Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Rampage in Camden


When he was able to leave Cooper Hospital, Unruh was sent to the New Jersey Hospital for the Insane (now Trenton Psychiatric Hospital), to be installed into a bed in a private cell in the maximum-security Vroom Building. 

Only twelve hours earlier, 10-year-old John Wilson, who had been with his mother and grandmother in a car when all of them were shot, had died from his injury.  This put the death count at thirteen.  Prosecutor Cohen emphasized that the killer had not been declared insane, but that he would be receiving tests to determine his state of mind.  It was not an involuntary admission by the court, but a voluntary agreement that four psychiatrists had recommended and Unruh had accepted.  Hed asked to be subjected to further study and observation.

Since he would need bed rest for at least two weeks anyway, the prosecutor had no reservations about leaving him in the hands of psychiatrists.  It will benefit all concerned, he said.  We will get the full and complete results of all possible study.  He filed the charges for 13 willful and malicious slayings with malice aforethought and three counts of atrocious assault and battery.

Howard Unruh cuffed, in jail
Howard Unruh cuffed, in jail
On Friday morning, September 9, Freda Unruh learned from her estranged husband the full facts of her sons fate.  Howard, poor Howard, she cried.  He didnt know what he was doing.  She fainted before she had heard all the details.  Then she worried that the hospital would not have enough handkerchiefs for Howards hay fever.

Soon there were rumors that two of the four psychiatrists had determined that Unruh was sane.  He appears cognizant of his surroundings, said Dr. Dean Cavalli, a Camden area physician, and knows between right and wrong.  But he added that he himself was not a psychiatrist.  Nothing further was forthcoming.  They expected the tests to last more then a month.

At the hospital, Dr. Robert S. Garber, assistant superintendent, and Dr. James Spradley began their assessments, attended by the prosecutor and several detectives.  News photographers were permitted to enter the isolation cell for pictures.  Unruh submitted without expression, although he turned his head when they asked him to.

Reportedly, Unruh was surprised by the treatment he was receiving.  It is certainly a lot better than I deserve, he commented.  He expressed some remorse over dropping out of pharmacy courses, because he could have devoted his life to saving lives.  No one records him feeling badly about the victims.

During the testing, the relative of the boy who recently had died showed up in the doorway of Unruhs cell.

Im going to get him! the man yelled, trying to rush inside, but the police guards restrained him and took him out.

Dr. Edward Strecker, of the Medical School of the University of Pennsylvania and a consultant for the armed services, told reporters that war does not cause an increase in the number of actual cases of insanity.  (Ironically, on the same page is an incident of another veteran creating havoc in a restaurant by hitting people with a chair and being shot dead by the police.  Hed been angry that someone suggested he get psychiatric help.)  Strecker believed that Unruhs illness must have built up over the years.  The type of killing that he had done could not be traced to military service.  The war had simply provided the opportunity to learn the weapons.  Although he had not examined Unruh himself, he thought the man had gone gun crazy once he started shooting.

Another psychiatrist, unidentified, thought that Unruhs overtly religious character might have given him a savior complex, and when he saw that he had failed to save the world, he reacted.

While they awaited the official results, reporters looked around for earlier signs of Unruhs mental instability.  The Woodrow Wilson High School yearbook from 1939 indicated that he was shy and that his ambition was to become a government employee.  They called him How.  A check of his records revealed Bs and Cs for things like health, courtesy, and personal impression.  There was no evaluation of his intelligence, but his mental alertness was average.

After two months of personality and physiological tests, the assessment was concluded and the final diagnosis was Dementia praecox, mixed type, with pronounced catatonic and paranoid coloring.  Unruh was a paranoid schizophrenic, caught in a world of his own delusions and separated from reality.  His mental illness had come upon him slowly and was not caused by combat.

Pronounced insane, he was immune from criminal prosecution but was sentenced for the remainder of his life to the Vroom building, the unit for the criminally insane.

We're Following
Slender Man stabbing, Waukesha, Wisconsin
Gilberto Valle 'Cannibal Cop'