Ralph and Ruth Story Gragg were estranged. Ruth had left the marriage and her eight children to escape Ralph’s extreme physical abuse.
Ralph Gragg was a 33-year-old unemployed sawmill worker injured on the job in November 1950 and could no longer work. He supported his family with worker’s compensation.
He and the children resided in the mountain town of Collettsville, North Carolina, about 70 miles northeast of Asheville in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
After Ruth left, Ralph told her he was going to kill their eight children. He wasn’t joking or saying it to upset her. That is exactly what he did.
On May 2, 1951, Ralph Gragg, 33, killed all eight children – Catherine, 15, Christine, 13, Jimmy, 10, Peggy Ann, 9, Carolyn Jane, 7, Paul Edward, 5, Betty June, 4, and Rebecca Louise, 3.
According to Coroner Marshall Kincaid, Ralph bludgeoned the children before shooting them. He went room by room, killing one child at a time, and closing bedroom doors behind him.
After Ralph killed Betty June and Rebecca Louise, he went out the back door with a flashlight in his hand. Neighbors reported seeing Ralph standing on the front porch for a few minutes. Kincaid said, “Then the flashlight went out. Just a minute or two later, the house was covered by the flash of fire.”
A shotgun and a five-gallon can were found next to Ralph Gragg’s body.
Neighbor Wesley Setzer told police he heard muffled noises and shouting from the Gragg home, but he thought the children caused it. Another neighbor said the children were “terribly scared of their father.”
The coroner concluded that Ralph used either a club, an ax, or something similar to knock the children unconscious before shooting them.
Ruth Story Gragg viewed the bodies of her children. All were burned beyond recognition. Police officers and neighbors could only identify the children’s bodies by their height.
Ruth told the local newspaper, “He threatened to this before – that’s why I had to leave them. I was afraid of him.” She also said that he had bought kerosene several weeks before the murders.
Sometime before she left her family, Ralph had beaten Ruth and broke her ribs. Police found a letter to Ruth inside Catherine’s desk. The teen wrote:
“Mama, I wish you would come back and stay with us. I am treated like a dog. Peggy and me are fussed at all the time.”
The letter ended there.
The nine bodies were placed in two caskets and buried in a single grave at Mountain View Baptist Church Cemetery in Lenoir, North Carolina. Ruth collapsed at the funeral from the unbearable grief. 😥
True Crime Diva’s Thoughts
I found this case while researching the Lawson Family Murder, which took place in the same area in 1929.
This is a solved case. No mystery here. So, no need to panic wondering what the mystery is. I plan on writing more cases like this one. This crime was so brutal and completely senseless that I had to write about it. I also want people to know about these beautiful children and their fate.
I could not find any more info on the children’s mother, so I do not know what happened to her. But these children were beautiful. Peggy is my mother’s age. My mother is still alive, and all of these children should be, too.
I can’t imagine what Ruth went through, but why on earth did she leave the children with Ralph? Maybe she could not afford to take them. Such a sad case.
I don’t get why people don’t divorce their spouses or kill themselves. Why take innocent children with you? Payback? I’m sure there was a bigger payback waiting for Ralph in hell. At least, I’d like to think so. 😉
- “Eight Placed With Father in One Grave.” The Gastonia Gazette. May 4, 1951.
- “Father Bludgeons Eight Children to Death, Fires Home, Shoots Self.” The Asheville Citizen. May 4, 1951.
- “Final Rites Are Held For Gragg Family.” Asheville Citizen-Times. May 5, 1951.
- “Ralph Gragg Slays His Eight Children and Then Kills Self.” Statesville Record and Landmark. May 3, 1951.