Sex, Drugs and Life Insurance
Is This Why Alfred Ruf Kept Poisoning his Wife?
image provided courtesy of Wayne County Sheriff’s office
We never really know what goes on behind closed doors, do we? Even on a sleepy little street like East Wallace Road in Franklin Township, a small Indiana community just sixty-five miles east of downtown Indianapolis. While hundreds of families were taking their Christmas decorations down and bracing for the January cold, in one everyday household, a murder plot was afoot.
The perpetrator, Alfred Ruf, was approaching seventy; the victim well into middle-age. The call came at 9:46 a.m. on a Monday, not in the middle of a raucous Saturday night. The perpetrator was a man nudging seventy; his victim solidly into middle-age. This was a most unlikely crime scene.
According to Wayne County Sheriff’s Department, on January 3, 2021, fifty-one-year-old Lisa Bishop was the one to call police. This wasn’t the first time she’d contacted law enforcement, but it might have been the first time they believed her.
She’d suspected foul play before. She’d been in the hospital at least six times over the previous year with a variety of symptoms, all of which mystified her doctors. She’d even told police that she thought someone was drugging her. But, until her sixty-nine-year-old husband, Alfred Ruf, came clean, all she had was a laundry list of suspicions and a litany of ills.
But now it was all making sense. Her husband had just admitted that he’d been slowly poisoning her for the past four months. He knew that he was making her sick. He even knew that he would kill her if he kept it up.
But it wasn’t all his fault, he said. Hell, it wasn’t even his idea.
The Family from Hell
Here’s the story Ruf told police:
In September 2021, Lisa Bishop’s daughter (whose name, for some strange reason, has not been released) had given him a powdery substance inside a pill bottle. She told him to start putting it in her mother’s drink.
He didn’t know what it was, but he knew what it was for. She had been talking to him about her mother’s life insurance policy. Ruf said that, over the next three months, Lisa’s daughter would often call him and remind him to dose her mom. He estimates that he did this about a dozen times, often putting it into a can of Coke that she was drinking.
Lisa began having severe headaches, nausea, diarrhea, dizziness, and fatigue. She would also sleep for up to thirteen hours at a time, during which time the daughter-from-hell would come over with a friend of hers (who has also not been named). Then the party would begin.
The two women would dress up in negligees. They would have sex with each other while Ruf watched. Sometimes he would pay them to have sex with him. Just for kicks, they would also steal Lisa’s things while they were there. Bishop’s daughter even told Ruf that her friend would marry after he “got Mom out of the way.”
I could find no mention of the arrest of these two lovely ladies although there is mention that the police are looking for them.
Better Late Than Never
Ruf is convinced that his wife would have died if he continued poisoning her. Fortunately, his conscience began to bother him. Even the kinky sex wasn’t worth watching his wife continue to suffer. He gets points for that at least.
Lisa Bishop responded to this story by calling the police. She also cut into a Coca-Cola can and found an off-white substance settled at the bottom. She gave it to the investigators. She also gave them a pill bottle with the same stuff inside. Both were sent to the lab for testing.
Bishop herself went to a local hospital, where toxicology screens were done. She tested positive for MDMA, cocaine, and benzodiazepines, none of which she had ever knowingly consumed. This was five days after the last time Ruf had dosed her drink.
Alfred Ruf was released on bond two days after his arrest. He has been ordered to wear a GPS device; this, and his poor health, convinced the judge that he is presently a danger to no one. He is charged with conspiracy to commit murder, a level 2 felony that carries a standard 17.5-year sentence with a range of ten to thirty years.
What to Do if You Think you are Being Poisoned
It would be terrifying to think someone was poisoning you and either have your fears dismissed or told you were “crazy.” In the Victorian era, when you could buy a medley of deadly substances at the local drug store and there were few scientific ways of detecting them, a fear of intentionally being poisoned was considered a well-founded and rational concern.
Today, murder by poison is rare. In 2015, for instance, in only seven out of the 16,000 murders did the killer use poison as the murder weapon. It’s true that these are only the ones that were caught. Still, with the advanced toxicology screens we have today, it’s unlikely that there’s an underground epidemic of poisoners. Statistically, you are more likely to accidentally drown in a bathtub or die by falling out of bed.
