Charles Whitman

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This article is about the tower sniper. For the politician, see Charles S. Whitman. For the professor of English, see Charles Huntington Whitman. For the American zoologist, see Charles Otis Whitman.
Charles Whitman
Charles Whitman (1963).jpg
Charles Whitman in 1963
Born Charles Joseph Whitman
(1941-06-24)June 24, 1941
Lake Worth, Florida, U.S.
Died August 1, 1966(1966-08-01) (aged 25)
Austin, Texas, U.S.
Cause of death Multiple shotgun wounds
(ruled as justifiable homicide)
Other names The Texas Tower Sniper
Spouse(s) Kathy Leissner (m. 1962–66)
Parent(s) Charles Adolphus "C. A." Whitman, Jr.
Margaret Whitman
Date August 1, 1966
Family: c. 12:15 a.m. – 3:00 a.m.
Random: 11:48 a.m. – 1:24 p.m.
Location(s) University of Texas at Austin, Texas
Target(s) Family, students, teachers, and police
Killed 18 (including Whitman, Gunby, and the unborn child)[1]
Injured 32 (including 1 later fatality)

Charles Joseph Whitman (June 24, 1941 – August 1, 1966), was an American mass murderer who became infamous as the "Texas Tower Sniper" when he killed 17 people and wounded 32 others, on August 1, 1966, before being shot and killed by police. Among the 17 people killed in the murder spree, the victims included an unborn baby and a student who would eventually die from his wounds in 2001.

In the early morning hours of August 1, 1966, Whitman began his reign of terror when he murdered his mother and wife in their homes. Later that day, he brought a number of weapons, including rifles, a shotgun, and handguns, to the campus of the University of Texas at Austin where, during an approximate 90- to 95-minute time period, he killed 14 people and wounded 32 others in a mass shooting in and around the university's tower. Whitman shot and killed three people inside the tower and eleven others after firing at random from the 28th-floor observation deck of the main building. Whitman was eventually shot and killed by Austin police officers Houston McCoy and Ramiro Martinez.[2][3][4][5]

Early life and education[edit]

Whitman was born on June 24, 1941, in Lake Worth, Florida, the eldest of three sons born to Margaret E. (Hodges) and Charles Adolphus "C. A." Whitman, Jr.[6] Whitman's father had been raised in an orphanage in Savannah, Georgia,[7] and described himself as a self-made man. In 1940, he married Margaret, then 17 years old. The marriage of Whitman's parents was marred by domestic violence; Whitman's father was an admitted authoritarian who provided for his family but demanded near perfection from all of them. He was known to physically and emotionally abuse his wife and children.[8]

As a boy, Whitman was described as a polite, well-mannered child who seldom lost his temper.[9] He was extremely intelligent—an examination at the age of six revealed his IQ to be 139.[10] Whitman's academic achievements were encouraged by his parents, yet any indication of failure or a lethargic attitude would be met with discipline—often physical—from his father.[11]

Margaret Whitman was a devout Roman Catholic who raised her sons in the same faith. The Whitman brothers regularly attended Mass with their mother, and all three brothers served as altar boys at the Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church.[12]

Whitman Sr. was a firearms collector and enthusiast, who taught each of his sons from an early age how to shoot, clean, and maintain weapons. He regularly took them on hunting trips, and Charles became an avid hunter and accomplished marksman. His father said of him: "Charlie could plug the eye out of a squirrel by the time he was sixteen."[13]

At the age of 11, Whitman joined the Boy Scouts and earned a total of 21 merit badges in 15 months.[10] On September 15, 1953, at the age of 12 years and three months, Whitman also earned the rank of Eagle Scout in Troop 119 in Lake Worth. Whitman was reportedly the youngest person in the world ever to become an Eagle Scout at that time.[7][8] Whitman also became an accomplished pianist at the age of 12.[14] At around the same time, he undertook an extensive newspaper route, delivering the Miami Herald in and around his neighborhood. As he had many households to cover, his parents on occasion used their car to assist their son on his route—particularly in bad weather.[15]

High school[edit]

Whitman around 1959 (age 18)

On September 1, 1955, Whitman entered St. Ann's High School in West Palm Beach, where he was regarded as a moderately popular student whose intelligence was noted by both his teachers and peers.[16] By the next month, he had saved enough money from his newspaper route to purchase a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, which he used on his route.[17]

At the age of 16, Whitman underwent a routine appendectomy and was hospitalized following a motorcycle accident.[18] He was hospitalized in February 1958 for surgery to remove a blood clot that had formed around his left testicle.[17] Whitman missed a total of 16 school days.[19]

Whitman enlisted in the United States Marine Corps a month after his June 1959 graduation from high school, where he had graduated seventh in a class of 72 students.[7] He had not told his father beforehand. Whitman told a family friend that the catalyst was an incident a month before. His father had beaten him and thrown him into the family swimming pool, almost drowning him, because Whitman had come home drunk after an evening socializing with friends.[8] Whitman left home on July 6, having been assigned an 18-month tour of duty with the Marines at Guantanamo Bay. His father still did not know he had enlisted.[7]

