Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

John Rulloff: The Genius Killer

Rulloff Returns

Because of Rulloff's sudden absence, his neighbors began to suspect he might have done away with his wife and child.  They talked of forming a posse to go after him, but then Rulloff came back to town, acting as if everything was normal.  When asked about Harriet, he said she was in the lake region.  He was surprised to learn that people were talking openly about him as a murderer.  He then went to stay with his inlaws, assuring them that all was well, but this time he said that he'd moved his small family to Ohio.

Not everyone was willing to accept his story, and one of Harriet's brothers insisted that Rulloff take him to see her.  He agreed to write her a letter, but when Rulloff subsequently disappeared, he was located again and forced to take a journey.  He clearly was not happy about this arrangement, and once they reached Ohio, Rulloff slipped away again.  A warrant was issued for his arrest.  He was found, returned to Ithaca, and locked into a cell.  Officials, now convinced of Harriet's demise, issued a reward for the discovery of the bodies.  The DA prepared to prosecute Rulloff.

His trial began early in 1846, but there were no bodies available to prove murder, despite an attempt to find them in Lake Cayuga.  Since it could not be proven that they had been killed, their disappearance seemed sufficient grounds for a lesser charge: abduction, focusing on Harriet.  Rulloff, with a grasp of legal issues, fought tooth and nail to be freed before the case got into court.  He failed in this and had to listen as a case was made against him.  He couldn't prove otherwise, and could only argue a lack of evidence.  He directed his defense counsel on what to do, but some of the jurors had already decided that Rulloff should be imprisoned for something, even if not for murder.  They convicted him and he was sentenced to ten years in Auburn Prison.

That decade was no pleasant experience, but as usual, Rulloff put the time to good use, learning skills and areas of knowledge that would assist in his cons, once released.  In addition, he took up a correspondence with an educated man.  Those who knew Ruloff noted a rigid temperament, ready to retaliate over minor quibbles but generally willing to follow the rules and apply himself to required tasks.  He educated himself more fully and formed ideas for his future.

John Rulloff
John Rulloff

Yet even a decade of incarceration did little to mitigate the anger of those who intended to see Rulloff hang for murder.  The search for the bodies of Harriet and Priscilla continued.  On the day Rulloff expected to be released in 1856, another warrant was issued for him on suspicion of the murder of his wife.  He went with the sheriff to Ithaca.  There, DA John A. Williams listened to Rulloff argue that this was a form of double jeopardy; Williams dropped the charges.  However, the public reaction was so strong that Williams drew up another indictment, on the murder of Priscilla.  Rulloff insisted he was not guilty, and his attorneys' request for a change of venue was granted.  The trial was set to start in Owego, in Tioga County, New York.