Starkweather was born in Lincoln, Nebraska, the
third of seven children to Guy and Helen Starkweather. The
Starkweathers were a respectable family with well-behaved children;
although his family was of working class background, the family always
had shelter and other resources. Guy Starkweather was by all accounts
a mild-mannered man; he was a carpenter who was often unemployed due
to rheumatoid arthritis in his hands. During these periods,
Starkweather's mother supplemented the family income by working as a
Starkweather had attended Saratoga Elementary
School, Irving Middle School, and Lincoln High School in Lincoln. In
contrast to his family life, Starkweather possessed no kind
remembrances of his time during schooling. Starkweather was born with
Genu varum, a mild birth defect that caused his legs to be misshapen.
He also suffered from a speech impediment, which led to constant
teasing by classmates. He was considered a slow learner and was
accused of never applying himself, although in his teens it was
discovered that he suffered from severe myopia that had drastically
affected his vision for most of his life.
The sole aspect of school in which Starkweather
excelled was gym. It was gym class wherein he found a physical outlet
for his growing rage against those who bullied him. Starkweather used
his newfound physicality to begin bullying those who had once bullied
him, and soon his rage stretched beyond those who had bullied him to
anyone whom he happened to dislike. Starkweather soon went from being
considered one of the most well-behaved teenagers in the community to
one of the most troubled. His high school friend Bob von Busch would
In 1956, eighteen-year-old Charles Starkweather was
introduced to thirteen-year-old Caril Ann Fugate. Starkweather dropped
out of Lincoln High School in his senior year and became employed at a
Western Union newspaper warehouse. He sought employment there because
the warehouse was located near Whittier Junior High School in Lincoln,
where Caril was a student. His employment allowed him to visit her
every day after school. Starkweather was considered a poor worker, and
his employer later recalled, "Sometimes you'd have to tell him
something two or three times. Of all the employees in the warehouse,
he was the dumbest man we had."
Starkweather taught Fugate how to drive, and one
day she crashed his 1949 Ford into another car. Starkweather's father
paid the damages, as he was the legal owner of the vehicle. This
caused an altercation between Starkweather and his father. Refusing to
condone his son's behavior, he banished his son from the household.
Starkweather quit his job at the warehouse and was
employed as a garbage collector for minimum wage. One of the homes on
his route was the residence of future talk show host Dick Cavett, and
Starkweather had once met Cavett's father. Starkweather began
progressing towards his nihilistic views on life, believing that his
current situation was the final determinant in how he would live the
rest of his life. He used the garbage route to begin plotting bank
robberies and finally conceived his own personal philosophy by which
he lived the remainder of his life: "Dead people are all on the same
On November 30, 1957, Starkweather went to a
service station in Lincoln, where he tried to purchase a stuffed toy
dog for Fugate on credit. Robert Colvert, the station attendant,
refused to accept credit and Starkweather left enraged.
At 3:00 a.m. on December 1, 1957, Starkweather
returned to the station with a 12-gauge shotgun. Initially he left the
weapon in the car, entered the station, and bought cigarettes from
Colvert. Starkweather left, drove down the road, turned around, and
returned to the station, again leaving the weapon in the car. This
time he purchased a pack of chewing gum and then once again left and
drove away. He parked a distance away from the station, sported a red
bandanna underneath a hat, and then walked to the station with the
shotgun and a canvas bag. He held Colvert at gunpoint and stole $100
from the cash register before forcing Colvert to walk back to his car.
Starkweather drove Colvert to a remote area outside
of Lincoln and forced him out of the car, at which point Colvert
struggled with Starkweather and attempted to get hold of the shotgun.
The shotgun fired in the scuffle, shooting Colvert in his kneecaps;
Starkweather then killed the wounded Colvert with a shotgun blast to
Starkweather would later claim that in the
aftermath of the murder, he believed that he had transcended his
former self to reach a new place of existence, in which he was above
and outside the law. He confessed the robbery to Fugate immediately,
claiming someone else had killed Colvert, which Fugate did not believe.
On January 21, 1958, Starkweather visited Fugate at
her home in the Belmont neighborhood of Lincoln. Not finding her at
home, he argued with Fugate's mother and stepfather, Velda and Marion
Bartlett, who told him to stay away from their daughter. Starkweather
then fatally shot the Bartletts with his shotgun, and proceeded to
strangle and fatally stab their two-year-old daughter, Betty Jean.
After Fugate arrived at home, he told her of his
recent actions, and they hid the bodies in various locations behind
the house. The couple remained in the house for six days, turning
people away with a note, written by Fugate, taped to the door that
read: "Stay a Way Every Body is sick with the Flue. - Velda Bartlett.
[sic]" Fugate's grandmother became suspicious and contacted the
Lincoln Police Department. When police arrived on January 27,
Starkweather and Fugate had fled the house.
