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Broken Family: The Murder of Ruth Pyne

The Pyne family of Highland, Michigan, seemed to be the picture-perfect family. Bernie & Ruth had been married most of their adult lives and had two children, a son and a daughter. Jeffery, their son, had been Valedictorian of his high school class and was attending The University of Michigan, studying biology. Julia was ten years younger than her brother and an average, happy grade school student. The Pyne family was shattered on May 27th, 2011, when Ruth Pyne was found murdered in the family garage. After the murder, the dark secrets of the Pyne family would come to light and the world would come to understand that this was a broken family.



Ruth Anne Hock was born November 26th, 1959. She was one of five children and grew up in Detroit. While attending South Lyon High School, Ruth met Bernie Pyne. Bernie said he knew instantly he wanted to be with Ruth, but she rejected him at first. He remained persistent and eventually the two began to date. They fell head over heels for each other and married February 20th, 1979. Despite both being just nineteen years old, the couple was happy. Ruth began working as a dental assistant and Bernie as an automotive engineer. They were members of the Cornerstone Evangelical Presbyterian Church.

The Pyne’s waited a decade before they had children. In 1989 they welcome son Jefferey. It would be another ten years, in 1999, when they welcomed daughter Julia. After becoming a mother, Ruth became a homemaker and spent her days raising her children. She was a dedicated and loving mother. She enjoyed crafting, crocheting, and spending time with her family.

Around the time of Julia’s birth, however, Bernie Pyne noticed some strange things about his wife. She was becoming paranoid, sometimes thinking the women in the church were out to get her. He grew increasingly concerned about his wife’s paranoia and took her for a medical evaluation. Ruth Pyne was diagnosed with late onset bipolar disorder. She was treated with medications and responded well. However, she was not always consistent at taking those medications.



Approximately 40% of patients with bipolar disorder are non-compliant with their medications (Devulapalli et al., 2010). When a patient stops taking psychiatric drugs suddenly and without physician oversight, the results can be dangerous for the patient and others. Non-compliance may lead to violent outburst, psychosis, exacerbation of disease, and leads to poor outcomes. As a result of this non-compliance, Ruth Pyne was hospitalized for psychiatric issues a number of times. She would have violent and unpredictable outbursts, sometimes at the expense of her husband and son Jeff. In 2010, Ruth attacked her son Jeffery and was arrested for domestic violence. Charges were dropped when she agreed to be compliant with her medications.

Despite these issues, Jeff Pyne seemed to thrive. He was a good student with no behavioral issues. He was successfully pursuing a degree in biology at the University of Michigan when his mother was killed. He said he wanted to become a doctor and find a cure for his mother’s illness. According to his aunt, Ruth’s sister, Jeff and Ruth were very close and had a loving relationship.

In the year before Ruth’s death, Bernie was frustrated with his wife’s unpredictable mental illness and sought comfort in another woman. Ruth became aware and confronted Bernie, who asked for a divorce. Ruth begged for Bernie to stay and promised to take her medications and do her part to make their marriage work. Bernie, still in love with Ruth, agreed to stay. Ruth had started taking her medications and seemed to be doing very well in the Spring of 2011.

At 2:30 pm on May 27th, 2011, Bernie and his daughter Julia arrived home for the day. Bernie, planning to open the pool for the season, stayed outside to turn on the pool pump. Julie started to enter the home through the garage but let out a scream. Bernie ran over and found Ruth’s dead body lying in the garage, blocking the door from being opened fully. He called for his neighbor and then called 911. Bernie said on Deadline Crime with Tamron Hall, that he initially believed Ruth had committed suicide after battling mental illness for almost a decade.

Police arrived at the scene and started to investigate what happened. It was a very violent crime scene. Ruth had been hit with a 2x4 repeatedly and then stabbed sixteen times in the neck. The crime was brutal, and police believed it wasn’t a random attack. The front door was locked and deadbolted. Ruth was lying by the door to the garage covered in blood, but no blood was on the bottom of the door. Police suggested this meant whoever left the house that day did so out the front door, locking the door with a key.

Police found a drop of blood on a sink the Pyne home, suggesting that whoever killed Ruth cleaned up inside the house. There was no other physical evidence, however, to link anyone to the crime. Police were suspicious, however. They gave Bernie Pyne a lie detector test, which he passed. Bernie admitted to having an affair, but adamantly denied killing his wife. He had an alibi during the time Ruth had been killed, between 12pm and 2 pm that day.

They then started to look at Jeff Pyne. Jeff had blisters on both of his hands that afternoon when he arrived home following his father’s call. The blisters were covered in bandages. Jeff claimed he received those injuries from moving wooded pallets at the orchard he worked at. Jeff’s manager and co-workers, who had moved thousands of pallets over a number of years, suggested that those injuries were not consistent with moving pallets.

