Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

John Rulloff: The Genius Killer

On the Lam

A $500 reward was issued at once for Rulloff's apprehension.  What he'd worn was fully described on a handbill, which was distributed around the county.  From these, people found out that the "learned murderer" was about five-foot-ten, 180 pounds, with a thick neck and large head.  Police warned that he might be disguised.  A reporter from a local newspaper stated that a visitor to the jail had given Rulloff a large sum of money. Al Jarvis confirmed the story about a stranger who had visited and asked a lot of questions about Rulloff.  Al's father was fired and replaced, and when a locksmith demonstrated how easy it was to pick the locks at the jail, they were all changed.

Rumors abounded and Rulloff remained free, so the reward was upped to $1,250.  Al was indicted for assisting Rulloff's departure.  Rulloff himself found a way to remain free via a series of quick robberies.  Yet he made a mistake: under a false name, he had his photograph taken and was soon identified as the fugitive.  This image made its way to different people who'd been robbed, providing a means for mapping Rulloff's movements.  It turned out, he wasn't far from Ithaca.

Yet he soon went west, into Ohio, and word of the reward followed him.  A farmer put two and two together and took several men, including a constable, with him to capture Rulloff.  They surprised him, and he attempted to persuade them of their error, but they were having none of his smooth talk.  They wanted the money.  To their minds, it was better to take in an innocent man and learn they were mistaken than to let a guilty man go free.  Rulloff struggled against them, but they overpowered him, taking him to the sheriff in Ithaca.  Identified as their man, he went back into his former cell, now with more secure locks.

Given the difficulty of trying him for a case in which there was no corpse, the prosecutor decided to pursue another case in which suspicions against Rulloff had been raised: the deaths of his sister-in-law and her baby.  Will Schutt was only too eager to provide any assistance he could in this matter.  But this case, too, would prove difficult.

The prosecutor looked to a precedent-setting case out of New York City for which Bailey provides details: A man accused of poisoning his wife a year earlier was tried for it after she was exhumed and her body tested positive for arsenic.  The man was convicted and executed.

So Amelia Schutt's remains were exhumed and examined.  Copper deposits were found in the tissues, and it was determined that this foreign substance had been introduced into her system.  Yet the investigation essentially came to nothing, and, aside from rumor and suspicion, these deaths were never attributed to Rulloff.

In the meantime, he was sentenced to hang for the crime for which he'd been convicted before his escape, opening the way for an appeal.  Attorney Francis M. Finch took up his case.