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· James H. “Jim” Fountain (1928-2017)
It’s Wednesday, June 5, 1985, in Hutchinson, Kansas, on the third floor of the Reno County courthouse. For the last three-and-a-half weeks, the jury trial of Arnold Ruebke, Jr. has been in session. Ruebke is charged with three counts of first-degree murder and three counts of aggravated kidnapping.
The crimes occurred on October 29, 1984, one mile outside of Arlington, Kansas. The bodies of two-year-old twins, Andrew and James Vogelsang, and their babysitter, Tammey Mooney, 18, were discovered three days later in a thickly wooded and grassy area west of the Vogelsang residence. All three had been murdered with 12-gauge shotgun blasts.
On November 4, 1984, the defendant was arrested in Kingman, Kansas, and brought to Hutchinson. Reno County Sheriff Jim Fountain escorted the 18-year-old suspect into the law enforcement center and up to the jail.
The phone rings. The jury has reached a verdict.
Sheriff Fountain looks at his watch. It’s 3:40 p.m. A verdict on six charges in six hours must be good news, he hopes. He takes a deep breath.
The word travels fast. Stepping into the hallway, he begins a migration to the courthouse.
Hurry and wait. In the courtroom, Fountain learns the reason for the court’s delay in going back into session. Ruebke, Jr., on bond, and his parents, are in route from northeast Hutchinson, where Ruebke, Sr. lives.
The courtroom is packed, overflowing with 100 spectators. The defendant, with his attorney Richard Rome, enter. Family members and friends of the victims and family members of the defendant are present. Attorneys, law enforcement, and the media, line the walls.
Sheriff Jim Fountain bites his fingernails and with his thumb pushes his cuticles back. He’s been in this business long enough to know that no jury is predictable.
Ruebke’s a liar. He’s a convicted thief, thinks Fountain. But, has Frank Meisenheimer, Assistant County Attorney, proven to the jury that the liar and thief is also a triple-murderer?
Fountain remembers the phone call from his nephew, Jeff Fountain, Arlington Police Chief, three days after Tammey Mooney and the Vogelsang twins were reported missing from the Vogelsang home.
All three were found. All three were dead.
Later, after the crime scene was processed, he, the sheriff, volunteered to carry one of the boys from the thicket to the road, and to gently hand the precious body to mortuary attendants. During that long walk, with the innocent dead child in his arms, the sheriff promised the boy that he would see to it that this unthinkable crime would be solved, the person who murdered them, who came straight out of hell, would be punished.
District Judge William “Buck” Lyle views the crowded courtroom from his throne. He believes that most of the spectators aren’t looking at him, they’re admiring the Vincent Aderente mural over his head. It depicts a justice scene with a sitting female judicator.
In his courtroom, Judge Lyle sets the scene and the jury’s verdict is ready to be heard.
The courtroom is silent until all present hear the decision. Arnold Ruebke, Jr. is guilty as charged.
Ruebke, convicted, wearing a t-shirt, blue jeans, and tennis shoes, shows no emotion.
Meisenheimer turns to the spectators, breaths a sigh of relief, and looks toward the ceiling.
Mrs. Carol Van Pelt, Arnold’s mother, and Lisa Ruebke, Arnold’s wife, burst into tears, wondering why there is no justice and no mercy.
“No, no,” says Lisa, hearing Lyle read the verdict.
Debbie Vogelsang, mother of Andi and Jami; and Margaret Mooney, mother of Tammey; are crying. Vogelsang has studied the mural for over three weeks. When she sees the warrior or executioner holding the large sword, she imagines using it in an act of vengeance. Between sobs, repeatedly, Debbie says, “He’s going to pay.”
Jay Vogelsang, Debbie’s husband, father of the murdered boys, is absent from the courtroom because of his fear that he’d be unable to control his emotions.
Assistant County Attorney Frank Meisenheimer asks to raise Ruebke’s bond to $5 million or no bond at all. Lyle raises it from $105,000 to $500,000.
Detective Captain Dennis Radke handcuffs Ruebke and leads him out of the courtroom’s back door to take him to jail.
Arnold’s mother comments, “I just don’t see how the jury could have done it with everything that came out. It’s hard to believe they did it. I wasn’t prepared for this.”
Ellis Mooney, father of Tammey, comments, “I think the trial was handled properly. I think both of the attorneys did their job real well. I believe Reno County will rest a lot easier tonight than they have in a long time.”
Debbie Vogelsang adds, “I always thought he was guilty. It’s very important for me that he’s behind bars. I feel better about my kids’ safety. I feel better about everyone’s safety.”
District Judge Lyle is pleased with the conduct of the audience. “I felt I had excellent cooperation from all the spectators and the news media and everybody else. I didn’t even have a gavel.”
If not for the circumstances, Prosecutor Meisenheimer’s comment is laughable. He remarks, “It’s my biggest case I’ve ever tried.” Then, he adds, “We’ll seek a sentence of at least 180 years. We’ll ask for a life sentence for each crime and seek to invoke the Habitual Criminal Act because of Mr. Ruebke’s prior felony theft conviction. This will double the total sentence. Mr. Ruebke should never be paroled.”
County Attorney Tim Chambers has been sitting next to Meisenheimer during the trial to help keep track of the large number of details.
Chambers comments that he thinks the key pieces of evidence were: 1) the unique condition of the pennies that Ruebke cashed in at the Arlington bank the afternoon the trio disappeared, 2) Ruebke’s detailed statements to a Kingman man about the fatal injuries to the victims before the autopsies were completed, and 3) testimony from Arlington grade-school children who saw Ruebke with Miss Mooney on the day of the murders.
Defense Attorney Richard Rome remarks, “I only have high respect for Mr. Meisenheimer and the way the trial was conducted, but I think we definitely will appeal.”
Sheriff Fountain remarks, “It took the cooperation of our department, the KBI, and the police department. All that teamwork resulted in the decision of the jury this afternoon.”
Fountain chooses not to share his inner-most thoughts: Reubke came straight out of hell to murder innocents, now, hell will have a long wait before Ruebke’s return.
A good deal of the courtroom information is based on Mark Enoch’s reporting in the June 6, 1985, Hutchinson News article, with contributions from reporters Jerry Maxfield and Alan Montgomery.
Until next time, happy writing and reading.