Hey folks, this is the third and probably final installment of the true crime book that I am writing that I will post. The crime was the rape and murder of a 14 year old girl who used to live in my hometown. She was killed in 1918. This is the story of one of the suspects
Benjamin Rubin had brains, he had guts, but he had no balls. Well, that isn’t exactly fair I suppose: he had one testicle that was just fine and another that had somehow gotten mangled. The only reason I know this is because, in accordance with the Selective Service Act of 1917, Rubin filled out a registration card. On it, he wrote that he was born on May 5 1894, he hailed from Malkin, Russia originally, he had no mother, father, wife, child, brother or sister who was dependant on him, and that he was of medium build with blonde hair and blue eyes and a “Testicle operated on and not complete”.
While Northern Virginia in general and Fairfax County in particular were rocked by the death of Eva Roy, the world went on. World War I was raging in Europe and on March 11, 1918 a soldier at Camp Funston in Kansas got sick with a strain of the flu that would go on to decimate more American servicemen than the war and drain the earth of one third of its overall population.
Somehow, the confluence of all of these events resulted in Benjamin Rubin arriving in the Northern Virginia/ Washington D.C. area, where he entered into a life of crime.He was in and out of minor squabbles with the law, but on February 17, 1918 Rubin broke into 1321 C Street Southwest in DC which proved to be an enormous mistake.It was the house of a woman named Bertha Donnelly, and Bertha Donnelly was not a woman to be trifled with. She was, according to newspaper accounts “…a burly, bellicose, loud woman with a sharp mind, a quick temper and the ability to drink men under the table”. She was beloved by her neighbors, she was a devout suffragist, and when she discovered Rubin in her house she emitted “…a roar that I would have to say was equal parts gleeful and triumphant”. Rubin was burglarizing the house, which at the time was empty, when Donnelly came home. It seems that Bertha spotted Rubin on the stairwell leading to the upstairs of her house carrying some of her belongings and emitted a barbaric yawp that echoed off the rooftops of the city
Apparently, her flight or fight response went directly to fight and she grabbed a cast iron pan and went racing up the stairs. Rubin, now himself alarmed at the prospect of being caught in the act, left the closet and ran to a bedroom window which he threw open. Rubin had just enough time to determine that the fall would be too much when Donnelly burst through the door and clobbered him in the back with her pan.
“I got you now you son of a bitch!” roared Donnelly, her beefy arms deftly manipulating the pan between Rubin’s outstretched hands as she pounded him and he flailed wildly in an attempt to get the hell out of there. She beat him from one side of the room to the other as Rubin jumped over the bed in an attempt to reach the doorway and scamper down the steps. Undeterred, Bertha maneuvered her body along a tactical line to deny his exit. It must have startled the hell out of Rubin that the woman he was trying to rob was actually trying to keep him in the house, but he didn’t have much time to ponder it as Bertha was swinging her pan north to south and east to west like a female King Arthur brandishing Excalibur. She landed blows to his knees, his legs, his kidneys and, on one occasion, she even brought the pan down on his right foot after faking a head shot. Rubin, realizing that this could be the end for him, did manage to arrest her right arm and then attempted to plead with her to let him go . Rubin was a very strong and very dangerous man. In fact, later on I will relate how he in essence terrorized an entire town, but he just was in over his head with Bertha. As he was talking, Bertha jerked her right arm backwards causing Rubin to step forward as his arms were desperately clinging to her appendage in order to avoid death by pan. However, as he stepped forward Bertha pushed back into him causing him to now step backwards and, as he did, Bertha caught him with a country girl east / west roundhouse left to Rubin’s chin that buckled his knees and sent him slumping to the floor.
Rubin had chosen to break into the house in the middle of the day, and the sound of screaming (Rubin’s) and of a cast iron pan slamming into human bones drew a crowd of spectators outside the house. Now, fearing death more than falling, Rubin dashed to the window and three police officers who had just left a nearby deli to see what the commotion was observed a bruised and bloodied Ben Rubin vault the sill of Bertha Donnelly’s open upstairs window and tumble to the ground after nearly having his fingers amputated by a beautiful downward shot of Bertha’s pan when he dangled briefly from the sill.
The officers- three hardened Irishmen named O’Malley, Sullivan, and Cornwell immediately picked Rubin up, and Cornwell was clicking the cuffs on him when the front door of the rowhouse flew open and Bertha Donnelly exploded through the door with an “Out of the way boys, I want to handle this,” raising her pan above her head. O’Malley and Sullivan formed a wall in front of Cornwell, and Rubin moved to the rear, wanting deliverance from this furious , indefatigable opponent .
