Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Rampage in Camden


A cordon of between 50 and 60 police officers surrounded the two-story gray stucco building that housed Unruhs apartment at 3202 River Road, behind and next to the Cohens pharmacy and residence.  Unruh was barricaded inside, and he shot at them from a window.  From the number of victims, the police believed they were dealing with more than one killer.  They armed themselves with rifles and machine guns.  For a time, the road was a state of confusion, with people in the milling crowd getting in the line of fire.

The police shot into the apartment in what reporters called a rain of gunfire intended to drive the shooter out or to kill him.  Pedestrians formed a ring around the area and within half an hour, more than 1,000 people were watching.  Several marksmen on the roof of a nearby shed tried to get a clear shot into the room from which the suspect himself was shooting.  One officer shouted that he had hit the man.

Meanwhile, the bodies of the dead and the wounded were removed to Cooper Hospital, and some officers were collecting stories from eyewitnesses.  One woman suffering from shock and a man who had injured his leg trying to escape were also rushed to the hospital.

Freda Unruh, the shooters mother, had returned home around this time, just after 10 A.M.  When she saw the police barricade and heard spectators talking excitedly about what had occurred, she knew it was about her son, and she wandered off in a daze.  She finally made her way (or was taken) to the home of her sister, five blocks away, who found a doctor to treat her and who kept the breaking details of the story from her.  It was the sisters opinion that this had all been caused by terrible experiences that Howard had suffered during his three-years in the war.

Reporters were aware of the events, and Philip W. Buxton, an assistant city editor of the Camden Evening Courier looked up Unruhs phone number, Camden 4-2490W, and called the home.  To his surprise, Unruh answered with a calm voice. 

Is this Howard Unruh? Buxton asked.

Yes, this is Howard.  Whats the last name of the party you want?

Unruh, the editor told him.

Who are you? Unruh demanded to know.  What do you want?

Buxton could hear the sound of bullets coming through the window, breaking glass.  He identified himself as a friend and then asked, What are they doing to you?

They havent done anything to me yet, said Unruh, but Im doing plenty to them.

How many have you killed?

I dont know yetI havent counted them.  But it looks like a pretty good score.

The editor then wanted to know why he was killing people.

I dont know.  I cant answer that yet.  Im too busy.  Ill have to talk to you later.  A couple of friends are coming to get me.  He slammed down the phone.

Who those friends might be was never clarified.

To get him to leave the apartment, the detectives on the roof got close enough to lob a canister of tear gas through the broken bedroom window.  It proved to be a dud, which alerted Unruh to their strategy, so he went into another room.      As he returned, they tossed in a second canister and the place slowly filled with stinging gas.  It took another five minutes, but finally Unruh moved aside the white curtain upstairs, looked out and said, Okay, I give up.  Im coming down.

Wheres the gun? a sergeant yelled up at him.

Its on my desk, up here in the room.  Im coming down.

He came out the door, unarmed, with three dozen guns trained on him, and surrendered without a word to motorcycle officer Charles Hance.  Forty-five minutes after he had taken his first shot, Unruh was ushered through the angry crowd, who swore at him and called for a lynching, and into a police car and driven away.

Officers rush and capture Unruh
Officers rush and capture Unruh
One observer murmured, You gotta watch them quiet ones.

Three coroners came to oversee the autopsies.  The wounded were tended, but the 12-year-old boy who had been sitting in the backseat of a car was in critical condition.  The bullet had gone through his neck to the base of his brain.  The prognosis was poor.

The police did not comprehend the killers motives.    They had never dealt with such an incident before. Whats the matter with you? one officer asked Unruh.  Are you a psycho?

Im no psycho, Unruh insisted.  I have a good mind.

Whether or not he was right remained to be seen.

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