Cambria County officials say motive in family feud deaths of 4 unknown

Joe Napsha
| Sunday, Sept. 29, 2013, 11:42 p.m.

Many unanswered questions remain in a quadruple homicide late Friday in Cambria County, as investigators work to determine why a woman and her husband shot her estranged mother and brother before being killed themselves by her estranged father.

State police said Sunday they still are trying to determine why Josephine Ruckinger and her husband, Jeffrey Ruckinger, both 43, of Blandburg went to her estranged family's Bottom Road home at about 10 p.m. and shot to death her unarmed mother, Roberta Frew, 64, and brother John Frew Jr., 47, in an unprovoked attack, before her father, John E. Frew Sr., 67, shot the invading couple to death.

“This was a home invasion that was a murder plot. They came armed and ready to commit murder,” said Cambria County District Attorney Kelly Callihan during a Sunday news conference at the state police barracks in Ebensburg.

The Ruckingers were armed with a 12-gauge sawed-off shotgun and pistols when they arrived at the Frew home in Allegheny Township, Trooper John Matchik said during the news conference. Josephine Ruckinger is suspected of firing at her mother, and Jeffrey Ruckinger allegedly shot his brother-in-law.

Family members have said Josephine Ruckinger had been estranged from her family for the last two decades.

Callihan said the elder Frew was the victim of an assault, and initial findings show the shooting was justified.

Police said Frew reported the shootings to police. He did not know he had shot his daughter until investigators told him.

“It was very, very difficult” for Frew, Matchik said.

The elder Frew “has been cooperative” with investigators, and “everything he has told us has been corroborated,” Matchik said. Investigators are not sure why Josephine Ruckinger harbored ill will toward her family, but they plan to interview members of the Ruckinger family to see if they can shed any light on a motive, Matchik said.

Police are conducting ballistic tests to try to determine how many shots were fired and who fired the shots during the gun battle, he said.

The attack came shortly after the family returned home from a restaurant where they were celebrating the senior Frew's retirement, Callihan said.

Police found Roberta Frew dead in the front door from a gunshot wound to the chest. She was killed as she opened the door, investigators said.

John Frew Jr. was found dead in the kitchen of a gunshot wound to the left side of his chest. Police said he was possibly reaching for a rifle to defend himself.

Frew Sr. was able to get a .22 caliber revolver from a rear bedroom to shoot Jeffrey Ruckinger in the kitchen, Matchik said. Josephine Ruckinger was pointing a shotgun at her father when Frew Sr. fired, Matchik said. She died of a gunshot wound to the head at a nearby hospital, police said.

The attackers had parked their vehicle at the end of the Frews' driveway, in an apparent attempt to remain hidden from the house. Matchik said their car contained a large amount of ammunition, gas in a gasoline can and charcoal lighter fluid.

Police did not speculate on whether the Ruckingers had intended to torch the house.

Police said that there have been reports of burglaries and thefts at the Frew residence in the past, but said they did not know if that had anything to do with the shootings.

Cambria County Coroner Dennis Kwiatkoski said the results of toxicology tests on the suspected shooters would not be available for about two months.

“I have been in the coroner's office since 1980 and we have not had this many deaths, from a homicide, in a single incident,” Kwiatkoski said.

Joe Napsha is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-5252 or

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