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Kevin Bonham, Forum News Service, Published July 21 2013

Family seeks answers in 1935 Grand Forks slaying

GRAND FORKS – It was about 10 p.m. on a Monday when Raymond Ruud, a 20-year-old taxi driver, picked up a fare at the back door of Lukkason’s Bar in downtown East Grand Forks, Minn.

A witness saw him pull up to the bar, get out and then, after an unidentified customer entered the cab, get back in and drive away.

That was the last time anybody saw Ray Ruud alive.

It was April 1, 1935.

Ruud, a former Grand Forks Central High School hockey player, was found dead the next morning, lying in a ditch south of Grand Forks with a bullet hole in the back of his neck.

In what police finally determined was a robbery, the unknown assailant got away with less than $10.

A coroner’s inquest was convened the following day. Acting Coroner Phil McLoughlin questioned officials and other witnesses for two days before a three-member jury found that Ruud indeed had been a murder victim.

The death was ruled the result of a .25-caliber steel-jacketed bullet fired from an automatic weapon into the spinal column at the base of the skull – from a distance of about 12 inches away – sometime between 10 p.m. April 1 and 7 a.m. April 2, according to the autopsy report.

Ruud had driven for Sioux Cab Co. for just about two weeks and was working his first night shift when the murder occurred.

The case was never solved. It ended up in a cold case file, which apparently was destroyed during the 1997 flood.

While the 78-year-old murder of Raymond Ruud long has faded from the community’s collective memory, it has left an open wound in the hearts of family members.

“Families don’t forget when you’ve lost a loved one,” said Christine Hill, a Twin Cities resident who has been researching the case.

Hill’s grandmother was Ruud’s first cousin.

She remembers relatives talking about the slaying, but it wasn’t until she became interested in genealogical research a few years ago that the case really piqued her interest.

Headlines blared across the front page of the Grand Forks Herald on April 2, the day Ray Ruud’s body was discovered.

The front-page banner headline read: “Grand Forks Taxicab Driver Slain; Body Dumped Into Ditch Near City.”

A passerby called police from a nearby farm at about 8:15 a.m., reporting that a “dead or badly hurt body” was lying in the ditch, about three-fourths of a mile west of the King Cole Inn, located on a country road between Belmont Road and Highway 81. The location is believed to have been along what now is 47th Avenue South in Grand Forks.

The Herald on April 3 recounted the testimony of Deputy Sheriff Odin Overby:

“Overby said it was lying face down in the ditch with the feet close to the road. He said marks on the road indicated that the car had stopped near the center of the road opposite the place where the body was found.

“Just where the actual killing occurred is a matter of conjecture, but the lifeless form was tumbled from the taxicab on the road that runs just north of King Cole Inn. …

“Then, marks on the road and body show, the victim was dragged, head foremost, into the icy, weed-covered ditch on the south side of the road and left there to be discovered only by chance hours later.

“It was apparent from the condition of the taxicab, later found abandoned, that a bullet, likely fired from the rear seat, ended Ruud’s life as he sat at his wheel, for the deadly leaden pellet entered the back of his head just above the neck.

The taxi was found the morning of April 2 in an alley in the vicinity of the 1100 block of Belmont Road, about 1.5 to 2 miles from the alleged murder scene, according to testimony.

Clarence Ruud, Ray’s older brother, was one of the first people called to the scene after the victim’s identity had been confirmed, according to Lane Ruud, Clarence Ruud’s son.

“Dad was so sick when he saw it. He was throwing up,” Ruud said.

Lane Ruud, who lives in Washington state, once tried to find some answers himself. In 1954, he said, he researched Herald articles and talked with officers at the Grand Forks Police Department and Grand Forks County Sheriff’s Department.

But there were more questions than answers.

“I remember my grandmother and my grandfather, they were just totally devastated,” he said. “It was such a sore spot, they rarely talked about it. It just brought back so many bad memories.”

Research led Christine Hill to Lane Ruud’s daughter, who also had worked on the family’s genealogy, he said. They have compared notes and discussed some of the unanswered questions, including the identity of clearly defined fingerprints that were obtained from the windows and rear-view mirror of the taxi.

Police also investigated a rumor that two women, who had been in Lukkason’s Bar that night, April 1, might somehow have been involved. Police later said the story was that two women were calling various men from the bar as an April Fools’ joke, but that there was no evidence linking them to the crime.

Hill also learned about a typed but unsigned affidavit, in which a woman by the name of Crawford allegedly admitted to killing Raymond Ruud. The affidavit was found in Lane Ruud’s mother’s house.

It’s possible, they said, that investigators prepared the affidavit and used it while interrogating a suspect in hopes that she would sign it. But why it ended up in the Ruud house they do not know.

Hill’s research recently brought her to Grand Forks, where she visited the gravesites of Ray Ruud and his parents, Erick and Mary (Thompson) Ruud.

A few years ago, she also visited a cemetery, near Mekinock, N.D., where his grandparents are buried. There, she met Juel and Mary Storstad, church members who remember when Ray’s grandparents lived nearby. The Storstads have helped her track down relatives and other information.

“Maybe someone might read this and might remember something or someone, and that might lead to something that hasn’t been looked at before,” Hill said.

“Our hope is just to, first of all, even though I never knew him, learn more about what happened to him. We can’t expect to get a conviction. We would hope, in some way, to get some kind of closure.”

Christine Hill may be contacted by email at wordrx@msn.com or by telephone at (763) 242-2030.