When the Man With One of the Most Notorious Brains Was Hanged in Binghamton
Edward Howard Rulloff is widely considered one of the most notorious criminals of the 19th century but his life of crime would come to an end when he was hanged in Binghamton.
Born in Canada in 1819 (possibly 1820), Rulloff was one of four children who would grow up to become a school teacher. Arriving in Ithaca around 1841, Rulloff took a job as a school teacher in Dryden. After marrying one of his students, Rulloff moved his family to Lansing where he somehow became the town doctor even though he had no formal medical training.
Things began to spiral downward when in 1845. It was that year that Rulloff tried to convince his wife to move to Ohio but she resisted. It is suspected that Rulloff killed his wife and young daughter but he was not charged with murder as their bodies were never found and there simply was not enough evidence to bring charges against him.
Although he was not convicted of their murders, Rulloff was charged with kidnapping his wife and was sentenced to a decade of hard labor at Auburn Prison. While in prison, Rulloff made friends with the son of Ithaca's undersheriff, Albert Jarvis who may have been the one to help Rulloff escape prison. Another theory is that it might have been the mother of Jarvis who helped Rulloff escape as she was quite vocal in her belief that Rulloff was an innocent man. Either way, Rulloff escaped from Auburn Prison.
After his escape, Rulloff traveled west to Meadville, Pennsylvania where he introduced himself to others as James Nelson. Rulloff became friends with a local inventor and convinced the inventor to start a business with him. Rulloff’s new persona as James Nelson was an attractive one, attractive enough that he was just about to accept professor position at Jefferson College however that plan was cut short when his friend Albert Jarvis wrote to Rulloff telling him that he and his mother were struggling and needed help or they would be forced to alert authorities of his whereabouts.
Rulloff attempted to rob a jewelry store so that he could send what he hoped to steal to the Jarvises. However, Rulloff was caught, arrested, and sent back to Ithaca. In a very bizzare turn of events, even though he was believed to be a killer, had escaped from prison, and was caught robbing a jewelry store, Rulloff was able to talk his way out of conviction and was let go.
After leaving Ithaca, Rulloff moved to New York City with Albert Jarvis where they took on a new career as burglars. Through his crimes, Rulloff was once again caught and in 1861 he was sentenced to two years in Sing Sing Prison. While at Sing Sing, Rulloff met his next accomplice, Wiliam T. Dexter.
In 1870, Rulloff, Jarvis, and Dexter made their way to Binghamton where the plan was to rob a dry good store. Two of the store’s clerks lived upstairs and to ensure they would not stop the robbery, Rulloff, Jarvis, and Dexter burned chloroform so that the clerks wouldn’t wake, but they did. In the midst of the chaos of trying to stop the three men from robbing their store, one of the clerks was shot in the head by Rulloff.
Rulloff, Jarvis, and Dexter missed the boat they’d hoped to take as a ferry across the Chenango River and so they tried to swim across. Jarvis and Dexter ended up drowning, but Rulloff made it.
Binghamton police launched a manhunt and the next day, Rulloff was apprehended and his trial for the murder of the store clerk began on January 4, 1871. Rulloff’s trial grew to be quite a spectacle with crowds estimated to be in the thousands showing up each day. Even Mark Twain found himself invested in the trial and wrote a letter to the New York Tribune about it.
On March 3, 1871, Rulloff was found guilty of his crimes and sentenced to die. While awaiting his hanging, Rulloff admitted to murdering his wife but maintained his claim that he never harmed his daughter.
Following his execution by hanging on May 18, 1871, Rulloff’s brain was removed so that it could be examined and it was discovered to be massive in size. To this day, Rulloff’s brain is on display at Cornell where it is considered to be the second-largest brain ever recorded.