rage had affected Ruppert’s shooting ability.
“If anything, it would have heightened his response,” he replied. “He was probably able to fire more rapidly than ever in that condition.”
In his cross-examination, Holcomb dropped a question that hinted at part of his rebuttal strategy.
Roberts had testified that Ruppert wasn’t worried about money despite being unemployed and owing his mother $3,000 and his brother $1,000, that he felt he was doing OK on the $77 a week he got for unemployment benefits. He said Ruppert had been “reasonably successful” on the stock market and had enough in savings to tide him through brief periods of unemployment.
“Doctor, did James U. Ruppert tell you he had invested over $28,000 between the years 1971 and 1975 with Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith alone and lost it all?” Holcomb asked by way of parting.
“No,” was the only reply.
The defense then rested without calling the defendant to the stand, so Holcomb started to get his rebuttal witnesses lined up, but when he got back to his office, he found a message from Mrs. Skalkos saying that she didn’t want to testify, that she couldn’t swear that it was the Ruppert brothers in her restaurant.
Wednesday morning, Holcomb started the session with Guido Terzo, who had known Ruppert for about seven years as they both frequented the Hayden-Stone brokerage office, described Ruppert as “very gentle, very friendly, very intelligent” and a man who was “well-read” and “even-tempered.”
“He is of more sound mind than I am,” he said.
William Furnier, also a brokerage acquaintance and a retired clerk from the Hamilton Municipal Court, said, “I would say he is a regular type citizen, well groomed at all times, always immaculately dressed.
William Lakemen, who met Ruppert three years earlier at the same brokerage, said, “I thought he was normal. Everybody liked him and thought he was a nice fellow.” He said that Ruppert liked to sell short, which he thought was a risky method of playing the market.
Lester Tuttle, Ruppert’s stock broker, said that Ruppert seemed “very normal, average individual… he wasn’t a flighty person at all.”
Jill Clontz, Hayden-Stone operations manager, said Ruppert was “always polite, always friendly” and sane.
Dean Cavett knew Ruppert both from the brokerage and from Frisch’s Big Boy, said he thought Ruppert was sane.
Their testimony was greeted with frequent objections by the defense, and during the cross-examinations, there was just one question: “Were you trained as a psychiatrist.”
Each answer was a variation on “No.” Lakeman drew a laugh from the spectators when he said, “No, no. I’m just a regular guy.”
Holcomb called Detective Paul Line, who grew up with the Ruppert brothers, to the stand to ask about “the pigeon coop,” the boys’ relationship and their relationship with their mother.
“Leonard was the older brother who watched after Jim,” Line said. “If we teased him in pretty strong words, Leonard would tell us to back off.”
He described Billie as “overprotective” toward James.
Holcomb called a principal from Badin High School--the parochial school that superseded Hamilton Catholic High--to introduce Ruppert’s school records, but the judges sustained the defense’s objection. Holcomb was OK with that. “I interpret that as signifying the court’s in our corner so far and they don’t want error in the record that would require reversal of the case by a Court of Appeals,” he said.
Holcomb’s final witnesses for the day were Edna Skalkos--his “bombshell”--and Martha Carr.
Although Mrs. Skalkos has balked at testifying, Holcomb had a summons drawn up and gave it to a detective to serve that morning, ordering him to bring the elderly woman directly to the court, and she complied, carrying the summons into the courtroom with her.
When she took the stand, she told Holcomb she was sorry she had to come.
“Well, you’re not sorry to see us, are you?” Judge Cramer asked.
“No, I’m glad to see you and the other judges,” she said and held up the summons. “It’s just that I didn’t want to testify, but I was told if I didn’t I would go to jail.”
Mrs. Skalkos said she didn’t know who the Ruppert brothers were when they were arguing in her coffee shop that Saturday before Easter, but recognized them when their pictures in the paper the following Monday, but she couldn’t swear to it.
She said the smaller one, James, ordered doughnuts and coffee, but the bigger one walked up to the counter and said cancel that order and got two large orders of sausage and eggs.
She testified that the larger of the two, meaning Leonard, was gesturing with his hands like in a “so what” attitude or an “I don’t have any more money” attitude, and the smaller one just sat staring at the table.
On cross-examination Holbrock jumped up and in his wild-eyed, loud-mouthed voice, said, “Didn’t the prosecutor come down there and harass you and tell you what to say and try to put words in your mouth?”
“No, he didn’t,” she replied.