As Whitman traveled toward Parris Island, his father learned of his action and telephoned a branch of the federal government, trying unsuccessfully to have his son's enlistment canceled.[12]

U.S. Marine and college student[edit]

During Whitman's initial 18-month service in 1959 and 1960, he earned a Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal, a Sharpshooter's Badge, and the Marine Corps Expeditionary Medal. He achieved 215 of 250 possible points on marksmanship tests, doing well when shooting rapidly over long distances as well as at moving targets. After completing his assignment, Whitman applied to a U.S. Navy and Marine Corps scholarship program, intending to complete college and become a commissioned officer.[20]

Whitman earned high scores on the required examination, and the selection committee approved his enrollment at a preparatory school in Maryland, where he successfully completed courses in mathematics and physics before being approved to transfer to the University of Texas at Austin to study mechanical engineering.[20]

University life[edit]

Whitman entered the mechanical engineering program at the University of Texas at Austin on September 15, 1961. He was initially a poor student with largely unimpressive grades. His hobbies included karate, scuba diving, gambling, and hunting.[21] Shortly after his enrollment at the university, Whitman and two friends were observed poaching a deer, with a passer-by noting his license plate number and reporting them to the police. The trio were butchering the deer in the shower at Whitman's dormitory when they were arrested.[12] Whitman was fined $100 ($800 today) for the offense.[22]

Whitman earned a reputation as a practical joker in his years as an engineering student, but his friends also noted he made some morbid and chilling statements. On one occasion in 1962, as Whitman and a fellow student named Francis Schuck, Jr. browsed the bookstore in the main building of the University of Texas, Whitman remarked, "A person could stand off an army from atop of it [the tower] before they got him."[23]


In February 1962, 20-year-old Whitman met Kathleen Frances Leissner, an education major two years his junior. Leissner was Whitman's first serious girlfriend. They courted for five months before announcing their engagement on July 19.[24]

On August 17, 1962, Whitman and Leissner were married in a Catholic ceremony held in Leissner's hometown of Needville, Texas.[25] The couple chose the 22nd wedding anniversary of Whitman's parents as the date for their wedding.[23] Whitman's family drove from Florida to Texas to attend the event, and his younger brother Patrick served as best man. Fr. Leduc, a Whitman family friend, presided over the ceremony. Leissner's family and friends approved of her choice of husband, describing Whitman as a "handsome young man."[26]

Although Whitman's grades improved somewhat during his second and third semesters at the University of Texas at Austin, the Marine Corps considered his academic performance unacceptable in support of his scholarship. Whitman was ordered to active duty in February 1963[27] and went to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, to serve the remainder of his five-year enlistment.[28]

Camp Lejeune[edit]

Whitman apparently resented his college studies being ended, although he was automatically promoted to the rank of lance corporal. On one occasion at Camp Lejeune, Whitman and two other Marines were involved in an accident in which their jeep rolled over an embankment. Whitman single-handedly lifted the vehicle to free another Marine,[29] but fell to the ground unconscious from the effort. He was hospitalized for four days.[18]

At Camp Lejeune, Whitman had a reputation as an exemplary Marine, but he continued to gamble. In November 1963, he was court-martialed for gambling, for usury, for possession of a personal firearm on base, and for threatening another Marine over a $30 loan ($200 today), for which he had demanded $15 in interest. Sentenced to 30 days of confinement and 90 days of hard labor, he was demoted from lance corporal (E-3) to private (E-1).[30]

Documented frustrations[edit]

Whitman's self-penned journal.

While awaiting his court martial in 1963, Whitman began to write a diary titled "Daily Record of C.J. Whitman."[31] In it, he wrote about his daily life in the Marine Corps and his interactions with Kathy and other family members. He also wrote about his upcoming court martial and contempt for the Marine Corps, criticizing them for inefficiencies. In his writings about his wife, Whitman often praised her and expressed his longing to be with her. He also wrote about his efforts and plans to free himself from financial dependence on his father.[32]

In December 1964, Whitman was honorably discharged from the Marines. He returned to the University of Texas at Austin, enrolling in the architectural engineering program. To support Kathy and himself, he worked as a bill collector for the Standard Finance Company. Later, he worked as a bank teller at the Austin National Bank. In January 1965, Whitman took a temporary job with Central Freight Lines as a traffic surveyor for the Texas Highway Department.[33][34] He also volunteered as a scout leader for Austin Scout Troop 5, while his wife Kathy now worked as a biology teacher at Lanier High School.[35]

Two close friends of Whitman, John and Fran Morgan, later told the Texas Department of Public Safety that he had told them about striking his wife on two occasions.[36] They said that Whitman despised himself for the behavior and confessed to being "mortally afraid of being like his father."[37] Whitman lamented his actions in his journal, and resolved to be a good husband and not abusive as his father had been.[37]

