« The Dilys Award Nominees | Main | The World Discovers Scandinavian Crime Fiction »

January 22, 2009



I wonder why it has only been recently that people have started killing randomly. I think I read that Jack the Ripper was about the first (c1887). Why not before? There must be something about modern society that creates these freaks.

Scott Phillips

Monte Beauchamp did an interesting piece on Unruh in BLAB an issue or two ago...


Killed 12 persons...

Edward C. Stengel

I think the author makes an astounding observation - why has Howard
Unruh outlived so many? Can anyone imagine being incarcerated in a
mental institution for 60 years, and topping that off by being 28
years old at the time of incarceration? The case of Howard Unruh I
find fascinating beyond belief. I've read about all the other mass
murderers - the University of Texas tower sniper, the shooter at the
McDonald's at San Yasidro, California, the Korean student shooter at
Virginia Tech, all the work place shooters, the school shooters, the
family shooters, like John List, but no one fascinates me like Howard Unruh, and I just recently heard about him, while doing a
search of mass murderers. Isn't it fascinating that the first of
America's lone gunman mass murderers has lived longer than any other, and has outlived just about all of them? What is even more
fascinating about this man is that he is still alive. I'm 63 years
old and as I think of all the trials and tribulations of my life, it
amazes me beyond belief that Howard Unruh has spent almost as much
time mopping floors in the psychiatric hospitals in New Jersey as I
have been alive. Howard Unruh must be America's best kept secret -
only one better kept secret could exist - and that is what lurks in
the mind of Howard Unruh every day!

Edward C. Stengel

I have to make one further observation about Howard Unruh. I read
some other material on him in some other websites, and it amazes me
how little information has been discussed about this man's 60 years
in psychiatric hospitals, other than to say he mops floors and walks
in circles. There must be a lot of people, both staff and visitors,
who have talked to him over the years, but they don't reveal anything of much significance, even if they could choose to be
anonymous. Why? Surely he's spoken to these people privately, but
they're keeping mum for some unexplainable reason. I did read where
he said publicly in one of his court apperances for being given more
privieleges, like living in a small cottage on the pshychiatric grounds, that he committed a horrible crime, but that doesn't mean
he apologizes for it. Also, one of the volunteers who knew him for
16 years, said he remembered the anniversary of the shooting, every
year, and that he made 2 statements that some might consider an
apology, although not exactly so. The first was that he wished he
hadn't done it, and the second was that he was sorry he did it.
That still doesn't necessarily mean he's sorry for the victims; it
could mean he's sorry he got himself in his current situation.

Make no mistake about it. I'm not going to judge Howard Unruh. I'm
not going to demand he apologize for what he did. I never had to
walk in his shoes, and neither did anybody else. But I do believe
that Howard Unruh's real position on his actions of September 6 , 1949, are as follows:

He is glad that he killed his targeted victims, he is sorry about
the innocent people who got in the way, although he felt it necessary to kill them to prevent any possibility that they might
interfere with his plans, and that when he says he's sorry and that
he wished he hadn't done it, he means he's sorry that he ended up
doing an unbelievable 60 years in an insane asylum. His biggest
mistake, and he probably agrees, is that he didn't kill himself.


Edward -
You are assuming and you are judging. You are correct about Howard having contact and interaction with workers and other people at his residence. And yes it has been keep quiet. The reason being, is that if you personally met Howard you would realize that what had happened many, many years ago, is what is considered post tramatic for soldiers who return home today. Howard truly is a sincere guy. And you don't know what he feels or thinks or says. You are, my friend, assuming. A gentlemen who shared his prison time and cell with Howard (Vinny) would be the first to tell you "One of the nicest guys you could ever meet." That's the reason why no one says anything, people wouldn't believe it and maybe it is just because there is a human respect for a person who may have not been able to control or receive treat for a mental illness that was unknown so many years ago. Howard does not and has not shown any interest in meeting or discussing anything with the public. He would not understand the world on the outside any longer. I consider him better off than us - out here is so much uglier than sixty years ago!! There is no respect for human life at all anymore. But I don't expect people who have something to say to be able to digest that this could be possible. And also what many have forgotten are the family members of Howards that have lived for 60 sixty years with the media, the stories, the assumptions and comments, through the years. Every anniversary, it's brought up, every incident involving many people killed is compared to Howard. Our lives have been difficult and have changed just as much as the victums families, yet no-one, over all these years has ever mentioned that side of this story. But would someone that knows nothing about it or who is not capable of extending their views on every aspect, every angle and every side of a story, have the right to comment at all..I wish they wouldn't

The difference from then and now is soldiers are screened when they return. Medications is supplied if needed, counseling is offered if needed, treatment is available now. If it was than no one would be having this discussion.

