Tuesday, September 6, 2016
HOWARD UNRAH GOES NUTS!
9/6/1949 - Madness comes to Camden, New Jersey in the form of America's first mass murderer, 28-year-old ex-Army sharpshooter Howard Unrah.
Brought up with a younger brother by their mother when their parents separate, though shy, Unrah seems an okay fellow until his WWII experiences curdle his mind ... he keeps to himself, gets adequate grades, reads the Bible, doesn't date, and plans to become a pharmacist until fresh out of high school, the war points him in a different direction. Drafted, Unrah quickly becomes a sharpshooter who is constantly taking apart and reassembling his rife. Arriving in Europe, Unrah is made into a tank machine gunner, and participates in the Allied campaign up the boot of Italy, and in the Battle of the Bulge, helping to keep the road hub city of Bastogne from the Germans. When the war is over, Unrah leaves for home with an honorable discharge, a number of medals, and several commendations ... he also takes home a special war diary in which he has documented every German soldier he has killed, the day they died, the hour and the place where the death took place, and what his victims looked like as corpses.
High School Yearbook
Home from the horrors of war (his mother Freda's three-room apartment), Unrah attempts to go to college, taking classes at Temple University in Philadelphia, but the focus to graduate is lacking, and soon the veteran is recluse in his own home (unsure of his sexual identity, he dabbles in being gay), barely talking to his mother, taking pleasure only in acquiring new weapons, hanging war souvenirs on the walls of his room, and firing off his guns at the target range he has created in the basement of his home. He also seems to enjoy hating his neighbors ... this time creating a diary of the locals' wrongdoings, and notes on who should suffer retaliation; among the grievances is that of the neighboring Cohen Family, who make the mistake of giving their 12-year-old son a bugle for Christmas. Tired of their many wrongs, he constructs a high fence around his family's backyard, featuring a massive wooden gate that can be closed and locked to keep the world outside. At least that is the idea, in reality, the gate serves as the explosive catalyst for murder.
The Unrah Home
Upset already at a friend not meeting him at the local motion picture house (a double feature starring Barbara Stanwyck in The Lady Gambles), Unrah goes bonkers when he returns home at 3:00 in the morning and discovers someone has stolen the gate. Going to bed, he determines in his mind to get even with the neighbors in the morning.
At 8:00 the next morning, Unrah rises, dresses in his best clothes (a brown suit, white shirt, a bow tie, and army boots), and after he has breakfast of fried eggs and cereal with his mom, and then chases her from the home by threatening her with a wrench, the sharpshooter grabs a 9mm German Luger he has purchased from a Philadelphia hardware store for $37.50, ammunition, ammunition clips, a six-inch knife, a tear-gas pen with six shells,and begins what local papers will call the "Walk of Death" ... a twelve minute stroll in which he kills thirteen people and wounds an additional three before surrendering to police. It is 9:20 on the morning of 9/6/1949.
Stepping into the local shoe store, 27-year-old cobbler, John Joseph Pilarchik is the first to die, shot in the chest and head. Revenge found to be sweet, Unrah then visits the barbershop, where he shots 6-year-old Orris Martin Smith off the hobby horse he is riding while awaiting his haircut turn (he ignores the boy's screaming mother as she holds her lifeless son in her arms), and then, kills the barber, 33-year-old Clark Hoover. Next, he is off to the drugstore to deal with his next-door neighbors, the Cohen Family, but before he can get there, he runs into his insurance agent on the sidewalk. "Hello Howard," greets 45-year-old James Hutton as Unrah leaves the barbershop ... a salutation the madman responds to be putting fatal bullets in the man's body and head.
Where Smith Was Playing
Anger not even close to being sated, when Unrah arrives at the drugstore he finds the establishment empty (seeing Unrah murder Hutton, the Cohen's flee upstairs into their house), but blood fever up, he simply goes upstairs, breaks into the house, and begins another shooting spree ... Mrs. Cohen (38) tries to hide in a closet and is shot, Grandma Cohen (63) is killed while trying to call the police, and Mr. Cohen (39) is gunned down trying to flee across the roof of his home.
The Cohen Drugstore
Returning to the street in search of new targets, Unrah kills Alvin Day as the 24-year-old tries to give medical assistance to Hutton, then kills Helen Wilson (37), Wilson's mother, Emma Matlack (68), and Wilson's son, John (10), unaware they have entered an abattoir, all killed while waiting in their car for the light to change from red to green. Spying a truck driver entering his ride over a block away, Unrah snaps a shot at the man and drops him with a non-fatal wound to his leg. The tailor shop the next site to suffer a call from Unrah, part-owner Mrs. Helga Fegrino (28) joins the growing list of the dead (her husband is out), as does 3-year-old Tommy Hamilton, who makes the innocent mistake of looking out the window of his house at the strange activity going on in the street. Heading for home to replenish his ammunition, the lunatic makes a last stop at the home of Mrs. Madeline Harris, where due to the defense of the woman's two sons, he is only able to cause non-fatal wounds with his last bullets.
Twelve minutes of horror over (the toll of 13 dead could have been much higher, but a local restaurant/bar barricades its doors against the psycho ... Unrah himself says, "I'd have killed a thousand if I had enough bullets!"), Unrah is surrounded by police in his home as he prepares to venture forth once more with his weapon reloaded, and tear-gassed into a quick surrender (called by a reporter before he gives up, Unrah will crow about his morning, "I haven't counted 'em, but it looks like a pretty good score!").
Before There Were Swat Teams
Scene Of The Crimes Just After
Off To Jail
Put on trial for the blood bath, Unrah will be deemed incurably insane (good call!!!!!!!!!!!) by 20 shrinks and sent to the New Jersey State Mental Hospital ... where he will reside, yearly being evaluated as to whether he has changed enough to warrant his release back into society and then denied, until his death in a Treton, New Jersey madhouse at the age of 88 in 2009!
Sanity Hearing - 1998
The first American mass murderer, spree killer, he is sadly, not the last.