Considered one of the worst family shootings in American crime history, the Easter Sunday massacre took place on March 30 1975, when James Ruppert murdered 11 family members in his mother’s house in Hamilton, Ohio, their blood so abundant that it soaked through the floorboards and dripped down into the basement.
Born into mockery
Diminutive in stature (5’5” and 135 lbs. as an adult), Ruppert lived a troubled childhood. Although he was never abused like so many killers were in their early years, he nonetheless suffered through an uninterested father who died leaving him to the ridicule and mockery of a brother who thought he was a weakling, and a mother who called him a “mistake”, wishing that he was born a girl instead.
Adulthood brought him little relief or success, only fermenting his ever-growing feelings of resentment and persecution. Ruppert was venomously envious of his brother Leonard Jr.’s success. While he never completed college, his brother earned an electrical engineering degree. To add insult to injury, not only was his professionally successful brother married, but he married one of the few women that James had ever been with.
Ruppert trained as a draftsman but was unemployed for some time, lived at home with his mother, and drank heavily at a local bar named the 19th Hole Cocktail Lounge. He allegedly lost what little money he had in the stock market crash of 1973-1974, undoubtedly adding further stress and pressure to an already troubled man. By 1975, his mother finally had enough of her drunkard, unemployed son who was approaching 41 years of age. So she gave him an ultimatum that many consider the spark that led to the grisly bloodshed, she asked him to either pay rent, or else he would be evicted.
The day before the murder, March 29, witnesses saw him target shooting tin cans along the Great Miami River in Hamilton using his .357 Magnum revolver. Later that night, as he did almost every night, he drank heavily, and voiced his disgruntled resentment of his mother to Wanda Bishop, an employee at the lounge he frequented.
Bishop would later testify that James was angry at his mother for forcing him out of her house, and wanted to find a way to “solve the problem”. He left the bar that night at 11pm, only to return later, at which point Bishop asked him if he had solved his problem.
“No. Not yet.” he replied.
Easter Sunday Massacre
James woke up late the following day, Easter Sunday, as he so often did, sleeping off yet another night of heavy drinking. By the time James finally woke up around 4 pm, his brother, his sister-in-law and their eight children were already downstairs. The kids were in the midst of an Easter egg hunt on the front yard. Their laughs as they searched for the Easter eggs would soon go quiet.
James loaded his .357 Magnum that he was practicing with the night before, two .22 caliber handguns and a rifle.
Accounts differ at exactly what happened after James woke up. And considering that he is the only living witness to the shooting, all the versions of this story are not without bias. Some reports state that James walked downstairs with his guns at the ready and shot his family immediately. Others report that he walked down, was greeted with some perceived mockery of his old VW car from his brother, after which he left the kitchen and went back upstairs to get his guns.
Regardless of how exactly the shooting began, police investigators agreed that the entire thing was over in just five minutes. An expert marksman, described by the local police chief as a “gun freak”, James started in the kitchen, where he shot and killed his brother Leonard, then his sister-in-law, Alma, followed by his mother, Charity. Also shot dead in the kitchen were his nephew David and his nieces Teresa and Carol. As he made his way through the house, he killed them all, children aged 4 to 17. He shot each of them three times, and to make absolute sure that they had died, he waited three hours before calling the police to report a “shooting”.
The police found a bloodbath inside, a scene of carnage that would undoubtedly stay with them for the rest of their lives. Yet the only sign of a struggle was an overturned waste basket.
During his trails, of which there were three in total, the prosecution argued that he was using the insanity plea as a way to get committed to a mental health facility instead of prison, at which he could work on getting released earlier by feigning progress. Once free he could stand to claim an inheritance of at least $300,000.
The defense argued that he had simply just lost his mind. Ruppert told the police: “My mother drove me crazy by always combing my hair, talked to me like I was a baby and tried to make me into a homosexual.” They painted a picture of a man growing progressively paranoid and feeling like he was being cornered. Eventually, at some point during the appeal process the jury believed his insanity to some degree.
Ultimately, he was first convicted of 11 counts of murder, receiving 11 consecutive life sentences. Later a judge panel found him guilty of murdering his mother and brother, but considered him not guilty by reason of insanity for the remaining 9 murders. His appeals for parole have been denied, the last one of which was in April 2015. His next parole hearing is set for April 2025, when he will be 91 years old.
His family house and the scene of the bloody murders still stands to this day and remains occupied, although some tenants have complained of strange sounds and footsteps and screams.