Starkweather and Fugate drove to the Bennet,
Nebraska farm house of seventy-year-old August Meyer, a Starkweather
family friend, whom Starkweather killed with a shotgun blast to the
head. As they were fleeing the area, Starkweather and Fugate drove
their car into mud and abandoned the vehicle. When Robert Jensen and
Carol King, two local teenagers, stopped to give them a ride,
Starkweather forced them to drive back to an abandoned storm shelter
in Bennet, where both were shot and killed. Starkweather admitted
shooting Jensen and claimed Fugate shot King. They stole Jensen's car
and fled Bennet.
The two drove into a wealthier section of Lincoln,
where they entered the home of industrialist C. Lauer and Clara Ward.
Both Clara Ward and maid Lillian Fencl were fatally stabbed.
Starkweather later admitted throwing a knife at Ward; however, he
accused Fugate of inflicting the multiple stab wounds that were found
on her body. He also accused Fugate of fatally stabbing Fencl, whose
body also had multiple stab wounds. When Lauer returned home that
evening, Starkweather shot him. Starkweather and Fugate filled Lauer's
black 1956 Packard with stolen jewelry from the house and fled
The murders caused an uproar within Lancaster
County, with all law enforcement agencies in the region thrown into a
house-by-house search for the killers. The governor of Nebraska
contacted the Nebraska National Guard, and the Lincoln chief of police
called for a block-by-block search of the city. Frequent sightings of
the two were often reported, with concomitant charges of incompetence
against the Lincoln Police Department for their inability to capture
Needing a new car because of the high profile of
their Packard, they found traveling salesman Merle Collison sleeping
in his Buick along the highway outside Douglas, Wyoming. After waking
Collison, he was shot, with Starkweather accusing Fugate of performing
a coup-de-grace after his shotgun jammed. Starkweather claimed Fugate
was the "most trigger happy person" he had ever met. The salesman's
car had a push-pedal emergency brake, which was something new to
Starkweather. While attempting to drive away, the car stalled. He
tried to restart the engine, and a passing motorist stopped to help.
Starkweather threatened him with the rifle, and an altercation ensued.
A deputy sheriff arrived at the scene at that
moment. Fugate ran to him, yelling something to the effect of: "It's
Starkweather! He's going to kill me!" Starkweather tried to evade the
police, exceeding speeds of 100 miles per hour. A bullet shattered the
windshield, and flying glass cut Starkweather. Starkweather then
stopped abruptly and surrendered. Converse County Sheriff Earl Heflin
said, "He thought he was bleeding to death. That's why he stopped.
That's the kind of yellow son of a bitch he is." Both Starkweather and
Fugate were captured in Douglas.
Starkweather first claimed Fugate was captured by
him and had nothing to do with the murders, however he changed his
story several times, finally testifying at her trial that she was a
willing participant. Fugate has always maintained he was holding her
hostage by threatening to kill her family, claiming she was unaware
they were already dead. Judge Harry A. Spencer did not believe that
Fugate was held hostage by Starkweather, as she had many opportunities
to escape. Starkweather received the death penalty for the murder of
Robert Jensen (the only murder he was tried for), and Fugate received
a life sentence on November 21, 1958. Her sentence was eventually
commuted allowing her to be paroled in June 1976.
Charles Starkweather was executed in the electric
chair at the Nebraska State Penitentiary in Lincoln, Nebraska, at
12:01 a.m. on June 25, 1959. Fugate was paroled in June 1976 after
serving 18 years at the Nebraska Correctional Center for Women in York,
Nebraska. She settled in Lansing, Michigan, where she changed her name
and worked as a janitor at a Lansing hospital. Fugate has never
married and refuses to speak of the murders. Starkweather is buried in
Wyuka Cemetery in Lincoln along with five of his victims: the Bartlett
family and the Ward couple.
nineteen-year-old Charles Starkweather was desperate. Desperate to
marry his jailbait girlfriend. Desperate to make some money for
himself so he wouldn't be broke every day of his life. Desperate to
get out of the Nebraska town where everyone had figured him for a
He and Caril
Fugate embarked on a murder spree that horrified the country. This was
the country that had elected Eisenhower and Nixon for a second term in
1956 and where the FBI's J. Edgar Hoover was firmly entrenched as the
national policeman. This was also a country that was undergoing
unsettling cultural changes. Frightening and offensive symbols of
rebellion emerged and thrived: Elvis Presley, James Dean and the whole
rock 'n roll culture focused on a new generation that challenged the
status quo of the sterile 1950's.
that uncomfortably watched James Dean's Rebel Without A Cause in 1956
suddenly saw a Dean-like figure in Charles Starkweather to make them
really uncomfortable. What was the world coming to? Were the violence
and the alienation of Starkweather just the beginning of some
uncontrollable trend that would destroy the fabric of society?
it would take longer than anyone then expected. The cinematic
embodiments of the Starkweather murder spree took a long time to hit
the market and did not take hold as a genre for over 35 years. By
then, Starkweather and Fugate are merely smudged antecedents,
unrecognizable as a direct characters -- present only in their angst
frightening rebel twosome inspired a whole series of mainstream and
not-so-mainstream movies like the 1974 Badlands of Terrence Malick,
Wild At Heart by David Lynch, Quentin Tarantino and Tony Scott's 1993
True Romance, Dominic Sena's 1993 Kalifornia, and Oliver Stone's 1994
Natural Born Killers.
