Tuesday, March 06, 2018


On the death of PS Ruckman, Jr., and the murder of two children

Last week, on Wednesday, February 28th, I received an unusual string of emails from PS Ruckman, Jr., a political scientist I have collaborated with in the past (and who appeared on the Razor here and here and here, among other instances). 

The 11 emails had massive attachments-- huge data sets involving clemency grants. That was his work, though; he studied historical clemency trends and sometimes shared data with the few others of us in the field. This was much more than he had ever sent in the past, though.  Only the first of those 11 emails contained any text in addition to the data files. It simply said "Would want you to have this and use freely." I didn't think much of it, and was overwhelmed with other things. I didn't respond. It has been that kind of a Spring.

The next day, March 1, he apparently altered his profile and cover photos on Facebook. He changed the profile picture to the sheet music from the Gotterdammerung, which you can see above. His Facebook cover photo was changed to a print of Caspar David Freidrich's "Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog," which you can see here

And then, apparently, he shot and killed his two children, 14-year-old Christopher and 12-year-old Jack, before killing himself.  

I'm not going to speculate on why he would do this, as alleged. It is a horrific and unimaginable crime, and no circumstances would conceivably justify or mitigate it. 

This is, sadly, the fourth suicide I have reported on this blog.  In 2009, it was Mark Levy.  Then it was my friend Greg Tishar. That same year, I lost my hero, Katherine Darmer.

But this one is different. None of the others were murderers, murderers of children. And from the chronology above, it seems that the killing was thought out, planned, rather than impulsive. He preserved his work by sending it out to me and others. He tried to define what he was about to do-- perhaps a twisted version of heroism in his mind-- with his reference to the Gotterdammerung, which is the last part of Wagner's Ring Cycle of four operas. I saw it at the Met in New York when I was in law school, with Greg Tishar. It is a retelling of what in Norse mythology is referred to as Ragnorok-- the burning and destruction of the world by the Gods. In the end, the Gods themselves are consumed by flame. 

At the end of my book on criminal law, I wrote about how this field is all tragedy, and about the struggle to comprehend and control that tragedy. But this... this is beyond what I have imagined. Help me, if you can, to make sense of this world. 

My sympathies for the loss of your friend and colleague in seeking justice. It is likely that some psychological pain led him to consider ending his own life. killing the children likely was an alternative to leaving them to ponder about him and to struggle with a fatherless life. Sad, very sad indeed.
I'm so sorry, Mark. I have no explanation, but I thank you for sharing his story and your struggles with it.
Remember your friend for the justice seeking champion that he was. May he be resting in peace and no longer wrestling with the demons only he knew.
This is so very sad Mark, May he and his children rest in peace. My heart goes out to all family and friends. Prayers for all.
I’m sorry for the loss you feel. I think that making sense of what happened will be impossible. And that is because it would imply taking you to an edge only a broken mind can cross. Trying to wrap your mind around a mind so trapped in the kind of anguished despair and hopelessness that lead to this tragedy will only make you feel sadder than you already are. Hope you find solace in praying for the strength of those he left behind.
I'm very sorry to hear about your loss of your friend and his children. My condolences.
I had immense respect for P.S. Ruckman. Pardon Power http://www.pardonpower.com was well defined, specific and reliable data. I could and did reach out to him knowing that he could provide reliable answers to questions regarding stats, and just about anything related to the history of clemency/pardons in this country. State or federal - but he specialized mostly in presidential pardons. He always responded promptly - it always seemed he had immense love for his boys and he even asked me to not tag his Facebook page with political postings or articles cuz he wanted FB page to be a space reserved for family. I'm still in shock because I cannot fathom what the trigger was that would lead to such immense loss and suffering, and I grieve for the entire family over this tragedy.
Are you going to publish the data? Seems foul play is at hand.
Last month I wrote to him to tell him how much I appreciated his work and how valuable it was to so many. He wrote back that he could not describe his pain. We all know that depression can be terminal but his condition did not fit the narrow definition of this diagnosis. I will miss the flames he threw.

It has been my policy for years to delete anonymous comments on controversial subjects (even if they agree with the gist of my post, as your comment did).

I know the identity of everyone who has commented above. I allow some people to comment using the anonymous option, but they then identify themselves (as, for example, the Waco Friend did above-- and he is actually a friend of mine from Waco).

Sorry, but anonymous comments like yours allow a lot of abuse of social media.
I am so sorry, Mark, for your loss and for everyone around P. S. Ruckman. The tragedy you write of surely struck him in horrible ways. And maybe he did not plan to kill his children until it happened. Wishing peace for them . . .
I am so sorry, Mark, for your loss and for everyone around P. S. Ruckman. The tragedy you write of surely struck him in horrible ways. And maybe he did not plan to kill his children until it happened. Wishing peace for them . . .
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