Holcomb was nervous--“scared to death” he told his Dictaphone--about Carr’s testimony. After she had given him the notes that made Ruppert seem like a nice, normal, shy fellow, she called him on the phone after reading some of the testimony from Grinspoon and others in the newspaper.
“It’s all true,” she said. “Billie Ruppert used to prance around the house naked and say the body was nothing to be ashamed of.”
But he needed her testimony, so he was careful in his questioning, and Carr testified that she had known the family for many years, had lived upstairs from them at one point. She said James was “quiet and shy,” but that he and his brother had always gotten along well. The defense didn’t ask about Mrs. Ruppert’s nudity, much to Holcomb’s relief.
Court was adjourned at 11 a.m. Wednesday until Monday, June 30, taking a four-day weekend so the judges could attend a state-wide judge’s convention in Cincinnati and giving Holcomb a chance to prepare the final stage of his rebuttal. Little did he realize that he would soon have another bombshell to drop on the case, a woman who could blow Ruppert’s entire cover as an impotent, beaten-down victim of his mother’s sexual abuse. It was right out of Perry Mason: The surprise witness.
Holcomb’s immediate concern was to make sure he could prove Ruppert lost $28,000 on the stock market now that he said it in court, so he called Detectives Sergeant Dick Carpenter, who had been in charge of the searches on the house. Ebbing and Assistant Prosecutor Mike Gmoser went back to the scene and delivered another paper bag of books and papers, which included an application for food stamps that Charity Ruppert had filled out.
“This is going to lend a lot more weight to my argument,” Holcomb said. “Here’s an old woman on food stamps with no money and it’s the most logical thing in the world that she tells her 40 year old son if you have enough money to go out and drink every night you have enough money to help me pay the rent. I think that will make a devastating argument.”
Among the scraps of paper in the bag was a note in Charity Ruppert’s handwriting, apparently a phone message for James: “Marty Shepard, 9:45 p.m. - Tear up that traffic ticket he has fixed it. He just saved $17.00. I thanked him. Wednesday p.m. May 27th.”
“Wouldn’t it be something,” Holcomb mused, “to find out that James U. Ruppert went to the conspirators, the police, and had a traffic ticket fixed?”
Even better, however, was a card from Hamilton Police Department Detective Don Noes, and on the back, also in Charity’s handwriting, was “June 25, 1974, about 2:45 p.m. “
Holcomb got Noes on the phone right away. Noes didn’t remember being there off-hand, so checked his daily records and found that he indeed did go to 635 Minor Avenue to investigate a vandalism complaint filed by James Ruppert. He then dug up the original complaint, made at 11:30 p.m. on June 22, 1974 to Patrolman S. Collins: “Mr. Ruppert reports that sometime between 4:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m., 6/22/74, someone used and unknown object to dent in the passenger side hood of his blue 68' VW sedan, Ohio license 1685 MA while it was parked in front of the 19th Hole, Hamilton Plaza. Mickey Cornett is the barmaid at the 19th Hole. Ed Carlson is her boyfriend. Mr. Ruppert believes that Mickey put her boyfriend up to damaging Mr. Ruppert’s car. Two days ago Mr. Ruppert took sides in an argument between Mickey and another patron at the 19th Hole.”
That report was “dynamite,” Holcomb said, but also a “two-edged sword.”
“The side that hurts us is that it shows the guy, arguably, as paranoid,” he said. “He thinks somebody is trying to hurt his car and he thinks that Mickey Cornett put her boyfriend up to doing it.”
On the plus side, however, (1) the damage is real, not just a part of Ruppert’s imagination, and (2) when he found the damage, he didn’t think his brother did it, and (3) he called the police, who were part of this so-called conspiracy.
“And fourthly, he didn’t tell his damn psychiatrist about this,” Holcomb said. “So I think all in all it’s much more in our favor than against us.”
So he sent Glenn Ebbing after Mickey Cornett to check out the story, and she agreed to meet him in a bar in Millville, a village two miles out of town. Holcomb and Dan Fischer stayed late at the office working on other aspects of the case and waiting for Ebbing to get back. Around 12:30, he finally showed up with a six-pack of Hudepohl, and the three of them each drank two while Ebbing filled them in.
Mickey Cornett denied the incident Ruppert related in his statement. She said she never had any argument with any patron in front of Ruppert. As far as that goes, she said Ruppert never sided with anybody in anything at the bar. One time, one patron drew a gun on another and everybody in bar hit the deck except for Ruppert, who sat there at the end of the bar sipping his Wiedemanns.