So in the future everytime it is on the news, in the papers, on the internet please make it a point to remember all the people affected.

Edward C. Stengel

I don't pretend to know what lurks or did lurk in the mind of Howard
Unruh, but if you try to get me to think that this is the result of
PTSD, I'm not buying it. This guy had some other type of problem,
and maybe PTSD accelerated his actions, but there's no way you're
going to make me believe that this man's hit list was simply the
result of PTSD.


I would have to say that the constant harassment and pure disrespectful taunting from his neighbor set Mr.Howard Unruh off.

Edward C. Stengel

Sunday, September 6, 2009. Happy 60th Anniversary, Howie!

Edward C. Stengel

May the Good Lord bless and keep you, Howie. No matter what you did, I believe you felt you were right, and even if that doesn't make you right, you couldn't be all wrong.

Edward Cogan

Over twenty-five years ago I married the would-be granddaughter of one of Howard Unruh's victims. I can tell you that not a day goes by where the deep wounds left by Unruh's madness don't somehow manifest themselves. My father-in-law, Charles Cohen, who was 12 years old when he lost his parents and grandmother to Unruh's psychosis, recently passed away and ironically was buried on the 60th anniversary of that horrific day.

I am not here to debate the suffering of the families - that is, whether Unruh's families suffered more than the 13 families affected by Unruh's actions. However, I can assure you that if Unruh impacted your life the way he did so many 60+ years ago, you would not be saying Unruh was "One of the nicest guys you could ever meet" as SU said in his or her posting.

I can only hope that Howard Unruh's passing brings closure to my family, as well as all those families that mourn their respective losses. And I wish the same to Howard Unruh's surviving relatives who have been similarly plagued by his actions so long ago.

Edward C. Stengel

Now here it is almost 3 months since the death of Howard Unruh, October 19, 2009, and it seems nearly everyone has stopped writing
about him, except me. I can't get this fellow out of my mind. Most people, including myself, had never heard of him until he died. I just heard about him while doing a "google search" of mass
murderes one day, about a year before he died. When Howard committed his mass murder on September 6, 1949, there was no TV, and therefore a lot of people never heard about it. Over the years, for some reason, it seems like nobody, except perhaps the locals, ever spoke of him. How do you keep a secret like shooting
13 people to death for 60 years? The real shame was that Howard was judged insane and incarcerated for 60 years in the Trenton, New
Jersy mental hospitals, and there's almost no mention of his time
there. They only say that he ate, read (his trusty bible mostly),
listened to music, watched TV (which didn't even exist on that fateful day when he went out on his shooting spree), played cards,
and slept. They did mention that he used to have a veteran visit him regularly over a 16 year period, who would often converse with
him, but other than that there's no mention of any of his friends
or associates, either staff or fellow patients. Surely, he must have had some buddies over 60 years, and he must have gotten into some occasional mischief. You have to wonder why everything is so
secretive about Howard. Anyway, it's really a shame that the man
considered to be the 1st of the modern day American lone gunman mass
murderers was basically ignored over his 60 yesrs of incarceration.
I think society could have benefited greatly if they had thoroughly
analyzed this man, instead of just warehousing him. Our society missed a golden opportunity. Rest well, Old Howie, and I still say
you were the first and the most amazing of the lone gunman mass

Edward C. Stengel

There have been all kinds of mass murderers over the years. Some have killed more than others, some have targeted their victims to settle scores, while others have just gone after strangers. However, as one who has studied them and find them fascinating, in
spite of their infamy, there are certain things I look for in rating
mass murderers. It's kind of like a rating system. You always get
some extra points for being the first just because you have no precedent to guide you, and then again you get some points for total
victims (kind of like a quarterback who passed for the most yardage), and then again some points for sheer bravery because, even
though you're victims may be unarmed, they vastly outnumber you and
you have to worry about being perhaps captured and God knows what
could happen to you. An angry crowd might beat you to death, and
then, of course, like in the case of Howard Unruh, you might have to
spend 60 years in the nut house (maybe a fate worse than death). So, I'm going to rate my favorite 3 mass murderers and explain why I picked them, emphasizing, once again - 1) originality (being the first), 2) total score (most victims), and 3) courage, if you will
accept the term (going against the worst possible odds). Although
I will not state preference for any of my 3 favorite mass lone gunman mass murderes (I apologize if I did not previously qualify the type of mass murder as one committed by a lone gunman), I will
always have a special place in my heart and head for Old Howie. He
was truly a doozie.

