Archive for the ‘Research’ Category
It was a beautiful day—Easter Sunday—and the family had just concluded their annual Easter egg hunt on the front lawn of Charity Ruppert’s home on Minor Ave. Charity was mother, grandmother, and mother-in-law to the entire clan.
James Ruppert, Charity’s 41-year-old unemployed son, didn’t join the others in the festivities. Instead, he remained in his upstairs bedroom until his family came inside to prepare the evening meal.
635 Minor Ave. Home of Charity and James Ruppert
James still lived at home with his mother. He was a small, quiet, geeky sort of man who loved to shoot guns, and he was quite good at it. Actually, he liked firearms a lot, and he collected them. On this particular Easter Sunday, while his mother puttered about in the kitchen, James was probably choosing a few favorite firearms from his collection—a rifle, a couple of .22′s, and a .357 revolver.
Ruppert crime scene photo
As the bells tolled in a nearby church tower, James made his way down the narrow stairs. The youngest child, James’ nephew, was in the bathroom washing up. His sister waited at the door for her turn at the sink. Other members of the family were in the living room watching children play on the floral print area rug. The youngsters had to be mindful of the potted plants, the tabletop radio beside the couch, the figurines on the end tables, and of the portable television sitting on the rolling cart. The TV’s left-leaning rabbit-ear antenna pointed away from a leather recliner. Two coffee tables were positioned near the center of the room. The glass-topped table, the more ornate of the two, held paper plates filled with snacks. The other table was covered with a white, lace-trimmed doily.
James first entered the kitchen, where he shot his brother to death. Then he turned the gun on his sister-in-law and his mother. Next were the children at the bathroom, followed by the remaining family members in the living room. James had moved so quickly that only a small wastepaper basket was disturbed during the shootings.
Back door of Ruppert house
The only sign that anyone had tried to escape was that the back door was open just a crack. A girl’s body lay near it.
James Ruppert knew what he was doing, first firing a shot to disable each of his victims, then firing the killing rounds to the head or heart.
As his family lay dead before him, James calmly called the police and reported the shooting. Then he waited for them to arrive. An investigator present at the scene stated that there was so much blood around the bodies it had started to drip through the floorboards into the basement.
Ruppert crime scene photo
Why did James Ruppert kill all 11 members of his family—the largest family mass murder in the history of the U.S.? The reason he gave police was that his mother had accused him of being a homosexual. He’d also hoped to cash in on the family’s life insurance policies and other assets, which totaled somewhere around $300,000.
Why have others killed their families? What were their motives?
Well, a little background first. According to the National Institute of Justice, the people who kill their families are statistically white males (91%). Over 3/4 of them used a gun to commit the act. And there was normally some sort of domestic-type violence in their history—the number 1 risk factor in all cases. Interestingly, a stepchild in the home is also a common element. Financial troubles also come into play, but only when there has been a history of domestic violence. 92% of ALL cases involved a gun.
Among the cases of murder-suicide, including the murder of their own children, jealousy was found to be a key factor. David Adams, author of Why Do They Kill? Men Who Murder Their Intimate Partners, as research for the book, interviewed several men who’d killed their family members. During those interviews he asked the killers if they’d not had access to a gun would they have still committed the murder. Most said no.
In a sort of strange twist, several years after the Ruppert murders, several knives and other edged instruments were used to brutally kill and dismember a young woman—Tina Mott—in the house across the street from the Ruppert house. This was also a case of familicide.
The house where Tina Mott was murdered is across the street from the Ruppert house. I was standing in the front yard of the Ruppert house when I took this photo.
The sheer horror associated with these two cases has people speculating that Minor Ave. is cursed. Others say the place is haunted. Are either of those theories even remotely possible? Personally, I can’t say either way, but I wanted to explore the ideas. So off I went to Minor Ave. to start exploring and knocking on doors. My daughter, fascinated by these cases, wanted to tag along for the interviews and to see where “it” happened. Together, we wound up spending several hours chatting with residents and witnesses and visiting the crime scenes. (I know, it wasn’t the typical “parent-of-the-year” type of father-daughter outing, but we had a great day).
After interviewing several residents we discovered a theme common to both crime scenes…the neighbors all say the spirits of the dead still visit the two murder houses. Their proof? They’ve seen them.
