The Early Years
On Sunday October 11th 1942, Mr & Mrs Huberty, along with their then 4 year-old daughter Ruth, welcomed the arrival of the newest addition to their family, James Oliver Huberty.
Following the recent climax of the second world war, the United States — along with the Soviet Union, Western European and East Asian countries — reaped the benefit of a huge spike in economic growth. This post-war boom in productivity meant great employment opportunities for the masses, which not only presented personal security for individuals, but also sustainability for themselves, and/or their families future.
Situated in Canton, Ohio, Mr & Mrs Huberty, both devout Methodists, raised their children in a strict Christian household. With dreams of one day owning and operating his own farm, Mr Earl Huberty, driven by the need of financial stability, worked in a steel mill located in the nearby town of Massillon, 10-miles west of their home in Canton, in order to provide for his family.
The Huberty’s had the pleasure of enjoying a very stable life, until at aged just 3 years-old, young James contracted Polio. According to his father, for several years, James suffered from many painful symptoms, including crooked knees which required braces to aid his mobility. This resulted in James being heavily teased by other children, resulting in him becoming social awkward, an withdrawn.
By 1949, in light of the recent misfortunes, James’ father decided that it was time to move out of industrial Canton and pursue his dream, proposing to relocate and settle with his family on a farm located within the Amish region of Ohio, Mount Eaton. It seemed like just what the family needed, however the move would be met with resistance from his wife who refused to join the family in the move. Aged seven at the time, James and his older sister Ruth (11) would be shocked by the unexpected departure of their mother, who had chosen to abandon the family after desperate pleads to stay, for what she labelled her ‘calling’, to become a Lutheran missionary. The departure was shortly followed by a divorce which left the family crushed.
The trail of upsets would all contribute towards the development of the psyche of James Huberty. As the emotionless mask began to take form, as a result of the defensive isolation young James had instinctively employed, it was only a matter of time before the suppressed tension would implode within him, producing catastrophic consequences.
Arriving in Mount Eaton with his father and older sister to begin a new chapter in his life, now without his mothers presence, James’ medical and domestic misfortunes would further plague his existence. His Polio had left him with a strange way of walking and both throughout Elementary school (Mount Eaton Elementary) and high school (Waynedale High), classmates became aware that he was from a “broken home”. James was described as a very lonely and withdrawn character, with little to no friends, who engaged in no physical, social or organised activities with his peers. Earl Huberty was still having to work nights to make ends meet, an James and his sister would see little of their father, which had a particular effect on the already withdrawn James. Neighbours of the Huberty’s later describe James as a very lonely boy, who preferred the company of his dog and sheep on his farm. As a young teen he developed a fascination with guns, taking to shooting cabbages and other object for entertainment.
It was to no surprise than, that by the time of his graduation in 1960, James’ presence in relation to the rest of his peers was vague at best, an many classmates would later struggle to recall his social impact. Following graduation, James attended Malone College in Canton initially studying Civil Studies, but soon flunked the subject to take up funeral-science classes. James’ social isolation resulted in his distain for social interaction, an the pursuit of becoming a mortician, better suited his introverted characteristics. James’ father sent his son to the Pittsburgh Institute of Mortuary Science, located in Pennsylvania. He later returned to his hometown of Canton, in order to complete his final internship within a local funeral directors. James enjoyed his work, carrying out the embalming of the dead and other such tasks with precision and without hesitation. But however, James was extremely awkward with the relatives of the deceased, making them feel very uncomfortable. His mentor at the time, Don Williams, would later state regarding his intern that “he simply wasn’t cut out for this profession. He acted like he just wanted to be left alone”. One such example of this awkward behaviour, was when mourners would remaining in the funeral home passed the opening hours. A frustrated James would pace up and down the rooms, muttering “get out, get out” to himself, and if this behaviour failed to make the mourners leave, he would than begin to switch off the lights.
In 1965, aged 23 year-old, James met and married a Californian girl named Etna Markland, who had been working as a substitute teacher at the time. The couple tied the knot with a small private ceremony performed at the Trinity Gospel Temple and despite his work related incompetencies, James completed his internship and was granted an embalming license in 1966. However James would not continue his career in the funeral business. Instead, he took a job at the nearby Babcock and Wilcox utility plant as a welder. In addition to his previous comments, his former mentor would later add “I told him he was in the wrong business. He was a good embalmer but just didn’t relate to people. That’s why he was better as a welder. He could just pull that mask down and be by himself.”
