Jake Bird was tried and executed for the axe murders of Bertha Kludt and her daughter Beverly June Kludt. It is suspected that he may have killed as many as 44 to 46 people. After his conviction was announced, he said, "I'm putting the Jake Bird hex on all of you who had anything to do with my being punished. Mark my words, you will die before I do." Six people connected to the trial died.
Jake Bird was born on December 14th, 1901 and he said he grew up “somewhere out in Louisiana where there ain't no post office.” He left home at the age of 19 and he never really stayed anywhere too long. He snuck into train cars and would hop off right before the train got into town. Then, he would trade a day's work for a warm meal and somewhere to sleep for the night and he'd hop back on a train the next day. He also worked as a gandy dancer which is a railroad maintenance worker. On July 11th, when Jake was just 24 years old, his new friend died. While he traveled the rails, he met 18-year old Gordon Gigor and 18-year old James Berwald. The three young men were riding on top of a train and a rail agent climbed up there and a fight broke out. James Berwald got away and Jake Bird was struck many times. Gordon Gigor was thrown off the train and fell in between two cars. As the train started up again, Gordon's right leg and left hand were crushed. He received a blood transfusion at a hospital in Omaha, but he died on the operating table.
Jake Bird insisted that he wanted to see justice for his friend, Gordon, so he stayed in the area to make sure he could testify in court. He was offered free lodging at a jail in Wahoo, Nebraska, but he said no because he thought it would be too hot. Instead, he decided to settle in Omaha and look for a job, but things went bad fast.
J.W. Blackman, age 74, was discovered by his son on November 18th. His son believed that his father was just sleeping, but noticed that he wasn't moving. The son lifted the blanket and saw that his father was covered in blood. J.Ws's head had been beaten in while he was sleeping and a bloody ax was found near a woodpile. The next day, on November 19th, Waldo Resso arrived home from work and found his wife, 21 year old Gertrude's bloody body lying on their bed. Waldo ran through the house screaming and found that his sister in-law, 18 year-old Creda Brown had also been murdered. Gertrude had been choked and beaten to death. Creda had been gagged and her head was beaten in. The Resso's two sons, 9 month old Melvin and 3 year old Robert, were unharmed and sleeping in their cribs. According to the newspapers, a bloody hand print was smeared across Melvin's face.
County Attorney Beal said, “It is without question the foulest murder I have ever come in contact with in my 10 years as prosecutor in Douglas County.” By the next morning, someone else had been attacked. 25-year-old Harold Stribling and his wife were attacked around 3 AM in their home. Harold had been beaten in the head with an ax. He had skull fractures with a deep depression or dent. His wife suffered a blow to her face and she had a small fracture in her nasal bone with a cut that went from her forehead to her left eye. Mrs. Stribling actually pleaded with the intruder for about an hour and begged him to leave their 16-month old baby alone. The intruder agreed, but forced Mrs. Stribling to leave with him. They walked a few miles together and he released her around 6 AM. On November 23rd, Jake Bird was arrested and was taken to the hospital where Mrs. Stribling was recovering. Police say that she hysterically exclaimed “That's the man. Take him away!” Other witnesses say she didn't identify him immediately, but requested that he come back at a later time so she can look at him again.
Jake was convicted and charged to 30 years in prison for the attack and this is when he was sent to Squirrel Cage Jail, but he was released in 1941 for good behavior after serving 12 years. Jake maintained that he was innocent the whole time and several officers testified on his behalf, stating he didn't fit the initial description that was given to the police. The police also received several reports and letters from people saying Jake might not be the guilty one. He was never charged with the first murders of J.W. Blackman, Mrs. Resso or Creda Brown. Jake was arrested again in Michigan in February of 1943 after multiple burglaries. He was sentenced to 4 ½ to 5 years and was paroled on August 27th, 1946.
On October 30th, 1947, when Jake was 45 years old, he stopped at the home of Bertha Kludt (kl-uh-t) and her daughter Beverly June around 2 AM. Both ladies worked at a local bakery. He went inside the home and hacked them to death with an ax. The neighbors heard the women screaming and called the police. When two officers arrived at 2:30 AM, Jake took off running barefoot and crashed through a picket fence. After scaling several backyard fences, the police were able to corner him in an alley and he started attacking them. He slashed the hand of one officer and stabbed the other in the shoulder. Officer Sabutis was a former prizefighter known as “Tiny” LaMarr, and he was able to hit Jake with a left hook to the jaw and he kicked him in the groin.
