US Mass Killings of Long Ago: 3 Early Eruptions of ‘Suppressed Rage’

19:36  11 october  2017
19:36  11 october  2017 Source:   The New York Times

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Residents searched for survivors at the Bath Consolidated School in Michigan in 1927 after Andrew Kehoe, a disgruntled school board member, set off explosions that killed 38 children, five adults and himself.© The Detroit News, via Associated Press Residents searched for survivors at the Bath Consolidated School in Michigan in 1927 after Andrew Kehoe, a disgruntled school board member, set off explosions that killed 38 children, five adults and himself.

It has become a familiar jolt. You see an alert on your phone, turn on CNN or stop scrolling Facebook and absorb the news: There’s been a mass shooting. Someone with a handgun or a rifle has killed several people, or a dozen, or scores, and the toll is likely to rise.

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This moment of distressing recognition isn’t new, even if mass killings have grown more common and the weapons more powerful. At various times in the first half of the 20th century, Americans picked up the newspaper to see that a man had committed an act of unthinkable violence.

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As has been the case with the Las Vegas shooting, the motive wasn’t always immediately clear. And when it did emerge, mystery inevitably still surrounded the question of why the killer thought his grievance justified the deaths of innocent people.

Here’s a look at three mass killings by lone assailants from before 1950, carried out with bullets and bombs.

A shooting in Kansas, 1903

Nine people were killed after Gilbert Twigg opened fire with a 12-gauge shotgun at a concert in Winfield, Kan., in August 1903. He killed himself at the scene.

A letter was found among Twigg’s belongings indicating that “he planned the massacre some days ago,” according to a New York Times article published several days afterward. The article went on:

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It appears that Twigg was disappointed several years ago in a love affair, and that he had brooded over it to such an extent that he was convinced the citizens of Winfield were making light of his troubles.

He wrote that he had harmed no man and had never violated the laws of his country and that the deed he was about to perpetrate was for the purpose of ‘getting even’ with those who had shunned him and interested themselves unnecessarily in his affairs.

After “the maniacal deed,” The Times reported, “quite a large sum of money was found upon Twigg’s person.”

The shooting was an uncommon type of attack at the time, and has been called the precursor of modern mass shootings.

The Bath school disaster, 1927

Andrew Kehoe, a school board treasurer in Bath Township, Mich., planted explosives under the local school months in advance before killing his wife, bombing his farm and setting off explosions at the school that killed 38 children, five adults and himself.

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Kehoe, a farmer who had struggled to pay his mortgage, was angry about taxes that had been raised to pay for the school. “It is believed Kehoe’s mad act was caused by desire for revenge on the School Board,” The Times reported.

It continued: “Recounting the man’s characteristics tonight, neighbors recalled that he had appeared intelligent, but with a tendency toward being pugnacious.”

After the bombing, “a moan from a mother or a stifled cry here and there from a father as a blanket was lifted testified that another search was ended,” the article said. “Many of the mothers and fathers clasped in their arms the bodies of their children and carried them to their homes, refusing the services of ambulances and hearses that came from surrounding towns.”

At Kehoe’s farm, the police found a sign that offered insight into the killer’s psychology. It read, “Criminals are made, not born.”

A ‘rampage’ in New Jersey, 1949

On a fall morning in 1949, Howard Unruh, who would later be found criminally insane, went for a walk through his Camden, N.J., neighborhood with a Luger pistol.

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Along the way he killed 13 people, three of them children, in what the front page of the next day’s Times would call a “mad rampage.” The article by Meyer Berger, which would win a Pulitzer Prize, described the gunman as a “slender, hollow-cheeked six-footer paradoxically devoted to scripture reading and practice with firearms.”

Unruh eventually fled to his apartment, where, according to his Times obituary in 2009, about 50 police officers converged and “blazed away with machine guns, shotguns and pistols.”

The police also used tear gas, and eventually he came outside with his hands up.

Unruh was later found to have paranoid schizophrenia, and a psychiatric report found that he had believed his neighbors were belittling him and “thinking of him as a homosexual.”

The report described him as “a master of suppressed rage” who harbored a “smoldering anger.”

But he had been calm when, as the police lay siege to his apartment, he answered a phone call from Philip W. Buxton, an editor for The Camden Courier-Post.

Buxton asked Unruh how many people he had killed.

“I don’t know, I haven’t counted,” he said. “Looks like a pretty good score.”

“Why are you killing people?” Buxton asked.

Unruh replied, “I don’t know.”

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