By 1971, James & Etna Huberty had moved into a large, red-brick house in a middle-class section of Massillon, Ohio, about ten miles west of Canton. With a steady job and adequate income, James, with direction from his wife, invested in a six-unit apartment building adjacent to the house. Huberty’s career ambitions extended only as far as earning enough to provide a reasonably comfortable life and home, for himself, his wife and their future family. But his good fortune was always tainted with an inner bitterness he had possessed since the abandonment of his mother as a child. This bitterness was intensified, when, within the same year, the relationship with his father would reach an all-time low when his father remarried, an act of which James did not approve of.
Neighbours, coworkers were always put off by a feeling of uncertainty when in presence of James. Even the pastor who had married James and Etna would later express his discomfort when around James Huberty, liking it to a man shadowed by inner demons that were clawing at his guts. They felt as though he was always on the brink of an angry outburst and as time past, his behaviour became increasingly strange an erratic.
The same demons would later come to the surface.
During the 1970’s, James and Etna Huberty enjoyed what seemed to be a happy and flourishing life. In both 1973 & 77, they had two daughters, named Zelia and Cassandra respectively. Although James was described as a hardworking family man, this did little to mask the fact that he just didn’t seem right. A string of events would subsequently take place evolving the Huberty’s which further reinforced this view.
James began to express some paranoid conspiracy-fuelled scenarios warning of the downfall of America, ranging from its economic collapse and even nuclear war with the soviet union. He consequently adopted a survivalist mentality, placing ‘no trespassing’ sign around his property, acquired a German Shepherd dog to guard his home and began stock piling food, guns and ammunition in anticipation of the event. Neighbour’s of the Huberty’s would also become accustom to sudden burst of gunfire, which would sound from the basement of their home where James had built a makeshift shooting range.
Another example of Mr Hubertys’ erratic behaviour, came when a neighbour politely approached him complaining that his dog had damaged his car. In response to the complaint, James stated that he would take care of the situation, calmly took his dog to his backyard and shot it, killing the animal. When the horrified neighbour, shocked by his response to such a trivial situation, spoke to James about the act, he responded “I believe in paying my debts, both good and bad.”
On another occasion, James would leave his neighbour in terror when he took to his porch brandishing a rifle, aiming it at them laughing whilst doing so, before promptly returning back inside his home. Neighbour’s later recalled other bizarre occasions when they would see James sitting on the porch of his home, staring motionless, with a shotgun position on his lap. James would later be described as ‘the man who never smiled’.
But such behaviour was not exclusive to James however, when on one occasion, whilst in attendance at a neighbour’s birthday party, Etna instructed her eldest daughter Zelia to assault a classmate in retaliation for a perceived slight. When the mother of the victim later arrived at the Huberty’s home to confront the pair, Etna responded to the confrontation by threatening the mother with a Hi-powered 9mm pistol belonging to her husband. Etna would consequently be jailed for the offence and the weapon confiscated. However this would only last for days before both Etna and the Pistol were released and returned.
This aggressive behaviour wasn’t only directed towards their neighbours however. Domestic abuse at the hands of both Etna and James, but more so James, was a common occurrence within the home. On one such occasion, a domestic dispute became so fierce, that Etna viciously attacked James with a broken table leg. On another, Etna had filed a report with the Canton Department of Children and Family Services, claiming that James had brutally attacked her. She later confessed that so bad was James’ temper, that she would result to pretending to read his future with a deck of tarot cards, professing nonsense regarding the acquisition of fame and fortune.
For over a decade James had been able to finance his home and investments with aid of a stable income. However a sudden and unexpected change in fortune, would officially mark the beginning of hardships which would ultimately lead to the diabolic manifestation of the disturbed and calculated mind of James Huberty.
In 1982, the already fragile world of James would begin to crumble down around him. Due to a turn in the countries economic state, many were losing their jobs as companies collapsed. After 13 years of stability, James would lose his job due to the closure of the Babcock & Wilcox plant where he had worked.
