The strange story of Jake Bird is as good as it gets if you are looking for a chilling story about Tacoma’s crime history, yet it’s a story rarely known outside circles of true crime geeks. Bird’s story is noted in anthologies of serial killers, often as one that seems too weird to be true.
But it is true. And it happened here. This is the story of Jake Bird’s hex.
Bird was born in Louisiana in 1901. He had a troubled life that forced him to leave home at the age of 19 to seek his fortune by riding the rails of America. Bird fit the bill as a stereotypical hobo, sneaking into train cars only to hop off once the train reached town. He would then trade a day’s work for a night’s sleep and a warm meal wherever he stopped, only to hop back on another train and start the process again.
Bird was otherwise unremarkable wherever he went, 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.
Fast forward to October 30, 1947. Bird was 45. He was looking for work and came across the home of Bertha Kludt and her daughter Beverly June. The house still stands at 1007 South 21st Street. Bird entered their home and hacked them to death with an ax. They screamed during the attack, alarming the neighbors who proceeded to call the police. Two officers arrived at the scene only to find Bird covered in blood, still holding a knife as he ran from the scene. They cornered him. He attacked. One officer was slashed in the hand while the other was stabbed in the shoulder. Despite their injuries, the officers managed to tackle Bird and handcuff. He was taken to the hospital for his injuries and then delivered in shackles to the Old City Hall jail cells.
Bird 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. Bird eventually confessed to the killings, stating it was a burglary gone wrong. Bird’s trial came a month later. It lasted three days. He was convicted of Murder in the First Degree and was sentenced to death by hanging.
A double killing in a city was news, but actually would have been forgotten had Bird’s story ended there. It didn’t. It had only just started.
As Bird 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.
The first to go was the judge who sentenced Bird to death — he died of a heart attack not long after the conviction. Next was Bird’s defense lawyer, who also died of a heart attack. Then the police officer who recorded Bird’s confession, he died of a heart attack, too. 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 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, providing enough details about 11 of those murders, that the cases were officially closed.
Bird’s 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.
Bird’s story would end on July 15, 1949, almost two years after his last crime. He was hanged on the gallows. He is buried at the prison cemetery at Walla Walla Correctional Center. His grave is marked with his prison number, 21520.