Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

John Rulloff: The Genius Killer

The Third Thief

The next step was to ascertain the identities of the burglars.  The detectives prepared to track down various items taken from the burglars' pockets that might provide leads. Bailey lists them: "six keys, a letter to one Henry Wilson, and a scrap of paper with the name and address of William Thornton, an attorney in Brooklyn."

In addition, one burglar had a peculiar booklet in his pocket called Napoleon's Oraculum, or Book of Fate.  It offered a method for answering questions about one's future via channeling an unknown source of energy through a series of dots and lines.  Reportedly, Napoleon had consulted it religiously, attributing his success to its guidance.  The book was found in his "Cabinet of Curiosities" after his 1813 defeat at Leipzig.  Reportedly, a French expedition had removed it from the tomb of a pharaoh in 1801, and after it was translated, Napoleon had relied on it to predict the success or failure of his future ventures.  It had been copied, and this book from the burglar's pocket was itself a well-used copy.

Halberts' store
Halberts' store

But there was another item that had been left behind in the cellar of Halberts' store, which turned out to be of more interest than initially believed: a pair of men's Oxfords that seemed specially made and utilized for a deformed left foot.  Halbert did not recognize them, so they offered potential for matching to a suspect.  But the drowned burglars' feet were normal and intact.  The shoes did not belong to them (although the sheriff later admitted he'd not tried them on the feet of the deceased).

After Rulloff had already left, someone else recalled an odd thing about him: the man was missing his big toe, and had several odd protuberances on his feet.  These shoes looked like a good fit for such anomalies. A deputy took off to find him and managed to locate him walking quickly down the road, as if in a hurry to put a lot of distance between himself and Binghamton. 

Mr. John Edward Rulloff
Mr. John Edward Rulloff

He was brought back to town, and like Cinderella, was made to try on the shoe.  The pair fit him.  However, it was a single circumstance that proved insufficient to support a murder charge.  It looked as if, once again, they'd have to let him go.

But there was one more item: Rulloff had a train ticket in his pocket to Batavia, as had the two dead men, but that, too, could be mere coincidence.  It wasn't that courts in those days shied away from a totality of circumstances — in fact, they made most cases with this method — but two items was a far cry from making a murder rap stick.  The detectives figured that once they knew who the drowned burglars were, they'd have a better means for learning whether they had an association with Rulloff.  They weren't about to let him move on just yet.