Genealogy

Omaha Ax Murders Part III: The Aftermath

Part I here and Part II here

The Aftermath

On 27 August 1946, Jake Bird was paroled from the Michigan State Penitentiary. He seemingly slipped into the darkness, ready to begin life anew in the west.
And for a year, all was quiet.

Picture1
photo from Omaha World-Herald (Published as MORNING WORLD-HERALD) – October 31, 1947

Until the night of 30 October 1947 when screams sounded in the quiet of Tacoma, Washington. Police were notified and as they arrived upon the home of widowed baker, Bertha Kludt, they discovered Bird fleeing the home. A struggle between Bird and the two responding officers ensued, before Bird was arrested and held without charge. Upon further investigation of the Kludt house, police found Mrs. Kludt, 53, as well as her daughter, Beverly June, 17, brutally murdered. As with his previous arrest following the attack on the Striblings in 1928, Bird proclaimed his innocence. And days after the murders, he plead not guilty.

When it became clear that he was to be charged with first degree murder, a charge that carried a sentence of death, Bird quickly sang a different tune. He admitted to the murders of Mrs. Kludt and her daughter, saying that it was a burglary that had gone bad. Bird claimed he had told the women that he would leave quietly, but he said that they had struggled with him, and after they were knocked down, he “just kept on swinging” with the ax.

Bird then tried bargaining his way out of the gallows. He offered to clear up at least ten ax slayings throughout the Midwest in exchange for a life sentence. He was questioned about the three slayings that had happened in Omaha in 1928, as well as one in Tulsa, Oklahoma from 1943, and one in Ogden, Utah from October 1947.   But Bird’s biggest claim of all was yet to come.

Picture2

Bird was brought to trial for the murders of Mrs. Kludt and her daughter, Beverly. On 24 November 1947, after deliberating only thirty-five minutes, the jury found Bird guilty and sentenced him to hang. As the days passed bringing him closer and closer to his date of execution, Bird admitted to ten other murders, including the three slayings in Omaha in 1928, in attempts to bring about a stay of execution. But one such admittance brought up the painful history for the Boyd family. Bird claimed that it was he, and not Clarence Lukehart, who murdered Harvey Boyd.

Detectives probed once more into Harvey’s murder upon Bird’s claim. But it was soon discovered that Lukehart and Bird had become close friends while serving time together in Anamosa’s State Penitentiary. When Harvey Boyd’s mother was questioned as to whether she believed Bird was Harvey’s true killer she remained convinced that Lukehart had murdered her child. “It would be dangerous to let him [Lukehart] out. He [Lukehart] is the murderer of my son.” Although investigators looked into Bird’s claim, it was believed that Bird was simply trying to free his friend and no further action was taken toward releasing Lukehart.

Legal delays granted Bird two more years of life as he continued to hint at partial confessions to unsolved murders. But when his final request was denied, Bird placed a hex upon those who had helped to convict him. “The guys who had anything to do with case are going before I do,” Bird was quoted as saying.

Whether it was from the hex or simply coincidence, five men would eventually die before Bird:

1. Superior Judge E.D. Hodge, who had conducted Bird’s trial, died unexpectedly
2. Chief Deputy Clerk Ray Clark, who had handled the filings of papers regarding the case died
3. Joe Karpach, Pierce County under sheriff, who had obtained more than a dozen confessions to ax slayings from Bird died of heart failure
4. Tacoma Police Lieutenant Sherman Lyons, also had obtained confessions from Bird, including the murder of Mrs. Kludt and her daughter, died of a heart attack
5.  J.W. Selden, Bird’s 75 year old lawyer, slumped on his desk, died of a heart attack.

On 15 July 1949, Bird dropped to his death upon the gallows in Walla Walla, Washington. Before his death, Bird admitted to committing or having knowledge of 44 murders across the United States. Eleven were solved with his confessions.

