Edward H. Rulloff, Victorian New York’s Evil Genius

Edward H. Rulloff's brain on display at Cornell University.

Edward H. Rulloff's brain on display at Cornell.

E. H. Freeman’s biography of the criminal-scholar Edward H. Rulloff is finally back in print. Victorian Gothic looks at his bizarre life and obsession with philology:

Visitors to Cornell University’s psychology department would be hard pressed to overlook the eight pickled brains, preserved in heavy glass jars, which are proudly showcased on the second floor of Uris Hall. A small sample of the 122 specimens in the university’s Wilder Brain Collection, each belongs to a notable scholar or learned individual whose think-meat was once deemed worthy of anatomical examination.

One of these brains, however, is not like the others. If the brain of Edward H. Rulloff, a.k.a. Professor Leurio, were able to come alive, glowing and pulsating as it issued angry, murderous commands to you from inside your head, it would.

Rulloff was a criminal genius who left no question of how he should like to be remembered. One week prior his execution in May of 1871, he had this to say:

…you cannot kill an unquiet spirit, and I know that my impending death will not mean the end of Rulloff. In the dead of the night, walking along Cayuga Street, you will sense my presence. When you wake to a sudden chill, I will be in the room. And when you find yourself alone at the lake shore, gazing away at gray Cayuga, know that I was cut short and your ancestors killed me.

Rulloff was a murderer and a thief whose savant-like intelligence and erudition have invited comparison to Doyle’s Professor Moriarty. He committed robberies throughout his life in order to fund his grandiose research into the science of philology; an obsession that may have had unrecognized origins in a deep-seated sense of remorse.

Binghamton journalist E. H. Freeman was Rulloff’s jail-house confessor. His 1871 biography, Edward H. Rulloff: The Veil of Secrecy Removed, recounts much of Rulloff’s story in his own words. It is the story of a long and ignominious criminal career that begins in Dryden, NY, where Rulloff established himself as a botanical physician, and married a seventeen year old pupil named Harriet Schutt…

[Full Article at victoriangothic.org]

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  • ArgosyJones

    Excellent!!!

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/H._H._Holmes was another fiendish killer from the same era who claimed supernatural powers– which he said he derived from the “devil inside me”.

    The Devil and the White City is an excellent book placing the killer’s exploits in the context of the optimism and grandeur of the first Chicago World’s Fair.

  • ArgosyJones

    Excellent!!!

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/H._H._Holmes was another fiendish killer from the same era who claimed supernatural powers– which he said he derived from the “devil inside me”.

    The Devil and the White City is an excellent book placing the killer’s exploits in the context of the optimism and grandeur of the first Chicago World’s Fair.

    • Haystack

      I watched a documentary about H. H. Holmes a few months ago. His murder house was just diabolical.

      Serial killers are emotionally detached, to a monstrous degree. What interests me about guys like Rulloff is that they do experience guilt and remorse. You can look at their lives and get a sense of their inner turmoil, but you are never sure just where the truth is; where they are lying to others, where they are lying to themselves, and so on. There are more layers to pick through and analyze than you normally get with a Ted Bundy or a Jack the Ripper.

  • Haystack

    I watched a documentary about H. H. Holmes a few months ago. His murder house was just diabolical.

    Serial killers are emotionally detached, to a monstrous degree. What interests me about guys like Rulloff is that they do experience guilt and remorse. You can look at their lives and get a sense of their inner turmoil, but you are never sure just where the truth is; where they are lying to others, where they are lying to themselves, and so on. There are more layers to pick through and analyze than you normally get with a Ted Bundy or a Jack the Ripper.

  • quartz99

    Had Rulloff been a professor, intellectually grounded by his fellow
    scholars, he might well have made real contributions to this field.
    Instead, he became a textbook crank, working in isolation upon a project
    which permitted him to entertain grandiose notions of his own
    self-worth.

    Um… no. The idea that there was some grand conspiracy through the millennia controlling how languages evolved would have made him a “textbook crank” even had he been a professor. There are, in fact, practical laws about the way languages change through time. Perhaps he could have contributed to our understanding of that. But not if he stuck to the absurd conspiracy theory.

    • Haystack

      The suggestion is that he wouldn’t have become fixated on a conspiracy theory if he had led an honorable life as a professor instead of murdering his wife and going to prison.

  • Anonymous

    Had Rulloff been a professor, intellectually grounded by his fellow
    scholars, he might well have made real contributions to this field.
    Instead, he became a textbook crank, working in isolation upon a project
    which permitted him to entertain grandiose notions of his own
    self-worth.

    Um… no. The idea that there was some grand conspiracy through the millennia controlling how languages evolved would have made him a “textbook crank” even had he been a professor. There are, in fact, practical laws about the way languages change through time. Perhaps he could have contributed to our understanding of that. But not if he stuck to the absurd conspiracy theory.

  • Haystack

    The suggestion is that he wouldn’t have become fixated on a conspiracy theory if he had led an honorable life as a professor instead of murdering his wife and going to prison.

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