When officers entered the crime scene, they found Bertha Kludt, age 52, dead in her bedroom and her head was nearly severed due to a blow to the throat and she had multiple head injuries. Her daughter, 17-year old Beverly June Kludt, was on the kitchen floor. Both women had been bludgeoned to death with an ax and it was determined that an attempt had been made to sexually assault Bertha. It's believed that Jake was trying to rape her and Beverly heard her mother's screams and came running, that's why he murdered them both.
Jake was really trying to convince the officers that he was innocent and he blamed a man named Leroy for the murders. He said this Leroy guy picked him when he arrived in Washington. Jake was such a good liar, that some of the officers were fooled by this story, but things changed when Jake's pants were processed and they found brain matter. He eventually confessed to the two murders and said it was a burglary gone wrong. In his signed confession, he said he entered the Kludt residence through the unlocked back door to commit an easy burglary. He brought an ax that he found in a shed in case someone bothered him. He removed his shoes and snuck into Bertha's room and stole $1.50 from her purse. When he went to the kitchen, he says that Bertha was standing behind him. Jake told her he only wanted her money, and he would grab his shoes and leave, but she grabbed him, they started fighting, and he murdered the two women. He said he believed the policemen were going to shoot him outside, and that's why he attacked them.
Jake was only charged with one murder on October 31st, 1947 and that was for the murder of Bertha Kludt. It was customary at that time, to only file one charge when there was a case of multiple homicides. That way, if they didn't get a conviction on the first offense, you could file the additional murder charges and keep trying. At a motion hearing on November 14th, 1957, the defense attorney requested a change of venue, stating that Jake couldn't get a fair trial. He also informed the court that Jake wanted to represent himself. Judge Hodge denied both of these requests. Jury selection took an entire day. It was tough to make sure Jake was going to get a fair trial and they had to question the jurors about their beliefs on the death penalty. Some of them had to be rejected for various reasons, but one of them had to go because she was the mother of the deputy prosecutor and another knew both Bertha and Beverly. Ten potential jurors admitted that they were already influenced by the newspapers and radio.
The trial lasted a day and a half and the Prosecuting Attorney had the goal of proving that Bertha Kludt's death was premeditated so that Jake could get the death penalty. Blood and brain tissue from both victims had been found on Jake's clothing, his bloody fingerprints were in the house and on the ax, and his shoes were found in the house.
The state introduced a surprise witness and that was Tacoma Police Officer John Hickey. He said that when he arrived at the scene, he found the suspect covered in blood and two officers were wounded. He handcuffed Jake Bird and entered the house. He saw a young girl in her pajamas lying partially in the doorway of the kitchen and dining room, face down in a pool of blood. He testified that he and Officer Russell Skattum beat Jake Bird while he was in their custody. John Hickey explained that he just lost his temper after viewing the bodies of the two women that were murdered. When they sat in the patrol wagon, he asked Jake why he murdered them and he said he didn't do it and blamed it on Leroy. Jake told the officers that he met Leroy at a pool hall in Tacoma and he was just there looking around, it was Leroy that committed the murders. The officer knew he was lying, so he hit him in the jaw and knocked him to the front of the patrol wagon and started beating him with his night stick. Once Jake said, don't kill me! The officer realized what he was doing and got him to the hospital. Officer Hickey said he regretted losing his temper.
When the Prosecutor moved to enter Jake's signed confession into evidence, the defense objected and said Jake was clearly under duress, so this had to be inadmissible. If he got a beating from an officer prior to his confession, it could be possible that he feared for his life and confessed because he was scared. The judge said there was no correlation between the beating and the confession, so the confession was able to be presented. The jury deliberated for 35 minutes before returning with their verdict. Jake Bird was found guilty of first degree murder and on December 6th, 1947, Judge Hodge sentenced him to be hanged. A motion was denied for a new trial. Defense Attorney Selden said, “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.” He also called him a dumb transient. The attorney did say that Jake was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. He said he believed the brain tissue was on the ax and Jake's pants due to the careless way the police handled the evidence.
Judge Hodge asked Jake Bird if he wanted to comment and he said, “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?”
