UPDATE 10/20/09: Sources say Unruh's body has been claimed by an unidentified niece. Funeral arrangements have not been announced.
Howard Unruh, who has been called (somewhat errantly) "the father of mass murder," has died in the New Jersey mental hospital where he has lived since gunning down 13 people in Camden, N.J., in 1949. He was 88 and spent more than 60 years in the asylum.
He was not, in fact, America's first mass murderer, nor even the first one to snap, pick up a gun and start killing people. He was, however, a rarity, in that he didn't commit suicide after his rampage.
Charles Cohen, a 12-year-old boy whose parents and grandmother were slaughtered in Unruh's angry, 12-minute spree, became the most outspoken survivor of the so-called "walk of death." When Unurh was seeking less restrictive accommodations in the hospital, Cohen campaigned to keep him under the strictest control. He kept artifacts of the killings in an old suitcase and yearned for the day the seriously psychotic Unruh would be dead, so he could bury the suitcase -- and his memory. Alas, Cohen himself died at age 72 less than two months ago and was buried on the 60th anniversary of the shooting.
Ironically, Unruh was a WWII veteran who might now be eligible for a burial with full military rites. No services have yet been announced.
The story of Howard Unruh's rampage and Charles Cohen's extraordinary survival will be part of a 2010 book by Ron Franscell about survivors of mass killers.