Starkweather was born into a poor, uneducated, but hardworking family
in Lincoln, Nebraska, on November 24, 1938. He was the third of seven
children that Guy and Helen Starkweather would have.
Depression years in which he and his siblings were born, they never
went without food or shelter. They were poor, but it did not stop
Charlie from having a decent childhood and good memories of the things
his family did together. Their community considered the Starkweather
children well behaved.
in Starkweather describes Guy as a "handsome and talkative" man, who
was better suited for white-collar work than the carpenter's trade
that he had chosen. "He didn't have the necessary physical stamina
and, because of various ailments including a weak back and arthritis,
did not work regularly. Helen, a small woman with frizzy red
hair...was strong and kind, the one who held things together." She
worked as a waitress to augment the limited family income.
Charlie's early childhood memories are very pleasant, his school
experiences were traumatic for him. The comfort he felt in his family
surroundings vanished in the classroom. The children laughed at his
minor speech impediment and teased him about his bowed legs.
Charlie was of average intelligence, he never applied himself and was
considered a slow learner. One sure contributor to his problems, which
went undetected until he was fifteen, was his severe myopia. He
couldn't even read the largest letter on the eye chart.
One of the
only subjects in which he excelled was gym. He was well coordinated
and strong. His gymnastic abilities were the only legitimate source of
self-esteem that he had. The flip side of the coin was that he used
those same physical abilities to fight on a continuous basis with the
other boys in the school.
"He blamed all
of his fights on being made fun of as a child. Sometimes his battles
were brief outbursts of violence, but other times they were frenzied
and prolonged, not ending until they were broken up or his opponent
lay senseless. He earned a reputation for being one of the meanest,
toughest kids in Lincoln..." (Allen)
In the ninth
grade, he met Bob Von Busch, who after Charlie fought with him, became
one of his closest friends. Bob said of him, "He could be the kindest
person you've ever seen. He'd do anything for you if he liked you. He
was a hell of a lot of fun to be around, too. Everything was just one
big joke to him. But he had this other side. He could be mean as hell,
cruel. If he saw some poor guy on the street who was bigger than he
was, better looking, or better dressed, he'd try to take the poor
bastard down to his size."
Both of the
boys were James Dean fanatics. They saw all of his movies. There was
no question that Charlie tried to imitate Dean's mannerisms, clothes
and hairstyle-- tight jeans and cowboy boots. But Charlie was no James
Dean in looks, brains or talent. He was a very flawed imitation.
genuine in Charlie, however, was the isolation and rebellion that Dean
perfected in his talented characterizations. Jack Sargeant in Born Bad
sees Starkweather in his autobiography (which Starkweather aptly
titled Rebellion) "revealed as acutely sensitive, not just to the
taunts of his fellow students but also to his family's low social
position and poverty. For Starkweather, poverty was a trap, he could
map its confines, and trace its borders, but Charles could see no
escape for himself;...He believed that his very life was rigidly
controlled: he saw that he would not be able to flee the bludgeoning
poverty which had characterized his working class childhood but
instead would be condemned to repeat it, eventually finding himself a
manual job, a wife, having children and then simply dying."
close buddy Bob Von Busch began to date Barbara Fugate in 1956.
Charlie eventually became interested in Barbara's younger sister Caril
who had just turned thirteen. The four of them double dated on a
steady basis despite Caril's youth.
Caril was a
pretty girl with dark brown hair and a ready smile. She, too, had a
wide streak of rebellion in her and a mercurial temper. She was not
much of a scholar and had failed a grade in elementary school. Even
though her teachers considered her a slow learner, Charlie thought she
was a wizard.
He treated her
like a goddess. And, probably because she was so young, she thought he
was really cool and had no appreciation for his serious weaknesses.
William Allen states, "She was impressed by his cars, his toughness,
his looks, and -- despite his poverty --the way he could give her
almost anything she wanted...Charlie said that Caril meant more to him
than anything had before. Without her he would be thrust back into the
world he hated so much. Caril almost even made him stop hating
himself. He saw himself as reflected in her eyes and he looked good."
school at the age of sixteen and went to work loading and unloading
trucks at the Western Newspaper Union warehouse. His boss didn't think
much of Charlie: "Sometimes you'd have to tell him something two or
three times. Of all the employees in the warehouse, he was the dumbest
man we had."
was near the school Caril attended so he could see her every day. He
taught her how to drive even though she was too young to drive
legally. One day, Caril took Charlie's hotrod and got into a minor
accident. Charlie's father was part owner of the car and had to pay
for the damages to the other vehicle, an event that caused a huge
argument between the two men. The argument became physical and Charlie
was told to find somewhere else to live.
