The Burns Murder

On the morning of Monday, Jan. 27, 1958, the mutilated and severed head of Edna Burns was found in the vestibule of Immaculate Conception Church at North 13th Street and Garrrison Avenue.

The story that quickly emerged that day and in the days that followed would be burned into the collective memory of the city and into the individual memories of the people of the city who lived through those days.

It is a story of mental illness, delusion and matricide.

Sometime between 8 a.m. and 1 p.m. that Monday, Bobby Joe Burns, the son of Jesse and Edna Burns, drugged his mother and decapitated her in the kitchen of the family's home at 2203 South L Street. At least twice before, Bobby Joe Burns, 28, had been committed to a mental institution for paranoid schizophrenia and was given to abusing narcotics, according to Southwest American news stories from the time.

After his capture in the area west of Moffett on Tuesday, he would claim to police that his mother had consented and that he was enacting an Aztec sacrifice ritual.

This photo of Bobby Joe Burns
"shortly after his capture" appeared
in the Southwest American on Jan. 29, 1958.

According to the American, he explained to police that human anatomy and geographical anatomy are related. The ritual included removal of an eye, part of the nose and part of the tongue. Bobby Joe Burns also referred police to verses in Revelations 20: 9-11. He carried his mother's head to the church wrapped in a sheet, then walked over the Garrison Avenue bridge into eastern Oklahoma, sleeping in a cold farm field that Monday night.

Burns confession to police was done while munching candy bars and drinking sodas. During the questioning, his brother delivered two packages of cigarettes to him and left after saying, "Joe, we don't blame you for what happened?"

Edna Burns had secured the release of her son from a state mental institution about a year prior to the murder. Other members of the family had tried to persuade Edna Burns to return Bobby Joe to the hospital.

Following his capture, Circuit Court Judge Paul Wolfe immediately committed Bobby Joe Burns to the state hospital for 30 days of observation.

Despite later asking that he be charged with murder and executed, he would later rescind that request and ask to be released. Burns would remain in the mental hospital for the rest of his life. Although solid confirmation of his death there many decades later hasn't been obtained, it is believed he died in the state hospital sometime in the 1980s.

The luridness and shocking nature of the murder has ensured that it is still talked about today.

Sources for this summary account of the murder of Edna Burns were news reports in the Jan. 28 and Jan. 29 editions of the Southwest American and a letter written by Burns himself..