The Ruppert House


Hamilton, Ohio, holds the distinction of being the site of America's largest family mass murder, an event which has haunted the city--literally and figuratively--for more than twenty years. It happened on Easter Sunday, 1975, inside the modest row house at 635 Minor Avenue. The house, they say, is haunted.

"We can't seem to find a motive for this," Hamilton Police Chief George McNally said the next day. No one but James Ruppert himself would ever know exactly what possessed him to methodically gun down every member of his immediate family that day. Though he was a gun collector and an accomplished marksman, he didn't strike anyone who knew him as the homicidal type; he was generally remembered as quiet, modest, and helpful, a small, nebbishy, unremarkable guy.


Present at Charity Ruppert's house that day were her son Leonard, his wife Alma, and their eight children, ages four to seventeen. Uncle James was upstairs in his room; unemployed at forty-one, he still lived with his mother. After the family finished their Easter egg hunt on the front lawn they came inside to prepare dinner. The youngest child was in the bathroom, while one of his sisters waited her turn. The other children were playing in the living room. Charity was preparing food while her son and daughter-in-law sat at the kitchen table.

James Ruppert came downstairs carrying a .357 Magnum, two .22 handguns, and an 18-shot rifle. He shot his brother first, then his sister-in-law and then his mother. Without pausing, Ruppert walked through the rest of the house, killing the children one at a time. He did it methodically; investigators found that he usually fired at least twice, first a disabling shot into the body, then a kill shot in the brain or heart. He moved so quickly, in fact, that no one screamed or even came close to escaping; the only sign of a struggle was a single overturned wastepaper basket. One of the girls had managed to open the back door a crack, only to be gunned down before she made it out.

James spent three hours with the bodies before calling the police. "There's been a shooting here," he said simply, and waited just inside the front door for them to arrive.

The trial revealed a number of things about Ruppert's state of mind and potential motive. Though considered a decent, even gentle son and brother, he had been repressing rage and frustration since childhood. His mother had wanted a girl; his father, who died when he was a child, had assured him he'd always be a failure. His brother Leonard had picked on him his entire life, he believed; Leonard's success at work and in family life only emphasized James's apparent failure. He was unable to find work, drank heavily, and rarely dated. He had been jilted by his only fiancee, and had even dated Alma briefly before she left him for his brother, whom James introduced her to. By March 30, 1975, his mother was preparing to evict him, and he was convinced that his brother had been sabotaging his only car. That day his paranoid persecution complex reached its boiling point. He would plead not guilty by reason of insanity.

In the course of his trial (eventually conducted in Findlay after a change of venue), the prosecution revealed that he had been contemplating murder for a while. Just days before he'd been seen along the banks of the Great Miami River, engaging in target practice by shooting a tin can along the ground, and when he bought his last box of ammunition, he inquired about obtaining silencers for his handguns. A woman he sometimes met at a local bar for drinks revealed that he'd told her about a "problem" he needed to solve--something to do with his mother and her demands on him. When it came out that Ruppert stood to inherit his victims' insurance policies, life savings, and property if found not guilty for any reason, the insanity plea was rejected. In 1982 a three-judge panel found him guilty of first-degree murder in the case of his mother and brother, but not guilty by reason of insanity on the other nine counts. He received dual life sentences, to be served consecutively.


One year after the murders, the house at 635 Minor Avenue was opened to the public and its contents auctioned off. Afterward it was cleaned and recarpeted and sold off; it remains occupied to this day. There are few better candidates for a haunted house; even the Lutzes' house in Amityville, New York, wasn't the scene of so many violent deaths. And according to legend, the story of the Ruppert house didn't end when the bodies were removed.

Eric contributed the following very convincing account of ghost activity at the Ruppert House.

Hi. I am from Hamilton, Ohio and I would like you to know about the Ruppert house. It is where James Ruppert killed eleven members of his family on Easter Sunday. I was nine or ten when we moved in. We were the first family to live there after the murders. It was a two-story house with only two bedrooms, so I had to share a room with my two sisters. We were all asleep when my mom says she saw the hall light come on and a shadow in the hall. She woke up and grabbed the door handle, and the light went off. She said we were all sound asleep.

After that I moved to the basement where you could still see blood stains on the floor beams. My stepfather and I were down there while my mom and sisters were out doing laundry when someone opened the front door walked into the kitchen and headed upstairs. He grabbed one of his guns and we went to check it out, but no one was there. Needless to say, after that we moved out and never went back. I know this sounds crazy but believe me it's the God's honest truth.

This story jibes with an account of the scene given by county prosecutor John Holcomb: "I stepped into all that carnage. It was so bad that when I went into the basement you had to be careful because the blood would seep through the floorboards and it would drip on you."

I'm interested to know if anyone else has ever had experiences like these in the Ruppert House. What about the current occupants? Any further information would be greatly appreciated.

Cincinnati Post article: "Butler County Corpse is Gruesome Reminder"
The Mass Murderer Hit List: James Ruppert

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Sources

Clark, John R. "Reporter's Career: 50 Colorful Years." Cincinnati Enquirer, April 15, 1998.

Clark, Michael D. "Butler County Corpse is Gruesome Reminder." Cincinnati Post, April 15, 1998.