Soon after this happened, Jake started confessing to his involvement in a dozen murders that took place over a span of 20 years. He was trying to get out of of the death penalty and said he was going to tell them about 44 murders that he either committed on his own or participated in. He even admitted that he murdered Harvey Boyd, even though Clarence Lukehart had already been convicted for this. It was later discovered that Jake and Clarence Lukehart were friends and they had served time together. When Harvey Boyd's mother was questioned, she said she was convinced that the correct man was already locked up for murdering her child. So, Jake may have been trying to do his friend a favor by taking the fall for this murder. His confessions were compiled into a 174 page report for the Governor's office. Governor Wallgren granted Jake a 60 day reprieve so that he had extra time to clear up the 44 murders he was confessing to. Of the 44 confessed murders, only 11 were substantiated, but Jake had more than enough knowledge about the other murders to be the prime suspect. During his travels, Jake had murdered people, mostly women, in Illinois, Kentucky, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Kansas, South Dakota, Ohio, Florida, Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa, and Washington.
While Jake had some extra time, he appealed his conviction to the Washington State Supreme Court. He argued that Judge Hodge made several judicial errors and demanded that he get a new trial. On November 30th, 1948, his final petition to the state for a retrial was denied. His new attorney made several attempts to get a stay of execution, but the motion was denied and the court refused to review the petitions. He spent his final days talking about a small black box that contained money from burglaries and the box was with a friend in Louisiana, but he didn't say who. He wrote a 20 page memoir, gave it to his attorney, and said it could be released after his death. Part of the writings were disclosed, but a lot of it was things that already came out during the trial.
On July 14th, 1949, Jake Bird ate his last meal on death row and talked with his attorney for 2 hours. There were 125 people who gathered around the gallows and a prison chaplain read a letter from Jake that said he bore no malice toward anyone and sought forgiveness. The chaplain wasn't even finished reading the note when the trapdoor opened and Jake dropped through. He was hanged at 12:20 AM on July 15th, 1949. He was buried in an unmarked grave in the prison cemetery at Walla Walla Correctional Center. His grave is marked with his prion number, 21520.
Jake wrote in his memoir: I feel all my appeals have been successful because the students of the future will ask why the questions were not answered.
I think he's saying he didn't get a fair trial and I would agree. His own lawyer said he should be obliterated and he wasn't allowed to say anything to defend himself at the trial. I'm not saying he didn't commit the murders, but there are many odd things about this. The murders took place on October 30th, 1947 and Jake was charged the very next day. The trial last a day and a half, the jury deliberated for 35 minutes and he was sentenced on December 6th, 1947. How on earth could you gather everything you need for a trial in a month? He was denied a retrial, but it seems that he should have gotten one after everything his lawyer did.
Jake Bird gained a bit of fame and was known as the “jailhouse lawyer” because he often argued his own case before the court. He had knowledge of the law and people that were against the death penalty helped him too. He was able to delay his execution by a year and a half. Even though he confessed to at least 44 murders, this case didn't capture the attention of the national press, but history marks him as one of the nation's most prolific serial killers.
When Jake was being sentenced, he said, “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.” No one paid attention to the curse......at first.
Five men that were connected to the trial, died within a year of the “Jake Bird Hex”
Edward D. Hodge, Pierce County Superior Court Jude, age 69, died January 1st, 1948.
Joseph E. Karpach, Pierce County Under-sheriff, age 46, died April 5th, 1948
George L. Harrigan, Pierce County court reporter, age 69, died June 11th, 1948
Sherman Lyons, the officer who recorded Jake's confession, died October 28th, 1948
James W. Selden, defense attorney, age 76, died on November 26th, 1948.
According to the Tacoma News Tribune, all of the men died from heart attacks. A sixth man, Arthur Stewart, who was a prison guard assigned to death row, died of pneumonia two months before Jake's execution.
It was reported that Jake even put a few hexes on some of the prisoners. A local paper printed stories about the hexes and a few of the prisoners supposedly died after Jake hexed them. Things didn't stop there either. Remember Mr. and Mrs. Stribling? They were attacked with an ax in their home, but both of them survived and there was some controversy about whether Jake was the one that did it or not. Well, years later, Mr. Stribling shot his wife in the head, then he shot himself, but she ended up surviving. Some people think this was the Jake Bird curse. It's also believed that Jake had a supernatural power since he was able to hex people.