Cambria County officials say motive in family feud deaths of 4 unknown
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 email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Medical pot has advocate in Pennsylvania House
- Boy youngest to receive double-hand transplant in Philadelphia
- Teen could spend 10 years in prison for role in injuring Ohio teacher
- Fight for equal access continues 25 years after ADA signed
- Probe continues in fatal shooting in Sharon hospital parking lot
- Technology races ahead of Pennsylvania wiretap law