into the rooming house where his friend Bob and Barbara Fugate -- then
Bob's wife -- lived. Now that the relationship with his parents was
very strained, Caril became the center of Charlie's life. He began
telling people that he and Caril were getting married. Then he started
telling his friends that Caril was pregnant with his child -- a lie
that backfired when Caril's parents heard it.
his job at the paper company and started to work as a garbageman. It
was hardly a career enhancement, but he did it so that he could be off
work when she was through with school. The pay was only $42 a week --
not enough to support himself, let alone Caril too. His landlady was
unsympathetic and locked him out until he came up with the rent he
to see himself as trapped in a life of poverty. With his limited
intellect, the only way out that he could envision was to do something
really dramatic -- like rob a bank. "Every day on his route,
collecting the garbage from across town, where the middle and upper
classes of Lincoln, Nebraska, lived, he saw what he was being excluded
from...While heaving heavy, stinking sacks of trash for a minimum wage
Starkweather came to the realization that, for him, there was one
great leveler of class, one way in which he would find himself equal
with the rest of society which had oppressed, dominated and alienated
him, a method by which he would find retribution: "dead people are all
on the same level." (Sargeant)
Charlie had convinced himself that he was going to have to lead a life
of crime to get the money and respect he craved. Just the day before
he had wanted to buy a stuffed toy dog for Caril at the gas station
and realized that he didn't even have enough money for that. Even
worse, the gas station attendant refused to let him buy the toy on
credit. He would get back at these people who turned their noses down
at him. He really would.
It was well
below zero and the raw Nebraska winds were whipping around mercilessly
on that first day of December 1957. It was almost 3 a.m. Time to begin
what he needed to do.
He took with
him the 12-gauge shotgun he had lifted from Bob Von Busch's cousin and
the shells that he had just bought for it and drove to the gas station
that had refused him credit.
Colvert, the twenty-one-year-old who had humiliated Charlie the day
before, was on duty at the station by himself. He was a short, slender
man with a young wife and a baby on the way.
working on a carburetor when Charlie came into the filling station. He
sold him a pack of Camels and Charlie drove off. A few minutes later,
Charlie turned the car around and went back to the station. Colvert
was still behind counter. This time, Charlie bought a pack of gum, got
into his car and drove off again.
close by and put on his disguise: a bandana tied over much of his face
and a hunter's hat to cover his red hair. Then Charlie walked back
into the station with the loaded shotgun and a canvas bag for the
By this time,
Colvert was back working on the car and didn't even know anyone was
there until he felt the shotgun jabbed into his back. Charlie marched
Colvert back to the office and made him open the cash drawer.
scooped up the money and put it in the canvas bag. "Open up the safe,"
he ordered, but Colvert didn't have the combination. Only the boss
knew the combination. Charlie accepted that explanation and decided
that he'd just have to make do with the $100 or so that was in the
decided that Colvert was going for a ride. He made the terrified
station attendant drive them out towards Bloody Mary's house. Bloody
Mary was a crazy old woman who fired a shotgun full of rock salt at
anybody who trespassed on her property.
made Colvert get out of the car. Later, Charlie said that Colvert
struggled with him for the gun and was shot in the scuffle. However,
as Colvert tried to get up on his hands and knees, Charlie shot him
again -- right in the skull.
made the murder and robbery into a major news event since there was so
little serious crime in that area then. Starkweather took the
precaution of painting his car a different color, but then he did some
dumb things that called attention to him as a suspect. It was widely
reported that most of the loot from the gas station holdup was in
coin, but Charlie used change to buy some clothing for himself. The
authorities believed that the holdup and murder was committed by a
transient so the pressure was off Charlie for the time being.
gave Starkweather a feeling of euphoria and peace. "He had money. He
had a girl. He had killed and not been bothered by it. It gave him an
enormous feeling of power. He now operated outside the laws of man. He
felt as if he were invisible, could do just as he pleased, take what
he wanted. The law was helpless against him." (Allen)
The day after
he robbed the gas station and murdered Robert Colvert, Charlie
admitted to Caril that he held up the gas station but that someone
else had shot Colvert. "She was not fooled," he told people later. The
killing created a bond between them that seal their fate. He seemed to
understand that this time together was all that they would have in
life before the end. He could grab anything he wanted to give Caril
and the two of them could enjoy that life for at least a little while
before their time ran out. It didn't matter that their time was
probably very short, what mattered is that they had this time together
euphoria wore off, Charlie was left with some grim realities: he had
been fired from his job as a garbageman; his landlady had locked him
out in the freezing cold because he was past due on his rent; both his
family and Caril's family were completely against their relationship
and did everything they could to break it up. Caril had put on a
little weight and her family was sure that she was pregnant. He was
afternoon, January 21, 1958, Starkweather drove over to the squalid
dump that Caril and her family called home. The house and the yard
were strewn with litter and unused construction materials. Charlie
took the .22 rifle he had borrowed and some ammunition to the back
door and knocked. Caril's mother Velda Bartlett came to the door.
happened afterwards is impossible to confirm. This account is based
upon Starkweather's recollections after the fact. He claimed that he
was carrying the rifle and ammunition in hopes that he could go
hunting with Caril's stepfather, Marion Bartlett, with the goal of
repairing their relationship. He also brought along with him two
discarded carpet samples he found for Velda.
