Charles Raymond Starkweather
November 24, 1938
|Died||June 25, 1959 (aged 20)|
|Cause of death||Execution by electrocution|
|Conviction(s)||First degree murder|
|Partner(s)||Caril Ann Fugate (1956–1959; his death)|
Time at large
Span of crimes
|December 1, 1957 – January 29, 1958|
|Location(s)||Lincoln and Bennet, Nebraska|
|Weapons||Winchester Model 1906 |
.410 Stevens Model 59A
|January 29, 1958|
|Imprisoned at||Nebraska State Penitentiary|
Charles Raymond Starkweather (November 24, 1938 – June 25, 1959) was an American spree killer who murdered eleven people in Nebraska and Wyoming between December 1957 and January 1958, when he was 19 years old. He killed ten of his victims between January 21 and January 29, 1958, the date of his arrest. During his spree in 1958, Starkweather was accompanied by his 14-year-old girlfriend, Caril Ann Fugate.
Both Starkweather and Fugate were convicted on charges for their parts in the homicides; Starkweather was sentenced to death and executed seventeen months after the events. Fugate served seventeen years in prison, gaining release in 1976. Starkweather's execution by electric chair in 1959 was the last execution in Nebraska until 1994, when Harold Lamont Otey was executed for murder.
The Starkweather case has been analyzed by criminologists and psychologists in an attempt to understand spree killers' motivations and precipitating factors. It also became notorious as one of the earlier crime scandals that reached national prominence, much like the kidnapping of Charles Lindbergh's son with the media outlets covering the case at the time openly condemning Starkweather.
Starkweather was born in Lincoln, Nebraska, the third of seven children of Guy and Helen Starkweather. The Starkweathers were a working-class family; Starkweather's father was a carpenter who was often unemployed due to rheumatoid arthritis in his hands; Helen worked as a waitress to supplement the family's income.
Starkweather attended Saratoga Elementary School, Irving Junior High School, and Lincoln High School. In contrast to his family life, Starkweather later recalled nothing positive of his time at school. He was born with genu varum, a mild birth defect that caused his legs to be misshapen, and was teased by classmates because he had a speech impediment.
As he grew older and stronger, the only subject in which Starkweather excelled was gym, where he found an outlet for his rage against those who bullied him. Starkweather then began to bully those who had once picked on him. Eventually he felt rage against anyone he disliked. In this period as a young teenager, Starkweather went from being one of the most well-behaved teenagers in the community to one of the most troubled. His high school friend Bob von Busch would later recall:
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.
By the time Starkweather dropped out of school, his parents and family were reportedly afraid of him due to his violent outbursts.
Relationship with Caril Ann Fugate
In 1956, at 18, Starkweather was introduced to 13-year-old Caril Ann Fugate. Starkweather dropped out of high school in his senior year and took a job at a newspaper warehouse because it was near Fugate's school; he began to visit her every day after school.
Starkweather taught Fugate how to drive, and one day she crashed the car belonging to Starkweather's father, who banished Starkweather from the family home. Starkweather quit his warehouse job and became a garbage collector.
Starkweather began developing a nihilistic worldview, believing that his current situation was the final determinant of how he would live the rest of his life, while striving only to satisfy his biological needs and acquire power over others.[further explanation needed] He began plotting bank robberies, and settled on a personal philosophy: "Dead people are all on the same level".
Late on November 30, 1957, Starkweather became angry at Robert Colvert, a service station attendant in Lincoln, for refusing to sell him a stuffed animal on credit. He returned several times during the night to purchase small items, until finally, brandishing a shotgun, he forced Colvert to give him $100 from the till. He drove Colvert to a remote area, where they struggled over the gun, injuring Colvert before Starkweather killed him with several shots.
1958 murder spree
On January 21, 1958, Starkweather went to Fugate's home. Fugate's mother and stepfather, Velda and Marion Bartlett, told him to stay away. He fatally shot them, then clubbed to death their two-year-old daughter Betty Jean. He hid the bodies behind the house.
Starkweather later said that Caril was there the entire time, but she said that when she arrived home, Starkweather met her with a gun and said that her family was being held hostage. She said Starkweather told her that if she cooperated with him, her family would be safe; otherwise, they would be killed. The pair remained in the house until shortly before the police, alerted by Fugate's suspicious grandmother, arrived on January 27.
Starkweather and Fugate drove to the farmhouse of seventy-year-old August Meyer, one of her family's friends who lived in Bennet, Nebraska. Starkweather killed him with a shotgun blast to the head. He also killed Meyer's dog.
