On Easter Sunday, March 30, 1975, James Ruppert murdered 11 of his family members while they were visiting his mother's house in Hamilton, Ohio. It was deemed the Easter Sunday Massacre.
This was one of the deadliest shootings in a private residence in the US. He was convicted and is serving 2 life sentences in Columbus, Ohio, which is where I live so that is great.
PRE-KILLER JAMES RUPPERT
From his early years, James Ruppert's life was always troubled. His mother, Charity, was clear with him that she had wanted a daughter, and his father was violent and didn't care much for his sons. His father died when he was 12 years old.
His older brother, Leonard, who was only 2 years older than James, became the "father figure" of the family, but often picked on his younger brother and taunted him. (Which sounds very much like he was an older brother, and not a father figure.)
James ran away from home at 16, dissatisfied of his life where his barely-older brother had control over him and his mother didn't want him, and attempted suicide by hanging. When he was unsuccessful, he returned home.
Moving into adulthood, Ruppert was a small guy. He was 5'5" and weighed barely 135 pounds. In all ways, he was unremarkable. Modest, kind of nerdy, quiet, and had no police record.
But, he was envious of his brother's success in life. He had a successful job and a beautiful family. Ruppert was a college dropout, unemployed and unmarried, living with his mother in his 40s. His brother had a degree in electrical engineering, owned a home, had 8 children, and to make matters worse, he married James' ex-girlfriend.
While his brother was off making nearly a baseball team with James' ex, James was running into trouble with his landlord (his mom) who was becoming frustrated with his inability to hold a job and his constant drinking. She threatened to evict him multiple times. He also owed a lot of money to his mother and brother, and had lost the modest amount of money he once had in the stock market crash of 1973/1974.
A month before gunning down his family, he inquired about silencers for his guns while purchasing ammunition. People close to him said that he was becoming a bit more unusual, and battling depression... Nearing his breaking point. At his birthday celebration the day before the murders, witnesses saw him shooting tin cans along the banks of the Great Miami River as target practice.
The night before, James went out to drink and talked with 28-year-old employee and mother of 5 Wanda Bishop, who told investigators later that he claimed he was frustrated with his mother's demands and his impending eviction. (Picture this: a 41-year-old unemployed man complaining to a young bartender that his mom might kick him out of he can't get a job.) Bishop said that he told her his mother said "if he could afford to buy beer seven nights a week, he could afford to pay rent", which seems like a really reasonable request for a man in his 40s.
He said he needed to solve the problem of his eviction. He left the bar at 11 PM, but returned later. She asked if he had solved the problem, but he responded "No, not yet". He stayed and drank until 2:30 AM when the bar closed.
SOLVING THE PROBLEM... BY CREATING WAY MORE PROBLEMS
On March 30, 1975, Leonard and his wife, Alma, brought their 8 children, ranging from 4 to 17, to grandma's house for Easter Sunday. Ruppert, hungover from the previous nigh, stayed upstairs while the kids did an Easter egg hunt outside.
At around 4:00 PM, Ruppert finally woke up, and he loaded 4 guns and headed downstairs. He immediately shot and killed his brother, his nemesis and the man he compared himself to all his life. Next, he shot and killed his sister-in-law Alma and his mother.
With his unreasonable, pesky landlord dead, his perfect brother and his ex-girlfriend sister-in-law dead, one might think that his killing spree was over. All that was left were children, children who were completely innocent. (Obviously, his mom and brother and sister-in-law were also innocent.)
Unfortunately and heartbreakingly, the ages of the only remaining people in the house did not stop him. In the kitchen, he murdered his 11-year-old nephew David, and his nieces Teresa and Carol, ages 9 and 13 respectively. He moved to the living room and killed his niece, 12-year-old Ann, and the 4 remaining children, his nephews Leonard III (17), Michael (16), Thomas (15) and John, who was only 4 years old. One child had been shot only once, while all of the other kids had 3 gunshot wounds.
The shooting was over within 5 minutes. The only sign of struggle was one trashcan that was tipped over, meaning that likely, nobody had any time to react to what was going on. James spent 3 hours in the house with the bodies of his and his brother's entire family scattered about, and then called the police to report the shooting, waiting inside the front door for the authorities.
AFTERMATH & TRIAL
The murders shocked everyone: People who knew James, the town and the entire country. Though James did not have many close friends or confidants, the people who know him did not think he was capable of anything near this level of violence, especially towards what was seen as a nice family.
Though James reported the incident himself, he was extremely uncooperative during the questioning. He refused to answer their questions, and made it clear that he would be pleading insanity, which seems like something that would be taken into account when determining if you were or weren't actually insane.
During the viewing of the crime scene, county prosecutor John Holcomb said that there was so much blood, it was dripping through the floorboards into this basement. It can be seen to this day. All 4 weapons were found at the scene, and it was determined he had shot 35 rounds.
Ruppert's first trial was held in Hamilton, Ohio. A three-judge panel found him guilty on 11 counts of first degree murder and he was sentenced to life in prison. However, it was declared a mistrial and a new trial was held in Findlay, Ohio, because authorities did not believe he could get a fair trial in Hamilton.
The new trial started in June 1975, and evidence included the witnesses who had seen him engaging in target practice, asking about the silencers, and explaining to the bartender that he needed to "solve" the problem of his mother. The trial was not about if he did it or not, but if at the time, he knew it was wrong. The jury concluded that he did know it was wrong and that he was sane, and he received 11 life sentences.
For some reason, he got another trial on July 23, 1982, where a three-judge panel found him guilty of only 2 counts of first degree murder, his mom and brother, but found him not guilty by reason of insanity for the murders of his sister-in-law and his nieces and nephews. Essentially, it appears they thought he had pre-meditated the murders of his mom and brother, but the aftermath of killing the rest of the family was a side effect of insanity. I certainly don't buy it, but regardless, he received 2 life sentences, so he will serve the same amount of jail time either way.
As of the end of last year, Ruppert is still in the Franklin Medical Center in Columbus. In both 1995 and 2015, he had hearings before the Parole Board, but his release was denied both times. He will have another parole hearing in April of 2025, at the age of 91.
Being a 41-year-old son who is angry at his landlord mother with whom he has always had a strained relationship makes sense. Being an angry younger brother who was bullied by his older brother and then had to watch him succeed in every avenue of life while he was unable to hold down a job makes sense. Even being the brother-in-law of the woman who you once dated who eventually married and made a big, beautiful family with your hated brother makes sense. To turn to murder is absurd and terrible and an obvious inability to control emotions, but at least there is some minor semblance of sense to make out of those deaths.
But after he ended the lives of those he felt wronged him, he pulled a gun on a 4-year-old. He ended the life of a 17-year-old kid with the world in front of him. He shot 8 children between pre-school and senior year of high school and within minutes, ended whatever chance they had at making their mark on the world. They were sons, daughters, sisters and brothers but also grandchildren, neighbors, students and friends. And within 5 minutes, they went from celebrating Easter to being gunned down by their loser uncle who unable to control his anger.
This one makes me really sad. I read and write a lot about true crime and murder, and the idea of someone being there one moment and being senselessly gone the next is something I grapple with, but the idea of an entire family being wiped off of the face of the Earth in the time of a commercial break is so specifically sad.
All of this to say, 45 years ago today, a really terrible person committed a really terrible crime, and I hope he has to spend the rest of his life in prison because of it.