Undeterred, Bertha lunged to her right, forcing O’Malley and Sullivan to pivot to their left in an attempt to thwart her attack. Cornwell and Rubin moved off to their right in a kite like formation with Rubin at the tail in a desperate attempt to keep as much distance between Donnelly and Rubin as possible, but with remarkable alacrity Donnelly crossed o the left and barely missed Rubin with a downward swing that may well have ended Rubin’s story right then and there.
The cat and mouse game persisted for another few seconds before Cornwell yelled, “That’s enough Bertha! If you keep it up, we’re gonna have to take you in as well!”
At that, it was as though Bertha Donnelly came unplugged. She dropped her pan, her demeanor changed completely, and she transformed from a demonic hellcat to a rather pretty and buxom brown-haired , brown-eyed lady. She addressed the crowd who had gathered to watch this odd spectacle by saying “My dear neighbors and law enforcement officers. I am sorry that the events of the last few minutes have disrupted your peaceful lives. But, this man entered my house uninvited and with the intent to rob me, hurt me, or both. Obviously, his plan backfired and he has learned not to mess with Bertha Donnelly! Please know that I respect you all, and that I would never disrespect any of you with such a performance if I had not been forced to.”
The crowd was utterly silent for a second, and then, there was the sound of hands clapping. The clapping turned into a cacophonous din interspersed with “YOu got him Bertha” and “Atta gal Bertha!” and Bertha Donnelly stood on her front step, bowed in each direction, then re-entered her house and returned to her life.
The same couldn’t be said for Ben Rubin who, in addition to just getting his ass kicked now faced the prospect of jail.
“You picked the wrong broad there boy-o,” laughed Cornwell as he put Rubin into the car, and then, taunting Rubin in his thick Irish accent, he added “ Don’t worry though, prison is probably the only place you’ll be safe from Bertha Donnelly!”
But, Rubin had other plans. For whatever reason, he had worn two pairs of pants that day, and when he was locked in a cell in the first precinct police station, he was able to access a safety razor that he had hidden in his pockets and hacked at his wrists. He was stopped in the act and was sent to Emergency Hospital where his mostly superficial wounds were dressed. From there, Rubin was moved to Washington Asylum Hospital for further treatment and observation.
While Rubin was in the hospital, Cornwell did some digging on Rubin and discovered that his attempted crime against Donnelly matched the MO of other crimes around the area, some of which also involved sexual assaults against minors. Cornwell obtained a search warrant and went to Rubin’s apartment, where he found a treasure trove of stolen goods including women’s underwear and bed clothing.
Rubin was convicted and he was sentenced to three years in the dreaded Lorton Reformatory, which was situated at the southern end of Fairfax County, not far from the home of Eva Roy. The complex had initially been called the Occocquan Workhouse, and it was used to house and rehabilitate non-violent criminals who were serving short sentences. However, the population boom and lack of space in DC necessitated the building of the Reformatory, which housed violent criminals and became notorious for being an absolute hellhole.
Indeed, less than a year before Rubin’s arrival, the Workhouse had been the scene for what made national headlines as “The Night of Terror”, so named for the horrific night of abuse that suffragists from the National Women’s Party endured there in 1917. The women , who had run afoul of president Woodrow Wilson by repeatedly picketing the White House for their right to vote, were beaten, chained to door frames, stripped naked, and even force fed. One of the women with the surname Cosu was pushed into a wall and had a heart attack as a consequence of the abuse. When her compatriots cried out for medical attention for their stricken friend, they were ignored. In the end, the notoriety of the event forced Wilson to issue pardons.
Anyway, this is where Ben Rubin ended up after his run in with Bertha Donnelly, and he immediately earned the reputation as an unruly prisoner with a penchant for fighting and a seeming inability to follow rules. He would throw urine and feces at the guards. He would pick on weaker prisoners and strongarm them into giving him their food or their magazines or whatever it was that he wanted.
Rubin apparently had an extreme attraction to an elderly prisoner who was known as “Pops”. Pops was an easy target for Rubin, and Rubin would routinely abuse the older man and confiscate his possessions, sometimes electing to simply trash the old man’s belongings in order to inflict psychological torment on him. Although Rubin generally had no interest in any kind of friendship normally, he did befriend a giant half-witted bank robber by the name of Buford “Tuck” Tucker, who was his cellmate.
One day as Pops was walking through a hallway back towards his cell holding a cup of water Rubin, with Tucker beside him, stopped Pops and said, “Give us that water you shitty old buzzard”. Pops, evidently not realizing how far Rubin would go in order to abscond with his water, refused and told him that it would take less than a minute for him and Tucker to get their own water.