After the trouble subsided she said that everybody asked Ruppert why he didn’t run, why he just sat there. “If my time is up, my time is up,” he said. “There’s no need to do anything about it.”
Mickey Cornett told Ebbing that they should talk to some girl named Wanda who was going out with Ruppert at the time of the incident. Holcomb was stunned by this bit of news, so he dug out Cornett’s original witness statement she made on April 2 where she told Don Noes: “I know of no close friends that he had but on two or three occasions which would be a while back a woman would call him at the bar and he would talk to her and I think her name was Wanda but I don’t know the last name and I don’t know what their conversation was.”
A little chagrined that they would have over-looked that, Holcomb told Ebbing to find this Wanda, “and damned quick.”
“This Mickey also said that this Wanda had worked there three or four days,” Ebbing said, “That’s how she met Ruppert. Then she got fired and Ruppert got upset about that.
It was going on 1 a.m. and the bar would still be open, so Ebbing got Tom Farrell, the owner of the 19th Hole, saying, “I need some information on a girl named Wanda who worked for you for three days.”
“There isn’t any Wanda ever worked here for three days,” Farrell said.
“I don’t care about the days, pal, or whatever kind of arrangement you had,” Ebbing said. “I need Wanda bad.”
“Well, I’m sure I don’t know where to find her,” Farrell said, pushing back a little.
“Pal, I want you to understand it good,” Ebbing said. “I need her bad. You call me in five minutes and tell me where I can find her.”
Sure enough, five minutes later Farrell calls back and told Ebbing that Wanda lived in the Ada Lee Trailer Court. They tried to make some phone calls to track her down further, but after calling a wrong number and waking some old-timer out of his bed, they decided to call it a night.
Ebbing called the Holcomb house and had Judy wake up the big guy. “Tell him I’ve found the girl.”
When he got there, Ebbing, Carpenter and Gmoser were waiting for him, and presented Wanda Bishop.
“She is plain,” Holcomb said. “She’s poor. She has false teeth. Her eyebrows are shaved off. She’s 28 years old. She’s thin. She’s obviously a hillbilly, had no education. Instead of saying ‘fight,’ she says ‘fit.’”
The story she told, Holcomb believed, would shoot a hole into Ruppert’s insanity plea and let all the air out of it.
She said her name was Wanda Mae Bishop and she lived at 1118 S. 12th St. in Hamilton for two months. She met Ruppert eight months ago at the 19th Hole Cocktail Lounge where she was tending bar. He came in about 7 p.m. “He’s just a quiet person that’d just sit there and stare at me, talk to me (about) really nothing at first till I got to know him. Then after I got to know him he started talking to me about his family, the things he didn’t have and his job and money and quarrels with his family. Things like that. His Volkswagen. His brother. He said he used to go with his sister-in-law and after he broke up with her that his brother started going with her and they got married. He did always talk that his--about his brother’s Volkswagen, things like that. He said that him and his mother never could get along. They always quarreled on him for a long time about her financial problems, money, jobs. He told her she didn’t want him married nor she didn’t want him at home. He said that before he started staying at his Mom’s he was living in an apartment but he didn’t say where at. I always thought he had a nicely turned face, personality, quiet, nice turned person. After that, he would come in every night, six days a week, usually around 5 p.m. and would sometimes leave around 10 but sometimes would stay until 2:30. He started sitting in a booth with her of months after she met him and would “Roam his hands around on my privates.”
Q: And did you let him do that?
Q: And what would he do when you would stop him?
A: He’d start doing it again. Right over and over and over.
Q: And did he ever ask you out?
A: Yes, he has.
Q: And when did he, when was the first time he asked you out?
A: It’s been, well, I’d say about two months or so before Easter Sunday.
Q: And what did you say when he asked you out?
A: I said no.
Q: And did he ever tell you where he wanted to take you?
A: To a motel.
Q: Did he tell you for what purpose?
Q: What did he say exactly?
A: He just said it, how he said it was go to a motel. I want to have sex.
Q: And what did you say?
Q: And then what did he do then?
A: He got well a little sad about it. He didn’t act like, he didn’t get angry. He just acted like he was upset about it ‘cause I wouldn’t go.
The next time he was in the bar, he didn’t speak to her. But as time went on, he apparently got over it, and the Friday night before Easter, she got him to give her a ride to pick up her car at her mother’s house.
Q: Was your mother home that night?