***

Following the attack in 1928, Harold Stribling and his wife tried to regain a sense of normalcy. In 1943, they moved from Omaha to Piedmont, California, where Harold worked for an insurance company. On the morning of 11 February 1959, Mrs. Stribling called her doctor complaining of a headache and that she was unable to rouse her husband from sleep. The doctor called a neighbor who entered the Stribling home and found both Mr. and Mrs. Stribling unconscious. The police were notified and Mr. Stribling died soon afterward. It appeared that Mr. Stribling had shot his wife before turning the gun on himself.

When police arrived, Mrs. Stribling was concious and told them she had no recollection of the shooting. No one could say for certain what caused Mr. Stribling to attempt murdering his wife and take his own life, but family interviewed believed it to be as a result of the attack of 1928.

Mrs. Stribling survived the attack made on her by her husband. She would outlive him by nearly twenty years, passing away in March of 1977. She was laid to rest beside him in Forest Lawn Cemetery in Omaha.

***

After a petition from University of Iowa law students, Iowa governor, Robert Ray, commuted Clarence Lukehart’s life imprisonment sentence to that of a 99-year term. He was paroled and released from the state penitentiary in 1974. He lived the remainder of his life in Des Moines, Iowa. In July of 1981, Lukehart was found dead in his apartment. He was buried beside his parents in Glendale Cemetery in Des Moines.

***

Mrs. Lukehart never stopped believing that her son was innocent. She continued searching for clues that might clear his name of the murder sentence brought against him. But she would not live to see him freed. She passed away in 1966 and was laid to rest beside her husband, who had died in 1951.

***

Mrs. Boyd, however, was still alive the day that Lukehart was freed from his sentence of murdering her child. One can only imagine the terror and pain she felt knowing that Lukehart was free. Mrs. Boyd passed away in 1980. Fifty years after her son’s murder, she was laid to rest beside her husband, and her son, Harvey.

Sources: 

“Suspect Held in Ax Deaths Familiar Here” Omaha World-Herald (Published as MORNING WORLD-HERALD) – October 31, 1947

“Bird Denies Omaha Axings” Omaha World-Herald (Published as Sunday World-Herald) – November 2, 1947

“Jake Bird Pleads Not Guilty in Ax Deaths” Omaha World-Herald (Published as MORNING WORLD-HERALD) – November 5, 1947

“Bird Bargains For His Life” Omaha World-Herald (Published as Evening World-Herald) – November 8, 1947

“Jurors Find Bird Guilty” Omaha World-Herald (Published as MORNING WORLD-HERALD) – November 27, 1947

“Probe Ordered of Bird’s Story” Omaha World-Herald (Published as MORNING WORLD-HERALD) – January 1, 1948

“Mother of 1928 Boy Victim, Reporter Doubt Bird’s Confession of Crime” Omaha World-Herald (Published as MORNING WORLD-HERALD) – January 2, 1948

“Bird Admits More Killings” Omaha World-Herald (Published as Sunday World-Herald) – January 4, 1948

“Mother Searches Newspaper Files to Clear Son of Murder Sentence” Omaha World-Herald (Published as Sunday World-Herald) – February 22, 1948

“Jake Bird Hex Legend Grows” Omaha World-Herald (Published as MORNING WORLD-HERALD) – October 30, 1948

“Jake Bird’s Hex Just Coincedence – Probably” Omaha World-Herald (Published as Evening World-Herald) – November 27, 1948

“5th Bird Case Figure Dies” Omaha World-Herald (Published as MORNING WORLD-HERALD) – November 27, 1948

“Bird is Hanged in Washington” Omaha World-Herald (Published as MORNING WORLD-HERALD) – July 15, 1949

“Stribling, Ax Victim In ’28, Kills Himself” Omaha World-Herald (Published as Evening World-Herald) – February 11, 1959

“Ex-Convict: First Vote Is Winner” Omaha World-Herald (Published as Omaha World-Herald) – November 4, 1976

Referenced Forest Lawn Cemetery and Mount Hope Cemetery to obtain death information. 

Additional Information:

http://www.historylink.org/index.cfm?DisplayPage=output.cfm&file_id=7973

http://murderpedia.org/male.B/b/bird-jake.htm

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