capture serial killer Jake Bird after he murders two Tacoma women on
October 30, 1947
By Daryl C. McClary, October
On October 30, 1949, Jake Bird (1901-1949), a 45-year-old
transient, breaks into the home of Bertha Kludt and her daughter,
Beverly June Kludt, and hacks them to death with an ax.
Two police officers, sent to the Tacoma residence to
investigate reports of screams from inside the residence, see a man run
out the back door and give chase. Bird is captured and taken to the
Tacoma City Jail where he confesses to the killings, claiming it was a
burglary gone bad.
On November 26, 1947, after a three-day trial, a
Pierce County Jury convicts Bird of first-degree murder and recommends
the death penalty. While on death row, Bird confesses to committing or
being involved in at least 44 murders during his travels across the
He is hanged at the Washington State Penitentiary in
Walla Walla on July 15, 1949. Although the case fails to capture the
attention of the national press, history marks Bird as one the nation’s
most prolific serial killers.
Screams and a Chase
At 2:30 a.m. on Thursday, October 30, 1947, Tacoma
Police Officers Andrew P. Sabutis and Evan “Skip” Davies were dispatched
to 1007 S 21st Street to investigate reports of screams emanating from
inside the residence. As they approached, a barefoot man ran out of the
back door into the back yard and crashed through a picket fence. The
two patrolmen immediately gave chase.
After scaling several more back yard fences, the
fugitive was finally stopped by a high fence and cornered in an alley
behind 2122 S "J" Street. He pulled out a jackknife and then attacked
the officers, cutting Davies’ hand and stabbing Sabutis in the shoulder.
Officer Sabutis, a former prizefighter known as “Tiny” LaMarr, subdued
the assailant with a left hook to the jaw and a kick in the groin.
After the fight, the prisoner was taken to the Tacoma
General Hospital by Officer John Hickey in a patrol wagon, where he
received treatment for head and face lacerations. Sabutis was admitted
to St. Joseph Hospital with a severe back wound and Davies had the cuts
on his hand stitched and bandaged there.
When police officers entered the residence, they
found Bertha Kludt, age 52, dead in her bedroom, adjacent to the kitchen,
and the body of her daughter, Beverly June Kludt, age 17, on the kitchen
floor. Both women had been bludgeoned to death with an ax, which had
been left at the crime scene.
Detective Lieutenant Earl Cornelison determined that
an attempt had been made to sexually assault Bertha Kludt before she was
intentionally slain. Beverly June, hearing her mother’s screams,
apparently dashed from her upstairs bedroom into the kitchen where she
encountered the assailant and was murdered.
Jake Bird's History
The man captured by Officers Sabutis and Davies was
identified as Jake Bird, a 45-year-old, black transient who had a
lengthy criminal record including burglaries, assaults, attempted murder,
and murder. Bird estimated he had served about 15 years in various
prisons for committing crimes.
He was born in Louisiana and left home when he was 19
years old. Over the ensuing years, Bird never stayed in one place for
long, preferring the life of an itinerant worker. Often he found
employment with the railroad as a section-gang laborer, which allowed
him to earn money and keep moving from town to town. It was an
occupation that lent itself quite well to his avocation: stalking and
murdering women in the towns he visited.
Bird was interrogated by Detective Lieutenant Sherman
W. Lyons at the Tacoma City Jail where he dictated and signed a
confession in the presence of four police officers. His confession
stated that he entered the Kludt residence through the unlocked back
door to commit “an easy burglary.”
He brought along an ax that he found in a nearby shed,
“to bluff off anyone who tried to bother me.” Removing his shoes, Bird
sneaked into Bertha Kludt’s bedroom and stole $1.50 from her purse.
When he returned to the kitchen, he turned around and found Bertha
standing behind him.