Fleeing the area, the pair 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 cellar in Bennet. He shot Jensen in the back of the head. He attempted to rape King, but was unable to do so. He became angry with her and fatally shot her as well. Starkweather later admitted shooting Jensen, but claimed that Fugate shot King. Fugate said she had stayed in the car the entire time. The two fled Bennet in Jensen's car.
Starkweather and Fugate drove to a wealthy section of Lincoln, where they entered the home of industrialist C. Lauer Ward and his wife Clara. Starkweather stabbed their maid Lillian Fencl to death, then waited for Lauer and Clara to return home. Starkweather killed the family dog by breaking its neck, to keep it from alerting the Wards. Clara arrived first alone, and was also stabbed to death. Starkweather later admitted to having thrown a knife at Clara, but insisted that Fugate had stabbed her numerous times, killing her. When Lauer Ward returned home that evening, Starkweather shot and killed him. Starkweather and Fugate filled Ward's black 1956 Packard with stolen jewelry from the house and fled Nebraska.
The murders of the Wards and Fencl caused an uproar within Lancaster County. Law enforcement agencies in the region sent their officers on a house-to-house search for the perpetrators. Governor Victor Emanuel Anderson contacted the Nebraska National Guard, and the Lincoln chief of police called for a block-by-block search of that city. After several sightings of Starkweather and Fugate were reported, the Lincoln Police Department was accused of incompetence for being unable to capture the pair.
Needing a new car because of Ward's Packard having been identified, the couple came upon traveling salesman Merle Collison sleeping in his Buick along the highway outside Douglas, Wyoming. After Collison was awakened, he was fatally shot. Starkweather later accused Fugate of performing a coup-de-grace after his shotgun jammed. Starkweather claimed Fugate was the "most trigger happy person" he had ever met. Fugate denied ever having killed anyone.
The salesman's car had a parking brake, which was something new to Starkweather. While he attempted to drive away, the car stalled because the brake had not been released. He tried to restart the engine, and a passing motorist, geologist Joe Sprinkle, stopped to help. Starkweather threatened him with the rifle, and an altercation ensued. At that moment, Natrona County Sheriff's Deputy William Romer arrived on the scene. Fugate ran to him, yelling something to the effect of: "It's Starkweather! He's going to kill me!"
Starkweather drove off and was involved in a car chase with three officers (Natrona County Sheriff's Deputy William Romer, Douglas Police Chief Robert Ainslie, and Converse County Sheriff Earl Heflin), exceeding speeds of 100 miles per hour (160 km/h). A bullet fired by Sheriff Earl Heflin shattered the windshield and flying glass cut Starkweather deep enough to cause bleeding. He stopped, surrendered, and was captured near Douglas, Nebraska on January 29, 1958. 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."
Trial and execution
Starkweather chose to be extradited from Wyoming to Nebraska. He and Fugate arrived there in late January 1958. He believed that either state would have executed him. He was not aware, however, that Milward Simpson, Wyoming's governor at the time, opposed the death penalty. Starkweather first said that he had kidnapped Fugate and that she had nothing to do with the murders. However, he changed his story several times. He testified against her at her trial, saying that she was a willing participant.
Fugate has always maintained that Starkweather 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 Fugate was held hostage by Starkweather, as he determined she had had numerous opportunities to escape. When Starkweather was first taken to the Nebraska penitentiary after his trial, he said that he believed that he was supposed to die. He said if he was to be executed, then Fugate should be also.
Starkweather was convicted for the murder of Jensen, the only murder for which he was tried. On May 23, 1958, he was sentenced to death, and Starkweather was executed in the electric chair at the Nebraska State Penitentiary in Lincoln, Nebraska, at 12:04 a.m. on June 25, 1959. Starkweather gave no last words but in a letter from prison to his parents, wrote "But dad I'm not real sorry for what I did cause for the first time me and Caril have (sic) more fun."; he was reportedly indifferent about his impending death and had resigned to his fate.
Fugate was convicted as an accomplice and received a life sentence on November 21, 1958. She was paroled in June 1976 after serving 171⁄2 years at the Nebraska Correctional Center for Women in York, Nebraska. She settled in Hillsdale, Michigan.