A: Yeah. But she was in bed. So I got in my car and he followed me out to the trailer park that night and that’s the only time we was ever out together.
Q: Did he go into your trailer?
Q: What time was that?
A: That was after the bar closed.
Q: And what did you do when you got to the trailer?
A: Sit and watched TV.
Q: What night was that on?
A: That was on a Friday night.
Q: What was on television?
A: I can’t remember.
Q: And was it a movie or --
A: Some kind of a movie but I can’t remember what it was though.
Q: How long did he stay?
A: About an hour or two.
Q: Did you talk at that time?
A: No mostly just sit and watched TV.
Q: And did he kiss you at that time?
Q: And what happened?
A: Well I kept pushing his hands off I think he got tired of trying and left.
Q: Did you like Jim?
A: Yes I did.
Q: And did he like you?
A: He says he did.
Q: And why didn’t you have sex with him?
A: Because I didn’t believe in it.
Q: You didn’t believe in sex or you didn’t --
A: Not with him because I was married and I wouldn’t have if I wasn’t married.
Q: OK. You wouldn’t have sex with Jim unless you were married to Jim?
A: That’s right.
But on Saturday night, she and Ruppert went back to their booth in the bar to talk privately.
BISHOP: He tried to have sex with me.
Q: He tried to have sex with you?
Q: Actually tried to?
A: Yeah, right there in the bar.
Q: And what did you do then?
A: I told him no.
Q: What did he do?
A: Just tried to you know, pull my bra up you know and run his hands up and I kept pushing his hands back and he kept putting them back. Tried to run his hands all down my legs, between my legs and I kept pushing his hands away and told him to quit and he said let’s go to a motel and I said no and he said for sex and everything else like that.
Q: Well what was everything else like that? If you can remember.
A: Well, he just , well he was wanting to have sex so bad I could tell the way he was holding his hands so bad, he kept wanting me to go, wanting me to go. I kept saying I don’t want to go. Right over, he kept trying to get me to leave with him. Kept kissing me and everything. Wanting me to leave with him. And I just wouldn’t go.
Q: Did you kiss him back?
Q: Was it an emotional kiss or just an ordinary kiss or what kind of a kiss was it?
A: Well his kisses well I don’t know how you describe it, like sex like kisses.
Q: Pardon me?
A: Sex-like kisses, you know.
Q: Sex-like kisses?
Q: And when you turned him down and you pushed him away what did he do then?
A: He kindly got mad.
Q: How did he get mad?
A: Well, he wasn’t angry. He just said, you know the look on his face was real sad. ‘Cause I refused him.
Q: And what happened then?
A: Well he sat there for a while and then he got up and went back to the bar and sit. Well a little bit after that I went back up to the bar and sit with him.
It was about 1 a.m., Bishop said, when Bishop sat down with Ruppert at the bar. She said he started a conversation, talking about “his job, his family, his mom, things like that.” He said he didn’t have any money that his mom had more than he ever had, and that she didn’t want him living there and they “quarreled and fit” all the time.
“He had a problem at 635 Minor and he was going to take care of it,” Bishop said. “He had to.”
Q: Did he say when he was going to take care of it?
A: That night.
Q: And what did you take that to mean?
A: That he was just going to get in a fight.
Q: With who?
A: With his mother.
Q: And what happened then?
A: Well, he sat there for a while and drank and then he said he had to go… I asked him, “Where are you going?” He said, “I’m going down on Minor.” Then he came back in about a half an hour or so back later and he just have been into it with his mom or something, and he just said him and his mom was quarreling… He said that his mom told him that if he couldn’t find a job that he’d have to leave… He said he told her that he was laid off and he didn’t have no means of support, you know, no financial money or nothing like that to go buy him a place to stay.
Q: And what did, did he say anything else about that?
Q: Did he say anything about his brother?
A: No just about his Volkswagen that’s all.
Q: Did he say anything about his brother’s Volkswagen?
A: Yeah. He just said his brother had a beautiful Volkswagen.
Q: Did he say his brother had a van or a VW?
A: Volkswagen. He didn’t say whether it was a van in no sense of the words, in a sense of a words he did.
Q: You say in a way he said it was a van?
A: Yeah. Well one time he told me it was a regular Volkswagen. The next time he told me it was a van.
Q: What time did he leave?
A: He left at 2:30.
Q: And what time does the bar close?
Q: Did he get up first to go or did you?
Q: Did you kiss each other a couple of times in the parking lot?
A: Yes we did.
