Between 1963 and 1978 in both Michigan
and Indiana, this laid off railroad worker used a shotgun to kill
Bladel (73) man convicted of murdering three
Michigan railroad employees in 1978 and suspected in the deaths of four
others. A railroad fireman, Bladel was angry about a 1959 merger between
a freight yard in Niles, Michigan and the one where he worked in
Elkhart, Indiana. A union agreement and court decision resulted in
periodic layoffs and a loss of seniority for Bladel and his coworkers.
He was serving three life sentences when he died of thyroid cancer in
Jackson, Michigan on November 15, 2006.
was dubbed “The Railway Sniper” for his string of shooting throughout
the mid 60’s and 70’s.
Bladel, a disgruntled former railway employee,
gunned down many of his former co-workers after he was laid off from the
railway. Bladel had a love for trains his whole life since his dad was
also a railway employee. Approximately eight victims were claimed with
the murders being spaced about apart. Bladel even served eighteen months
in prison after one of his murder attempts failed.
could not be positively linked to the other murders. Once he was let go,
more employees turned up dead in and around the state of Indiana. Bladel
was now the number one suspect due to his criminal history. He was then
arrested after purchasing a firearm while under police custody. Not to
mention the fact that ex-cons are prevented from owning firearms. The
bullet pattern from the gun matched that of bullets found at the murder
He pled guilty and received three consecutive life sentences. He
took the decision all the way to the Supreme Court claiming that he was
coaxed into pleading guilty without representation of a lawyer. The
decision was over turned but there would be another trial in which
Bladel was found guilty and sentenced to three consecutive life terms.
Rudy Bladel loved the railroad from the day he could
walk. His father was a fireman for the railroad in Chicago, Illinois,
and it was only fitting that his son would follow his lead. Bladel began
in the right direction when he joined the Air Force in 1950 after
graduating from high school and was transferred to Korea, where he was
able to work on the railroad during his duty. After his stint in the Air
Force, Bladel took a job at the same railroad company his father worked
for and was in his element until he was laid off after the railroad in
Chicago decided to move to Elkhart, Indiana.
Bladel’s obsession for trains became deadly when he
decided to exact his revenge on the workers of the railroad in Elkhart,
Indiana and then moving his crimes to Jackson, Michigan. Through a
fifteen year stint, seven men would lose their lives to Bladel due to
his revenge when his lifetime love for trains was taken from him.
For many years, Bladel was able to escape
imprisonment for the murders due to lack of evidence until March 22,
1979, when Bladel was seen at the scene of a crime that had been just
committed toward another engineer of the Jackson, Michigan railroad. The
witness was able to describe Bladel to the police, and he was finally
arrested and sentenced to three life terms to be spent in a prison in
(1950) Rudy Bladel worked on the rail road in the air
force in Korea.
(1954) Bladel worked for his father’s rail road
company called the old Rock Island and Pacific in Niles, Illinois.
(1959) After being laid off for the Rock Island and
Pacific railroad, Bladel went to work for a rail road in Hammond,
Indiana for a rail road called Indiana’s Harbor Belt.
The rage that snuffed out seven lives in fifteen years began for Rudy Bladel as an economic twist of fate.
The son of a Chicago railroad fireman, Rudy loved the trains from childhood, never seriously entertaining the idea of any other occupation.
In Korea, during 1950, he was posted on a military train and saw his share of action from the rails. Returning to civilian life, he signed on with his father's line, the old Rock Island and Pacific, settling in Niles, a suburb of Chicago.
During 1959, the railroad's base of operations moved to Elkhart, Indiana. Protests from employees based in Niles were unavailing; Rudy Bladel was among those who were fired. He found another railroad job, with Indiana's Harbor Belt line, but his bitterness remained, to fester over time and finally explode in lethal violence.
He claimed his first two victims on the third of August, 1963, at Hammond, Indiana. Engineer Roy Bottorf and his fireman, Paul Overstreet, were found dead on that date, in the cab of their train, in the Harbor Belt rail yards. Each man had been hit by two rounds from a .22-caliber weapon. The crime remained unsolved, and ultimately passed into the realm of rail yard legend. It had nearly been forgotten five years later, when the killer struck a second time.
A shotgun ambush, on the sixth of August, 1968, claimed engineer John Marshall as he climbed aboard his train in Elkhart, Indiana. Witnesses described a hulking stranger, glimpsed in silhouette, who waddled from the murder scene with a distinctive, almost ape-like stride. Again, police were left without a suspect or substantial clues. Their break came three years later, once again in Elkhart, after Rudy Bladel drew a pistol in the railroad yard and shot another engineer. Though wounded, Rudy's victim managed to disarm him, wounding Bladel with a bullet from his own .357 magnum. Rudy filed a guilty plea to aggravated battery and drew a prison term of one to five years. He served eighteen months, and was paroled in 1973. His bitterness increased when Harbor Belt executives refused to reinstate him in his old position with the line.