Separation of Whitman's parents[edit]

In May 1966, Margaret Whitman announced her decision to divorce her husband because of his continued physical abuse.[38] Charles Whitman drove to Florida to help his mother move to Austin. Whitman was reportedly so afraid that his father would resort to violence against his mother as she prepared to leave, he summoned a local policeman to remain outside the house while his mother packed her belongings.[38] Whitman's youngest brother, John, also left Lake Worth and moved to Austin with his mother. Patrick Whitman, the middle son, remained in Florida and worked in his father's plumbing supply business.[39]

In Austin, Whitman's mother took a job in a cafeteria and moved into her own apartment, though she remained in close contact with Charles.[38] Whitman's father later said he had spent more than a thousand dollars ($7,800 today) on long-distance phone calls to both his wife and Charles, begging his wife to return and asking his son to convince her to come back.[38] During this stressful time, Whitman was abusing amphetamines and began experiencing severe headaches, which he described as being "tremendous."[40]

On the eve of the shootings at the university tower, Whitman wrote in his journal, reaffirming his love for his wife Kathy. His final entries were written in the past tense, suggesting he may have already killed his wife and mother.[41]

The murders[edit]

Mother and wife[edit]

The day before the shootings, Whitman bought a pair of binoculars and a knife from a hardware store, and some Spam from a 7-Eleven convenience store. He picked up his wife from her summer job as a telephone operator before meeting his mother for lunch at the Wyatt Cafeteria, which was close to the university.[42]

At approximately 4:00 p.m. on July 31, 1966, Charles and Kathy Whitman visited their close friends John and Fran Morgan. They left the Morgans' apartment at 5:50 p.m. so Kathy could get to her 6:00–10:00 p.m. shift.[42]

At 6:45 p.m., Whitman began typing his suicide note, a portion of which read:

I do not quite understand what it is that compels me to type this letter. Perhaps it is to leave some vague reason for the actions I have recently performed. I do not really understand myself these days. I am supposed to be an average reasonable and intelligent young man. However, lately (I cannot recall when it started) I have been a victim of many unusual and irrational thoughts.[43]

In his note, he went on to request an autopsy be performed on his remains after he was dead to determine if there had been a discernible biological contributory cause for his actions and for his continuing and increasingly intense headaches. He also wrote that he had decided to kill both his mother and wife. Expressing uncertainty about his reasons, he nonetheless stated he wanted to relieve his wife and mother of the suffering of this world and to save them the embarrassment of his actions. He did not mention planning the attack at the university.[44]

Just after midnight on August 1, Whitman drove to his mother's apartment at 1212 Guadalupe Street. After killing his mother, he placed her body on her bed and covered it with sheets.[45] Just how he murdered his mother is disputed, but officials believed he rendered her unconscious before stabbing her in the heart.[45]

He left a handwritten note beside her body, which read in part:

To Whom It May Concern: I have just taken my mother's life. I am very upset over having done it. However, I feel that if there is a heaven she is definitely there now [...] I am truly sorry [...] Let there be no doubt in your mind that I loved this woman with all my heart.[46]

Whitman then returned to his home at 906 Jewell Street, where he killed his wife by stabbing her three times in the heart as she slept. He covered her body with sheets, then resumed the typewritten note he had begun the previous evening.[47] Using a ballpoint pen, he wrote at the side of the page:

Friends interrupted. 8-1-66 Mon. 3:00 A.M. BOTH DEAD.[45]

Whitman continued the note, finishing it by pen:

I imagine it appears that I brutally killed both of my loved ones. I was only trying to do a quick thorough job [...] If my life insurance policy is valid please pay off my debts [...] donate the rest anonymously to a mental health foundation. Maybe research can prevent further tragedies of this type [...] Give our dog to my in-laws. Tell them Kathy loved "Schocie" very much [...] If you can find in yourselves to grant my last wish, cremate me after the autopsy.[43]

He also left instructions in the rented house requesting that two rolls of camera film be developed and wrote personal notes to each of his brothers.[45]

Whitman last wrote on an envelope labeled, "Thoughts For the Day", in which he stored a collection of written admonitions. He added on the outside of the envelope:

8-1-66. I never could quite make it. These thoughts are too much for me.[45]

At 5:45 a.m. on August 1, 1966, Whitman phoned his wife's supervisor at Bell System to explain that Kathy was ill and unable to work that day. He made a similar phone call to his mother's workplace five hours later.