NAME Date of Shooting Dead Wounded

Howard Barton Unruh 9/6/1949 13 3

Seung-Hui Cho 4/16/2007 33 29
(Most victims)

Mark James Robert Essex 1/7/1973* 9 13

*Mark James Robert Essex actually started his killing spree on
12/31/72 (New Year's Eve, but most of it took place on 1/7/73)

I did not mean to slight any of the other lone gunman mass murderes,
like the Texas tower Sniper (Charles Whitman), the Columbine killers
(Debold and Harris), the McDonald's shooter in San Yasidro, California (whose name I forgot), any of the church, workplace, home, or other-place shooters. I simply named my favorite 3, and
although they are all fascinating, even though infamous, the aforementioned 3 are my all-time favorites. You should google them
all. You will find their stories utterly fascinating. Bye, bye.

Edward C. Stengel

Here it is 2:21 A.M., Tuesday, February 23, 2010, and I'm thinking about Howard Unruh. Somewhere along the way, I must have become this man's number one fan. Old Howie died a little more than 4 months ago, 10/19/09, at the age of 88. It seems like everybody but
me has stopped writing about him shortly after his death. I can't.
I simply can't forget the man who started it all. In this day and
age of the mass shooters, from the workplace shootings, to the restaruant shootings, to the church shootings, the home shootings, and all the other places, people will occasionally wonder where it all started. At first, they will think it's a sign of the times - the result of the depression we're currently in, the overpopulation
of our country and the whole planet for that matter, the breakdown
of family values and ethics in general, or any of a number of other
things. However, as the old saying goes, history is a great teacher. It was Howard Unruh, who on September 6, 1949, walked down
the streets of Camden, New Jersey, and shot 16 people, 13 of whom died, and that's what ushered in the age of the modern day lone-gunman mass murderer. Yep, it was way back in the 40's, when we were still in that age of innocence, even before the decadence of the 50's (often attributed to that "evil" rock 'n roll music), the
drug-crazed hippies of the 60's, the lost generation of the '70's,
the yuppies (those young urban corporatists, who were the exact opposite of the hippies of the '60's) of the '80's, the me-generation of the 90's, and the hopeless generation of today. Yes,
it was old Howie (they used to call him "How" in high school) who is
the father of it all. I still bellieve it was World War 11, the great war, that changed America and the world forever, and that change brought out the best and worst of us all, and in Howie's case
the worst. The world itself is much to blame for Howard Unruh. I miss him. Old Howie, wherever you, Heaven or Hell or some place in
between, I would give a month of Sundays if you could tell the world
in your own words exactly why you did what you did and what you thought about for the 60 years you were incarcerated in the New Jersey state mental hospital, but I guess "dead men tell no tales."
Farewell, "How", you were the first of a kind, and, although it may sound creepy, you will always be my favorite all-time mass murderer.

Edward C. Stengel

3:40 A.M., Sunday, May 2, 2010. Who but me would be up at this un-Godly hour of the morning writing about the first of America's lone
gunman mass murderers? Howard Unruh shocked the world on the morning of September 6, 1949, when he walked down the streets of Camden, New Jersey, looking for his many enemies, and finding most of them, and a few extras. Now, old Howie ended up shooting 16 with
his trusty .38 luger pistol, killing 13. It is generally considered the beginning of the modern age of the American mass shooter. Howie died about 7 months ago, at the age of 88, in the
Trenton state mental hospital, where he had resided for the last 60
years. I wonder if that's a record for the state of New Jersey or
perhaps the whole world. How many people have ever lived 60 years in a mental institution?

Old Howie was basically just forgotten. He hardly ever had any visitors, except a World War 11 veteran, who for 16 years visited occasionally. They said he wasn't particularly sociable in the mental institution, which wouldn't be hard to understand because Howie was a lone wolf, no matter where you'd find him. Before the
fateful day of the shooting, Howie lived with his mother, just the
2 of them in their little apartment in Camden, and Howie didn't work
or socialize, except occasionally to attend Bible class. Old Howie
had gone to World War 11 and seen a lot of death. When he came home, he just wanted to drop out of society and be left alone. He
succeeded in the first part - simply hanging around the house while his mother worked and often taking target practice in the house with his .38 luger pistol. He became a social dropout. The second
part of what he wanted - just to be left alone - was the problem. You see, whenever you're different, people will mock you, and that's what happened with old Howie. A lot of people in the neighborhood would laugh at him and very quietly call him names and
point at him and all those other annoying things that people do when you're different. The problem was, for the people doing that,
old Howie had been through too much in his life, especially from
World War 11, to put up with that. He wasn't going to tolerate that
disrespect, and that's what led up to the fateful day of September 6, 1949. Many people have said he probably was a paranoid schizophrenic before he went to war, and that when he came out he also had PTSD from his combat. The combination of those 2 mental disorders is a deadly mixture. In spite of that, had he been left alone and respected and not mocked and gauked at, he would not have done what he did.