- Robert Colvert (21), gas station attendant
- Marion Bartlett (58), Fugate's stepfather
- Velda Bartlett (36), Fugate's mother
- Betty Jean Bartlett (2), Velda and Marion Bartlett's daughter; Fugate's half sister
- August Meyer (70), Fugate's family's friend
- Robert Jensen (17), boyfriend to Carol King
- Carol King (16), girlfriend to Robert Jensen
- Lillian Fencl (51), Clara Ward's maid
- Clara Ward (46), C. Lauer Ward's wife
- C. Lauer Ward (47), wealthy industrialist
- Merle Collison (34), traveling salesman
Starkweather also killed two family dogs of people that he murdered.
In popular culture
Representation in film and television
- The Starkweather–Fugate case inspired the films The Sadist (1963), Badlands (1973), Kalifornia (1993), Natural Born Killers (1994), and Starkweather (2004).
- "A Case Study of Two Savages," a 1962 episode of the TV series Naked City, was also inspired by the Starkweather killings.
- The 1968 first season Robert Stack-segment episode; 'The Bobby Currier Story', of The Name of the Game, was also based on these events.
- The made-for-TV movie Murder in the Heartland (1993) is a biographical depiction of Starkweather, with Tim Roth in the starring role.
- Stark Raving Mad (1983), a feature film starring Russell Fast and Marcie Severson, is a fictionalized account of the Starkweather–Fugate murder spree.
- The Peter Jackson film The Frighteners (1996) features a Starkweather-inspired killer who goes on a similar murder spree, and has a female accomplice.
- The fourth episode, "Dangerous Liaisons" (aired September 2, 2010), of season four from the ID series, Deadly Women, covers the murders.
- "Teenage Wasteland", the Season 4 premiere episode (aired December 6, 2016) from the ID series A Crime to Remember, also covers the Starkweather–Fugate murder spree.
- In "Fun with Chemistry", Season 1 Episode 7 of Breakout Kings, Starkweather and Fugate are mention as spree killers.
- Wright Morris' 1960 novel Ceremony at Lone Tree is based, in part, on Starkweather's murders.
- The 1974 book Caril is an unauthorized biography of Caril Ann Fugate written by Ninette Beaver.
- Liza Ward, the granddaughter of victims C. Lauer and Clara Ward, wrote the novel Outside Valentine (2004), based on the events of the Starkweather–Fugate murders.
- The novel Not Comin' Home to You (1974) by Lawrence Block has fictional events that are similar to the Starkweather and Fugate spree.
- Horror author Stephen King has said that he was strongly influenced by reading about the Starkweather murders when he was a youth, and that he kept a scrapbook of articles about them.
- In 2011, art photographer Christian Patterson released Redheaded Peckerwood, a collection of photos made each January from 2005 to 2010 along the 500-mile route traversed by Starkweather and Fugate. The book includes reproductions of documents and photographs of objects that belonged to Starkweather, Fugate, and their victims. Patterson had discovered several of these objects while making his photographs and they had never been seen publicly before or identified with these figures.
- The comic book series Northlanders referred to the murder spree in its 2010 story arc Metal.
- Bruce Springsteen's 1982 song "Nebraska" is a first-person narrative based on the Starkweather murders.
- J Church's 1993 song "Hate So Real" retells the Starkeweather murders.
- “Starkweather homicide” is referenced in the lyrics to singer-songwriter Billy Joel's 1989 music single, "We Didn't Start the Fire".
- The 2009 Church of Misery song "Badlands (Charles Starkweather & Caril Fugate)" is about the Starkweather murders.
- A picture of Starkweather's arrest was used as a backdrop on singer-songwriter Morrissey's 2019 live tour, during the song "Jack The Ripper".
- Nicole Dollanganger's 2012 song Nebraska details the events of the Starkweather murders.
- Lionel Starkweather, a snuff film director inspired by the eponymous murderer, is the primary antagonist in the stealth-horror game Manhunt. He is voiced by Brian Cox.
- Capital punishment in Nebraska
- Crime in Nebraska
- List of people executed in Nebraska
- List of rampage killers in the United States
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- "Sequence of Events in the Charles Starkweather Case" (PDF). Lincoln Evening Journal. June 25, 1959. Retrieved April 17, 2022.
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- Redheaded Peckerwood by Christian Patterson. Archived from the original on December 9, 2015. Retrieved December 23, 2015.
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- Del Harding, reporter for the Lincoln, Nebr., Star, who covered the murders, the Starkweather and Fugate trials, and Starkweather's execution.
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- "Redheaded Peckerwood" on Christian Patterson web site.
- Nebraska State Historical Society
- Life Magazine article Feb. 10, 1958
|Executions carried out in Nebraska||Succeeded by|
Harold Lamont Otey