Q: OK. I want to ask you just one other question. At that time, so I understand this correctly, you were in love with him?
A: Yes, I was.
Holcomb was so sure that this witness would be the nail in Ruppert’s coffin that he decided to hide her out for the weekend, then spring her on the court as his first witness Morning. There were a million ways this could go wrong. Ebbing had been checking the records at the Municipal Court and some of those people might have Holbrock’s ear. Or maybe she’d decide to go to the 19th Hole and let the cat out of the bag. Maybe some of the neighbors might convince her she didn’t want to get involved in this and hide her out in Kentucky somewhere until it all blows over.
“So we decided just to put the snatch on her,” Holcomb said, and made arrangements through a Hueston Woods State Park ranger, a fishing buddy of one of Holcomb’s investigators, to hide her out in a cabin there, on the other side of Oxford, 15 miles from town in the middle of nowhere. They enlisted the wife of a deputy sheriff who was also an Oxford police dispatcher, to babysit. Holcomb gave the babysitter some money to take the poor woman shopping.
“This poor girl didn’t even have any decent clothes,” Holcomb said.
After they got situated in the cabin, the officers said they would go out and get a couple of sacks full of groceries. They asked Bishop what kind of steak she wanted, and she told them she didn’t know. She’d never had a steak before.
“What we plan to do is march her right into that courtroom at nine o’clock Monday morning and hit them right between the eyes with her,” Holcomb said.
Holcomb and his team spent the rest of the long weekend wrapping up loose ends and going over testimony with witnesses. On Friday, Gmoser went to Merrill-Lynch in Cincinnati to talk over Ruppert’s accounts with some executive down there while Holcomb and Fischer went to see Dr. Charles Feuss, director of the Cincinnati Mental Health Institute at Emerson North Hospital.
Holcomb and Fischer both held Dr. Feuss in high esteem.
“Feuss says that he agrees with Grinspoon’s articles that psychiatrists disagree so much and he says that the reason they disagree so much is because psychiatry is an art which is attempting to use scientific methods and it just doesn’t work,” Holcomb said.
Feuss also told them that Ruppert’s dream about being executed meant “absolutely nothing.”
“The only time a dream has any significance is if it’s a recurring dream,” he said. “Yesterday I went to see that movie called ‘Jaws’ and last night I laid in bed and dreamt all night that sharks were biting me in the ass.”
They squared away Feuss’ testimony that Ruppert is in a paranoid state and borderline psychotic, that he knew what he was doing and knew the difference between right and wrong.”
Since Holcomb’s cross-examinations of the defense psychiatrists, he thought he better get squared away with Feuss and asked how much he was charging.
“John, I’m charging you exactly the same amount of money that the judges in your county pay court-appointed psychiatrists,” he replied.
“You’ve got to be kidding me!” Holcomb exclaimed.
Gmoser had slightly less good news. They had estimated--and brought up the number in court--that Ruppert had lost $28,000 on the stock market, but Merrill-Lynch’s accountants’ figures showed it closer to $22,800. “Close enough,” Holcomb said. “It’s still devastating.”
Holcomb met Dr. Dan Thomas, his psychiatrist from Dayton, Saturday afternoon and with Ebbing went over testimony with Mickey Cornett late Saturday night. Then he and Gmoser went to Hueston Woods Lodge to go over testimony with Wanda Bishop.
“I can’t imagine how they overlooked her,” he dictated on Monday morning. “It’s like handling a stick of dynamite that can blow somebody else up but if you are not careful it will blow you up too.
“She just scares the hell out of me. I’m going to have to handle her with kid gloves. Not that she’s not honest. I believe she is honest. I know she’s honest. But one thing’s for sure: She is honest to God illiterate and dumb.
“She doesn’t know what conversation is but she knows what talk is. She calls Ruppert ‘Rufford.’ I keep saying ‘Ruppert’ and she says ‘Rufford. That’s how I knowed him.’ If she comes across like this in court she is liable to kill us.”
So for two hours he kept drumming the magic phrase into her head: “His mother said if he had enough money to lay out and drink seven days a week he had enough money to help pay the rent or else he could get out of the house.”
But come Monday morning, he was “actually trembling and shaking… so afraid of what she might say or what she might not say.”