Still, it happens.
I get contacted three or four times a year by someone who is convinced someone (always, a family member) is slowly poisoning them and they don’t know what to do. They don’t have any proof that it’s happening and have no idea what the poison might be. They are also often reluctant to call the police out of a fear that they will not be taken seriously.
Here’s what I tell them.
Your safety is your number one priority. If you think you know who is poisoning you, you must act and get help. Poison centers are open 24/7/365 and can be reached at 1-800-222-1222. The calls are managed by health professionals, including registered nurses, pharmacists, and physicians. These health professionals all have special training in poison management. Most of the calls to poison centers can be managed at home.
Anywhere in the country, when people call 1-800-222-1222, they are connected immediately to their poison center.
As a result, most medical professionals respond to fears of being poisoned by opening the DSM-5, the diagnostic manual of mental disorders. And there are, in fact, several mental illnesses that can lead to a terrifying – but irrational – belief that other people are trying to hurt us. A general fear of being poisoned can develop into a phobia (toxicophobia or iophobia) if it becomes distressing enough that it interferes with the person’s life. For instance, someone with toxicophobia may refuse to eat or drink anything s/he has not prepared himself, even if offered by close friends. S/he may also be preoccupied with this fear and, as a result, experience other common symptoms of anxiety such as vague physical symptoms (headaches, nausea), irritability, and difficulty concentrating.
Is This for Real?
How would anyone know if they are being poisoned? The physical symptoms are, of course, dependent on the type and amount of poison being consumed. Tingling, fatigue, nausea, diarrhea, dizziness, temporary paralysis, and so forth. A lot of these symptoms are vague and come and go.
A good place to start is with the most common modern day homicidal poisons. Long ago was the day when fancy names like arsenic, thallium, and cyanide were used in the same name as murder. Today we see common household ingredients like antifreeze or Visine or household or prescription medication.
An examination of how-to best guard against a poisoner includes being aware of abnormalities in your environment. For instance, here are some telltale signs that should not be ignored:
Food or drink looks (a strange color, unknown particles in the bottom of a glass or sprinkled in food) or tastes weird (metallic, creates a burning sensation, etc.)
Physical symptoms do not follow the expected course of the illness (for example, other less common symptoms develop, or symptoms worsen or do not resolve).
Symptoms seem to always occur or worsen when a certain person is present or is responsible for preparing the food/drink.
Symptoms get better when away from the home (for example, hospitalized or on a vacation) and come back upon return.
The sicker you become, the happier your spouse seems (especially in the context of an already abusive relationship or ugly divorce).
Of course, it is impossible to truly tell if someone is poisoning you without a toxicology workup. Talking to your doctor about your suspicions might get the ball rolling in terms of conducting the right medical tests. Some people are reluctant to go to their doctor for fear of not being believed or of being seen as mentally disturbed. Although expensive, there are labs that will conduct extensive toxicology workups without a doctor’s orders. It is also important to keep the container or whatever the substance is so you can have it analyzed as soon as possible.
I’ve known folks to place a hidden camera in their home so they can see what is going on when they’re away or plant “dummy” items (for example shampoo or toothpaste) while keeping the ones they are using hidden safely away.
While I understand the rationale for playing detective (“I want to have concrete evidence before I go to the police,” I ‘ll say it again. Safety is the number one priority. It is common for a poisoner to start off poisoning slowly to establish the fact that their victim is “sick” and then give a large dose to finish them off. It is much better to get away and go to the police than wait and risk dying.
It is especially important to get psychological help. First, if you are being poisoned, you will need help dealing with the trauma of betrayal by someone you thought you could trust. If you are not, and these are mental health symptoms, you will already have a treatment team in place that can help you figure out what kind of psychological help will help you regain your peace of mind. No matter what the root cause of your fears, it’s better to be safe than sorry, especially when sorry can mean you are dead.
So that’s our true crime story for this week. Stay safe, fellow mind detectives, and if you see something, say something. Stay tuned for next week’s story.