Jake Bird's Motive For Murdering Bertha And Beverly June Kludt

As the Seattle Post-Intelligencer explains, Washington state is home to several serial killers and notorious crimes. The Seattle Times states that this is likely due to the climate and topography of the Pacific Northwest. One individual who believes in this theory is John Douglas, an FBI profiler. He referred to the region as "America's killing fields." Douglas added, "The weather — weeks on end of dreary rain punctuated by rare, brilliant days — probably has something to do with it. Or the fact that this is where the frontier ends and America literally runs out of room." Some of Washington's most infamous killers include Ted Bundy and Gary Ridgeway, otherwise known as the Green River Killer.

However, one name that has been lost to time is Jake Bird. The Toronto Sun writes that Bird was born in Louisiana in 1901. He was African American; he left home at 19, quickly accumulating an extensive criminal record. Per Sword and Scale, Bird worked on railroads as a manual laborer, which allowed him to travel frequently to commit burglaries and violent crimes without consequence. In 1947, the transient man ended up in Tacoma, Washington.

On October 30 of that year, Bird broke into the home of Bertha and Beverly June Kludt (via History Link). Screams were heard from the residence and the police were called to the scene. When they arrived, the officers witnessed Bird fleeing. After a frenzied scuffle, the police captured Bird. They then made their way into the Kludt home, only to discover that the mother and daughter had died a gruesome death.

Bertha and Beverly June Kludt were murdered with an ax

At 2:30 a.m., Bertha was woken up by Bird and screamed (via Sword and Scale). Bird, per History Link, bludgeoned the 52-year-old woman to death with an ax. This awoke Beverly June, who ran to her mother's room. The 17-year-old found her mother's slain body and attempted to escape. However, her efforts were futile and she too was bludgeoned by Bird. The Toronto Sun explains that the murder weapon actually belonged to the Kludts; Bird took the ax from their shed before entering the home. When the police arrived at the home, they found Bertha's body in her bedroom and Beverly June in the kitchen.

Another article from History Link writes that it was later established that Bird had attempted to sexually assault Bertha before he murdered her. Beverly June was collateral damage. One officer, John Hickey, admitted to assaulting Bird while he was in custody. He stated, "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" (via History Link). When Bird told Hickey he was innocent and that another Black man was responsible for the crime, Hickey beat him with a nightstick until Bird told the officer, "Don't kill me."

He claimed he wanted to burglarize the Kludt home

According to History Link, Bird was taken to the Tacoma City Jail where he admitted to the murders of Bertha and Beverly June Kludt. In a signed confession, he also provided investigators with a motive. Sword and Scale reports that Bird explained that he broke into the home for money. He considered it to be "an easy burglary." Bird claimed that he took the ax "to bluff off anyone who tried to bother me." He found money in Bertha's purse, which he said he was going to use for new shoes. In any case, Bird explained that Bertha caught him in the act.

He went on to say that Beverly June then made an attempt to grab him, which led to a struggle, and ultimately, their deaths (via History Link). When Bird fled the scene, another article from History Link states that he attacked the officers who chased and eventually caught him. He took out a knife and cut one officer in the hand and stabbed the other in the back. Bird said that this was self-defense, as he believed that the officers were going to shoot at him. Per Sword and Scale, the two officers survived. On October 31, Bird was charged with first-degree murder.

He had a quick trial

Despite signing a confession, History Link reports, Bird pleaded not guilty at his arraignment. He said that officers had coerced him into a confession by beating him (per True Crime Library). Moreover, he requested to represent himself in his murder trial (via a different article from History Link). A judge denied his request and his trial began on November 24, 1947. According to the SouthSound Talk, Bird insisted that he was innocent of the Kludts murder. However, the physical evidence was overwhelming; his ax and shoes were found at the scene. When the officers captured Bird, he was covered in blood and brain tissue.

Per History Link, his fingerprints were found all over the murder weapon and the Kludt residence. Bird's defense attorney, James W. Selden, attempted to get the confession thrown out as evidence, to no avail. In the end, Bird's trial lasted only one-and-a-half days. A jury of nine men and three women found Bird guilty of first-degree murder. The Toronto Sun writes that the Tacoma Ax Killer, as he became known, was sentenced to hang for his crimes. With this, Selden stated, "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" (via History Link).

Jake Bird confessed to 44 other killings

History Link writes that Bird was subsequently sent to Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla to live out his last days. His execution date was set for January 16, 1948. But his story does not end there. The SouthSound Talk states that while Bird was in prison, he revealed that the Kludts were not his first murder; he claimed to have killed 44 people across the country (via The Toronto Sun). It's quite probable that Bird did this in an attempt to delay his execution date. Even so, prosecutor Patrick Steele noted, "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" (per History Link).

According to a second article from History Link, Bird's victims were mostly women. Besides the Kludt murders in Washington, he killed in Illinois, Kentucky, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Kansas, South Dakota, Ohio, Florida, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Iowa. Simply put, Bird did not murder the Kludts for money; he was in fact a serial killer who had been doing this for years (via Sword and Scale). Of those 44 murders, 11 were solved, with Bird as the proven killer. It also gave Bird the 60-day reprieve that he wanted. Although he attempted to appeal his conviction, Bird was denied. On July 15, Jake Bird was hanged in front of 125 spectators at Washington State Penitentiary.

The Jake Bird Hex

Sword and Scale explain that although Bird was undoubtedly a vicious serial killer, he is less remembered for his crimes and more for his curse, the Jake Bird Hex. According to History Link, this hex was placed by Bird on those who desired to see him dead. At his sentencing, the judge asked Bird if he had anything to say. Bird then went on to give a 20-minute speech wherein he stated, "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?"

He added, "All you guys who had anything to do with this case are going to die before I do" (via History Link). Per the Toronto Sun, six men connected to Bird's trial did so. They include the judge that sentenced him to death, two police officers, and a death row prison guard. Bird's defense attorney, Selden, also died. All but one death was caused by a heart attack (via the SouthSound Talk). Strangely, they all died in 1948, months after Bird was sentenced to death.

Find a Grave reports that Bird is buried on the grounds of the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla. His tombstone is marked not with his name, but with his prison number, 21520.