It was the day before Halloween in 1947 when a Louisianan drifter had made his way to the home of Bertha and Beverly Kludt. Jake Bird had worked for the railroad and often traveled town-to-town in order to lay track, in the days before machinery had made the job obsolete. The days were long, the labor was grueling, and the lack of OSHA standards meant that there was no regulation on the work conditions. It wasn’t unheard of for men to lose their lives and on-the-job injuries were even more prevalent.
It was through his line of work that Bird found himself in Tacoma, Washington, and it was through his less than savory hobby that he had found himself inside of the Kludt residence. At approximately 2:30 AM, Bertha awoke to see Bird standing over her bed and let out a dreadful scream, alerting her daughter and several neighbors that trouble was afoot. Beverly rushed to her mother’s bedside manner only to find that Bird had bludgeoned Bertha with an ax. Beverly ran, but she didn’t stand a chance against Bird. She was also found bludgeoned to death in their South 21st Street home.
Neighbors contacted police, who were quick to arrive on the scene. As police approached the home, a barefoot African American man raced through the backdoor and hopped several fences in an attempt to evade officers. Police gave chase and, to their luck, Bird was cornered by a particularly high fence. Bird pulled a knife out and began attacking the officers. Two officers had to be taken to a local hospital to be treated for the non-fatal knife wounds caused by Bird.
Once in custody, investigators began to unravel what had occurred at the Kludt residence and why Bird had killed the two women. Bird told police that he had broken into the home to steal money for shoes. While he was prowling around for money in Bertha’s bedroom, she awoke and grabbed the stranger. Bertha’s daughter heard the struggle and when Bird entered into the kitchen she proceeded to try to fight him. Bird killed the two women during the altercations and ran when he heard the police. He said he attacked the officers only because he believed that they were fixing to shoot him.
Police would later learn that this wasn’t Bird’s first run-in with the law. 15 years of his life were spent in various prisons around the country for crimes including burglary, murder, attempted murder and assault. They had come to the realization that this was no down on his luck transient looking to grab a few dollars to buy shoes and in the heat of the moment ended up killing two women that they were dealing with. Bird was a cold and calculated killer.
It only took a day and a half for the jury to find Bird guilty of the death of Bertha Kludt. He was not charged for the death of Beverly, since it was common for cases of multiple homicides to be tried separately in the event that the first charge was dismissed. Fingerprints found on the scene and the blood and brain matter found on Bird’s clothing was more than enough evidence to prove that Bird had been the culprit. Throw in his signed confession and the case was open and shut. Going by the jury’s recommendation, the honorable Judge Hodge sentenced Bird to death by hanging.
As attorneys from both the defense and the prosecution made their closing statements on the judge’s verdict, Bird stood up and 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.”
As Bird was being transported to death row at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla he confessed that he had been involved in 44 murders around the country. It’s strange that such a prolific serial killer never made national headlines, and up until the 1970s Bird was considered the most prolific serial killer in the history of the United States. 11 previously unsolved murders were solved as a result of Bird’s confession.
It wasn’t Bird’s body count that would eventually make him a notable character within true crime circles, however. It was his curse. Shortly after Bird’s conviction, Judge Hodge died of a heart attack. Bird’s defense lawyer followed him immediately after, also dropping dead of a heart attack. A guard at the Washington State Penitentiary as well as the police officer responsible for documenting Bird’s confession would also fall victim to the hex of Jack Bird, also dying of apparent heart attacks. Additionally, a court clerk who was present during Bird’s trial died of pneumonia.
On July 15, 1949, Jake Bird was taken to the gallows. From the time of his trial up until his execution, five people who had some connection to the case had suddenly dropped dead. Bird was buried in an unmarked grave on prison grounds and his murderous legacy slowly faded into a footnote, but the legendary “hex of Jack Bird” still remains a popular story, even today.