Charlie, Velda and Marion were both in the house. Their two-and-a
half-year-old child, Betty Jean, was crying. Velda told Charlie they
did not want him seeing Caril any more.
argument followed and Velda allegedly hit Charlie a couple of times.
He claimed that he left the house without the rifle and drove around
for awhile before he came back to get the gun. When he came back
again, Marion literally kicked him out the door.
went to a pay phone, called Marion Bartlett's place of employment and
told them that he was ill and would not be at work for a couple of
days. Then he went back to Caril's house and waited for her to come
home from school. When Charlie told Caril what had happened with her
parents, she went into the house and argued with her mother.
Starkweather followed her in the house.
He said that
Velda began hitting him again, shrieking that he had made Caril
pregnant. He hit Velda back and they struggled for a few minutes
before Charlie got his gun. At that moment, Marion Bartlett came in
the room, allegedly with a claw hammer in his hand, and Starkweather
shot him in the head. Then, Charlie claimed that Velda came at him
with a huge knife. Starkweather shot her in the face. As if that was
not enough, he rammed the butt of the rifle into her head a couple of
times when she tried to get up to reach her baby. Then Charlie hit the
baby with the rifle butt.
said that "I picked up that knife that the old lady had...started to
walk in the bedroom...and the little girl kept yelling, and I told her
to shut up, and I started to walk again, and just turned around and
threw the kitchen knife I had at her...they said it hit her in the
throat, but I thought it hit her in the chest...I went on into the
bedroom. Mr. Bartlett was moving around, so I tried to stab him in the
throat, but the knife wouldn't go in, and I just hit the top part of
it with my hand , and it went in."
reaction to and role in this slaughter was never satisfactorily
determined. Since the only two living witnesses were Charlie and
Caril, the real truth may never be known. Caril claimed that she had
broken up with Charlie before these tragic events and was terrorized
while he attacked her family.
after the murder of her family defies belief.
was dragged to the old outhouse and shoved down the toilet opening.
Caril's baby half-sister was put in a box that had been used for
garbage and taken out to the outhouse as well. Marion Bartlett was
dumped on the floor of the chicken coop.
Once that was
done, Caril and Charlie cleaned up the blood and mess inside and spent
the rest of the evening drinking Pepsi and eating potato chips. They
stayed there in the house, just a few yards away from the rotting
corpses of Caril's family, for almost a week, buying milk and bread on
credit from the milkman every day. Charlie would go down to the
grocery store to buy a few other essentials.
In the days
after the murders, a number of visitors came by the house. Caril
turned most of them away with a sign on the front door saying, "Stay a
way Every Body is sick with the Flue."
Marion Bartlett's boss came to the door to see just how sick he was,
but Caril came out and told him that her father was still very sick
and bed ridden. Then Caril's sister Barbara Von Busch and her husband
came to visit, but Caril discouraged them both with the story about
They were both
suspicious and later Bob Von Busch came back with his brother to
investigate. This time, the story had changed. In tears, Caril told
them they had to leave. "Please don't try to get in. Mom's life will
be in your hands if you do!" The Von Busch brothers went to the
police showed up and were told by Caril that the family had the flu.
When the police asked why her brother-in-law would call the police,
Caril told them that Bob Von Busch did get along well with her family.
Since Caril seemed sincere and credible and not in any danger, they
left. Later the Von Busches were told that there was no reason for
Barbara sent over one of Caril's close friends who heard a third
story. Caril told her friend in a low whisper, "Some guy is back there
with Chuck. He has a Tommy gun. I think they're going to rob a bank."
The friend didn't tell the Von Busches, but did tell her father who
called the police the next day.
grandmother came over to her daughter's house. Caril seemed to know
that her grandmother wasn't going to fall for the flu story so she
embroidered on one of the other stories she had made up. "Go home,
Grandma. Oh, Granny, go away! Mommy's life is in danger if you don't."
angry that Caril wouldn't let her in. "If you don't open this door
this second, I'm going to go to town and get a search warrant. You've
got Chuck in there with you, and don't try to tell me you don't!"
to let her in and Pansy went to the police. Finally the police at
Pansy's insistence went made a cursory look inside the house, even
though they didn't have a warrant. The house was empty. The police
were satisfied that there seemed to be no sign of disorder or violence
inside the house.
day, Bob Von Busch demanded that the police make a thorough search of
the property, but they refused. Meanwhile, Guy Starkweather had been
trying to get the police to pick up his son for questioning, but he
too was refused.
Bob Von Busch
and his brother went out to the Bartlett house and searched the
property on their own. One look inside the outhouse and the chicken
coop confirmed their worst fears. This time the police paid him some
bulletin went out to pick up Charlie Starkweather and Caril Fugate.
What the police did not appreciate was that this was just the second
act of this escalating drama.