Police then investigated Jeff’s alibi. He called a neighbor that he frequently did gardening work for around 1:30 pm that afternoon, informing her he would be there to transplant lilac bushes. However, the neighbor said those were done days before and there was no sign Jeff was actually there. Jeff arrived at his work shift at approximately 3 pm. He said he left home at 1:30 pm and his mother was sleeping in her bed when he left.

Jeff Pyne was charged with first-degree murder. Bernie and Julie firmly believed Jeff was not capable of harming Ruth, who had been doing great in the months prior to her death. They supported Jeff throughout his trial. They suggest that perhaps someone she became involved with at the mental hospitals had killed her. Also, a neighbor said she saw a man in a yellow hoodie in the yard a few days prior to the murder. Bernie Pyne is convinced his son is innocent.

At trial, the evidence against Jeff Pyne was thin. First, the injuries to Jeff’s hands. While no one could prove how he received those injuries, the prosecution presented witnesses including those who worked with Jeff and his boss. The witnesses said they did not believe that the wounds were caused from moving pallets as they had moved thousands of pallets and never had injuries like those. Jeff’s defense implied that he may have received those injuries from transplanting the lilac bushes for the neighbor. However, that neighbor testified that the bushes were transplanted days before the murder and that there was no sign Jeff had been there that day.

Jeff’s ex-girlfriend, whom he cheated on in the months prior to the murder, testified for the prosecution. She testified that Jeff wanted to move out of the house because he hated his mother and resented her for her mental illness. She said he was afraid to leave his little sister with his mother, however, and he couldn’t afford to move. She testified that he cheated on her and “lied effortlessly” (Deadline Crime). This evidence was supposed to demonstrate Jeff had a poor character. Co-workers also testified that he often drank alcohol.

The only spot of blood, found on a sink in the home, belonged to Ruth Pyne. Prosecutors believed that was evidence of a clean-up. However, no other physical evidence or blood was found. There was no bloody clothing found and nothing with Jeff Pyne’s DNA. The defense said a single drop of blood found on a sink in the home Ruth Pyne had lived in for thirty years meant nothing. The defense, believing this case to be so weak that it would not result in conviction, did not call any of their own witnesses. Jeff Pyne did not testify on his own behalf.

At the end of the trial, the judge allowed the jury to consider both first-degree murder and second-degree murder. The jury determined that Jeff Pyne was guilty of second-degree murder. Bernie and Julia were devastated and believed that was wrongfully convicted. Jeff Pyne was sentenced to twenty to sixty years in the Michigan Department of Corrections.

Jeff Pyne, with the support of his family, is appealing his conviction on grounds that his ex-girlfriend should not have been allowed to testify as her testimony was prejudicial and irrelevant, that his co-workers were not experts on injuries and that testimony was improper, and ineffective assistance of counsel. Bernie Pyne remains convinced that Jeff is innocent and that it was likely a stranger who killed Ruth. “I’ve lost everything, except Julia” Bernie said on Deadline Crime with Tamron Hall.

Jefferey Pyne’s appeal in 2015 was denied. He remains incarcerated at Ionia Correctional Facility in Michigan. He is not eligible for release until 2031 but could remain in prison until 2071. This case has been controversial. While some believe justice was served, many others believe that Jeffery Pyne was innocent and that the Pyne family was first broken by murder, and then again by a wrongful conviction. What do you think?



References

Deadline Crime with Tamron Hall (2013) Family Secrets; Season 1 Episode 1

MDOC (2022) Jefferey Bernard Pyne; Retrieved at: Offender Tracking Information System (OTIS) - Offender Profile (state.mi.us)

Devulapalli, K. K., Ignacio, R. V., Weiden, P., Cassidy, K. A., Williams, T. D., Safavi, R., Blow, F. C., & Sajatovic, M. (2010). Why do persons with bipolar disorder stop their medication?. Psychopharmacology bulletin, 43(3), 5–14.

Krieg, D. (2015) Higher court upholds Jeff Pyne’s mother-murder conviction; Retrieved at: Higher court upholds Jeff Pyne's mother-murder conviction - DEK Realty

Phillips, D. (2012) Jefferey Pyne’s ex-girlfriend says accused murderer cheated on her; UPDATED Jeffrey Pyne's ex-girlfriend says accused murderer cheated on her (nhregister.com)

Michigan V. Pyne (2015) People of the State of Michigan V. Jefferey Bernard Pyne; PEOPLE OF MI V JEFFREY BERNARD PYNE :: 2015 :: Michigan Court of Appeals - Unpublished Opinions Decisions :: Michigan Case Law :: Michigan Law :: US Law :: Justia

Clark, S. (2012) Valedictorian murder trial: Jefferey Pyne found guilty of killing his mother; Valedictorian Murder Trial: Jeffrey Pyne Found Guilty of Killing His Mother - ABC News (go.com)

FindAGrave (2022) Ruth Anne Hock Pyne; Ruth Anne Hock Pyne (1959-2011) - Find a Grave Memorial

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