Bird told her that he only wanted her money and his
shoes, and then he would leave. But then suddenly Beverly June grabbed
him from behind and a fierce struggle ensued, resulting in the deaths of
the two women. Bird added that he thought the policemen would shoot him
when they had him cornered in the bushes, so he attacked them with his
On Friday, October 31, 1947, Deputy Prosecutor Earl
D. Mann charged Jake Bird in Pierce County Superior Court with first-degree
murder, but only in the death of Bertha Kludt. It was customary to file
only one charge in multiple homicides where failure to obtain a
conviction on the first offense would allow the filing of additional
Judge Edward D. Hodge (1878-1948) appointed James W.
Selden, a former Pierce County prosecutor, as his defense counsel. At
his arraignment, Bird pleaded not guilty and the trial was set for
Monday, November 24, 1947.
At a motion hearing on November 14, 1957, Defense
Attorney Selden requested a change of venue, stating Bird could not get
a fair trial in Pierce County. He also asked to be relieved as Bird’s
attorney, informing the court that Bird wanted to represent himself.
Judge Hodge denied both requests.
Trial began on schedule in the Pierce County
Courthouse before Judge Hodge but was slowed by jury selection.
Questioning of the prospective jurors revolved around their impressions
of the crime gained from the news media and whether Jake Bird, a black
man, could get a fair trial.
Four jurors were excused when it was learned they had
recently served on another first-degree murder trial in which the
defendant was convicted and sentenced to hang. By the end of the day, a
jury of nine men and three women was selected and court was recessed
until 9:00 a.m. the next morning.
Trial proceeded at a rapid pace and was concluded in
just one-and-a-half days of testimony. Prosecuting Attorney Patrick M.
Steele’s strategy was to prove that the death of Bertha Kludt was
premeditated, thereby qualifying the defendant for the death penalty.
Weighing heavily in the trial was evidence regarding
the wanton murder of 17-year-old Beverly June Kludt, who was bludgeoned
to death in the kitchen when she came to her mother’s defense. Blood
and brain tissue from both victims were found on Bird’s clothing, his
bloody fingerprints were found in the house and on the ax and his shoes
were found at the murder scene.
The state introduced a surprise witness, Tacoma
Police Officer John Hickey, who testified that he and Officer Russell
Skattum gave Bird a beating while he was in their custody. Hickey said:
“I regret to say that I lost my temper after returning from the Kludt
home and viewing the terribly hacked bodies of the two women. I had
asked Bird as we sat in the patrol wagon why he murdered the two women.
He said he didn’t do it. I asked him who did it then, and he said, ‘It
was LeRoy.’ ‘Who’s LeRoy?’ I asked him. ‘Oh, another Negro around town,’
Bird replied. ‘You’re lying,’ I replied, and he looked at me with a
smug and insolent look. I know I shouldn’t have done it, but I hit him
in the jaw with my fist, knocking him to the front of the patrol wagon.
Then I struck him a number of times with my night stick until he said,
‘Don’t kill me.’ That brought me to my senses and we took him to the
hospital where a nurse said he wasn’t badly hurt” (Seattle Post-Intelligencer).
Later, when Prosecutor Steele moved to enter Bird’s
signed confession into evidence, Defense Attorney Selden strenuously
objected, declaring it had been obtained under duress and therefore
inadmissible. But Judge Hodge disagreed, ruling there was no
relationship between the beating and Bird’s voluntary confessions, and
admitted it into evidence.
Despite continued strenuous objections by the Selden,
the confession was read into the record, then the prosecution rested its
case. Defense Attorney Selden rested the defense without calling Bird
or any other witnesses to the stand.
Closing arguments were begun on Wednesday morning,
November 26, 1947 and the case went to the jury at noon. After
deliberating for only 35 minutes, the jury returned its verdict. Bird
was found guilty of first-degree murder and the jury voted to impose the
death penalty. Bird, who had been impassive throughout the trial, sat
unmoved as the Judge Hodge read the verdict. On his way back to the
Pierce County jail, Bird asked the five deputy sheriffs guarding him:
“What’s all the excitement about?” (The Tacoma News Tribune).