Preparations for tower shootings[edit]

The rifles and sawed-off shotgun used by Whitman in the massacre

On the same morning (August 1), Whitman rented a hand truck from Austin Rental Company and cashed $250 (equivalent to $1,845.38 in 2016) worth of bad checks at a bank before driving to a hardware store, where he purchased a Universal M1 carbine, two additional ammunition magazines and eight boxes of ammunition, explaining to the cashier that he planned to hunt wild hogs.[48] Whitman then drove to Chuck's Gun Shop, where he purchased four further carbine magazines, six additional boxes of ammunition, and a can of gun cleaning solvent.[49] He then drove to Sears, where he purchased a Sears Model 60 12 gauge semi-automatic shotgun before returning home with his purchases.[50]

Inside his garage, Whitman sawed off the barrel and butt stock of the 12-gauge shotgun and packed it into his footlocker, along with a Remington 700 6-mm bolt-action hunting rifle, a .35-caliber pump rifle, a .30-caliber carbine (M1), a 9-mm Luger pistol, a Galesi-Brescia .25-caliber pistol, a Smith & Wesson M19 .357 Magnum revolver, and over 700 rounds of ammunition. He had already packed his footlocker with food, coffee, vitamins, Dexedrine, Excedrin, earplugs, jugs of water, matches, lighter fluid, rope, binoculars, a machete, three knives, a transistor radio, toilet paper, a razor, and a bottle of deodorant.[51] Before heading to the tower about 11:00 a.m., Whitman dressed in khaki coveralls over his shirt and jeans.[52]

Shooting begins[edit]

At approximately 11:35 a.m.,[51] Whitman arrived on the University of Texas at Austin campus. Showing false research assistant identification to security guard Jack Rodman, Whitman obtained a 40-minute parking permit, saying he was delivering equipment.[51] Whitman wheeled a rented dolly carrying his equipment toward the Main Building of the University.[53]

Entering the Main Building, Whitman tried to use the elevator but found it didn't work. Vera Palmer, an employee, said it had not been powered and turned it on for him. Whitman thanked her, saying: "You don't know how happy that makes me [...] how happy that makes me."[48] He then ascended to the 27th floor of the tower, which was the highest floor the elevator reached and one floor beneath the clock face.[54]

Main building of the University of Texas at Austin from where Whitman fired upon those below from the observation deck

Whitman lugged the dolly and equipment up the final flight of stairs to the hallway that led to a dog-legged stairway ascending to the rooms within the observation deck area.[55] In the reception area, Whitman encountered 51-year-old receptionist Edna Townsley. Whitman knocked her to the floor and hit her in the head with his rifle butt, splitting the back of her skull. He then struck her above the left eye, causing a second fracture, before dragging her behind a couch.[56]

Moments later, Austin couple Cheryl Botts and Don Walden, who had been taking in the view from the observation deck, returned to the reception area. Whitman was leaning across the couch,[57] holding a rifle in each hand. Botts observed a dark stain on the floor beside the reception desk, and later said she believed it to be varnish. Walden himself thought Whitman was there to shoot pigeons. Whitman and the couple exchanged brief pleasantries before the couple left. Whitman then barricaded the stairway.[58]

As he prepared to enter the observation deck, he saw two families: M. J. Gabour, his wife Mary, their teen-aged sons Mike and Mark, and the boys' aunt and uncle, Marguerite and William Lamport, ascending the stairs toward his makeshift barricade. Mary Gabour later recollected that her sons and she had thought the barricade was in place for cleaning the reception area and that Whitman—still dressed in khaki coveralls—was the janitor. As 16-year-old Mark Gabour and his 18-year-old brother Mike tried to look beyond the barricade and open the door, Whitman fired his shotgun at them, instantly killing Mark with shots to the head and neck. He shot Mike in the head, shoulder, and left leg, knocking him unconscious. Both brothers fell down the staircase in front of their family. Whitman fired the sawed-off shotgun three more times through grates, hitting and wounding Mary Gabour in the head and killing 56-year-old Marguerite Lamport with a mortal wound to the chest.[59] Whitman then killed Edna Townsley with a shot to the left side of her head before walking onto the observation deck.[60] The tower has a vantage point 231 feet (70 m) above ground level.[61]

Shooting from the tower[edit]

The first shots fired by Whitman from the tower's outer deck came at approximately 11:48 a.m. He first hit Claire Wilson, an 18-year-old anthropology student who was eight months pregnant. Whitman shot Wilson in the abdomen, killing her unborn child. The shot dropped Wilson to the concrete on the mall as her fiancé, 18-year-old Thomas Eckman, asked her, "What's wrong?"[62] Whitman shot and killed Eckman as he tried to help Wilson. He next shot Robert Boyer, a 33-year-old mathematician, who was killed instantly by a single shot to the lower back.[63] After shooting Boyer, Whitman shot a 31-year-old student named Devereau Huffman in the right arm; Huffman fell wounded beside a hedge.[64] When Charlotte Darehshori, a young secretary, ran to help Boyer and Huffman, she came under fire. She crouched beneath the concrete base of a flagpole for an hour and a half, shielding herself from Whitman's view.[65] Nearby, Whitman shot David Gunby, a 23-year-old electrical engineering student walking in the courtyard.[66] Whitman fatally shot Thomas Ashton, a 22-year-old, in the chest.[67] Next, he shot Adrian and Brenda Littlefield as they walked onto the South Mall. Two young women, Nancy Harvey and Ellen Evganides, were wounded as they walked down the West Mall. Whitman shot Harvey, who was five-months pregnant, in the hip, and Evganides in the leg and thigh.[68] Both Harvey and her unborn child survived.

