Show Notes: Howard Unruh- Father of Mass Murder, and Jamie Barsegian was Murdered

This show, “Michigan and other Mayhem”, is a sort of factual, slightly comical, always earnest podcast about interesting stuff in Michigan and around the world. It is done by two sisters-in-law (Ali and Jenn) that like to talk about random interesting stories.  Expect cults, mysteries, murder, fast talking, and a couple of mental palate cleansers… and cuss words.  Those happen on this show, a lot.

Episode 60: Howard Unruh- Father of Mass Murder, and Jamie Barsegian was Murdered


  • Pretend podcast music because Jenn likes it.
  • Ali has a weird laugh. It is often loud.

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Howard Unruh, Spree Killer

A spree killer is someone who kills at two or more locations with very little time in between the murders. They are not defined by the number of victims.

Howard Unruh was born January 21st, 1921. He was the oldest of two sons, born to working class parents in Camden, New Jersey. When Howard was nine, in 1930, his parents divorced. It was unusual at the time for a couple to divorce, but that was the most emotionally jarring thing to happen to him. Howard’s mother, Freda, then raised the two boys, Howard and James, while working at an assembly line job.

Howard became a devout Lutheran, who collected stamps, played with model trains, and spent copious amounts of time reading the Bible. People often described him carrying around his Bible with him everywhere he went. After high school graduation, he was working as a sheet metal worker until he enlisted himself into the army in 1942, during World War II.

During the war, Howard’s rating as a soldier was considered excellent and he was deemed to be a model soldier. An article in the Saturday Evening post stated he was “a good man on patrol and skirmishes… unrattled and efficient with a rifle”.

However, his fellow soldiers noticed he had some personality quirks for that time and the environment they were in. Howard neither drank, smoke, cussed, nor showed any interest in female companionship. He was an obsessive diary keeper. When another soldier peeked at what he was writing, he read shocking details of the dates, times, and places of each of the enemy Howard had killed. Howard even described how the bodies looked in death, when he was able to get close enough to them.

At the war’s end, in 1945, Howard was given an honorable discharge. He went back home to live with his mom, Freda. After returning, Howard didn’t get a job and he had no friends. Howard did date a girl, once, from his Bible study class, but he ended it because of his disinterest in marriage. He never once touched her physically during the time they were dating.

Back at home, Howard lived in an apartment building with his mother, in which he occupied the second floor and the cellar. Howard had set up a shooting range in the cellar of his home where he spent hours practicing shooting his 9-mm Luger that he had purchased at a pawn shop.

In his neighborhood, Howard had a reputation for being a little weird, not really friendly, but basically harmless. Howard, on the other hand, was paranoid and convinced that his neighbors were talking about him behind his back. He believed they gossiped about the fact that he didn’t work and had to rely on his mother to take care of him. Howard also thought that everyone was gossiping about his lack of interest in women, claiming he was homosexual.

Howard was homosexual. Unfortunately, at the time, there were sodomy laws that prohibited consensual sex between adult men. The broken laws could be punishable by lengthy jail sentences. Howard used to travel to Philadelphia several times a week, for nameless hookups. Being Howard, he kept a list in his diary of his encounters. Some partners were listed by their first name, while others were just described as ‘a man’. He was very descriptive in his writing, regarding what happened during his trysts.

There was a second diary that Howard was keeping at the same time. It was a list of grievances he had against his neighbors. (An actual shit list or hit list.) Particularly, Howard was angry with Maurice Cohen, a druggist who lived next door to Howard. Maurice and his wife, Rose, had given Howard and his mother, Freda, permission to use their backyard gate as a shortcut, but Howard kept leaving the gate open and stray dogs were getting into the Cohen’s yard and getting into their trash. Rose had also complained on multiple occasions, because Howard would play his radio loudly during the night and early morning. To resolve some of the issues, Freda had a gate built in the Unruh back fence.

Thomas Zegrino, was a tailor that Howard was also upset with. Howard believed that Thomas was spreading rumors about him being a homosexual. A barber named Clark Hoover, had made Howard angry when he had spread dirt over a vacant yard near Howard’s home. The dirt had prevented rainfall from draining, causing Howard’s cellar to flood.

A shoemaker named John Pilarchik, had tossed trash into Howard’s yard repeatedly. Dominick Latela, was a restaurant owner who had called Howard something to the effect of a gun-toting hoodlum. Carl Sorg, was a teen who had used Howard’s basement electric line to light up trees he was selling in the vacant store that made up the first floor of Howard’s apartment building. It caused his electric bill to go up.

