The “Genius Killer” Visits Poughkeepsie (Twice!)

How many of you love true crime (this historian raises her hand)? Well what if I told you that one of New York’s most famous serial killers stopped in Poughkeepsie, not once, but twice, and on both occasions he managed to fool everyone when it came to who he really was? This man managed to charm both criminals and academics alike as he strived for intellectual greatness in between his outbursts of anger and crime sprees. His brain is still considered to be one of the largest specimens to ever be studied, and scientists still stare into the giant glass container where it sits and ponder its relevance to this day. The man who studied and wrote about language while he murdered innocent people was none other than the infamous Edward H. Rulloff. 

In a small book entitled “Life, Trial, and Execution of Edward H. Rulloff” written in 1871, the question is asked right on the title page, “Was he man or fiend?” He was born in 1819 in New Brunswick Canada, and by the time he was 20 years old he had proven himself capable at both law and crime; having served in a law office as well as two years in prison for embezzlement. He had made his way into New York and the Finger Lakes region where he served as a teacher in the small town of Lansing. It was there that he fell in love with his soon to be wife (and first confirmed victim), Harriet Schutt. Rulloff was quick to anger and jealousy and he did not like the attention that Doctor Henry Bull paid to Harriet. He also did not like the fact that her family never really approved of the marriage. In 1845, Rulloff wanted to move away from it all and start fresh in Ohio, but when Harriet refused, he hit her over the head with a marble pestle.

He had managed to place her body, along with the body of their daughter Priscilla (it’s unclear if he poisoned his daughter or hit her over the head as well, different sources say different things) into a large box. He borrowed a neighbor’s horse and wagon, and rode off to get rid of the evidence, possibly in Cayuga Lake. Harriet’s brothers William and Ephraim were soon on the chase to find Rulloff (William had also suspected Rulloff of poisoning his own wife and daughter, who had died just weeks before). When he was caught and went to trial in January of 1846, there was not enough evidence to get him for murder, so he was sentenced to 10 years for kidnapping at Auburn State Prison. While he was there, he studied linguistics and philosophy, and was considered a scholar by all of his fellow inmates. 

When he was released, the family of Harriet once again put him on trial, this time for the murder of his own daughter, and this time he was sentenced to hang. However, Rulloff had educated so many young minds in prison and had formed such close ties with those around the prison that he managed to escape with the assistance of Albert Jarvis (the son of the jailer). He would spend the next several years doing everything from teaching to bank robbing, and in 1861, he was in Poughkeepsie with a new alias, James H. Koran. 

The Poughkeepsie Eagle News mentioned him in November of 1861, when he was caught stealing tools from a wagon maker named Joseph Marshall, who had a shop on Garden Street. He was caught in the act and decided to defend himself at the trial. Everyone who heard him said that he clearly had a great knowledge of law and surely must have practiced it as he handled his case with great intelligence (except for the tiny detail that he was caught red handed). He was sent to Sing Sing to cool his heels for two and a half years. In July of 1869, he made his way back to Poughkeepsie, only this time he wasn’t a burglar named Koran, he was a Professor named Dr. Edward Leurio, who attended the convention of the American Philological Association. He was hoping to earn the respect of linguistic experts and the approval of a paper he had been working on entitled Method in the Formation of Language. No one at the convention was interested in his work. 

By August of 1870, he hired his friend Albert Jarvis and another henchman named William Dexter, to assist him in robberies to help finance his research and writing (because academia is a rough life). The three men entered a shop in Binghamton in August of 1870, and in the process of robbing the place, Rulloff shot and killed a store clerk named Mirrick and then jumped into the river. His two partners in crime followed him but they could not swim and both of their bodies were found later (some sources say that he had killed them and tossed them into the river, but it’s unclear which is true.) He was eventually apprehended and sent to trial, only this time he could not be saved. 

There were some who argued that he should be saved on account of his brilliance while others claimed that he was a monster. Meanwhile, Rulloff asked to be given the time to finish his paper while in prison. He wanted to be able to leave something important behind instead of leaving a legacy filled with murder and robbery. This was not allowed, and on May 18, 1871, he was publicly hanged at the gallows in Binghamton. A pathologist sawed off his head and they began studying his brain within hours of his execution. It still remains an object of interest well over a century later. 

References:
-Life, Trial and Execution of Edward H. Ruloff: The Perpetrator of Eight Murders, Numerous Burglaries and Other Crimes, who was Recently Hanged at Binghamton, N.Y. – 1871
-The Life and Death of Edward H. Rulloff  by Herbert A. Wisbey, Jr.
-Poughkeepsie Journal 01 Aug 1943
-Poughkeepsie Eagle News 21 Nov 1861
THE MOST NOTORIOUS BRAIN IN THE ANNALS OF CRIME: The Story of Edward Rulloff: Serial Killer, Genius, Specimen by Kate Winkler Dawson 

Images:
01 – Drawing from the book Life, Trial and Execution of Edward H. Ruloff: The Perpetrator of Eight Murders, Numerous Burglaries and Other Crimes, who was Recently Hanged at Binghamton, N.Y. showing an interpretation of Harriet’s murder.
02 – Drawing from the book Life, Trial and Execution of Edward H. Ruloff: The Perpetrator of Eight Murders, Numerous Burglaries and Other Crimes, who was Recently Hanged at Binghamton, N.Y. showing Edward Rulloff. 

Picture of Rulloff’s brain!