Karen Griffith, aged 17
Charlotte Darehshori takes refuge behind the concrete base of a flagpole as a student hit by gunfire lies beside a hedge

Whitman began to fire upon people walking on Guadalupe Street; he shot and wounded 17-year-old newspaper delivery boy Alex Hernandez, before fatally wounding 17-year-old Karen Griffith[69] with a shot to the chest. The next victim was a 24-year-old senior named Thomas Karr, whom Whitman fatally shot in the back as he walked to his residence after completing an exam. On the third block, Whitman shot and wounded 35-year-old basketball coach Billy Snowden from a distance of over 1,500 feet (460 m). Nearby, he shot 21-year-old Sandra Wilson in the chest.[70]

On the corner of 24th and Guadalupe, Whitman shot and wounded two students, Abdul Khashab and his fiancee Janet Paulos, outside a dress shop. Khashab, a 26-year-old chemistry student from Iraq, was shot in the elbow and Paulos in the chest.[71] The next to be shot was a 21-year-old named Lana Phillips, whom Whitman wounded in the shoulder.[72] Phillips' sister ran from cover to drag Lana to safety.[73]

Three Peace Corps trainees, Tom Herman, Roland Ehlke, and David Mattson, were Whitman's next targets. The trio were shot at as they walked toward a luncheon for volunteers. Mattson had part of his wrist blown off.[74] Ehlke subsequently recalled that he heard Mattson scream as the bullet hit him in the wrist; the youth saw shrapnel from the shot had embedded into his own left arm. Ehlke was shot in the left biceps before he dove for cover. Ehlke emerged from cover to drag his friend to safety and was shot again in the leg.[75] A 64-year-old local shopkeeper named Homer Kelly helped drag the wounded duo—plus Herman—into his shop, before he was shot and wounded in the leg.[76]

To the rear of the intersection of 24th and Guadalupe Street, Whitman targeted two 21-year-olds, Oscar Royuela and Irma Garcia, as the pair walked toward the university's biology laboratory. Shot first, Garcia later said the bullet spun her "completely around" and she fell to the ground. Royuela tried to help Garcia when he was shot through the shoulder blade; the bullet exited through his left arm.[77] Students Jack Stephens and Jack Pennington ran from cover and dragged the pair to safety. Whitman targeted a 26-year-old carpenter named Avelino Esparza and seriously wounded him in the left shoulder.[78]

Directly in front of the entrance to the West Mall on Guadalupe Street, two 18-year-old students named Paul Sonntag and Claudia Rutt had taken refuge behind a construction barricade alongside teenager Carla Sue Wheeler. Whitman started shooting in that direction and hit Sonntag in the mouth, killing him instantly. Sonntag's body fell against a parking meter and knocked the barricade slightly open.[79] Rutt tried to reach Sonntag while Wheeler restrained her; Whitman shot a bullet that passed through Wheeler's left hand, and hit Rutt in the chest. Rutt died later in the hospital; Wheeler survived.[47]

A block north of where Sonntag and Rutt were killed, Whitman shot and killed Harry Walchuk, a 38-year-old doctoral student and father of six. He next shot 36-year-old press reporter Robert Heard in the arm as Heard ran toward two highway patrolmen coming on the scene. Slightly north, 18-year-old freshman John Allen was wounded in the forearm as acquaintances and he looked toward the tower from the University of Texas Union.

Having seen several students shot on the South Mall, a history professor was the first to telephone the Austin Police Department at 11:52 a.m.,[80] four minutes after Whitman had first fired from the tower. Austin patrolman Billy Speed was one of the first police officers to arrive at the University; he and a colleague took refuge behind a columned stone wall. Whitman shot through the six-inch spacing between the columns of the wall and killed Speed. At a distance of approximately 1,500 feet (460 m), Whitman shot and killed 29-year-old electrical repairman Roy Schmidt as he tried to hide behind a parked car, making Schmidt the fatality hit farthest from the tower.[81]

Students and university staff worked to assist and move the wounded to safety, risking their lives. One student later recalled: "That was the moment that separated the brave people from the scared people [...] I realized I was a coward." Medical personnel used an armored car and provisioned ambulances from local funeral homes to reach the wounded.[74] On September 23, 1976, Daniel Cheney acting in his capacity as Regional Vice President of Purolator Security, donated the armored truck used that day to the Austin Police Department. Mr. Cheney was a university student in 1966 who assisted in the evacuation of students into the same armored truck.[citation needed] A 30-year-old ambulance technician named Morris Hohmann was shot in the leg on West 23rd Street as he tried to evacuate the numerous wounded. The wound severed a major artery. A fellow ambulance technician gave him first aid before he was taken to Brackenridge Hospital, the only one with a local emergency room. The Brackenridge Hospital administrator declared a state of emergency. Medical staff raced there to reinforce the on-duty shifts. Numerous volunteers donated blood at both Brackenridge Hospital and the Travis County Blood Bank.[82]