In his diary, Howard had a list of ten people that he had issue with. Next to each name, Howard had a shorthand notation. Ret. W.T.S. meant Retaliate When Time Suitable, and D.N.D.R. meant Do Not Delay Retaliation.

On Monday, September 5, 1949, Howard was stuck in traffic on his way to Philadelphia, missing a planned meeting with a lover. Howard arrived back home at three in the morning, only to discover that his newly installed gate had been badly damaged. Howard assumed it was the Cohens who did it out of spite (it was actually some local kids) and began his revenge plot for his promised retaliations.

A few hours later, at 8:00 a.m. on Tuesday the 6th, Howard woke up, washed, shaved, and dressed in a light suit with a bow tie. He had breakfast with his mother, who noticed he was distracted. Howard then went down to his cellar to get a lead pipe. Howard than took the pipe upstairs and called his mom into the living room When Freda got there, he raised it up, like it was planning to strike her with it. She asked him a question, like “why are you doing this?” and she backed up to the door, swung it open, and ran.

Howard set the pipe down and picked up his Luger, an extra clip that was fully loaded, as well as 33 loose cartridges, and left the apartment.

The first place Howard went was to John Pilarchik’s shoe shop. He is a man Howard had felt slighted by because John had called Howard a no-good gun-toting gangster. (At this point, isn’t Howard proving him right? He is toting a gun and he’s about to kill people.) At 9:30 a.m. John was nailing a sole to a shoe, when Howard walked up to him and shot him in the stomach. Realizing John was still alive after the first bullet, he then shot him in the head. Howard didn’t speak a word during the ordeal, he only turned and walked back out of the store when he was done.

Howard then went next door to the barber shop owned by Clark Hoover. Clark had made Howard’s hit list by spreading dirt in a vacant lot that caused Howard’s cellar to flood when the rainwater wasn’t able to drain away. Clark was trimming the hair of a six-year-old boy named Orris Smith. As he entered, Howard said “I’ve got something for you, Clarkie,” then opened fire.

Speaking later with the police, Howard said that Clark had dodged around the chair, making it hard for him to get a clear shot at Clark, but he was able to hit him eventually. Howard’s bullets hit both Clark and Orris, the young boy who was getting his haircut. Orris’s mother, seated nearby screamed and ran to her son. Howard headed back out to his next destination.

At his confession, one of the few times Howard showed emotion is when the police told him about Orris dying. Howard said he hadn’t realized he had shot him, he was aiming for Clark, and that he was sorry.

The Cohen’s were next on Howard’s list. These were the people that Howard held the most anger towards. They often had disputes as next door neighbors, with Howard playing his radio too loud and leaving their gate open. As he approached their drug store, Maurice Cohen came out in the street and cried out “What’s going on here?” when he saw Howard’s gun. Then he turned a hauled ass back into the store.

A customer, James Hutton, then walked out of the drug store, trying to find out what all the commotion was about. Howard said, “Excuse me, sir,” and when James didn’t move, Howard shot him in the chest and head. When James dropped to the ground, dead, Howard stepped over him and entered the store. Howard told the detectives later that shooting James was necessary to hurry things along as he was blocking the sidewalk. Howard was worried Maurice Cohen would get away if he wasted anymore time.

The Cohens had fled to their upstairs apartment. Maurice was shouting for his family to hide. Maurice grabbed his son Charles and they both climbed out the window and on to the porch roof. Jumping down to the ground, Maurice tried to run with his son to safety. Rose, Maurice’s wife, shut herself into a clothes closet. Minnie, Maurice’s 63-year-old mother ran to the phone to call the police.

Howard, who had run upstairs after them, broke down the locked door. He then saw Maurice through the window and shot him in the back. Maurice fell to the ground, dead. Howard claimed to remember seeing Maurice running but didn’t remember killing him.

Howard could hear noises coming through one of the closets, it was Rose, who was whimpering in terror. Howard shot three times through the wardrobe door before pulling it open. Being shot, she was now calling out openly for help, so Howard shot Rose in the head.

Howard then went into the next room where Minnie, the grandmother, was on the telephone. Howard shot her in the face. He then went back through the apartment and out of the drug store’s door. He was back on the street, ready to continue his rampage.