As soon as the three judges entered the courtroom and took their seats at the bench, Holcomb walked over to the door and gave Dick Carpenter the signal. Carpenter then called on his radio to Glenn Ebbing, who was sitting with Wanda Bishop in a police car across the street in the jail parking lot. “A great hush of anticipation” filled the courtroom, Holcomb said, for the three or four minutes it took before Bishop came marching through the door, so dolled up that it took Holcomb aback. Wearing the clothes that the deputy’s wife bought for her and a brand-new hairdo “she didn’t even look like the same person,” he said
The surprise witness made exactly the splash Holcomb anticipated. She “went over like a million dollars,” he said with relief later that night, describing the scene while it was still fresh in his mind. The afternoon Journal-News’ ran a banner headline “Ruppert’s girlfriend testifies” with a photo of Wanda Bishop as high up on the page as it could go, her new coif even with the A1 mast touting “The Exciting Newspaper serving the Golden Triangle of Southwestern Ohio”. The afternoon Dayton Daily News story headline, not banner but still above the fold, announced “Ruppert Trial Rocked By Testimony of Woman.”
The lede paragraph in both papers quoted Wanda Bishop saying that the night before Easter today Ruppert “that he had a problem he had to take care of right then and there.” Both papers hit the points that Holcomb wanted to make, how Ruppert left the bar for a while to get in a fight with his mother and how she told him that if he had enough money to go out and drink seven nights a week that he could pay rent or move out. And they both reported that she said she was in love with James Urban Ruppert, the man whose insanity defense hinged on the fact that he was impotent with women. The Dayton paper even described her new ensemble, purchased at Grant’s Department Store in Oxford during her makeover weekend in sequester.
Holcomb said that during her testimony the defense frantically went through their index card file of background witnesses and couldn’t find her name anywhere. Joe Bressler’s first question during cross-examination was to ask Wanda if she had made a statement to the police. She said she had, then Holcomb stood up to say that the statement was made to him, not the Hamilton Police Department. He explained to the court that the statement was the product of his work during the four-day recess and was not available for prior discovery. Bressler asked for a recess to review the statement, and the judges and all of the counsel went into Cramer’s office to play the tape from Holcomb’s Dictaphone.
“Holbrock started raising hell with Mike Gmoser because several times during the tape it clicked off and on,” Holcomb said. “Mike made a professional statement that he didn’t add anything and he didn’t delete anything from the tape. Holbrock lit into him and said that he didn’t think that was good practice and that we should have followed his practice of just letting the tape run regardless of what was said.
“I’d heard enough of it and right in front of all three judges I said, ‘Hugh I don’t give a good goddamn what you think – I could care less.’ We then walked out of Cramer’s office and I heard Judge Marrs go “hmmm,” clearing his throat. I know he feels the same way about the guy. The guy’s half dingy himself.”
Bressler’s cross-examination was brief. She said she went with Ruppert “off and on” before she permanently separated from her husband three or four months ago. She said she worked for the bar for four days, then quit, but started coming in as a regular about five times a week after that. She said Ruppert did not tell her what kind of work he did but that his job took him from state to state. She said Ruppert had bought her a couple of drinks during the time she knew him, but he often sat alone at the bar, but she would not describe him as a “loner.” When Bressler asked her why she didn’t go to the police after she heard about the murders, and she said she did but they didn’t want to talk to her, then offered that she also called Holbrock’s office to tell them what a nice man Ruppert was.
Holcomb called Mary Ellen “Mickey” Cornett to the stand, partly to corroborate Wanda Bishop’s testimony, but to also give further insight into Ruppert’s “normal” behavior.
Cornett said that Ruppert had been coming into the bar four times a week for the last two years, usually arriving around 3:30 or 4 p.m., usually alone. She said that because she works the early shift and usually left by 7:30, she only saw Wanda Bishop once or twice a week. When Ruppert first started coming into the bar, Cornett didn’t like him much, thought he tried to act superior, but after she got to know him better found him more likeable. She said he was especially friendly with the women and they would put their arms around each other when they talked.
One day, he said, “Mickey, let me be your psychiatrist and analyze your problems.”
“I didn’t know I had any problems,” she told him.
Holcomb called witnesses to get the incident with the Volkswagen getting dented outside the 19th Hole, and called up Det. Dick Carpenter to show some of the documents he found in Ruppert’s house and car, tax returns and the like. When Holcomb tried to get the book “The Naked Ape” entered into evidence, Holbrock dramatically objected. Judge Cramer commented that the judges might have to read the whole book to see its significance to the case.
“Do you mean to tell me that if this book was found in the house, this man read it?” Holbrook said, first pointing at Ruppert, then making a dramatic gesture to point across the room. “Your honors if that is the law of this country, I’ll jump out that window.”