The shootings and news of the sniper caused panic in and around the university. All active police officers in Austin were ordered to the campus. Off-duty officers, Travis County Sheriff's deputies, and Texas Department of Public Safety troopers also converged on the area.[82]

Approximately 20 minutes after first shooting from the observation deck, Whitman began to encounter return fire from both the police and armed civilians. One Texas Ranger used a student as spotter to help locate the sniper. At this point, Whitman chose to fire through waterspouts located on each side of the tower walls. This action largely protected him from gunfire below, but limited his range of targets.[74] Police sharpshooter Marion Lee reported from a small airplane that he had observed a single sniper firing from the observation deck. Lee tried to shoot Whitman from the plane, but the turbulence proved too great. Whitman shot at the plane, and it moved off to circle from a greater distance. Whitman never shot any of his victims more than once after they had fallen to the ground. It is believed that Whitman kept in his mind the U.S. Marine Corps tradition of "one shot, one kill" of warfare training.[82]

Entering the tower[edit]

Three officers who responded to reports of the sniper were Ramiro Martinez (accompanied by civilian Allen Crum), Houston McCoy, and Jerry Day.[80] Before advancing upon the tower, McCoy had seen his colleague Billy Speed killed.[80] Both Martinez and Day had driven to the University of Texas after listening to radio reports.[83]

Accompanied by 40-year-old civilian Allen Crum—whom the trio encountered as they ran toward the tower—they were the first to reach the tower's observation deck. After reaching the 26th floor by elevator, they encountered M. J. Gabour who, clutching his wife's shoes,[7] screamed that his family had been shot and tried to wrestle the rifle from Day to shoot Whitman himself. Day consoled Gabour and led him to safety before joining McCoy, Crum, and Martinez as they walked up to the 27th floor.[7]

Beneath the stairwell leading to the reception area, Officer Martinez saw the body of a teenaged boy, Mark Gabour. Next to him lay a middle-aged woman, Marguerite Lamport.[44] Nearby, Mike Gabour lay slumped against the wall, with his mother face down in a pool of blood. The officers turned Mary Gabour onto her side to prevent her from drowning in her own blood. Mike Gabour gestured to the observation deck and said: "He's out there."[83]

End of the massacre[edit]

Stepping outside the south door around 1:24 p.m., Martinez, closely followed by McCoy, proceeded north on the east deck, while Day, followed by Crum, proceeded west on the south deck, with the intention of encircling Whitman. Whitman was apparently unaware of Martinez and McCoy on the observation deck. However, several feet before he reached the southwest corner, Crum discharged the borrowed rifle, alerting Whitman that he was no longer alone on the observation deck.[83] He was partially shielded by the deck tower lights and in a position to defend against assaults from either corner, but his attention was drawn to where Crum had discharged his rifle.[83]

As Whitman sat crouched with his back positioned on the north wall, and looking in the northwest corner area of the observation deck where Crum's shot was heard, Martinez jumped around the corner into the northeast area and rapidly fired all six rounds from his .38 police revolver from a distance of roughly 50 feet (15 m) at Whitman, but missing. As Martinez was firing, McCoy jumped to the right of Martinez and fired two fatal shots of 00-buckshot with his 12-gauge shotgun, hitting Whitman in the head, neck, and left side.[83]

The body of Charles Whitman lies upon the observation deck

Martinez threw down his now-empty revolver and grabbed McCoy's shotgun, running to Whitman's supine body and firing point blank into his upper left arm. Martinez threw the shotgun onto the deck and hurriedly left the scene, repeatedly shouting the words: "I got him."[2] After tending to the wounded in the stairwell, Austin Police Department (APD) Officers Milton Shoquist, Harold Moe, and George Shepard ascended the stairs to join APD Officer Phillip Conner and Texas Department of Public Safety Agent W.A. Cowan, arriving on the 28th floor. Moe heard Martinez as he ran past, shouting, "I got him", and relayed his words to the APD radio dispatcher's hand-held radio.[2]

Martinez later credited the numerous civilian shooters for saving "many lives" by forcing Whitman to take cover, limiting his range of targets.[84]

Police response[edit]

At the time of the shootings, the Austin Police Department had no specialized tactical unit to deploy in response to reports of a sniper. Officers were equipped with revolvers and shotguns, which were ineffective against a sniper; some went home to get their own rifles. In addition, officers had few radios, and the city's phone system was overwhelmed. It was this particular incident that led to the creation of S.W.A.T. teams in police forces all over the U.S.[44]



