Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

John Rulloff: The Genius Killer

The Crime

A sketch representing Merrick's death at the hands of the burglars
A sketch representing Merrick's death at the hands of
the burglars

Two burglars entered Halberts' in the early morning hours on Wednesday, waking the two clerks who slept there at night to guard the place. Merrick grabbed a pistol to warn them off and threw a stool at them. Then a third man emerged and threw a chisel at Burrows, rendering him temporarily senseless, but he revived to assist Merrick to fight off the burglars. Merrick grabbed one man, holding him bent painfully over the counter. Then the third man held up a gun. He pulled the trigger, shooting at and missing Burrows but then shooting Merrick at close range in the head. Young Merrick had been a clerk there only a short time, but had proven himself with unusual dedication. Now he'd given his life. Burrows ran out to the street to hail the police as the burglars fled.

Frederick Merrick
Frederick Merrick

A girl saw two men leave the store by the back door and go toward the river. She could not determine if they'd gotten into a boat or had waded into the river itself. Another woman saw three men go into the river. The sheriff knew that either they'd find another body, or someone who had committed this crime was still alive. If that was true, he wanted to find him.

In the excitement and the rush to find a doctor, several men rushed past a man walking out of town. Little did they know that they had nearly touched the person who was about to make this botched burglary one of the most famous crimes in the nation.

Even as law officers arrested the usual suspects from around town, having not yet found the bodies in the river, this man was followed as he wandered away. Since he was a stranger, several young men went after him, but he jumped in front of a train to try to lose them. He didn't get far. They cornered him and forced him to accompany them back to town, placing him in jail with two other suspects. He'd tried to ruin his clothing, as if to hide evidence, but his shirtfront appeared to have blood on it.

Sketch depicting Rulloff's murder of his wife
Sketch depicting Rulloff's murder of his wife

When the drowned men were arranged, each suspect was taken to view them. All claimed not to know these men, and there was nothing in their behavior to indicate deception. The stranger in particular was composed when he looked at the corpses from several angles, and gave his name to a grand jury as Charles Augustus. But then he changed it to George Williams — suspicious but not a clear link to a murder. He claimed, according to one reporter, to have been practicing law and gave his age as 52. There was no reason to detain him, not even when a man recognized him as Edward Rulloff, recalling that he'd once been accused of murdering his wife and child.


Rulloff admitted to his identity, but added another slick lie: he'd pretended to be someone else because he knew that in this part of the state, having accidentally been in town when a murder occurred, he figured he'd become a suspect. Thus, he was free to go...for the moment.

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