Remarks Upon Sentencing
On Saturday, December 6, 1947, Judge Hodge sentenced
Bird to be hanged on the gallows at the Washington State Penitentiary on
January 16, 1948. After a motion for a new trial was denied by Judge
Hodge, Defense Attorney Selden told the court he had done everything in
his power to defend Bird and that no further appeals would be made on
Bird’s behalf. Then Selden declared: “I feel whenever any man 45-years-old
gets an idea that no lives are safe to anyone, except his own, that man
is a detriment to society and should be obliterated” (The Tacoma
When Judge Hodge asked Bird for comment, he declared,
“I was given no chance to defend myself. My own lawyers just asked you
to hang me. They apologized for defending me. If they were so
reluctant to defend me, why did they contest the prosecutor’s proof of
murder, and now say that everything is proven?” (The Tacoma News
Tribune). At the end of his 20-minute impassioned speech, Bird
declared: “All you guys who had anything to do with this case are going
to die before I do” (The Seattle Times). It became known as
the “Jake Bird Hex.” Within a year, five men connected with Bird’s
On Sunday, December 7, 1947, Pierce County Under-sheriff
Joseph E. Karpatch and Deputy Michael Waverek took Bird in a patrol
wagon to the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla to await his
execution. Shortly after his arrival, Bird began confessing to his
involvement in a dozen murders that took place over a span of 20 years.
On January 6, 1948, at the request of Governor Monrad
Charles Wallgren (1891-1961), Pierce County Prosecutor Patrick Steele
and Tacoma Police Detective Lieutenant Sherman Lyons went to the
penitentiary to listen the confessions. In an obvious bid for a reprieve,
Bird offered to tell them more, to “clear his conscience.” Steele told
the press: “We want to give him a chance to tell it, but we don’t intend
to permit him to use what he might have withheld as a means to add a few
days to his life" (The Tacoma News Tribune).
Over the next several days, Steele and Lyons took
voluminous notes on Bird’s statements, which they compiled into a 174-page
report for the Governor’s office.
On January 15, 1948, Bird finally won a 60-day
reprieve from Governor Wallgren by claiming that, given time, he could
“clear up” at least 44 murders that he either committed or participated
in during his travels throughout the country. His confessions brought a
throng of investigators from across the nation to interview him at the
Of these 44 confessed murders, only 11 were
substantiated, but Bird had more than enough knowledge about the others
to be the prime suspect. Police from several states took the
opportunity to close the books on many of their unsolved murders. In
his travels, Bird had murdered people, mostly women, in Illinois,
Kentucky, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Kansas, South Dakota, Ohio, Florida,
Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa, and Washington.
Meantime, Bird appealed his conviction to the
Washington State Supreme Court. He personally argued his case before
the Supreme Court Justices, stating that Judge Hodge had made several
judicial errors and demanded a new trail. On November 30, 1948, his
final petition to the state for a retrial was denied and on December 3,
1948, Judge Hugh J. Rosellini (1909-1984) signed another death warrant,
ordering Bird to be hanged on January 14, 1949.
Bird’s attorney, Murray Taggart of Walla Walla,
immediately moved for a stay of execution to permit the filing of an
appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals. The motion was granted on the
condition the court agreed to review the case.
When the U.S. Court of Appeals refused to review the
case, Judge Rosellini set Bird’s execution date for July 15, 1949.
Attorney Taggart requested another stay of execution to permit the
filing of an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court, but the motion was
Undeterred, Taggart filed three more petitions on
Bird’s behalf, but the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review the case;
the last time on July 14, 1949. Bird’s last hope was an act of
executive clemency from Governor Arthur B. Langlie (1900-1966), but
Langlie chose not to interfere with the execution.
On Thursday night, July 14, 1949, Jake Bird ate his
last meal on death row, and then talked with his attorney for two hours.
Bird told Taggart he could be a good looser as long as he felt
everything possible had been done to save his life. Later that night,
he was moved to a holding cell near the gallows, where he was shaved and
dressed in new clothes.