Familicide murders
  • Margaret Whitman, 43, mother of Charles Whitman, was killed by bludgeoning and stab wounds.
  • Kathy Whitman, 23, wife of Charles Whitman, was killed by stab wounds to the chest.
Killed inside tower
  • Edna Townsley, 51, was bludgeoned and shot to death by Whitman in the tower reception area.
  • Marguerite Lamport, 56, was killed by a shotgun wound to the chest.
  • Mark Gabour, 16, was killed by a shotgun wound to the head.
Shot from observation deck
  • Claire Wilson, 18, lost the baby she was carrying after being shot through the abdomen, though she herself survived.
  • Thomas Eckman, 18, was fatally shot while kneeling over Claire Wilson.
  • Dr. Robert Boyer, 33, a physics professor, was killed by a single shot to the lower back.
  • Thomas Ashton, 22, a Peace Corps trainee, was killed by a gunshot to the upper left chest
  • Thomas Karr, 24, a university senior, was killed by a single shot through the spine.
  • Billy Speed, 23, a police officer, was killed by a shot to his shoulder which traveled into his chest.
  • Harry Walchuk, 38, a doctoral student, was killed by a single shot to the chest.
  • Paul Sonntag, 18, was shot through the mouth while hiding behind construction barriers.
  • Claudia Rutt, 18, fiancée of Sonntag, was killed by a gunshot to the chest.
  • Roy Schmidt, 29, an electrician, was killed by a single shot to the abdomen.
Died later of injuries
  • Karen Griffith, 17, was severely wounded by a gunshot through the chest.[85] She died seven days after the shooting.
  • David Gunby, 58, was shot in the lower back.[86] He died of his wounds in 2001; the coroner ruled his death a homicide.[74]




Although Whitman had been prescribed drugs, and was in possession of Dexedrine at the time of his death, no toxicology test was performed at first because Whitman had been embalmed on August 1, after the body was brought to the Cook Funeral Home in Austin. However, an autopsy had been requested in the suicide notes left by Whitman, and was then approved by his father.[87]

On August 2, an autopsy was conducted upon the body of Charles Whitman by Dr. Chenar (a neuropathologist at Austin State Hospital) at the Cook Funeral Home in Austin, Texas. Urine and blood were removed to test for traces of amphetamines or other substances.[88] During the autopsy, Dr. Chenar discovered a brain tumor that he labeled an astrocytoma, and noted it was approximately the size of a pecan. He also observed a small amount of necrosis in the tumor, and concluded that the tumor had no effect on Whitman's actions the previous day. This result was later revised by the Connally Commission (see below).[89]

Connally Commission[edit]

In the days following the shootings, Texas Governor John Connally commissioned a task force of professionals to examine the physical autopsy findings and material related to Whitman's actions and motives. The commission was composed of neurosurgeons, psychiatrists, pathologists, psychologists, and the University of Texas Health Center Directors, Dr. John White and Dr. Maurice Heatly. The Connally Commission did toxicology tests on various organs of Whitman a few weeks after the body of Whitman was exhumed. The toxicology tests revealed nothing significant. They examined Dr. Chenar's paraffin blocks of the tumor, stained specimens of it and Whitman's other brain tissue, in addition to the remainder of the autopsy specimens available.[90]

Following a three-hour hearing on August 5,[91] the Commission said that the findings of Dr. Chenar's initial autopsy conducted on August 2 had been in error; that a tumor was found that conceivably could have had an influence on Whitman's actions. Specifically, the Commission's autopsy material, including a paraffin block containing two pieces of brain tumor, were reviewed by Drs. William O. Russell (Head Pathology at MD Anderson Hospital, and Head of the Pathology Work Group of a government study panel), Kenneth M. Earle (Chief Neuropathology Branch, Armed Forces Institute of Pathology), Joseph A. Jachimczyk (Clinical Professor of Forensic Pathology at Univ Texas), and Paul I. Yakovlev (Clinical Professor of Neuropathology and Curator, Warren Museum, Emeritus, Harvard Medical School and Consultant in Neuropathology at Mass General Hospital).[92] The report, dated September 8, 1966, found that a tumor reportedly removed from the right temporal-occipital white matter by Dr. Chenar had features of a glioblastoma multiforme, with widespread areas of necrosis and palisading of cells.[89] The report also indicated a "remarkable vascular component", which was described as having "the nature of a small congenital vascular malformation." The psychiatric reviewers contributing to the Connally report concluded that "the relationship between the brain tumor and [...] Whitman's actions [...] cannot be established with clarity. However, the [...] tumor conceivably could have contributed to his inability to control his emotions and actions",[93] while the neurologists and neuropathologists concluded: "The application of existing knowledge of organic brain function does not enable us to explain the actions of Whitman on August first."[94]

Forensic investigators have theorized that the tumor may have been pressed against the nearby amygdala region of his brain. The brain contains two amygdalae, one on each side, and the amygdalae are known to affect fight-or-flight responses. Some neurologists have since speculated that Whitman's medical condition was in some way responsible for the attacks, in addition to his personal and social frames of reference.[95][96]

Victim aid[edit]

The Connally Commission recommended that the university and state aid the wounded and those affected by the events. Aid to survivors and the wounded was to include loans, with University of Texas and State of Texas agencies to temporarily assist those with medical and mental issues, and support rehabilitation. These recommendations, however, were not implemented by any agency of either the University or the State of Texas.[97]

Investigation of medical history[edit]

Prescription vials at Whitman's home.

