GCP 44: Tacoma History with Steve - Jake Bird
Episode 44 – Tacoma History with Steve – Jake Bird
On this podcast we dive into Tacoma History with Steve and the story of Jake Bird’s Hex. Sit back and enjoy a look into local history.
(Guest writer Steve Dunkelberger)
The strange story of Jake Bird is as good as it gets if you are looking for a creepy story about the Gritty City. It is often referred to in serial killer circles as the most famous serial killer story you have never heard.
Sit back, sip a beverage or blaze one up. Sit back and prepare for a great tale. This is that story, one of murder in many states, and a curse … that came true.
I’ll start in the very beginning. Jake Bird was born in Louisiana in 1901 and had a relatively troubled life from the start. He left home at the age of 19 to seek his fortune by riding the rails of America. He was a hobo, day laborer … traveling the nation and trading a day’s work for a night’s sleep and a warm meal wherever he stopped. He would reportedly kill with savage swings of an ax or knife before hopping on the rail on his way to another town. But I’ll get to that later.
He was otherwise unremarkable wherever he went, just one face in the growing crowd of “Gandy Dancers,” as rail-hopping day workers were called in those days. But that would change when he reached “the end of the line” in Tacoma. The City of Destiny, after all was the terminus of the transcontinental railroad, a fact that coined the term.
It was October 30th, 1947. Bird was 45. He was looking for work and can across the home of Bertha Kludt and her daughter Beverly June. The house still stands at 1007 South 21st Street. He hacked them to death with an axe. They screamed during the attack, screams so loud that neighbors called police. Two officers arrived to the scene only to find Bird covered in blood, still holding a knife as he ran from the scene. They cornered him. So he attacked, one officer was slashed in the hand while the other was stabbed in the shoulder. But they managed to still tackle him and handcuff him with all the gentility expected when an African American man kills two white women before then attacking two police officers in the 1940s. He was taken to the hospital for his injuries and then taken in shackles to the Old City Hall jail cells. It was called Siberia because it was so isolated from the rest of the world. It had no window or light, other than a bare blub hanging from the vaulted ceiling. It was hot all the time since it was located on the opposite side of the massive furnace that heated the entire building.
He first almost convinced the officers that he was innocent, but the fact that he still had brain matter spattered on his shirt finally convinced the officers that they had their man. He then confessed to the killings, stating it was a burglary gone bad. His trial came a month later. It lasted three days. He was convicted of Murder in the First Degree and giving the sentence of death by hanging.
This is where the case gets weird.
As he was being sentenced, Bird declared, "I’m putting the hex of Jake Bird on all of you who had anything to do with my being punished. Mark my words. You will die before I do.”
Taken as just another idle threat by a murderer. The “hex didn’t get much notice. That is. Until people started dying.
First the judge died of a heart attack. Then Bird’s defense lawyer died of a heart attack. Then the police officer who recorded his confession died of a heart attack. Then another police officer who wrote an official report on Bird passed of a heart attack. Then one of Bird’s prison guards died of a heart attack. And finally the court’s clerk died, but not of a heart attack. He died of pneumonia.
While still alive on Walla Walla’s death row, Bird continued to confess to crimes during his years on the rails. He tallied 44 murders to his butcher’s bill. He provided enough details about 11 of those, that the cases were officially closed.
His first kills were reportedly those of two women in Evanston, Illinois in 1942. Other victims were confirmed in Louisville, Kentucky, Omaha, Nebraska, Kansas City, Kansas, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Cleveland, Ohio, Orlando, Florida, and Portage, Wisconsin. Police in Houston, Texas, suspected he murdered a woman there as well.
His story would end o July 15th, 1949, almost two years after his last crime, at the age of 48. He was hanged on the gallows. He is buried in an unmarked grave at the Prison Cemetery at Walla Walla Correctional Center. His grave is marked with his prison number, 21520.
The only two that Jake's hex didn't affect were officer Pat Steele and Dr. Larson medical examiner.
In his practice throughout the years, Larson has helped convict about 100 people of murder. A number of these men had threatened to kill him in reprisal, so Bird was no different. He actually hadn’t heard about the hex until Steele told him about it as it came true. But it still didn’t faze him.
"The desire for revenge is a very immature reaction," he said at the time, "and whereas your average murderer is seldom a very mature, well-rounded character, he is nevertheless subject to the cooling process-the changes that come with the passage of time. Come to think of it, that's what our penal system is all about, isn't it-to put people on the shelf until they cool off? I like the thought, anyway."
They also discuss other things going on in the community, including The Eye of the Totem and the project to restore the movie. There is a Kickstarter out so local residents can help in remaking the movie, local Tacoma residents wanting to check it out, you can donate here.
Thank you going out to Steve for another great podcast. Tell Steve on Twitter what you want on our next look back on Tacoma history.
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