Title: Murder in the Neighborhood
Author: Ellen J. Green
Audiobook Length: 9 hours 38 minutes
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Genre: Nonfiction, True Crime
Read Start Date: April 7, 2022
Read Finish Date: April 10, 2022
Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: On September 6, 1949, twenty-eight-year-old Howard Barton Unruh shot thirteen people in less than twelve minutes on his block in East Camden, New Jersey.
The shocking true story of the first recorded mass shooting in America has never been told, until now.
The sky was cloudless that morning when twelve-year-old Raymond Havens left his home on River Road.
His grandmother had sent him to get a haircut at the barbershop across the street – where he was about to witness his neighbor and friend Howard open fire on the customers inside. Told through the eyes of the young boy who visited Howard regularly to listen to his war stories, and the mother trying to piece together the disturbing inner workings of her son’s mind, Ellen Green uncovers the chilling true story of Howard Unruh – the quiet oddball who meticulously plotted his revenge on the neighbors who shunned him and became one of America’s first mass killers. With access to Howard’s diaries, newly released police reports and psychiatric records alongside interviews with surviving family members and residents of the neighborhood, A Murder in the Neighborhood will have readers of In Cold Blood, If You Tell and American Predator absolutely gripped.
My Review: I received this audiobook from Netgalley as an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Murder in the Neighborhood tells the story of the first recorded mass shooting in the US (which took place in 1949), from the perspective of 12-year-old Raymond Havens who witnessed the shootings and Freda Unruh, the killer’s mother.
Sitting here in 2022, with dozens of mass shootings have occurred in recent decades, the facts surrounding the first mass shooting in 1949, alarmingly, doesn’t seem shocking to me. What is clear, is that nothing has changed since 1949. Through a gripping narrative, the author explores not only the crime, but the events leading up to the crime. We get to see not only the aftermath, but Howard Unruh’s evolution from veteran to mass murderer.
I am not sure if the author intended it, but as I read this book, I could really see the parallels with the mass shootings taking place today, and it is honestly maddening that nothing has changed in 70+ years. This book is not only a story about an event in history, but also gives us a lens into our future.
I read a book recently that posited that people who commit suicide do so only when their chosen method of suicide is at hand. In other words, the method of suicide is intrinsically linked to the suicide itself. E.g. if Person X wants to shoot himself, but can’t find a gun, he will not just use another method, he will, in fact, not commit suicide at all.
This made me wonder whether mass killings are similar. What would have happened if Howard Unruh did not have access to guns? Would he have been able to shoot as many people? Would he have stopped at just the Cohens — the original intended victims? Unruh had planned to murder the Cohens for their ceaseless bullying, but Unruh describes that as he started shooting, he couldn’t stop. He just kept going. Shooting people, whether they had “wronged” him or not. He even killed 3 children for no reason. Now, if he had a knife, say, would he have been able to keep killing before someone stopped him? I guess we will never know.
The book seemed to be well researched, and I liked how this book not only discussed the hard facts surrounding the killings, but also went into the psychology of Unruh. As readers, we got to see the “why” (as ridiculous as his reasons were), not only the how. I also really liked the writing style of the author. It was written like a fiction book i.e. the telling of a story rather than a recitation of facts, which made it very easy to read.
If you are a true crime fan who otherwise reads mostly fiction (like me) I think this book is right up your alley.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.