Just after midnight, Bird walked 10 feet from the
cell to the gallows accompanied by Warden Tom Smith and two prison
guards. He said nothing to the 125 witnesses who had gathered in the
room, but muttered some comment to one of the guards.
A volunteer prison chaplain, Reverend Arvid C.
Ohrnell, started to read a note from Bird, declaring he bore no malice
toward anyone and sought forgiveness. But before he finished, the
trapdoor was sprung, dropping Bird five feet to his death.
Jake Bird was hanged at 12:20 a.m. on July 15, 1949.
His body was taken down 14 minutes later and prison physician Dr. Elmer
Hill pronounced him dead. He was buried in an unmarked grave in the
prison cemetery, identified only as convict No. 21520. Bird willed his
personal fortune, $6.15, to his appeals attorney, Murray Taggart.
Although not formally educated, Bird gained a modicum
of fame as a “jailhouse lawyer,” often arguing his own case before the
court. His knowledge of the law, together with the help of people
against the death penalty, enabled him to delay his execution a year and
Bird’s case failed to capture the attention of the
national press, even though he confessed to committing or being involved
in at least 44 murders throughout the country. But history marks him as
one the nation’s most prolific serial killers.
The Jake Bird Hex:
The five men connected with Bird’s trial who died
within a year of the “Jake Bird Hex.”
Edward D. Hodge, Pierce County Superior Court
Judge, age 69, died January 1, 1948.
Joseph E. Karpach, Pierce County Under-sheriff,
age 46, died April 5, 1948.
George L. Harrigan, Pierce County court reporter,
age 69, died June 11, 1948.
Sherman W. Lyons, Tacoma Police Detective
Lieutenant, age 46, died October 28, 1948.
James W. Selden, Bird’s defense attorney, age 76,
died on November 26, 1948.
According to The Tacoma News Tribune, all of
the men died from heart attacks. A sixth man, a Washington State
Penitentiary guard assigned to death-row, died of pneumonia two months
before Bird’s execution.
Bird is hanged for the murder of two Tacoma women on July 15, 1949
By Daryl C. McClary, October
On July 15, 1949 at 12:20 a.m., Jake Bird (1901-1949)
is hanged at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla for the ax
murders of Bertha Kludt, age 52, and her daughter Beverly June, age 17,
in Tacoma on October 30, 1947.
While on death row, Bird, a transient for most of his
adult life, confesses to committing or being involved in at least 44
murders during his travels across the country. Although the newspapers
label Bird, the “Tacoma Ax-Killer,” his case fails to capture the
attention of the national press. But history marks Bird as one of the
country’s most prolific serial killers.
Early on the morning of October 30, 1947, two Tacoma
Police Officers were dispatched to 1007 S. 21st Street to investigate
reports of screams emanating from inside the residence. As they
approached, a man ran out of the back door into the back yard and
crashed through a picket fence. The police officers gave chase.
The fugitive scaled several more backyard fences, but
was finally stopped by a high wire fence and cornered in some nearby
bushes. He pulled out a switchblade knife and then attacked the officers,
cutting the hand of one and stabbing the other in the back. One of the
officers, a former prizefighter, subdued the assailant with a left hook
to the jaw and a kick in the groin.
When police officers entered the residence, they found Mrs. Bertha
Kludt, age 53, and her daughter, Beverly June Kludt, age 17, dead. Both
women had been dealt several blows to the head with an ax. The murder
weapon was found on the kitchen floor.
The man captured by the Tacoma Police
Officers was identified as Jake Bird, a black, 45-year-old, transient,
who had a lengthy criminal record including burglaries, assaults, and
At the city jail, Bird confessed to
the murders, but claimed that burglary was his sole motive for entering
the Kludt residence. He was caught in the act by Bertha Kludt and tried
to escape from the house. When she tried to stop him, Bird panicked and
hit her in the head with an ax. Beverly June, awakened by the screaming
and noise, was hacked to death when she came to her mother’s defense.
