Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Rampage in Camden


People who heard the shots later admitted they had dismissed them as cars backfiring or someone shooting at the rats that ran along the Delaware Riverfront.    No one could quite understand why people were screaming.

Next door to the shoe shop was Clark Hoovers barbershop.  When the shooter entered, Hoover, 33, was cutting the blond hair of a six-year-old boy sitting on a white carousel horse.  His mother, Catherine Smith, sat nearby, watching.  The shooter took aim and said, Ive got something for you, Clarkie.  The barber tried to shield the boy, but he was too slow.  The first bullet hit the boy in the head from a short distance and the second one killed Hoover.  Both dropped to the floor.  The shooter left the woman alone to cry out for help.  Two other children who had been in the shop went screaming into the street, but the shooter was oblivious, even when the shrieking mother carried out her dead child, begging for someone to help. 

Passing a group of kids who raced for cover, the shooter shot at a boy watching him from a window, but missed.  It didnt matter.  They were incidental targets.  He headed toward the tavern, but the door was locked so he shot two bullets in it.  Inside, customers cowered behind the bar.  The tavern owner, Frank Engel, rushed up the steps to retrieve his .38 caliber pistol.

Next, the shooter tried to get into a locked restaurant -- without success. He reloaded and then turned his attention to his most hated targets, the Cohens.

Their drugstore was on the corner.  The Cohens were his immediate neighbors, and they  complained that he had used their gate to get to the door of his apartment.    They were among those who had slandered him during the past two years. 

As he was about to enter the drugstore, a man he knew well, an insurance agent named James Hutton, came out the door.  He greeted the shooter, who politely said, Excuse me, sir.  Hutton did not move, so he received his own fatal bullet.  He had just been in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The shooter went into the pharmacy and saw Maurice Cohen and his wife Rose run up the steps to their apartment.  Something had alerted them, but that would not save them.  The shooter followed, watching Rose try to hide in a bedroom closet and firing three times through the door.  He then opened it and shot her in the head.  Then he walked through the apartment until he found Maurices elderly mother, 63, on the telephone.  She was calling the police.  He killed her with two shots where she stood, but had no time to watch her slump to the bed, because Maurice had jumped out a window onto a porch roof.

The shooter leaned out and hit him with a bullet, wounding him badly enough to send him off the roof to the sidewalk below.  He had no time to recover because the shooter had jumped down the steps and come out to the street, where he discharged another shot.  Maurice died on the street, but he had succeeded at saving one person, his 12-year-old son, hidden in a closet upstairs.  The shooter reloaded.

Nearby, Mrs. Harrie and her 16-year-old son, Armond, were hanging clothing onto a clothesline.  Mrs. Harrie went inside and the shooter entered her house.  Her son ran in and said that the man shot at them five times, wounding them both in an arm.  Then he tried smacking Armond with the butt of the empty pistol, but before anyone could stop him, he left.  He now had shot nine people, killing seven. 

Circling back, he walked down 32nd St.  along the side of the pharmacy and encountered a motorist, Alvin Day, who had slowed down near the body of James Hutton, the dead insurance agent.  That was his mistake.  The shooter leaned into his car and killed him, leaving the car to stall and roll into the curb. 

Then the shooter went over to another car that was stopped at a light across the street.  He shot through the windshield, killing the female driver and her mother, and wounding a twelve-year-old boy in the back seat with a bullet through his neck.  Next was a car behind this one (according to the map, but not included in other accounts) where he shot a young male, Charlie Peterson, wounding him.  He shot into several other cars, too.    Peterson staggered from his car and entered the tavern so someone could get him to a hospital.  The man on the rampage was then busy firing at a chain grocery store.

Frank Engel leaned out a window and shot at the retreating figure with his own pistol.  He thought he had hit the maniac in the thigh, because he paused, but it had not slowed him down.  Engle could have fired again and killed him, but he refrained.  Later he would say, I could have put a half dozen shots into him.  I dont know why I didnt do it.  I wish I had. 

Diagram of the crime scene.
Diagram of the crime scene.

Apparently, the shooter wasnt yet finished.  He went into the tailors shop.  Zegrino, too, was on his list.  By that time, a man who had been in line behind cars into which the maniac had fired had driven to the nearest fire station on 27th Street, six blocks away, to raise an alarm.  But there would be two more fatalities.

The tailors wife, Helga, who had been married to him for only three weeks, got on her knees and begged, Oh, my God, dont!  Then she screamed so loudly that people in buildings across the street could hear her.  Without mercy, the shooter pointed his gun and shot her.  Then he left and went strolling down the street. 

Tommy Hamilton, aged two, happened to look out his front window, so the shooter aimed and fired right through the glass, taking his last victim.  (One Philadelphia Inquirer account has him going into the Hamilton apartment, herding the family into the kitchen, and then killing Tommy.   In the New York Times,  Meyer Berger has him killing Tommy from outside, but entering the apartment of the Harrie family and shooting at them.  Other sources have Mrs. Harrie and her son outside, but the Harrie boy claimed later to reporters that they were both inside when shot.  The killer says he shot someone through a window from outside.  The likely tale is that he shot the Harries inside but the Hamilton boy from outside.) 

He attempted once more to get into a restaurant that stood at the end of River Road near Bergen St. but failed, so as sirens began to wail from a distance, he went around to the back and finally came home to his apartment.  Hed been out for less than 15 minutes, but was running low on ammunition.  I ran out of bullets, he later said, so I went home.

In his wake, twelve people were deadfive men, five women and two small children--and four were badly woundeda man, a woman, and two teenagers.  One of these would later die, bringing the toll to thirteen.  Had he hit everyone at whom he took a shot, as Time-Lifes Mass Murderers says, the number of deaths would have been twenty-six.

Det. Tracey & Det. Kelly on roof
Det. Tracey & Det. Kelly on roof

The police were scrambling to go after this man, having run into or been called to the massacre, but the shooter reached his apartment first.  He barricaded the door and reloaded.  One officer found a boy running in the street, who turned out to be Charles Cohen, the boy who had been spared by being shoved into the closet in his home.  He had nearly suffocated, he said, and had finally kicked open the door to get out.  He remembered watching his grandmother fall just as the door closed, and he had heard screams and shooting.  He was taken to the home of a relative.

Howard Unruh, before the murders, showing his guns.
Howard Unruh, before the murders, showing his guns.
People had now identified the rampaging shooter to the first arriving officers as Howard Unruh, a 28-year-old recluse and religious nut. All available police reserves were dispatched.  None had ever dealt with such an incident before.  Ironically, Unruhs name in German meant unrest.

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