Practically everybody who has read the story of Howard Unruh looks upon him as a madman. Most believe he got off too easy with life in
the mental hospital. They think he's a evil monster. I don't believe any of those things. I think Howard Unruh's biggest mistake
was to be taken alive. It wasn't worth it to spend 60 years in a nut house. He should have put one of those bullets in his own head.
As far as the victims go, they reaped what they sowed. They brought
it on themselves. Good morning.

Edward C. Stengel

6:48 P.M., Sunday, Mother's Day, May 9, 2010.

I still can't stop writing about the "Quiet One", Howard Unruh, who
on September 6, 1949, who after a breakfast of fried eggs (they didn't mention if he had coffee) with his mom (that's always nice to
have breakfast with mama, especially today - mother's day), proceeded on the "Walk of Death" (as they refer to his shooting spree), down the streets of Camden, New Jersy, and shot 16 people, 13 of whom died. "How", as they referred to the rather, quiet and reclusive fellow, was quite angry with many of the town's folks, so he prepared a hit list, to include the druggist and his family, the cobbler, the barber, and few others, and he got them all, plus a few
innocent bystanders. "How" was a loner, and he just wanted to be left alone, but people liked to poke fun at him because he was a strange bird - he used to walk down the streets with his bible in his hand and his combat boots tucked into the pants of his suit, which he regularly wore with a bow tie. He was a most unusual site.

He was 28 years old when he committed his mass murder. He is today
considered the first of the modern day mass shooters in American history. He had gone to World War 11 and probably come back with PTSD, but even without that, his lone-wolf ways and his obvious paranoia, would have been enough, in my opinion, to have caused his
mass murder. The only thing that could have stopped it would have been the town's folks not mocking him, but they couldn't stop, so they paid the price. If you respect people, even when different than most and even if a little peculiar, they won't bother you. When you don't, you can end up like "How's" victims.

Anyway, after the mass shooting of 16 folks, old Howie surrendered peacefully to the police, and was sent to the New Jersey state mental hospital, without a trial, having been judged insane from the get-go, and he lived out his life rather peacefully and unexcitedly for the next 60 years, which I still believe may be a record in the United States for anyone incarcerated in a mental institution for the commission of a crime. They said he used to play cards and listen to music, watch a little TV, eat and sleep, and that was his routine for the remaining 60 years of his life, until he recently passed away last year at the age of 88.

Well, "How,", how are you, old boy, and since it's mother's day -
How's mom? Rest in peace, you little rascal.

Edward C. Stengel

2:04 A.M., Tuesday, August 3, 2010.

Am I the only person who is still thinking about old Howie Unruh? We have a habit of forgetting too quickly in this country. We always want to "move on." It's because we forget the past that we repeat the same mistakes all over again. If we had remembered Vietnam, we wouldn't be in Iraq. If we had remembered the bank closures of the great depression, we wouldn't have had to bail out the banksters again. If we forget about Howard Unruh and don't understand why he went on his killing spree of September 6, 1949, it'll happen over and over again, as we see it today. There's workplace shootings, church shootings, restaurant shootings, family
shootings, and just plain old anywhere random shootings. It all started in Camden, Jersey, the day after labor day, 1949, before the
age of rock 'n roll, in the age of innocence, or so we thought. It was the hatred of the human race that caused it. It doesn't matter if you go after your bosses or your family or just some strangers, it's man's hatred of his own humanity that will always keep the mass murderer amongst us. So, you see, it really doesn't matter if you forget it or not, because you can't change human nature. Ain't that a kick in the head?


hell yeah, all the cerebral patrons are the same that in my cases, for a little miracle and don't become a murderer time ago, when my girlfriend leave me.

edward c. stengel

Hi, everybody. It's me again. I don't seem to be able to stop writing about old Howie. I may be the last of the Mohicans, but I'll keep his legend going forever - "Howard Unruh: King of the Lone Gunman Mass Murderers."

The comments to this entry are closed.