Nowadays you don’t have to look too hard to find a headline about a shooting here, there, or anywhere really in this country. Usually such stories are pretty cut and dry–an argument got out of hand, and someone turned to a gun (the bulk of homicides are spur of the moment, despite popular perception). That is not meant to trivialize it of course–any death is a tragedy. All of that being said, it isn’t likely these days you’ll come across a gun related crime quite as weird as the Camden Ghost Sniper, the name given to the perpetrator of a very odd set of crimes between 1927 and 1928 in Camden, New Jersey.
The Ghost Sniper’s reign of terror began January 25, 1928 when a bus windshield and the wind shields of four other vehicles were ‘strangely shattered’ by an unknown projectile. In just about every case attributed to the Ghost Sniper, windows appeared to be shot through with a bullet, although usually no fragments or shell casings were found. So it was with the first five shootings. Also, a police officer was struck and knocked to the ground by a blue marble.
After these first strange occurrences, reports of the ‘phantom sniper’ began to flood into Camden police stations. Reports of similar attacks came in from Collingswood and Lindenwood, New Jersey as well. Police suspected the culprit or culprits might be using a high powered air gun or a low caliber hand gun with a silencer, or some combination of the two. Indeed, in later incidents bullets were found, one matching a .38 slug and the other a .22. In another case, a prominent local jeweler had a nickel-plated screw shot through his windshield, which was promptly recovered.
What was strange was that, in most cases, no one reported hearing gun fire during any of the incidents. There was only one case where a possible shooter was identified; he’d apparently shot through a bedroom window, and when the occupants looked outside to see where the projectile had come from, they saw a man running a away shouting: “It’s all right now, Louie.” The mystery man was never caught.
Luckily, no one was seriously injured throughout the ordeal, other than some severe cases of jangled nerves and a couple of officers who suffered nasty bruises after being struck by blue marbles. That is not to say that Camden and the surrounding area were not in a borderline panic over the ‘phantom shooter’. Police actually outfitted themselves with tommy guns and pursuit vehicles to aid in the hunt for the shooter, and throughout the course of the investigation they operated under a “shoot on sight” order. People were genuinely terrified of the Ghost Sniper, and with good reason. After all, no one could catch him, so who was to say when he would get bold and begin to kill, thinking he could do so with impunity?
The strange story concluded when police arrested two youths for shooting a hole in a windshield with a slingshot. So far as I can see, after that point there were no more incidents reported. This story reminds me strongly of the Mad Gasser of Mattoon; meaning, it is probably an incidence of mass hysteria. Was there an initial attack? Probably. Then for whatever reason, possibly because of the public nature of the attack and the fact a police officer was injured, the story blew up. Every pebble shot through a window by a passing car and every prank by bored school boys became a sign of a mad man on the loose. Copy cats probably came out of the woodwork and fueled the flames, for reasons of their own. Like such things do, it eventually peaked, and probably by the time the two youths were arrested, interest in the whole business had waned anyway. It was a phantom shooter indeed, as it only existed in the collective minds of the residents of Camden, New Jersey.