The news would be met with an intense emotional response from James. A ex-coworker would later recall James’ chilling words, stating that an angered James spoke of “shooting somebody” and saying quote “If this is the end of me making a living for my family, I am going to take everyone with me”. The conspiracies became increasingly radical. He blamed everything from capitalism, secret government initiatives, America’s rich upperclass and even president Jimmy Carter for his downfall. James’ paranoia and anxieties had reached an all-time high and they had a crippling effect on him mental state. He claimed to hear voices urging him to kill himself, began to claim to be German and told many he believe nuclear war was soon to begin.
His meltdown was soon suppressed however, when he was successful in landing employment as a welder in another plant. But this financial lifeline would only last a few months, before he again was laid-off due to the plants closure. It was James’ view that the world was out to get him. To add insult to injury, In August 1982, James was involved in a car accident when a vehicle collided with the back of his. The collision left James with further physical impairment which left no longer able work in his profession, due to a twitch he had developed in his hands. James was overwhelmed with the series of misfortunes and plummeted into deep depression, even attempting suicide on one occasion.
As the lack of employment continued and bills began to pile, James sold his large Massillon home at a disappointed lose of $69″,000 and by October 1983, he had relocated to Tijuana, a small town in southern California, near the Mexican border. It would however take just 3-months before his personal anxieties would consume him and he again relocated, this time to a $610-a-month 2 bedroom apartment, where the Huberty’s were the only Anglos within the latino complex. The voices in James’ head intensified and he began to display sign of delusion. An example of his mental deterioration, came when he approached police patrol car to surrender himself, proclaiming he was a war criminal. But these were not his only troubles, by 1984, with their finances beginning to dry-up, James was once again forced to relocate, this time to the San Diego neighbourhood of San Ysidro (Cottonwood Apartments). James was able to secure employment as a Security officer and the family would move for a third and final time in June of the same year, to a modest apartment on Averil Road, on San Ysidro boulevard, just a block from a popular McDonalds restaurant.
James Hubertys’ life had gone from stability, to uncertainty, whilst his mental state had gong from bad, to worse. After just one month of employment, on July 10th 1984, he was fired due to what his bosses stated was due to his odd and unpredictable behaviour. James had officially hit rockbottom.
Filled with bitterness and disappointment towards society and with his psychological state rapidly in decline, the citizens of San Ysidro, America and indeed the world, were yet to witness the full wrath of James Oliver Huberty.
The Last Chance
On July 15th, 1984, James confided in his wife, that he suspected he might have a serious mental problem and on July 17th, he decided to called a mental health clinic, requesting an appointment. Leaving his contact details with the receptionist, he was assured the clinic would return his call within hours. Etna later described seeing her husband sitting quietly beside the telephone for several hours, awaiting the return call, before abruptly walking out of the family home. Unbeknownst to James however, was that the receptionist had misspelled his name as “Shouberty”. Not only that, but his polite demeanour conveyed no sense of immediate urgency; therefore, the call was logged as a “non-crisis” inquiry, to be handled within 48 hours.
James Huberty returned home after a short while in an unusually contented mood. After eating dinner, he, his wife, and their daughters, Zelia”,12, and Cassandra 10 at the time, went to a nearby park. Later that evening, he and Etna watched a film together.
The following morning on Wednesday, July 18th, James proceeded to take his wife and daughters to the San Diego Zoo. Whilst on route, he told his wife that his life was over. Referring to the mental health clinic’s failure to return his phone call the previous day, he said, “Well, society had their chance.”
After eating lunch at a McDonald’s restaurant in the Clairemont neighbourhood of San Diego, the Huberty’s returned home. Shortly thereafter, he walked into his bedroom as his wife lay relaxing upon the bed; he leaned toward her and said, “I want to kiss you goodbye. Etna asked him where he was going, to which he replied he was “going hunting humans”.
Carrying a bundle wrapped in a checkered blanket, Huberty looked toward his elder daughter, Zelia, as he walked toward the front door of the family home and said, “Goodbye. I won’t be back.” He drove down San Ysidro Boulevard, before entering the parking lot of a McDonald’s restaurant located approximately 200 yards from his apartment.
Wrapped within the blanket, was a 9mm Browning HP semi-automatic pistol, the Etna had been arrested with years earlier, a 9mm Uzi carbine, a Winchester 12 gauge pump-action shotgun, and a bag filled with hundreds of rounds of ammunition for each weapon. Calm, and staring into the McDonalds restaurant were 45 people worked and dinned, the previously clawing demons, now had fall domain.
The name James Oliver Huberty, would forever be etched in America’s darkest archive of criminal history.