After methodically shooting and killing 13 people in E. Camden, N.J., in 1949, Howard Unruh expected to die in the electric chair or spend his life in prison, says the Philadelphia Inquirer. What he did not want was to spend his days in an asylum. “To be declared insane and remain in this building the rest of my life – well, I would rather have the chair,” he told a psychiatrist after the massacre, says a report never before public.
He did die a patient at Trenton State Hospital, where he spent 60 years never tried. Documents released by the Camden County Prosecutor at the Inquirer’s request help to fill in the portrait of the man considered the first modern-day U.S. mass killer. Psychiatric and investigative reports, including his own long-sealed confession, tell details of his mental landscape before and after the slaughter. On Sept. 6, 1949, Unruh, 28, a jobless World War II combat veteran, left home in a brown suit and bow tie, armed with a 9mm German Luger and a grudge. In 20 minutes, in what was dubbed the “walk of death,” he killed 13 people.