Without another word, Rubin punched the old man in the teeth. Pops shrieked and covered his face , dropping the water to the ground where it bounced and splattered on Rubin and Tucker. Enraged, both of the younger men flung themselves on Pops pounding the old man as he begged for mercy. He wouldn’t get it though. Instead, Rubin said “Hold out his arms Tuck” in response to which Tucker lifted the prone old man’s arms into the air so they were perpendicular to his body. Then, Rubin savagely kicked the old man’s arms, breaking the radius and the ulna of both.
“Don’t you ever fucking hesitate when I ask you for something you stupid old bastard!” Rubin commanded as the guards finally showed up and dragged him and Tucker away, leaving Pops sobbing on the ground.
With Pops in the hospital, Rubin and Tuck Had lost their primary target. There were other weak prisoners, but none so defenseless as Pops. So, though Rubin and Tuck still go in their fair share of scrapes, the two men began to conscientiously study the movements and grounds of the prison, looking for ways to escape which they found on the evening of July 10, 1918. There are not any details about how Rubin and Tucker escaped other than that they used the ground up glass to nullify the bloodhounds.
What IS known, however, is that the two split up shortly after their self-liberation. Tucker disappeared , but Rubin walked out of Virginia and lived in DC for a few weeks.
On September 20, 1918, near Georgetown Rubin spotted Mrs. Jennifer Rallston , 27, and her 6 year old daughter, Lily, idly perusing storefronts as they enjoyed the balmy early fall weather in the nation’s capital. He swung in behind them as they made their way down the streets and past alley ways. Rubin had his eye and his sick intentions focused on molesting Lily, and soon, the opportunity presented itself
Mrs. Rallston ran into a friend near an alleyway and engaged in a lengthy conversation with her. As such, she lost sight of Lily,who meandered around unaware that Rubin had secreted himself against a wall of an alley into which he could easily withdraw to obscure himself from the sight of both Jennifer and Lily Rallston. Lily’s orbit around her mother eventually lead her on a trajectory which coincided with Rublin’s alley, and when it did , Rubin spoke to her.
“Hello little girl,” said Rubin “Do you want to see some really cute baby kittens?’
Lily, emboldened by the proximity of her mother, the presence of myriad passersby , and the brilliant sunlight responded by saying “Yeah, sure. I guess so . Where are they?”
“See those garbage bins?” replied Rubin ” just behind them, come take a look!”
Rubin must have exalted internally when little Lily Rallston walked into the alley without hesitation. As she passed Rubin, she did momentarily pause, evidently unnerved by how Rubin had not moved. Rubin dropped down to tie his shoe and Lily, most likely assuming that the untied shoe was the reason for Rubin remaining stationary, walked past him and out of the view of her mother. As she progressed down the alley, Rubin fell in behind her, thereby blocking Lily’s ability to run away.
“ I don’t see any kittens here Mister, “ replied Lily as she looked in and around the garbage cans.
“Oh, they are right back there, on the ground” replied Rubin , pointing towards the ground.
Lily Rallston bent forward, facing away from Rubin and Rubin shot his left hand under her dress and lifted her off the ground with his right hand, cupping its fingers over the child’s mouth to stifle her screams.
Poor Lily Rallston hung helplessly in the air while Rubin molested her for a few moments, but then she began to fight like a wildcat. She flailed her legs and managed to kick over a trash can. She whipped her head side to side and Rubin struggled to keep his hand over her mouth, but tripped over a trash can and moved it instinctively to arrest his fall.
The second his hand moved off of her mouth, Lily shouted “HELP, HELLLLLLP” at what was reportedly an incredible volume. People came running to the alley. Jennifer Rallston grabbed her sobbing daughter and the rest of the pack surrounded Rubin.
“Someone go get the police,” one man ordered and two of the men split off and raced for help, finding DC Detective W.B. Thompson a short distance away.
Thompson promptly arrested Rubin and tossed him roughly into the back of his car. Thompson had an 8 year old daughter at home, and he was in no mood to deal with Rubin.
On the way to the station, Thompson addressed Rubin by saying “ You’re a real asshole you know? How in the hell did you think you were going to get away with that , you sick bastard”.
Ben Rubin ignored him, his head resting on the window of the car, and his emotionless gaze sweeping the streets to its right.
Thompson waded back in “The judges around here aren’t so keen on grown men who attack little children. You are in a whole shitload of trouble”.
Again, Rubin tuned Thompson out.
But, Thompson was determined to get a rise out of him and said “ A child molester like you? You are gonna be popular in prison. Hey, you know last month down in Virginia a little girl was raped and murdered. Roy, I think her name was. The person who did it hasn’t been arrested. If you weren’t so damned stupid in your methods, I think I would be tempted to give you up for that one too.”
Thompson glanced into the rear view mirror, and this time he had hit paydirt. Rubin had straightened himself up and his eyes radiated intensity and hate. He held his gaze on to Thompson for a long time.
Finally , he said “How do you know I didn’t do it?”