Tuesday, February 4, 2014

On This Date in Minnesota History: February 4

February 4, 1910 – Early this morning near Parker’s Prairie, Minn., William Julius Ruckheim, a 39-year-old farmer originally from Germany, murdered his wife Bertha, 35; his sons Albert and Wilhelm, 4- and 2–years-old respectively; and his two daughters, Martha and Else, 10- and 8-years old, by beheading them with the sharp edge of an axe as they slept.

Ruckheim then went into the barnyard, slew four head of cattle so that his dogs wouldn't starve. He returned to the house and after he’d knelt in prayer, stabbed himself below the heart with a jackknife.

Ruckheim believed that he was saving his family and himself from horrible torture because of failure to carry out a religious decree that had been pronounced against them. He sincerely believed that he had received a divine message that he and the members of his family must proceed to the cemetery at South Effington, Minn., and exhume several bodies deeply buried there with their bare hands before Easter.

Upon finding the dirt in the cemetery to be frozen, and it impossible to carry out the decree as declared, Ruckheim believed he and his family would be dragged to death. With such a terrible fate seemingly inevitable, Ruckheim says he decided to kill his family and himself.

Ruckheim hacked his wife’s body almost to pieces. Each of the children’s bodies also contained a number of deep cuts made by the axe. They all were in bed and could neither offer resistance nor make an effort to escape.

The tragedy was discovered by wood sawyers who had been working at the Ruckheim home for two days.

“I have done the right thing,” he told the wood sawyers. “The world is coming to an end. I intended to kill them at 3 o’clock in the morning, but I was so awful tired I overslept.”

Ruckheim is believed to be insane.


The 1910 Census shows Ruckheim to be a prisoner in the Otter Tail County Jail; he is a widower. The 1920 and 1930 Censuses list him as a patient in St. Peters Hospital, a state hospital for the insane in Nicollet County, Minn.

He died March 4, 1944, in St. Peter, Minn.

Incredibly, Bertha Ruckheim and her four children were buried in the St. James Lutheran Cemetery in South Effington, the very cemetery from which her husband believed his family needed to exhume bodies with their bare hands before Easter.

St. James Lutheran Cemetery, Parker’s Prairie, Minn.


New Ulm Review
; “Wipes Out Entire Family, Otter Tail Farmer Commits Horrible Crime”; February 09, 1910; pg. 3.

Adams County News; ”Kills His Family”; Gettysburg, Penn.; Feb 11, 1910.


1 comment:

  1. Thought to be insane? Ya think?
    That church and cemetery are eerily reminiscent of Esko Minnesota's Apostolic Lutheran Church. We used to walk or drive by that church almost daily when we lived in Esko. It made me look twice.