On April 5, 1976, James McCrory was seated in his locomotive, in the yard at Elkhart, when a shotgun slug crashed through the window, shattering his skull and killing him on impact. This time, Bladel was an instant suspect, and police secured permission for surveillance.
In January 1978, he was arrested as he left a South Bend gun shop, carrying a brand-new magnum. Ownership of firearms is forbidden for convicted felons, and he served eleven months on weapons charges, but police could not connect him with the string of murders spanning thirteen years. So far, he had been relatively lucky, but the heat in Indiana got on Rudy's nerves, provoking him to shift his hunting ground.
On New Year's Eve, 1978, he carried a shotgun into the rail yards at Jackson, Michigan, surprising flagman Robert Blake and William Gulak, a conductor, in the depot. They were waiting for a train when Bladel cut them down with close-range blasts of buckshot. Moving to the outer platform, Rudy shot and killed Charles Burton, railroad fireman, as he came to work. The depot's ticket manager, responding to the sound of shots, described the gunman for police. The canny change of scene secured Bladel a reprieve, but time was running short. An engineer in Hammond, Indiana, who had shared a cab with Rudy in the old days, told police about the fireman who had seemed obsessed with graphic reenactments of the early shootings. Briefly held for questioning about the Jackson massacre, Bladel was soon released for lack of solid evidence. Three months elapsed before a group of hiker's found his shotgun in a park outside of Jackson. Serial numbers traced the weapon to Rudy, and a test-fire linked the firing pin to cartridges recovered at the murder scene.
Bladel was booked for triple murder on March 22, 1979, confessing to the Jackson crimes.
He changed his story at his trial, in August, but to no avail. Convicted in the face of his contention that he sold the shotgun to an unknown individual before the murders, Bladel drew three consecutive life terms in prison. But the railway sniper's story was not finished, yet.
In 1985, the Michigan Supreme Court overturned the verdict in his murder trial, on grounds that Bladel had confessed without a lawyer present to advise him of his rights. The ruling was upheld by the United States Supreme Court on April Fool's Day, 1986.
A second trial was held in June of 1987, Rudy clinging to his story of the shotgun's sale. The prosecution countered with results of microscopictests, which placed the gun in Rudy's suitcase just before it was discarded. Bladel was convicted once again, on June 19th. This time, the terms of life imprisonment were made consecutive, insuring he would never walk the streets -- or haunt the railroad yards -- again.
Michael Newton - An Encyclopedia of Modern Serial
Killers - Hunting Humans
No tears for murderer Serial killer
gunned down train workers in Jackson in 1978
November 21, 2006
Grief was in short supply when Jackson learned Rudy
Bladel was a serial killer with an obsessive grudge
who triggered one of the city's most horrific murder cases in 1978.
Locked in prison since 1979, the 73-year-old died of
thyroid cancer at Foote Hospital on Wednesday.
"I'm not going to shed any tears for him," said
Thomas Hutton, a retired Jackson police detective. "He destroyed three
"Good riddance," said David Kolb, a former Citizen
Patriot reporter who covered Bladel's crimes.
"A lot of families can sleep better tonight," said
Gerald Rand, another retired detective.
Bladel, a former railroad fireman from Elkhart, Ind.,
hated Michigan train workers with homicidal fury.
Hatred consumed his life beginning in 1959, the year
of a union agreement Bladel blamed for taking railroad work from Indiana
and giving it to Michigan.
Bladel was caught red-handed shooting a train
engineer from Niles in 1971. The engineer lived, and Bladel went to
prison for a few years.
His crime made Bladel the presumed killer in a series
of unsolved railroad murders dating from 1963.
"We figured he was probably responsible for seven
homicides," Rand said. "He'll take some of those secrets to his grave."
Bladel became a menacing figure well-known to train
"He relished the fact they were frightened of him,"
Hutton said. "He was legend among the guys who worked for the railroad.
He would glare down from overpasses when trains went by. He called it 'giving
them static.' "
"He had no feeling for people," Rand said. "He was a
loner. He had no friends. He wasn't involved with women. He didn't drink.
He didn't smoke. None of that stuff."
On New Year's Eve 1978, he killed three Conrail
workers at Jackson's train depot. Eventually, authorities built a case
that sent him to prison with no chance for parole.
His obsession and general physical presence created a
"Bladel was a cold, calculating killer. Cold as ice,"
said Kolb, now the Muskegon Chronicle's editorial page editor.
"To most people, he looked bigger than he really was,"
Hutton said. "He was a hulking kind of figure."
Russ Marlan, a Department of Corrections spokesman,
said Bladel has been in and out of hospital care since 1988.
Even after he was locked up, Bladel remained fixated
on the supposed injustice to Indiana trainmen. For years, he sent
letters of complaint to the outside world.
The Department of Corrections lists one alias for
Bladel, evidently a prison nickname. It is "Amtrak."
"I always believed prison, for Rudy Bladel, was not
punishment," Rand said. "I don't think prison affected him one bit. He's
finally got justice now."
M RACE: W TYPE: N MOTIVE: PC-revenge
Shot railroad employees to avenge loss of job.
three consecutive life terms.