At that, both Judge Marrs and Prosecutor Holcomb pointed toward the window, gesturing that he should go ahead. Cramer said that someone had done that years ago. He allowed all of Carpenter’s detritus, except for the book.
Before Monday’s session was through, Holcomb got in the first of his psychiatric experts, Dr. Robert J. McDevitt, who examined Ruppert on behalf of the court.
Like the other psychiatrists, McDevitt said he would diagnose Ruppert as paranoid and schizophrenic, but took issue with the idea of “automatic rage,” noting that Ruppert was smart enough to have planned the killings with the insanity defense in mind.
“Based on the material he gave me,” he concluded, “he certainly did know right from wrong.” Ruppert knew why he shot his brother and mother, but “he was not able to explain why he shot the others. I have a hard time accounting for the killing of the other nine.”
On Tuesday, Dr. Dan Thomas told the court he did not believe the Easter shootings occurred as a “matter of reflex” as other doctors had testified. He said the firing, reloading and firing did not take place in a “robot-like” manner. Thomas also refuted testimony that Ruppert changed jobs often to get away from his conspirators. Ruppert would have felt the same way about the restaurant, the bar and the library.
Thomas testified that his interview with Ruppert was frequently interrupted by the lawyers and other psychiatrists in the room, and at one point a lawyer took Ruppert aside to talk to him in private. Although Holbrock didn’t object, he threw his eyeglasses down on the defense table and said in an audible whisper, “He’s a liar.”
Bressler’s cross-examination of Thomas got heated as the lawyer and the psychiatrist became engaged in a debate over the definition of terms like “psychosis,” “paranoia,” “paranoid state” and “delusion,” with Thomas insisting that paranoia isn’t a psychosis. Bressler read from books with titles like “Modern Clinical Psychology” to challenge the doctor’s opinions, but he wouldn’t shake. Bressler accused Thomas of “a bald-faced lie” when he spoke about the interruptions in his interview with Ruppert.
Bressler hammered the witness so hard that Holcomb finally strongly objected to his tactics and asked that the defense council be admonished by the court. Cramer told Bressler he was being “impertinent,” and Bressler apologized.
Thomas and psychologist Dr. Victor Thaler both said they diagnosed Ruppert as “paranoid personality,” but likely not a true psychotic because he too freely related his fear of the conspiracy against him.
“That kind of thing is usually not easily gotten out of a true paranoid,” Thaler said. “True paranoids are very rare and I have found only one in my career.”
After a noon recess, Holcomb called his “big gun” to the stand, Dr. Charles D. Feuss Jr., a Xavier University faculty member and a frequent expert witness in sanity trials, most of the time being employed by the defense.
He testified this time, however, that while Ruppert suffered from a paranoid state, which he described as “a gray area” of psychosis. He said if he had treated Ruppert on the day before the shootings, he would have treated him as an out-patient. Wanting to put the children out of their pain, he said, was an indication that Ruppert was aware of what was happening.
During cross-examination by Bressler, it came out that Bressler had taped recorded Dr. Feuss without his knowledge or consent following his examination of Ruppert.
“I did not know I was being taped,” he protested. “I feel this is very unethical. I was talking to two ethical gentlemen, I thought. I was not under oath. I don’t know what I would have said if I had known I was being taped.”
Visibly shaken and angered by the revelation, Feuss apologized to the court for his outburst.
For Tuesday’s final hour of court, Holcomb called a series of witnesses who knew Ruppert at the bar, on the job, or from Frisch’s, all testifying that he was friendly, intelligent, quiet guy. Laura Swisshelm, a local realtor and a regular at Frisch’s, said the last time she saw Ruppert was on Good Friday, two days before the shootings. She said that Ruppert told her he had met a woman he wanted to marry, but he didn’t say where he met her or what her name was. Indeed, “I don’t think he even knew her, the way he was talking,” she said under cross-examination.
There were still 15 people on the prosecution’s witness list when court was adjourned Tuesday afternoon, so it came as a big surprise to everyone when Holcomb rested his case shortly before 10 a.m.
Holcomb gave two reasons for ending it early.
“We’re at the high point in our trial right now and the only thing it can do is get worse,” he said. “We end on a high note. Secondly, most important of all we are going to force the defense to go ahead with their sur-rebuttal right away because these judges are tired of hearing this damn thing now and they are not going to want to give them all day Wednesday and then start their sur-rebuttal on Thursday because I know that they will be anxious to get this thing over with by the Fourth of July weekend.
