the "easter sunday massacre"


The Ruppert house at 635 Minor Avenue in Hamilton, Ohio -- scene of the deadliest family massacre in American history. 

The Ruppert house at 635 Minor Avenue in Hamilton, Ohio -- scene of the deadliest family massacre in American history. 

Easter Sunday in 1975 was like any other in Hamilton, Ohio. Children hunted for eggs, mothers made last minute preparations for family dinners, and entire families were dressed in new clothes to attend morning church services. For the Ruppert family, the day started out happy. They worshipped together at an early service and then gathered at 635 Minor Avenue in Hamilton, a middle-class community about 30 miles from Cincinnati. But what happened that afternoon – March 30, 1975 – went down in history as the deadliest shooting to ever occur in a private home in American history – and it left a grim and troubling haunting behind. 

James Urban Ruppert was born on March 29, 1934. His early life was sad and abusive. His mother, Charity, often called him a “mistake,” because she had wanted a daughter. His father, Leonard, was a violent man with a quick temper and little time or affection for his two sons. He died in 1947, when James was 12 and his brother, Leonard, Jr., was 14. He wasn’t missed.

Leonard, Jr. became the head of the family and, according to James, picked on him incessantly. James did poorly in school, had few friends, and was always smaller than his brother. As an adult, he was only five-foot-six-inches and weighed 135 pounds. At 16, James was so unhappy at home that he attempted suicide by hanging himself with a sheet. He failed and resigned himself to an unremarkable life.  

As he got older, his resentment for his brother grew. James flunked out of college after two years, while Leonard earned a degree in electrical engineering and excelled in sports. To make matters worse, Leonard married one of the few girlfriends that James had ever had, with whom he had eight children. Leonard had a great job with General Electric, where James, at age 41, was unemployed and living with this mother. On top of it all, James owed money to his wife and brother, from whom he had borrowed large sums after losing what little he had in the stock market crash of 1973-1974. Charity was frustrated with his inability to keep a job and his constant drinking, and she threatened to evict him. The threat seems to have been what finally sent James over the edge. 

On March 29 – James’ birthday – witnesses later reported seeing him shooting at cans with a .357 Magnum along the banks of the Great Miami River in Hamilton. He went out later that night and at the 19th Hole Cocktail Lounge, he talked with employee Wanda Bishop. She later recalled that James seemly deeply depressed and talked about his mother’s demands on him and her threatened eviction. He said that he “needed to solve the problem.” He left the bar at 11:00 PM that night and later returned. When asked if he had solved his problem, he replied, “No, not yet.” He stayed until the bar closed at 2:30 AM. 

Leonard, his wife, Alma, and their eight children. They were all murdered in less than five minutes.

Leonard, his wife, Alma, and their eight children. They were all murdered in less than five minutes.

On Easter Sunday, Leonard and his wife, Alma, brought their eight children (ranging in age from 4 to 17) to see their grandmother at the house on Minor Avenue. James stayed upstairs, sleeping off his night of drinking, while the children enjoyed an Easter egg hunt in the front yard. Afterwards, they came inside and while Charity, Alma, and Leonard finished lunch preparations, the children played in the living room. 

Around 4:00 PM, James woke up, loaded his .357 Magnum, two .22 caliber handguns, and a rifle, and went downstairs. He entered the kitchen, where he shot and killed Leonard, Alma, and Charity. His nephew, David, and his nieces, Teresa and Carol, were also in the kitchen. He killed them, too. James then rushed into the living room, where he killed his niece, Ann, and his four remaining nephews, Leonard III, Michael, Thomas, and John. He killed each of his victims by first taking a disabling shot and then finishing them off with a shot to the head or heart. 

The massacre took less than five minutes to complete.

James sat in the house for three hours before he called the police. When they arrived, he was waiting for them just inside the front door. The police described the scene as a “slaughterhouse.” There was so much blood splashed about that it was dripping through the floorboards into the basement. To this day, stains can still be seen on the wood. 

The murders shocked the small community and made headlines across the country. Those who knew James never believed that he was capable of such violence. He was a quiet, unassuming man and the perfect neighbor. 

James Ruppert after his arrest.

James Ruppert after his arrest.

James was arrested and charged with 11 counts of aggravated homicide. He refused to answer any questions and was very uncooperative. He made it clear that he planned to offer an insanity defense. Prosecutors believed that he planned to plead insanity, and then after being “cured,” would be released to inherit a $300,000 inheritance. 

The original trial was held in Hamilton. A three-judge panel found James guilty of 11 counts of murder and sentenced him to life in prison. A mistrial was declared and a second trial was held in Findlay, Ohio, about 125 miles north, since it was decided that James could not get a fair trial in his hometown. The second trial began in June 1975, and prosecutors offered new evidence about James’ target shooting and statements about “solving his problem.” In July, he received a new sentence of 11 consecutive life sentences in prison. 

James appealed and a new trial was granted in 1982. Defense attorney Hugh D. Holbrock, convinced his client was insane, personally funded the hiring of expert psychiatrists from all over the country. On July 23, another three-judge panel could James guilty of two counts of first degree murder – his mother and his brother – but found him not guilty of the other nine counts, by reason of insanity. He received one life sentence for each guilty count, to be served consecutively. Between 1972 and 1976, the death penalty had been suspended in the United States as a result of a pending U.S. Supreme Court decision, so James could not be sentenced to death for his crimes. 

James Ruppert remains incarcerated today in the Allen Oakwood Correctional Institution in Lima, Ohio. He was granted his first parole board hearing in 1995, but his release was denied, as was his latest attempt at parole in April 2015. There is a very good chance that he will die behind bars. 

In the wake of the murders, the 11 victims were buried in the Arlington Memorial Gardens in Cincinnati. A year later, the house on Minor Avenue was opened to the public and all of the contents were sold at auction. It was cleaned up, carpets were placed over the bloodstains that could not be removed, and it was rented out to a family that was new to the area and had no idea of the horrifying events that occurred there. 

They quickly moved out.

After leaving the house, they claimed to hear voices and strange noises that they couldn’t explain. Lights turned on an off, doors slammed, and thudding footsteps were often heard coming down the stairs. 

They were not the last to move in and quickly leave. A number of other families moved in and out of the house and none stayed for long. All of them reported sounds and voices that could not be explained. The house was abandoned for several years, but the last family that moved in reported nothing out of the ordinary. Whatever eerie haunting that had plagued the previous tenants was over at last.

Perhaps the echo of the shocking events of 1975, which seemed to leave an indelible mark on the house, had finally faded away. And perhaps, after more than 40 years, the spirits of the Ruppert family can finally rest in peace.