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Bob Burgunder, student-murderer

Judge Arthur T. LaPrade

As former Arizona State Teachers College student Robert Burgunder, Jr. sat on death row in Florence, he commented, “There’s too much free speech in this country. I think there’s too much education, too. I think we should stop educating the masses and educate only a few intelligent people.”
As the drums of war were beating, leading up to World War II, the violent murder of two car salesmen by a debonair college student captivated the nation in 1939. The crime, the trial and the execution distracted the nation’s attention for a short time.
Bob Burgunder was the son of an attorney from Seattle. His father had also been a King County prosecutor. Bob Burgunder became addicted to gambling. At one point he held up a drug store, was arrested and spent two years in prison in the state of Washington.
After his release from prison, Robert Burgunder Sr. got his son accepted into Arizona State. At the contentious murder trial before Superior Court Judge Arthur T. LaPrade, it was shown that Burgunder had spent much of his free time as a student at the Varsity Inn, operated by Bill Bailey. Testimony pointed out Bailey’s establishment, which was across the street from Arizona State, had more than a ‘fountain and confectionery.’ Bailey “operated a gambling place and slot machines, at which the defendant spent considerable money.”
On the day of the crime, Burgunder cashed a $45 check ($655 when adjusted for inflation) with Bailey. Burgunder went to downtown Phoenix and took a test drive in a new Ford Deluxe Sedan with car salesmen E. B. ‘Jack’ Peterson and Ellis Koury. The trio drove to a little-used road west of Guadalupe near South Mountain.
Burgunder had a gun and forced Koury to bind Peterson’s arms and legs with a silk tie and a belt. Then, “as Koury reached his arms behind him to be tied, Burgunder ruthlessly shot him to death. As Peterson, a few feet away, rolled toward the killer, the gun barked again and more shots thudded into the former highway patrolman.”
A week later, the bodies were found by a rancher disposing of a dead pig. Meanwhile, Burgunder had taken the stolen car and had driven to Johnson City, Tenn. He was going to enroll in the East Tennessee State Teacher’s College.
The family he was staying with noticed the name Koury on a piece of paper in Burgunder’s room. The family also saw the grisly stories of the murders in their local newspaper. They notified the police and Burgunder was arrested with the loaded murder weapon in the glove box of the car.
Within 90 days, the trial was held, Burgunder was convicted and he was on death row. During the trial, Burgunder claimed he could not get along with his attorney, C. T. McKinney. Judge LaPrade ordered McKinney to continue the defense.
Burgunder’s father also joined the defense team at a later time. Bob Burgunder even questioned witnesses himself during the course of the trial. Attorneys argued about whether or not crime scene photos taken by local reporters should be used as prosecution exhibits.
Burgunder appealed his conviction during the next year all the way to the Arizona Supreme Court. In a letter to the court, he said: “Longer sentences, shorter trials and thorough investigations are important in stopping crime, but in my mind the most important is to insure honest, ethical conduct on the part of law enforcement officials.” He never explained what he meant by the statement.
On death row, Burgunder grew two inches to 6-feet-4 and gained 61 pounds to 231 pounds. It was reported “he’s no longer a handsome youth because of his plumpness.” At the time he was put to death, he was the biggest person to die in the gas chamber.
Burgunder’s last supper included Belgian Hare, corn on the cob, sliced tomatoes, French fries, coffee and orange sherbet. It was noted that the temperature that evening was stifling on death row.
The witness area to the gas chamber was reported as being extremely crowded. It was said that the last time so many had watched an execution was at the death of Eva Dugan in 1930, ten years earlier. After the execution “young men accompanied by their girls filed by to get a glimpse of the body in the fume-filled gas chamber.”
No one ever knew why Bob Burgunder committed his crime. People speculated it might have been the result of the glandular problem that made him grow on death row. A local editorial writer speculated: “Year by year the inhabitants of our prisons become younger and younger. If society is to be indicted for anything, it should be charged with failure to prevent youth from taking up lives of crime.”
Mike Miller. Photo courtesy of Arizona State Library, Archives and Public Records, History and Archives Division, Phoenix, # 97-7102.

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