Did Massachusetts Fail Alleged Murderer Donald Rudolph?

By Steve Holt | Boston Magazine |
Donald Rudolph

(Illustration by Josue Evilla)

ON THE MORNING of December 10, 2011, Donald Rudolph woke up alone in a cold cell at the Norfolk County jail. It was his 19th birthday, and the one-month anniversary of his time behind bars. For Rudolph, one month in the same place was actually a long time. He’d spent the past two years bouncing around foster homes, his parents’ houses, and the street. In jail, at least, he was getting three square meals a day.

Rudolph’s chaotic life reached the peak of its frenzy on the evening of November 10, 2011, when police responded to a call about suspicious activity inside his mother’s Weymouth home. Through the first-floor windows, officers arriving on the scene at 10 Upland Road could see a young male inside the house, though he quickly disappeared from view. A few minutes later, they found him trying to escape through a small basement window. When they pulled him out, he seemed disoriented, and his clothes and hands were covered in blood. Rudolph was no stranger to the cops, and a few of them would have recognized his bony face. In the incident report, they wrote that he mumbled, “I fucked up” a couple of times. “You will see when you go inside the house.”

Inside, it was a bloodbath. Police found the body of Frederick Medina, 52, the boyfriend of Rudolph’s mother, lying in the living room under a scattering of stuffed animals, his throat cut. A Beanie Baby had been stuffed into his mouth. In a garage just off the house were two female bodies — those of Rudolph’s mother, Paula, 50, and his 24-year-old sister, Caylin — both beaten to death with a hammer. Caylin had also been stabbed. On the kitchen table sat the apparent tools of death, a bloody hammer and knife, wrapped in a place mat.

News coverage of the murders focused, appropriately, on the brutality of the killings. People wondered how this kid, a recent high school graduate who could be found smiling broadly in photos with his sister on Facebook, could have done what police were saying he did.

Those who knew Rudolph, though, had seen signs of trouble for years. In fact, things had gotten so bad that he’d been placed in foster care. But exactly 11 months before the events at his mother’s house, Rudolph had turned 18 and become a legal adult. He’d “aged out” of the system, and in short order was homeless, jobless, and involved with drugs. In the months leading up to the alleged murders, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia and other mental illnesses. During that period, he was also arrested four times for an array of alleged crimes.

Brittany Rudolph, Donald’s 22-year-old sister (she wasn’t home the evening of the murders because she was away at college), says state officials missed clear signs that her brother needed additional resources. Furthermore, she says, Donald’s time in the foster care system was marked by abuse and neglect.

“The way they handled it — the system,” she says, “they basically created a criminal.”

RUDOLPH WAS VERY MUCH aware that he had problems, Brittany says, recalling the time he sat at the family computer, Googling different types of mental illnesses. “I have this,” Rudolph told her matter-of-factly, pointing at the screen. “And I definitely have this.”

It turned out that Rudolph was right. Last summer, a state psychiatrist diagnosed him with schizophrenia, depression, ADHD, and bipolar disorder. Brittany says her brother seemed tormented by his shortcomings. “He was aware that he wasn’t all there,” she says. In fact, when Rudolph was arrested last September, just two months before the murders, Weymouth police wrote in their report, “Donald stated that he is schizophrenic and paranoid, and that we [the police] make him nervous.”

  • Rachel Fafard

    I think this young man needs to be shown both love and forgiveness. Mental illness is nothing to overlook yet too often it falls through the cracks in our care systems.