Investigating officers found that Whitman had visited several University doctors in the year before the shootings; they prescribed various medications for him. Whitman had seen a minimum of five doctors between the fall and winter of 1965, that is, before he visited a psychiatrist from whom he received no prescription. At some other time he was prescribed Valium by Dr. Jan Cochrum, who recommended he visit the campus psychiatrist.[98]

Whitman met with Dr. Maurice Dean Heatly, the staff psychiatrist at the University of Texas Health Center, on March 29, 1966.[99] Whitman referred to his visit with Heatly in his final suicide note, writing, "I talked with a Doctor once for about two hours and tried to convey to him my fears that I felt come [sic] overwhelming violent impulses. After one visit, I never saw the Doctor again, and since then have been fighting my mental turmoil alone, and seemingly to no avail."[43]

During Whitman's command of the tower, the university learned that the shooter might have been a student. Once his identity was released, officials conducted a search of Whitman's records and found that Whitman had visited the University Health Center on several occasions. The University did not release the medical records and academic history of Whitman at the University of Texas, citing legal and ethical issues.[100]

Dr. Heatly's notes on the visit reflected Whitman's own comments about feeling hostility:

This massive, muscular youth seemed to be oozing with hostility [...] that something seemed to be happening to him and that he didn't seem to be himself.[101]

Dr. Heatly also referred to a statement by Whitman:

He readily admits having overwhelming periods of hostility with a very minimum of provocation. Repeated inquiries attempting to analyze his exact experiences were not too successful with the exception of his vivid reference to "thinking about going up on the tower with a deer rifle and start shooting people."[102]
The south door to the observation deck, where Whitman began his siege.


A joint funeral service for Whitman and his mother Margaret was held at their family's home parish of Sacred Heart in Lake Worth, Florida, on August 5, 1966. The Catholic service was officiated by Fr. Tom Anglim. Whitman was a veteran who was entitled to burial with full military honors; his casket was draped with the American flag. He was buried in Florida's Hillcrest Memorial Park next to his mother.[103][104] His brother John M., who was shot to death outside a Lake Worth nightclub in 1973, was later buried next to his mother and brother.[105][106][107]


Observation deck[edit]

Following the shootings, the tower observation deck was closed to visitors. In 1967, the University of Texas spent $5,000 to repair the bullet holes left from the shooting. The tower reopened in 1968. Following the suicides of four people from the tower's reopening until 1974, it was closed to the public for a second time in 1975.[108] It reopened September 15, 1999, but only by controlled access. Visitors are allowed only with guided tours scheduled by prior appointment, and after being screened by metal detectors. Other security measures, including stainless steel lattice, were installed.[109][110]

University of Texas Memorial Garden[edit]

In January 2003, the University of Texas at Austin committed $200,000 and sought another $800,000 to redesign the "Memorial Garden" dedicated to recognize the deaths of August 1, 1966. The Memorial Garden was dedicated in 2006, 40 years after the event.[111] A bronze plaque, dedicated to all who were affected, was placed near the pond.[112] A new monument, engraved with the names of the victims, was added to the Memorial Garden in July 2016. A rededication ceremony was held on August 1, 2016, 50 years after the event.[113]

"Tower Heroes" plaque[edit]

In 2008, on the 42nd anniversary of the attacks, the following names were added to a plaque on an Austin police precinct building, dedicated to officers and civilians who helped stop Whitman on August 1, 1966.[114] With the exception of Billy Speed, the only officer killed by the sniper, and Marion Lee, a sharpshooter trying to operate from a plane, the names on the plaque are of those who acted within the tower; the list is recognized to be incomplete.[2]

Popular culture[edit]

Whitman is portrayed by Kurt Russell in the 1975 made-for-TV movie The Deadly Tower.[117]

Whitman is discussed at length in the Stanley Kubrick film Full Metal Jacket (1987).[118]

Kinky Friedman's song, "The Ballad of Charles Whitman", from the 1973 album Sold American, offers a satirical look at the man and the incident.[119]

His story was described in the song "Sniper in the Sky" on the Macabre album Sinister Slaughter in 1993.[120]

The shooting was depicted in the 2016 documentary "Tower".[121] Acted out by actors but colorised digitally to look more like an animated film. Alongside interviews and testimonials from the survivors of the incident.

See also[edit]


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External links[edit]