Putting a new clip into the Luger, Howard started heading towards Thomas Zegrino’s tailor shop. As Howard crossed the street, a car was driving past. Alvin Day, a television repairman and World War II vet, was the driver. Alvin slowed down as he saw James’ body lying prone on the sidewalk. Howard walked over to the car and shot Alvin in the head.

There were men on the opposite side of the sidewalk, watching what was happening from the door of a saloon, bartender Frank Engel and a customer. Howard sent a couple of shots in their direction and the men dove back inside the bar.

In a nearby building, Thomas Hamilton, who was 2 years old, looked out of his family’s ground floor window. Howard, seeing the motion of a curtain rustling, fired his gun at the window while continuing to walk on to the tailor shop. His shot hit and killed the toddler.

Thomas Zegrino wasn’t in his tailor shop when Howard got there, he was out running an errand. Howard believed that Thomas was guilty of telling someone in town that he had seen Howard going down on a man in an alley. Helga, who was 28 years old and Thomas’s new wife, was manning the business when Howard came in. She cried out “Oh, no, no,” as Howard fired two shots at her, killing her.

Howard then decided to kill Earl Horner, although he was not on the list. Earl was the manager of the local grocery. Howard liked Earl but thought one of his clerks had been rude to him. Thankfully, Earl had locked the door as several people had rushed to his store looking for sanctuary from the killing. Unable to get in, Howard shot a few shots through the door, but everyone inside was ducked behind the counters and stayed safe.

As Howard left the grocery store, he saw a car that had stopped for a red light. Helen Wilson, 37-years-old, was driving and had her mother, Emma Matlack, 68, and son John, 9-years-old, in the car with her. John was sitting between his mother and grandmother in the front seat. Howard walked up to the car and fired three times. His shots instantly killed Helen and her mother, Emma. John, who was shot in the neck, lived for 18 hours before succumbing to his injuries.

Howard than walked back by his home, to a beat-up old house that was located behind it. The house was owned by Madeline Harrie, who was in her late 30’s. Howard walked up the front steps and into the house. Madeline was sitting in the kitchen with her two teenage sons, Armand and Leroy. Howard fired at Madeline three times, striking her once in the left arm. Armand, who was 16, went after Howard, but Howard hit him in the head with the butt of the Luger. Howard then shot both of Armand’s arms and then placed the gun against his chest. When Howard pulled the trigger again, the gun was out of bullets.

Howard turned to leave, fishing in his pockets for more ammo. That’s when he felt a deep sting in his left buttocks. Howard realized that he had been shot. Although he didn’t see him at the time, the man that shot Howard was Frank Engel, the barkeep. After Howard had fired at him, Frank had gone to his apartment and grabbed his .38-caliber pistol and shot Howard from his second-floor window.

Howard could hear the cop’s sirens approaching. It was now 9:43 a.m. and in 13 minutes, Howard had killed 13 people and wounded three others. His rampage was referred to as the “Walk of Death”. Howard then returned home to his apartment, barricaded himself in, and lay back in his bed.

At this point, there is a grouping of about 50 police officers surrounding Howard’s building. They had all the guns they could hold pointing at his home. (So many guns. Every gun but the umbrella and suitcase gun.) When they called for Howard to surrender, he popped off a couple shots at them. They returned fire as Howard crouched low.

Suddenly, Howard’s house phone rang. (Remember that there are no cell phones in 1949, so it is not the cops calling from outside.) It is an editor for the Camden Evening Courier newspaper, Phil Buxton. He had heard about a madman that had shot up his neighborhood and then holed up in his apartment. Phil had found Howard’s phone number in the local directory.

After several moments of ringing Howard picked up the phone and identified himself. Phil said he was a friend and he wanted to know what the police were doing to him. They spoke for a quick moment before Howard excused himself, saying he was busy at the moment and hung up. Phil said it was the strangest interview he had ever had. (What did he expect? He had interrupted a rampage killer who was trading shots with the police.)

Usually, spree killers aren’t just homicidal, but they are also suicidal. Killers like Howard are often mad at the world around them and decide that they are going to die, but they want others to suffer first. However, that is not the way Howard went.

A cop tossed a tear gas grenade through Howard’s window, and Howard quickly called out that he was giving up and coming down to meet them. He had left his gun sitting on his desk and came out with his hands up. The crowd that had gathered were screaming and shouting curses at Howard.