*You can read about both Minor Ave. cases in a true crime tale I wrote for the anthology Masters of True Crime: Chilling Stories of Murder and the Macabre (edited by R. Barri Flowers). You’ll also find a true crime story there written by Dr. Katherine Ramsland.
Masters of True Crime will soon be available as an audio book.
*Crime scene photos and other images on today’s blog are the property of Lee Lofland and may not be reproduced or used in any manner. Some of the images have been edited to preserve the dignity of the victims. James Ruppert’s photo – West Virginia News
The chapter began with a detective thumbing the safety on his revolver. From there the author’s credibility tumbled downhill, taking a couple of really interesting characters with him. Where they went I’ll never know because I won’t bother to read another word in that particular book.
But, you say, it’s not your fault the police stuff is not spot on, because you went online and found all sorts of really cool police information. You know, like that site where the first paragraph started out with, “I don’t believe that police can…” Reading down a bit further on the page and we learn the author has complied a list of police facts regarding arrest, Miranda, crime scene investigations, etc. from another list generated by yet another group of writers who got their information from other writer websites. Together, they’ve created a one-stop shop for things WRONG about cops and their procedures and use of equipment
The first clue that you’ve landed on a website that probably can’t offer much more than what you already know, is a sentence that begins with “I don’t believe.”
Research is great, and every writer should at least dip a toe in the research pool every now and again. But please be sure the lifeguard is properly trained in the subject matter you seek. We can all read something and then relay our findings to others. However, a slight misunderstanding and/or twist of a word or its meaning can totally transform a really cool scene into a disaster.
If you’re unsure of a particular situation, tool, piece of equipment, procedure, rank, duty, assignment, ammunition, etc., then don’t use it in your story. Simple as that. Using incorrect information will serve only to confuse a number of your readers. So, instead of potentially losing fans, you’re better off making up something and in turn using your creative genius-type writing skills to help your readers accept whatever it is you’ve decided to use in place of fact. Believe me, it can be somewhat offensive to see your beloved profession butchered in a crime novel.
Think about it. Suppose you picked up a new book and this is what you find on page one…
Sara, a young ER doctor and part-time paperback novel writer, decided to go rogue and perform open heart surgery in the hospital waiting room. “Damn the hospital rules and regulations,” she said while thumbing the safety off on the Stryker SmartLife. “I’ve got a bone saw and I’m not afraid to use it.”
Suddenly, the ER doors pushed open and a tall, hard-bodied doctor from the CDC walked inside. His muscular shadow darkened the entire corridor. “No, Young ER Doctor, the feds are here now and I’m taking over,” said Mr. CDC. “You’re suspended and there’s nothing you or your chief of staff can do about it. And, dumbass, there’s no safety on a Stryker!”
Every nurse, orderly, and even most of the patients instantly fell in love with the tall
FBI agent CDC guy. But the young ER doctor didn’t give up. Driven by her need to save the world one operation at a time, she raced her unmarked ambulance to the shipyard to meet with Ringo Swenson, a seedy thug who ran a covert surgery center in an abandoned cat litter factory. Swenson, she knew, would let her use the clandestine ER. She also knew enough about Sewnson’s secret, shady past that he’d also allow her the use of electricity, bottled water, and a saw or two. Maybe even a stapler, or some sutures.
Of course, Young ER Doctor was kidnapped the second she stepped inside the litter factory. Her daughter, the child she never knew she had until the last chapter, was also abducted, but not before leading the bad guys to her mother’s secret stash of high-tech medical tools. Then there was THE explosion at the hospital pharmacy. And…
If you can’t bring yourself to believe this about an ER
doctor physician, then why should your readers be expected to believe the same about cops?
Please, do your homework. And please, for accuracy and those added dimensions of realism—hearing, touch, taste, etc., consult with someone who’s been there, done that. Anything else is flat, emotionless information, and it’s basically nothing more than hearsay.
Better still, sign up for a round or two of hands-on training, a ride-along, or an afternoon with an actual cop or other law enforcement professional. If your tale features an ER
doctor physician, then by all means spend time with an actual ER doctor physician. Tour the ER. Visit a hospital. Peek inside an ambulance.
But whatever you do, do NOT rely on websites that begin their tutorials with “I don’t believe.”