Starkweather and Carol realized that they had better skip town, they
also understood that Charlie's car was not going to take them very
far. For one thing, the tires were shot. Charlie tried to repair the
worst one before they left, but the repair didn't hold and soon they
were looking for a garage.
One place they
could find temporary refuge was Charlie's seventy-two-year-old family
friend, August Meyer. By all accounts, August Meyer was a kindly old
bachelor who had known Charlie since he was a boy. Meyer had a farm
some twenty miles outside Lincoln where Charlie used to hunt. On
January 27, they pulled onto the dirt track that led to Meyer's farm
and immediately got mired in the mud.
It is hard to
say why exactly - since Caril and Charlie's stories were very
contradictory and unsatisfactory - but Charlie shot August Meyer in
the head. As in the other murders, Charlie unconvincingly claimed that
the killing occurred in self-defense. According to Charlie, Meyer
tried to shoot him and the gun jammed, so Charlie shot back. Then
Charlie wounded Meyer's dog as it ran away across the snowy meadow.
carried the body of his old friend into an out-building and hid it
with a blanket. Then he and Caril went into Meyer's home, stole his
money and guns, ate his food and fell asleep.
The next day,
a neighbor helped them free their car from the mud and they drove up
to Meyer's farm by a different road. When Charlie checked on the body
of his friend, he was spooked by the fact that the blanket was
suddenly gone. Fearing discovery, Charlie and Caril took their car
down the path in which they first got stuck in the mud. Not
surprisingly, the intellectually challenged couple got stuck once
again. Taking only their weapons, they left the old Ford where it was.
shotguns, the two of them hitched a ride from seventeen-year-old
Robert Jensen and sixteen-year-old Carol King. Within moments, the
shotgun was at Jensen's neck and Charlie was demanding their money. He
forced Jensen to drive back towards Meyer's farm to an abandoned storm
There, he put
six bullets into Jensen's head. Jensen's girlfriend Carol King was
shot once in the head. Her body was left half-naked with her jeans and
panties down around her ankles. She had been stabbed repeatedly in the
abdomen and pubic area, but there was no evidence of semen in or
around her vagina.
While all of
this was happening, Caril allegedly was sitting in the car. Charlie
attributed the mutilation of King's body to Caril who supposedly was
angry with the dead girl for being attractive sexually to
Starkweather. At another time, Charlie claimed that Caril also shot
and killed the King girl when he was away from the scene for a few
The bodies of
the two teenagers were left in the storm cellar while Charlie and
Caril took off with Jensen's car. Even though they talked about
escaping to Washington State to find refuge with Charlie's brother,
they actually did something incredibly dumb. They drove back to
Lincoln, where everybody knew them and everybody was looking for them.
As if that
were not stupid enough, they drove past the Bartlett home to see if
the bodies of Caril's parents had been discovered. They got their
answer when they saw all of the police cars parked around the
property. Eventually, they drove to the most affluent section of town
and fell asleep in their stolen car.
day, January 28, 1958, Starkweather's car had been spotted in the mud
at the Meyer farm. Shortly afterwards, the bodies of Meyer and the two
teenagers were found.
manhunt was underway -- but there was more killing yet to come.
poverty, Charlie was very familiar with the best part of town from his
garbage collecting days. He chose the large home of C. Lauer Ward, a
forty-seven-year-old close friend of the governor and president of the
Capital Bridge and Capital Steel companies.
Clara Ward, the industrialist's socially-prominent wife, and Lillian
Fencl, their hard-of hearing fifty-one-year-old maid, were home, as
were their Chesapeake Bay retriever, Queenie, and their small poodle,
Fencl answered the door, Charlie pointed his gun at her. Caril stayed
in the car. He ordered Lillian to lock up Queenie in the basement.
Recognizing that the maid had a hearing problem, he wrote her notes to
make himself understood. He told her to keep making breakfast for Mrs.
Ward came into the kitchen, Charlie assured her that nothing bad would
happen. Clara was calm and agreed to cooperate. Charlie had Caril come
into the house where Mrs. Ward had fixed some coffee for her. Then
Caril went into the library and fell asleep.
ordered Clara Ward to fix him some pancakes and serve them to him in
the library. When she did so, he changed his mind and had her fix him
waffles instead. Still, Mrs. Ward kept her cool and was gracious to
Charlie all the while.
He exulted in
his accomplishment -- one of the wealthiest residents of Lincoln was
waiting on him, the former garbageman.
Around 1 p.m.,
Clara Ward asked permission to go upstairs and change her shoes. After
a few minutes, Charlie went upstairs to see what was keeping her. He
claimed that she had armed herself with a .22, shot at him and missed.
Charlie threw a knife at her and struck her in the back. He stabbed
her repeatedly in the neck and chest.
As he dragged
Clara's body into the bedroom, Suzy started barking at him, so he
broke her neck with the butt end of the gun.
Clara Ward, Starkweather called his father and told his father to tell
Bob Von Busch that he was going to kill him for interfering with
Charlie's relationship with Caril.
