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HOWARD B. UNRUH, 88

'Walk of Death' Killer Howard B. Unruh, 88

Howard Unruh killed five men, five women and three children. He targeted some of his victims, but others were strangers.
Howard Unruh killed five men, five women and three children. He targeted some of his victims, but others were strangers. (Associated Press)
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By Bruce Shipkowski
Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Howard B. Unruh, who killed 13 people as he walked the streets of Camden, N.J., in a psychotic 1949 shooting spree that was the nation's worst mass murder at the time, died Oct. 19 at a nursing facility in Trenton, N.J. He was 88, and no cause of death was reported.

Mr. Unruh had been in a state psychiatric hospital since the killings, which became known as the "Walk of Death." Diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic, he confessed to the killings and was judged mentally competent but never tried in the Sept. 6, 1949, massacre.

Howard Barton Unruh, then a 28-year-old honorably discharged World War II combat veteran and pharmacy student, planned the killings for more than a year. He kept a meticulous journal on his intended victims.

He killed five men, five women and three children. Some Mr. Unruh knew and intentionally targeted; others were strangers he encountered on the street that morning.

A recluse who read the Bible and loved guns, he was convinced his neighbors were ridiculing him behind his back and plotting against him. He was also depressed about his gay liaisons in a Philadelphia movie theater.

"They have been making derogatory remarks about my character," Mr. Unruh would later tell authorities. What finally set him off was his discovery that someone had stolen the gate on his fence.

Mr. Unruh, armed with a war souvenir Luger and 33 rounds of ammunition, left the apartment he shared with his mother, Freda, in the blue-collar neighborhood.

With calm and deadly precision, the 6-foot Unruh, a tank gunner and expert marksman in the Army, carried out his execution plot in the neighborhood near 32nd Street and River Road. Residents screamed "crazy man" and scrambled for cover as bullets flew.

At a shoe repair shop, Mr. Unruh shot a cobbler in the head. Next door at a barbershop, he killed a 6-year-old boy on a hobbyhorse chair, and then the barber.

Next on Mr. Unruh's list was a tailor, but the man had left his shop on an errand. So Mr. Unruh shot the tailor's bride of six weeks in the head as she begged for her life.

Along the way he fatally shot a man at the wheel of his car, two women in another car and a 3-year-old boy peeking out a window at his home. A 10-year-old boy was wounded and died the next day.

A terrified tavern owner managed to shoot Mr. Unruh in the thigh with a .38-caliber pistol from a second-story window, but Mr. Unruh continued walking. He then shot one of his prime targets, an insurance salesman who had sold policies to the Unruh family.


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