But homicide detectives determined that an attempt had been made to
sexually assault Bertha Kludt in her bedroom before she was
intentionally slain. Beverly June’s murder was likely incidental to
On October 31, 1947, Bird was charged in Pierce County Superior
Court with first-degree murder, but only in the death of Bertha Kludt.
The prosecuting attorney needed to prove that her death was premeditated
in order to qualify the defendant for the death penalty. Bird pleaded
not guilty at his arraignment and was held in the Tacoma City Jail
The trial began on November 24, 1947 in Pierce County Superior Court
and lasted two and a half days. Weighing heavily in the trial was the
wanton murder of Beverly June Kludt, who was bludgeoned to death when
she came to her mother’s defense. Blood and brain tissue from both
victims were found on Bird’s clothing, and his bloody fingerprints were
found in the house and on the ax.
Bird’s attorney, James W. Selden, maintained that his signed
confession had been obtained under duress and therefore inadmissible.
But Judge Edward D. Hodge disagreed, admitting the confession into
evidence. On November 26, 1947, after deliberating for only 35 minutes,
the jury found Jake Bird guilty of first degree-murder and recommended
the death penalty. Judge Hodge sentenced him to be hanged at the
Washington State Penitentiary on January 16, 1948.
Bird won a 60-day reprieve from
Governor Monrad C. Wallgren (1891-1961) by claiming that he could clear
up at least 44 other murders that he either committed or participated in
during his travels across the country. His confession brought a throng
of investigators from across the nation to interview him at the state
Of these 44 murders, only 11 were
substantiated, but he had enough knowledge about the others to be the
prime suspect. Police in several states took the opportunity to close
the books on many of their unsolved murders. In his travels, Bird
murdered people, mostly women, in Illinois, Kentucky, Nebraska,
Oklahoma, Kansas, South Dakota, Ohio, Florida, Wisconsin, Michigan,
Iowa, and Washington.
Meantime, Bird appealed his conviction to the
Washington State Supreme Court, but his petition for a retrial was
denied. The U.S. Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court also
rejected his petitions for a new trial. After the appeal process had run
its course, Bird was scheduled for execution on July 15, 1949
On July 14, 1947, the U.S. Supreme declined to review
Bird’s conviction for the third time and Governor Arthur B. Langlie
(1900-1966) chose not to interfere with the execution.
Finally, early Friday morning, July 15, 1949, Bird
was taken from his gallows-level cell to the noose. At 12:20 a.m.,
witnessed by 125 spectators, the gallows’ trapdoor was released and Jake
Bird dropped five feet to his death. After 14 minutes, his body was
taken down and prison physician Dr. Elmer Hill pronounced him dead.
He was buried in an unmarked grave in the prison
cemetery, identified only as convict No. 21520. Bird willed his
“personal fortune” of $6.15 to Murray Taggart, the Walla Walla attorney
who filed his appeals.
Jake Bird was the 63rd prisoner and the seventh
African American to be executed in Washington State since the death
penalty was established in 1904.
Jake Bird was born "somewhere out in Louisiana
where there ain't no post office." He lived in this place until he
was 19 when he seemed to decide that he might like to try a town with a
Over the following years of his life he never really
settled down anywhere for long. he worked as everything from a manual
laborer to a "gandy dancer" on railroads. it was this type of
work that built Jake's strength, and also allowed him to keep moving
from town to town, always finding something to do for money.
Birds travels ended on October 30, 1947, when he was
arrested in Tacoma, Washington. It seems Jake was passing through a
street when he decided to have a little fun. He chose the house of
Bertha Kludt, 52. Also in the house was her teenage daughter, Beverly.
Well Jake went around the back of the house and found an ax.
stripped off all his clothes and took the ax with him into the house. I
guess that poor Mrs. Kludt and her daughter were a little surprised by a
naked black man running through there house swinging an ax, and the
showed there fear by screaming, which alerted neighbors who called
The police though were not quick enough as by the time they had
arrived at the scene Jake had bludgeoned both the Kludt ladies to death
with the ax. As they walked through the house they spotted Bird walking
in the back yard carrying his shoes. When he seen the police officers he
came charging at the cops with a knife. He managed to slash two of them
but was overpowered and was beaten into unconsciousness. He spent the
next few days in hospital.