Then he sat
down to write a letter that was addressed to "the law only." It was a
twisted illiterate tirade, confession and attempt at
self-justification. "I and Caril are sorry for what has happen, cause
I have hurt every body cause of it and so has caril. But I'n saying
one thing every body than cane out there was luckie there not dead
even caril's sister."
Later, the two
of them loaded the Ward's black 1956 Packard with food and prepared to
escape in style. They ransacked the house, taking anything that looked
p.m., the Lincoln Journal arrived and Charlie was thrilled. "Hey,
Caril get a load of this! We're stars! Made the front page of the
Journal." He had reached his zenith. He was somebody to be reckoned
A half and
hour later, C. Lauer Ward came home from work to face the barrel of
Starkweather's gun. After a long scuffle, Charlie finally got the
upper hand and shot the industrialist dead.
Then he turned
on Lillian Fencl. Caril and Charlie tied her to a bed and stabbed her
to death. Charlie claimed that Caril killed the maid, while Caril
claimed that Charlie did it. Refreshingly, Charlie didn't try to
justify the killing this time by claiming the maid attacked him.
The next day,
Ward's cousin and business associate missed him at work and called the
house throughout the morning. Then around noon time, he went over to
the house and let himself in. He found the bodies of Ward and his wife
and the maid. Downstairs, Queenie barked furiously and upstairs Suzy
cowered under the bed with a broken neck.
Anderson was notified immediately of the savage attack on his friend.
Shortly afterwards, he called out the National Guard, "and they were
soon cruising the streets with jeeps armed with mounted machine guns.
Parents with guns drawn rushed to the schools and took their children
home. The city was completely sealed off. A block by block search
began. The FBI started an investigation. A thousand-dollar reward was
offered by the mayor. Aircraft were sent up to help look for the
Wards' black Packard." (Allen)
And where did
these clever outlaws run? Why, back to Caril's parents' house, of
course! Yes, they really did. But wisely, they didn't go inside
because there was a car in the driveway and the house was lighted up.
Somehow, they finally got the message that they could not go back and
live at the Bartlett house anymore and headed west towards Washington
They drove all
night and crossed over into Wyoming the next morning, the 29th of
January 1958. Twice they were reported to the police as acting
suspicious, but nothing came of either report. Along the way they
looked for a car to steal and finally came across Merle Collison, a
travelling Montana shoe salesman, who was sleeping in his Buick,
parked along the highway.
up the salesman to announce that they were going to trade cars, but
the shoe salesman apparently didn't agree quickly enough because
Charlie shot him a number of times in the head, neck, arm and leg.
Since it was a tough stretch of the imagination to expect anyone to
believe that Charlie shot Merle Collison in self-defense, Charlie said
that Caril did it.
dead in the front passenger seat and Caril in the back, Starkweather
started the car, but could not figure out how to release the emergency
brake. A few minutes later, a young geologist stopped to help the
couple, figuring that they had car trouble.
hands," Charlie told the man, pointing the gun at him. "Help me
release the emergency brake or I'll kill you."
geologist saw the dead man slumped in the passenger seat, he realized
that he would have to get the gun away from Starkweather if he wanted
to stay alive. While they were struggling, William Romer, a Wyoming
deputy sheriff came by and stopped.
Caril jumped out of the back seat and ran up to Romer. "Take me to the
police!" she cried.
"Well, I'm a
deputy sheriff," he assured her.
"He's killed a
man," she blurted out, crying and pointing to the car.
By this time,
Charlie had run to the Packard and was driving back towards the town
of Douglas. Romer ordered a roadblock and began his pursuit. Douglas
Police Chief Robert Ainslie, who happened to be in his car with
Sheriff Earl Heflin of Converse County, Wyoming, received Romer's
Packard raced by them on the road to Douglas, the two men chased it at
speeds exceeding 100 miles per hour. Heflin shot out the back window
of the Packard with his carbine. Suddenly, Starkweather came to an
abrupt halt right in the middle of the highway.
seasoned lawmen pulled up behind the Packard cautiously and waited
until Starkweather got out. They told Charlie to put his hands up, but
he didn't, so Ainslee shot the ground near Charlie's feet. This time
Ainslie told him to lie down on the ground, but instead Charlie
reached in back of his pants. Thinking that Charlie was reaching for a
weapon in his back pocket, Ainslie shot at him again. By this time,
Charlie decided to stop tucking in his shirttail and lay down like he
was told to.
Why did he
suddenly stop? Because he thought he had been shot. In actuality, the
bleeding around his ear was a cut from the broken window glass. Heflin
was disgusted. "He thought he was bleeding to death. That's why he
stopped. That's the kind of yellow sonofabitch he is."