Howard remained calm and collected through the entire police process. It took two hours for Howard to complete his confession, with the transcript being 66 typed pages. Through the confession, Howard had kept a flat affect, being very cold in his delivery.

When asked why he had done it, Howard had said that a feeling had been building for a couple years. It had started when he came up with the idea that Maurice Cohen, the druggist, was getting into Howard’s personal business. Howard believed that Maurice was talking negatively about him behind his back. An example Howard gave was one time he had heard Maurice say, “See that guy? He allows his mother to support him.”

Howard’s mother, Freda, had gone to her sister’s house after Howard had threatened to attack her. She learned from her ex-husband, Howard’s father, about what Howard had done. Sam, Howard’s dad, thought about holding back on the fact that their son had killed children, but in the end decided to tell Freda the full story. Freda collapsed after hearing the news.

It wasn’t until after the lengthy confession that Howard was taken to the hospital where they found a large gaping wound on his left butt cheek. The bullet had traveled in his body to become lodged in the top of his femur, by the hip joint. They had to leave the bullet in but did treat the wound.

The public went nuts. He was a white Bible class teacher with a stellar military record and a quiet demeanor. Howard was now also a rampage killer who killed three children and ten adults. At the time it was hailed as the worst one-man massacre in American history and he was given the moniker of ‘The Father of Modern Mass Murder’.

Hospitalized for two weeks, immobile in bed, Howard was seen by five different doctors who worked to evaluate his mental condition. Howard reveals that he had intended to kill his mother, in order to spare her from the pain of what he was about to do. He was also truly surprised that the doctors were treating him. He believed that murder was a sin and he should be killed for committing it. The physicians agree that Howard should be moved to a mental health facility for further testing.

The newspapers are all over the place. Some blamed his homicidal rage on his homosexuality, others blamed it on his combat encounters. James, Howard’s brother, and Sam, his father, claim that it was his time in the service that affected Howard negatively and he had come back from war as a changed man.

Howard’s killing spree lead the American government to go after ‘war trophies’ like Howard’s handgun, the Luger. It intensified a drive by the War Trophies Safety Commission to collect weapons of a foreign make. Several hundred small arms were amassed in three days of collection.

At the New Jersey State Hospital for the insane, Howard was being treated by four different physicians, daily. Howard was found to have a high degree of suspicion with general paranoid tendencies. He was considered to have above average intelligence, with schizoid and seclusive inclinations. Howard readily admitted his crimes but showed very little remorse or regret.

Howard told his physicians that he would have killed a thousand people if he would have had enough bullets. He was committed to the New Jersey State Hospital indefinitely. Family members of the slain were upset that he was not sent to jail and given a death sentence.

The conditions in which Howard lived in the hospital, however, were just as bad as a jail. For thirty years, Howard was confined to the maximum-security Vroom building, which had been built in 1917. It had insufficient heat, warped frames around barred windows which let the cold in, horrible food, severe overcrowding, and brutal mistreatment by guards. Riots were common in the building. The suicide rate of the patients was around 144 attempts in one year, with six of them being successful.

Howard was a model patient. After the first 30 years in the Vroom building, administrators had agreed to let Howard go to a minimum-security mental hospital but again the family of victims were outraged and spoke out. Howard tried again and was denied by a judge the second time. It wasn’t until August 1983, when Howard was 62 years old, that he was transferred to a less restrictive hospital, the Raycroft Center. He stayed there, the oldest patient in the facility, until he was transferred to a nursing home as a sick old man. Howard died October 19, 2009 at age 88, in a nursing facility.

The majority of this article came from a book called Rampage that was written by Harold Schechter.

Jamie Barsegian was Murdered

On June 15, 2018, in Ypsilanti, Michigan, police received a call from Tywuan Sims-Scott, age 19, stating he had killed someone and planned on killing the police next. The police found him bloody and carrying knives, walking down the middle of the street. It is said that he tried to get police to shoot him. Tywuan had killed his roommate’s girlfriend, Jamie.  Tywuan had stabbed Jaime over 40 times. It is said that the reason he killed her was over an argument about sharing food.

Tywaun Sims-Scott was found guilty of first-degree murder but was determined to be insane. On November 7, 2019, he received a life sentence without parole. Since Tywuan was found to be mentally ill he will receive  treatment while in prison.

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One thought on “Show Notes: Howard Unruh- Father of Mass Murder, and Jamie Barsegian was Murdered

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