When he was ready to speak Bird denied the charges.
But his stance soon changed when it came out that police had found brain
tissue in his trousers, and it would be hard to explain how that got
there, so he admitted to the crime.
Being a black man accused of killing
whites didn't really help his cause much and Bird was sentence to die.
It would seem that Jake wasn't ready to go just yet though. He made a
few deals and somehow ended up putting the execution back two years,
during which time he told of his many crimes throughout his life.
From these stories it became fair to assume that Bird
was involved in at least 44 murders. Well he at least showed enough
knowledge to be consider prime suspect in that many murders. Of these 44
only eleven were proven beyond doubt. Bird had certainly gotten around
over the years, he had committed a murder in Illinois, Kentucky,
Nebraska, Kansas, South Dakota, Ohio, Florida and Wisconsin.
to the 44 murders police believed he was involved in many more but these
could be just written off as cops trying to clean up there books of
unsolved murders (like with Henry Lee Lucas).
It seems that Bird like one particular type of victim
- white women. He particularly like white women cowering in fear of him.
Most were killed with an ax or hatchet also.
Jake Birds luck, and confessions, ran out on July 15,
1949. He was hung at Walla Walla in Washington State.
An Interesting Bit:
While in prison it was reported that
Jake Bird put a
few 'Hexes' on fellow prisoners. A local paper printed stories on these
Hexes being very feared by prisoners as a few of those Bird cursed ended
up dying. Obviously this is all bullshit, but it is kind of interesting.
The Wacky World of Murder
A rootless drifter, big Jake Bird would tell authorities that he was born December 14, 1901, "somewhere out in Louisiana where they ain't no post office."
He started roaming in his nineteenth year and never settled anywhere for long, spending much of his time as a manual laborer and "gandy dancer" on various railroads. It was backbreaking work, but it built up Jake's strength and kept him in motion, trolling for human targets.
By the time of his arrest in 1947, he would claim a body-count approaching one victim for each year of his life.
On October 30, 1947, Bird was prowling through Tacoma, Washington, when he stopped at the home occupied by Bertha Kludt, 52, and her teenage daughter Beverly. Finding an ax in the woodshed, Bird reportedly stripped off his clothes before breaking into the house and hacking both victims to death. Their dying screams alerted neighbors, and police were just arriving on the scene as Bird emerged from the backyard, shoes in hand. Violently resisting arrest, he slashed two officers with a knife before he was finally beaten into submission and dragged off to the county hospital for treatment of various injuries.
In custody, Bird first pled innocence, then dropped his pose when blood and brain tissue were found on his trousers. Sentenced to die for the slayings, he stalled execution for nearly two years, regaling police with his intimate knowledge of 44 deaths nationwide.
At least eleven crimes were solved through Bird's confessions, starting with the ax murders of two women at 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 suspected Bird of murdering Mrs. Harry Richardson there, and Chicago authorities were curious about a weighted body retrieved from Lake Michigan, five miles south of Kenosha. Los Angeles detectives had their eyes on Jake for murdering a black youth and a Jewish grocer, while in New York City he was tentatively linked to the robbery and murder of a delicatessen owner. Psychiatrists examined Bird in jail and labeled him a psychopath, deriving satisfaction from the sight of women cowering in terror.
In the verified cases, most of his victims were female, most were white, and the majority had been killed with hatchets or axes in their homes. (Bird also put a "hex" on several enemies from prison, journalists reporting that some half a dozen of them subsequently died.)
Inevitably, Jake ran out of stories, and he climbed the gallows on July 15, 1949, in the Washington state prison at Walla Walla.
Michael Newton - An Encyclopedia of Modern Serial
Killers - Hunting Humans
M RACE: B TYPE: N MOTIVE: Sex.
Rape-slayer of females during home invasions, often used ax.