Yellow or not,
he photographed well in a Hollywood-kind of way. "Bloodied, in chains,
shaggy-haired, a cigarette dangling from his lips, wearing his black
leather motorcycle jacket, tight black denim pants, blue and white
cowboy boots with a butterfly design on the toes -- he was a
perfect-looking young rebel-killer." (Allen) The first American
teenage spree killer caught on camera.
perspective, his options were not terribly attractive. He believed
that he could go to the gas chamber in Wyoming for the murder of Merle
Collison or he could go to the electric chair in Nebraska for his many
killings there. He chose Nebraska and he and Caril were extradited at
the end of January 1958. What he didn't know and nobody thought to
tell him was that had he stayed in Wyoming, he probably would have
received a life sentence. The Wyoming governor was a death penalty
meanwhile, maintained that she was a hostage throughout the entire
ordeal and that she kept going with Charlie because she feared that he
would kill her family if she didn't. The only problem with that story
was that she admitted being present for all of the Nebraska murders
that included her parents and half-sister. So much for going with
Charlie to save her family.
Caril were both charged with first degree murder and murder while
committing a robbery. Since both were being tried as adults, both
faced the prospect of the electric chair. The prosecution chose the
murder of Robert Jensen on which to try them since it had the most
potential to shock and outrage the jury. Elmer Scheele was the
trial began on May 5, 1958. He did nothing to improve his prospects.
He maintained that he was completely sane while his lawyers were
trying desperately to cobble together the makings of an insanity
defense. Nevertheless, his defense lawyers entered a plea of "innocent
by reason of insanity." To Charlie and his family, the stigma of being
insane was worse that the stigma of being a cold-blooded murderer.
Gaughan and William F. Matschullat were appointed by the court to
perform the difficult task of defending Charlie. Somehow they had to
try to show that Starkweather was completely insane. Whereas, the
prosecutor had an easy comparatively easy task: to demonstrate that
Charlie was sane when he robbed and killed Jensen.
Charlie told the authorities that Caril had nothing to do with the
crimes. His first words to them on the subject when he was being taken
to the jail in Douglas, Wyoming were, "Don't' be rough on the girl.
She didn't have a thing to do with it."
As time went
on and Charlie realized that Caril was trying to position herself as
an unwilling hostage instead of his girlfriend, he began to implicate
her in the crimes. He suggested that she was responsible for several
of the murders and all of the mutilations.
have escaped at any time she wanted," Starkweather said. "I left her
alone lots of times. Sometimes when I would go in and get hamburgers
she would be sitting in the car with all of the guns. There would have
been nothing to stop her from running away."
One of the
defense attorneys with a gift for acting, Clement Gaughan, made a very
emotional plea. "This boy is a product of our society. Our society
that spawned this individual is looking for a scapegoat. Caril Fugate
should get the same punishment as this lad, and I can tell you right
now that she is never going to get the death penalty. His life, my
life are almost parallels until our nineteenth birthday. I stand here
and weep unashamedly. I hated everybody and everything and I could
lick anybody. Society treated me exactly as it treated Charles
Starkweather, but the good Lord gave me, possibly, a little better
"I will take
you to the death house so you can see him with his trousers cut to the
knees, with his arms bare, his head shaved, with electrodes attached.
And when the switch is pulled, you will see the electricity snap and
the smoke come from his head, his hair stand on end as the electricity
goes through his body. You will see him jerk in the straps and see him
fall forward. This is your responsibility, not mine. Ladies and
gentleman, I ask you for the life of Charles Starkweather."
Gaughan was not Clarence Darrow; Charlie was neither Nathan Leopold
nor Dickie Loeb; and there was a jury of twelve people, not just a
judge to make that decision.
The jury made
its decision within twenty-four hours: guilty on both counts of first
degree murder. The men and women of the jury specifically asked for
the death penalty. Their request was
granted June 25th, 1959.
trial, the defense was built upon her being a hostage, forced by
Starkweather to go with him on his murder spree. It was not a very
credible defense and, she, like Charlie, was found guilty of murder on
November 28, 1958.
was a fourteen-year-old girl, she received a life sentence instead of
the electric chair. She was sent to the Nebraska Center for Women
where she served her sentence until her parole in June of 1976.
There are at
least two fairly recent books available on Starkweather and Fugate.
Others are out-of-print. Of the more recent books, The Crime Library
particularly recommends Born Bad: Charles Starkweather - Natural Born
Killer by Jack Sargeant. Of the earlier vintage, William Allen's
Starkweather: The Story of a Mass Murderer is a good summary of the
William, Starkweather: The Story of a Mass Murderer. Houghton
Mifflin Company, 1976.
Ninette, and B.K. Ripley and Patrick Trese, Caril. J. B. Lippincott
Jeff, Starkweather; A Story of Mass Murder on the Great Plains. This
is a work of fiction based on the case.
Jack, Born Bad: Charles Starkweather - Natural Born Killer. This book
consists of two separate essays. The first essay, From Nebraska to
the Heart of Darkness, is a summary of the case. The second essay,
Gun Crazy, analyzes the cultural impact of the Starkweather and Fugate
case, particularly its impact on cult movies such as Badlands, Natural
Born Killers, Kalifornia and Wild at Heart.
accounts of the crimes, trials and punishment of Starkweather and
Fugate can be found in the Lincoln Journal.