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Five killed in domestic violence incidents in one day

Eugene R. Ruff (Bingham County Sheriff’s Office)
Eugene R. Ruff (Bingham County Sheriff’s Office)

Thursday was a particularly tragic day in regard to domestic violence in Idaho with five people being fatally shot throughout the state, including two couples who died in separate murder-suicides.

One of the domestic violence deaths occurred in Southeast Idaho when a man allegedly fatally shot his wife.

Eugene R. Ruff, 63, was charged with first-degree murder after allegedly shooting his wife, Bettilee P. Ruff, 62, at their Aberdeen home.

At 9:50 p.m. Thursday the Bingham County Sheriff’s Office dispatch center received a call which prompted law enforcement officers to respond to the Ruffs’ residence, where they determined Bettilee was deceased and that Eugene had killed her, according to a Bingham County Sheriff’s Office press release. Eugene was arrested without incident at the home and booked into Bingham County Jail.

If convicted of first-degree murder, Eugene faces up to life in prison or possibly even the death penalty. Bingham County authorities have not yet commented on whether they’ll seek the death penalty against him.

Also on Thursday in Kimberly near Twin Falls, a man who was already facing domestic violence charges killed his girlfriend and then himself, authorities said.

Paul Mueller, 65, and his girlfriend Lora Skeahan, 45, were found dead from gunshot wounds Thursday afternoon. It is believed Mueller killed Skeahan before shooting himself, authorities said.

In late May, Mueller was charged with domestic battery after a neighbor called the police and Skeahan told responding officers that Mueller had pushed her down the stairs and broken both of her wrists.

Two weeks later Mueller was charged with violating a no-contact order against Skeahan.

The bodies of Mueller and Skeahan were found by police who responded to the couple’s Kimberly home to check up on them.

In Meridian near Boise on the same afternoon the bodies of a 46-year-old man and 36-year-old woman were found by officers who responded to the couple’s home to do a welfare check on them.

Both the man and woman died from gunshot wounds, and Meridian Deputy Police Chief Tracy Basterrechea said the positioning of the bodies and the weapon indicated that the man had shot the woman and then himself. Authorities have not yet released the names of the deceased.

Bannock County Sheriff Lorin Nielsen said domestic violence is a common occurrence in Southeast Idaho and his deputies have arrested more people lately for domestic violence incidents than they have for drunk driving. The trend used to be the other way around.

“I wouldn’t say that we have a homicide that often based on the amount of domestic violence we have,” Nielsen said, “but if it isn’t taken care of, it can and does go that direction.”

According to Nielsen, Bannock County sheriff’s deputies respond to a domestic violence incident “just about every shift.”

Bannock County Prosecutor Steve Herzog said that in a domestic violence fatality, there will typically be a pattern of escalating behavior— but not always.

“It’s uncommon to just have something occur out of the blue,” Herzog said. “And when a homicide occurs, and there’s no history, it’s entirely possible there is a history. It just hasn’t been reported.”

In the case of Eugene Ruff allegedly murdering his wife, a search of his criminal record via the Idaho Supreme Court online database showed no previous domestic violence or violent crime convictions.

Herzog and Nielsen both said domestic violence cases can often be complicated due to the common occurrence of victims being unwilling to press charges or seek help.

“Prosecuting domestics is really difficult, and it’s difficult for juries to understand because victims will do things that are very weird, like keep going back to the offender,” Herzog said. “But once you kind of understand all the dynamics that are going on, it makes perfect sense.”

In many domestic violence cases, Herzog said, the victims are uneducated, unemployed or otherwise unable to sustain themselves. Additionally, abusers often isolate their victims, so they don’t have family or friends they can turn to if they leave.

Herzog and Nielsen recommend that if a local person is in an abusive relationship, they should seek help at Family Services Alliance, which provides legal and financial assistance and emergency housing, counseling and educational services. Family Services Alliance also has a 24-hour emergency hotline for those in immediate crisis at (208) 251-4357.