Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

John Rulloff: The Genius Killer

Rulloff's Brain

Rulloff's death mask
Rulloff's death mask

Rulloff had been correct when he'd anticipated interest in his body.  Many people wanted to claim it.  One man made a death mask to display at his art gallery.  Then the body was placed on public display for all the curious to see.  Rulloff's brother never showed up, says Bailey, so Dr. George Burr was given the body for the Geneva Medical College.  He would bury the remains, he said, but he wanted the skull and brain.  His hope was that, with science, they would yield something about Rulloff's criminal disposition via measurements of the gray matter and/or the cranium structure.

Rulloff's brain, studied by medical science
Rulloff's brain, studied by medical science

Burr did have the body interred in a cemetery, but medical students dug it up again (it was later found in a potter's field).  Then Burr went on a lecture circuit to discuss how he'd found Rulloff to be a criminal type, stretching the facts to fit his theory, as the brain was closer in size to that of many geniuses. It brain weighed over 59 ounces, heavier than most adult male brains.

It eventually came into the hands, according to Cornell University's Chronicleonline, of Burt Green Wilder, a former Civil War surgeon who became an animal biologist at Cornell.  He launched a collection of human brains in 1889, so as to learn if the differences in size, shape, chemistry, or weight could account for certain behaviors or personality types, including the mentally ill.  At its peak, the collection had some 600 specimens.  Eventually many were tossed out, but Rulloff's brain remains part of the reduced collection to this day, pickled in formalin in a glass jar.

Medical students dig up Rulloff's corpse
Medical students dig up Rulloff's corpse

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