With a possible Guinness Book of World Records recognition in the balance, a hush settled over the crowd at the May 19 Gaithersburg Book Festival as mayor and founder of the festival, Jud Ashman, introduced the amazing story of Frederick Rupp and the chance to witness the closure of a murder committed 183 years ago and more than 4,000 miles away.
On hand to introduce the story taken from her book, “Death of an Assassin: The True Story of the German Murderer Who Died Defending Robert E. Lee,” was author and former Washington state attorney and prosecutor Ann Marie Ackermann. Relying primarily on German sources, “Death of an Assassin” tracks the never-before-told story of a murderer amongst a German company of Pennsylvania volunteers in the Mexican-American War. Ackermann recounted the “juicy” story leading up to today’s reveal of the oldest reward ever offered. She explained that this was a case of “records and firsts” that began in Germany in 1835 and was to become 19th century Germany’s coldest murder case ever solved and the first one to use forensic ballistic technology.
Ackermann had moved to Bönnigheim in 1996 and became intrigued with the case. She used German sources and researchers in the U.S. to help piece together the events, notably Gail McCormick, a D.C.-based archivist and genealogist.
On Oct. 21, 1825, the mayor of the town of Bönnigheim, Germany, Johann Heinrich Rieber, was shot in the back as he walked home from a restaurant. The assassin, Gottlob Rueb, fled to the United States and became the first volunteer to die defending Robert E. Lee’s position in the Mexican-American War at the Siege of Veracruz. The efforts of German authorities to locate the murderer were fruitless, but focused for a time on Frederick Rupp, a citizen of Bönnigheim who eventually emigrated to the United States to escape speculation. Thirty-seven years later, Rupp located evidence in Washington, D.C., that would clear his name and sent it to Germany. The story was corroborated, and the case closed in 1872, naming Rueb as Rieber’s murderer. Due to a misfiling of court records, the reward for solving the case was never properly delivered to Rupp.
Enter current mayor of Bönnigheim, Kornelius Bamberger, who recounted in colorful style how he came to make his first visit to the U.S. (with the assistance of his townspeople) to bestow a long overdue reward for solving the murder of one of his predecessors to the great-great-great-grandchildren of Frederick Rupp, Jennifer Manion and Patti Beisner of Lakelands, and Robert Humphreys of Georgia and Richard Humphreys of New Jersey. Bamberger recounted the town’s role in a record-breaking true crime story in American history and told how Ackermann visited him three years ago and suggested that the reward money finally be paid to Rupp’s descendants.
Bamberger talked of the common bond that the two cities share in the unusual tale of crime and international intrigue and thanked Ashman for agreeing to hold the presentation at the book festival. He presented Ashman with a special bottle of wine made in Bönnigheim, which is famous for its vineyards, and a book about the 1,225-year-old town.
As he presented a check for 1,000 euros (roughly $1,200) to the four great-great-great-grandchildren, he told them that the town honors Rupp through them and that they all hold the unofficial title of “Town Heroes.” Bönnigheim will recognize them as local celebrities if they ever come to visit.