“We know that they have to destroy Wanda Bishop and every hour to us is precious, because they are going to run up and down the alleys and in the joints and find some people to discredit her,” he said.
So on Wednesday, he called his four best witnesses, including a woman with photos from a party that was held at the 19th Hole in which James Ruppert was clearly in the background kissing a woman, destroying the image of “the lonely little misfit that sits in the corner,” Holcomb said. “He’s right in there swinging with the rest of them and looks like he does pretty good for himself.”
So he was done by 9:30, after calling 38 rebuttal witnesses.
The defense attorneys asked for a continuance as they had not expected to start calling witnesses until the afternoon, but the court, as Holcomb suspected they would, ordered them to press ahead, and the defense called nine witnesses before resting its case at 11:50, just in time for lunch.
Just as Holcomb predicted, most of the witnesses were out to get Wanda Bishop, starting with Thomas Farrell, owner of the 19th Hole, said she was not in the bar that Saturday before Easter. He said he’d only seen her in the bar once or twice since he’d fired her several months earlier. He said he never saw Ruppert with a woman, that he always came in alone and he always left alone.
Donna Gabbard, the 19th Hole bartender who replaced Wanda Bishop when she quit, said she only saw Bishop in the bar one time and never with Ruppert. She said she never got any phone calls for Ruppert at the bar, contrary to Bishop’s testimony that she called there every night. Gabbard’s mother happened to live next door to Wanda on S. 12th Street and had done some babysitting for her. Bishop “doesn’t have a reputation for truthfulness,” she said, but she did have a reputation for being “a trouble causer.”
Another 19th Hole regular Jane Halcomb testified that she and her husband were in the bar when it closed the night before Easter and did not see Bishop there, but they did see Ruppert drive off alone.
Elmer Bishop, 20, her much-younger estranged husband who said he’d just been served divorce papers the previous Friday. He said that he was with his wife and children in their trailer home at the Ada Lee Trailer Park the night before Easter, that they watched television until 2 a.m. and then went to bed. He also said that he overheard Wanda calling the 19th Hole shortly after she heard about the murders to see if Ruppert had still been coming in there. He told the court that Wanda had five children by her three previous husbands. He said he met Wanda three years earlier when he worked on her car. She couldn’t pay him with money, so they “took it out in trade.” When asked for clarification on cross-examination, he said, “She went to bed with me.” She was married to someone else at the time. Elmer said knew Wanda had cheated on him, too, but Ruppert was not one of her lovers.
“I couldn’t shake him on cross-examination,” Holcomb said. “He stuck right to the same thing, but the guy has to be nuts. He has to be a damn liar because we have other witnesses who have seen Wanda and Ruppert together.”
Elmer’s mother Eliza Bishop confirmed his story, saying they were all at home that evening because their car needed repairs. She also told the court that Wanda couldn’t be believed.
The defense also called Shirley Klem of Mt. Healthy, who said her family was “the best of friends” with the Leonard Ruppert family. Klems testified that the last time she saw Alma, about a week before her death, she was concerned about the hard feelings her husband had for his brother.
“She said Pinky did not like his brother,” Klem said. “She could not understand why he disliked his brother so much.
On cross examination, Holcomb asked Klem if the reason Leonard was mad at his brother is because his brother was 40 years old, not working, sponging off his poor mother on a fixed income, getting ready to go on food stamps, and out carousing around all the time.
“Isn’t that why Pinky was mad at him?” he asked.
“Yes, that’s right,” she answered.
Even if Wanda Bishop’s testimony had backfired, Klem just verified the gist of her message anyway, Holcomb thought, and so he felt the trial ended on a positive note for the prosecution. Although he was dog tired, he grabbed a couple of Cokes and a sandwich, sent everyone out of the office and started working on his closing argument at 3 p.m., and without another break, didn’t leave the building until 3 a.m.
“I guess it was kind of detailed but basically I went over and over and over it, wanted to get all the things down that I wanted to say but if I said everything that needed to be said I would have to argue all day,” he said. “There is no way I could get it into the two hour limit that the judges have set.”
Holcomb began by arguing that the evidence showed the shooting deaths of the 11 members of the Ruppert Family were purposeful killings. He outlined the numbers of bullet wounds found in each of the 11 bodies, noting that all but two had head wounds in addition to body wounds. This, he said, showed an awareness of which ones “didn’t have to be shot again.”