The Scholar on the Gallows (Part Two)

Continued from Part One

As soon as Edward Rulloff arrived in the Tompkins County jail to stand trial for the murder of his wife, the district attorney knew his case was doomed to fail.   Not only had no body ever been found, but what little evidence he had was circumstantial at best.  And then there was that pesky issue of double jeopardy given that Rulloff had already served a sentence relating to his wife's disappearance.   Since he wasn't willing to let the case go altogether, the district attorney decided to focus on the disappearance of Ruloff's daughter since it had never been mentioned in the original trial.   Though he knew he couldn't get a murder conviction without a body, the indictment against Rulloff was changed to abduction rather than murder. And it worked.  The new trial against Edward Rulloff led to a guilty conviction and the presiding judge sentenced him to death.  

But Edward Rulloff wasn't down for long.  While the death sentence was being appealed, Rulloff was held in the Tompkins County jail under the watchful eye of Under Sheriff Jacob Jarvis.    Since the entire Jarvis family was living at the jail,  that gave all the family members ample opportunity to get to know the prisoner.  And vice versa.   Before long, Rulloff had gained their trust and he even began tutoring 18-year-old Albert Jarvis in French and Latin.  

On May 5, 1857, Edward Rulloff escaped for the Tompkins County jail with the assistance of his new protege, Albert Jarvis, who fled with him.  Though authorities learned that they had gone to Pennsylvania, all attempts at their capture failed.    Despite numerous wanted posters and newspaper articles providing a physical description of Rulloff (no one seemed that interested in Albert Jarvis), Edward Rulloff managed to keep hidden with only the occasional robbery to fund his fugitive lifestyle (he had long since split up with Jarvis to avoid being caught).    During the course of one of these robberies, he ended up losing the big toe off his left foot to frostbite, something that would eventually be used by police to identify him.  It was only after he moved on to Ohio where he became a teacher in a writing school that his luck ran out.   After someone recognized him, he was eventually captured and returned to Tompkins County to stand trial.

By then,  the New York Court of Appeals had already overturned his abduction conviction and the district attorney (who was likely as tired of Rulloff's antics as everybody else) promptly turned him over to Pennsylvania police to stand trial for this various burglaries.  Not that he stayed in jail long since authorities eventually dropped the charges and Edward Rulloff  dropped out of sight again.  After a few more years (which some sources suggest he spent in Sing Sing under an assumed name),  Edward Rulloff managed to join up with his old friend, Albert Jarvis, and a third man, William T. Decker, to start pulling off a series of burglaries throughout New York state.   In between robberies, they lived quietly under assumed names in New York City boarding houses.  

Rulloff, for his part, had more grandiose ambitions though.   After writing what he believed to be his magnum opus on philology, titled "Method in the Formation of Language", he then took it to the annual meeting of the American Philological Association which was held in Poughkeepsie in 1869.  Posing as "Professor Eduardo Leurio", he managed to have his work read by the publications committee despite having no real credentials whatsoever.   To his disappointment, the committee members rejected his manuscript for not meeting professional standards.  Which is when Rulloff decided to publish the manuscript himself by having his gang pull off a series of even more daring robberies (what the gang thought about all this seems open to question).  

And so, on August 17, 1870, Rulloff and his gang members attempted to rob the Halbert and Brothers dry goods store  in Binghamton, N.Y.   The store, which was closed due to renovations, seemed an ideal target since it had a valuable inventory of fine goods that the gang members would have no trouble selling.    The only security the store had consisted of two clerks who slept there at night and the three gang members had no difficulty getting in, putting on masks, and chloroforming the  clerks.   Unfortunately, they misjudged the dosage needed and both clerks regained consciousness before they were finished moving out the stolen goods.   The two clerks, Gilbert S. Burrows and Frederick A. Mirick, managed to capture one of the thieves who promptly shouted for help.    The other two gang members promptly returned, armed with pistols and began firing at the clerks.  Burrows was hit by flying splinters but Mirick, who was still struggling with his captive, was shot in the back of the head at point-blank range.  He was killed instantly.

All three gang members fled the store, without even bothering to collect their shoes (they had taken them off to avoid making noise) while Burrows raised the alarm.  Fire bells began going off and police promptly began searching for the murderous thieves.  In their panic, Rulloff, Jarvis, and Decker tried to cross the Chenango River to avoid capture but only Rulloff managed to avoid drowning.   He was picked up by police the following day while walking along a railroad track and the bodies of the other two were later fished out of the river.   

Though the two dead men were quickly identified by Burrows,  Rulloff somehow managed to convince the police of his innocence.  Unfortunately, as he was preparing to leave the station, the very same judge who had previously sentenced him in Tioga County entered the building and recognized him.   That alone wouldn't have mattered except that one of the arresting officers remembered that Rulloff was missing a big toe from his left foot which matched one of the shoes left behind by the burglars at the store.  

 And so, once again, Edward Rulloff went on trial for his life.   It would become one of the most bizarre trials in New York history, not to mention an equally bizarre aftermath.

To be continued.

 

           

Related Stories

  • When Children Know Their Rights
  • The Scholar on the Gallows (Part One)
  • The Bewitched King
 

 
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