true crime

The day began with an Easter egg hunt. Hours later, an entire family was massacred.

It was Easter Sunday morning when 65-year-old Charity Ruppert began scattering chocolate eggs around her front yard at 635 Minor Avenue in Hamilton, Ohio.

Her eldest son, Leonard, was due to visit with his wife Alma and their eight children to celebrate the holiday in just a few hours. Charity’s youngest son, James, was still upstairs sleeping off yet another night of heavy drinking.

Frustrated with his inability to hold a job, Charity had recently told James he had to shape up or ship out. He was, after all, 41 years old and it had been going on for too long. Something had to give.

easter sunday massacre
James Ruppert. Source: Youtube.

Scattering chocolates around the home she'd lived in for most of her adult life that morning, Charity Ruppert could never have predicted that just hours later on that day in 1975, she, Leonard, Alma and all of her beloved grandchildren would be murdered by James, in what was and still is considered the most brutal private home massacre in the history of America.

According to Hamilton police reports filed after the brutal killings, plans for what would later become known as the Easter Sunday Massacre began almost a month earlier when James bought ammunition for his many guns and inquired about silencers. Days later, he began shooting targets behind his house with what should have been an alarming regularity.

Then, James turned 41 and was given yet another ultimatum by his mother, who he suspected had never loved him truly anyway, telling James when he was younger she had always wished for a daughter instead of him.


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On March 29, the eve of a visit from his more successful older brother and his large family, James did what he always did at night and went drinking at his favourite local bar, The 19th Hole.

According to the New York Daily Newshe talked to a waitress there about his problems at home and said he was determined to sort things out. She encouraged the idea and didn't think much of it when James disappeared from the bar at around 11.30pm, shortly after their conversation.

When he returned almost an hour later, the waitress asked James if he had been home and resolved the issue with Charity, he simply replied, "No. Not yet."

No one has ever been able to confirm what happened in that missing hour.

Comfortably drunk by closing time, James Ruppert made his way home at about 2.30am and stumbled up to the second storey of his mother's house, falling into bed, where he would sleep through Charity's scattering of chocolates, and late into the next afternoon.

It wasn't until 4pm on March 30 that James began to stir. Leonard, Alma - an ex-girlfriend of James' who had chosen his older brother over him some 20 years earlier - and their eight children, Leonard III, 17; Michael, 16; Tommy, 14; Carol, 13; Ann, 12; David, 11; Theresa, 9, and John, 4, had all arrived and were making a ruckus downstairs.

They squealed with laughter and joy in the front yard as they searched for the eggs their grandmother had painstakingly laid out earlier that day.

easter sunday massacre
Leonard, Alma and their eight children. Source: Youtube

Not ready to confront his family just yet, James lay in bed for a little longer, thinking about his life and what he was about to do. Then, at 5pm, he began to move.

He loaded a .357 Magnum, then two .22calibrer handguns, and finally, a rifle. Carefully, he made his way downstairs and within seconds opened fire. First, he shot at Leonard, the brother who he felt had teased him mercilessly throughout childhood. Then Alma, the woman who had left him for his closest living relative. Next was Charity, the mother who he believed never saw the good in him.

With the adults taken care of, James rounded the corner and began wildly firing, spraying bullets throughout the lounge room in the hope that none of the children would escape. None did, and within minutes each and every one of his nieces and nephews were dead.

According to the New York Times, 10 of the victims had been shot directly in the head, and one in the chest.

easter sunday massacre
James Ruppert. Source: Youtube.

With the hellfire over, James sat down in the lounge room and took in what had just happened; what he had just done. Almost four hours passed before he eventually picked up the telephone to call the local police at 9.30pm.


"There's been a shooting," was all he told the dispatcher on the other end of the line.

Later that night, residents of Minor Avenue and surrounding streets came from their houses and looked on in horror as body bag after body bag was rolled out of Charity Ruppert's house and James was carried away in handcuffs.

easter sunday massacre
James Ruppert being escorted to court. Source: Youtube.

James Ruppert says he had a number of reasons for doing what he did that day. For walking downstairs carrying two guns and opening fire on every member of his immediate family.

He was mentally unstable. His father had died while he was young and he'd grown up without a male role model around. Charity chastised him all his life. Leonard had bullied him relentlessly throughout their childhood and gone on to marry Alma. He was drinking too much at the time and owed money to a number of people. He was set to inherit almost US $300,000 from his mother. None of it was really his fault, he argued.

But despite his protests, local police did not agree.

“We can't seem to find motive for this,” Hamilton Police Chief George McNally said at the time. “This kind of murder usually has a motive like sex, greed or jealousy. We can't find any of those things here. Some aspects of this case just leave us puzzled.”

Forty-two years on and a number of failed appeals later, James Ruppert still sits in an Ohio prison. What he does on Easter Sunday, no one knows.

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