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Charles Starkweather

killer of 11 people over the span of less than two months

Charles Raymond Starkweather was born in Lincoln, Nebraska, on November 24, 1938. Slightly misshapen legs (caused by a birth defect) and a speech impediment made him the subject of bullying by his elementary school classmates. Poor eyesight, which was not diagnosed until his early teens, combined with a lack of interest, made him a poor student academically. He did excel in gym class, however, and by the time he got to high school Starkweather had become physically fit enough to become the bully instead of the bullied. He had also by that time become fixated on James Dean's Rebel Without a Cause look and persona.

Starkweather's prison mugshot
Charles Starkweather

Caril Ann Fugate was a 13-year-old junior high student when she and Starkweather met in 1956. Starkweather was immediately infatuated, and much of what Starkweather did from then on revolved around her. He quit school and got a job at the Western Union newspaper office, choosing the job because it allowed him to see Fugate every day after school. Despite her young age, Starkweather taught Fugate how to drive. She ended up crashing the Starkweather family car into another vehicle, however, which led Starkweather's father to banish him from the house. Starkweather then quit his warehouse job and became a garbage collector. It was while doing this job that he began considering a criminal career (as a bank robber).

First Kill

On November 30, 1957, Starkweather became angry at Crest Service Station attendant Robert Colvert for refusing to sell him a stuffed animal (a gift for Fugate) on credit. Starkweather left the station, but returned two times during the night to make small purchases. Early in the morning of December 1 he returned with a shotgun, held Colvert at gunpoint while stealing $108 from the cash register, and then drove him to a remote area and shot him in the head. That Starkweather told Fugate about his crime that same day was confirmed by both Starkweather and Fugate, but the two disagreed as to how Fugate responded to his confession.

Murder Spree

On January 21, 1958, Starkweather went to see Fugate at her home, but she wasn't there. He got angry when her mother and step-father, Velda and Marion Bartlett, told him to stay away from Caril Ann and ended up shooting both of them with his shotgun, after which he strangled and stabbed their two-year-old daughter Betty Jean. According to Starkweather, Caril Ann got home soon after and helped him hide the bodies in various outbuildings; Fugate claimed, however, that he had already hidden the bodies before she got home. There is no dispute, however, that the couple stayed in the house for several days after the murders, during which time Fugate repeatedly turned callers away by telling them her family was sick (and even posted a note to that effect). Her grandmother finally got suspicious and asked the police to inestigate, but Starkweather and Fugate were gone when the bodies were discovered, on January 27.

From Lincoln, Starkweather and Fugate drove to the Bennet, Nebraska, farm of 70-year-old August Meyer, a friend of the Starkweather family. For no apparent reason, Starkweather killed Meyer with a shotgun blast to the back of the head, killed Meyer's dog, and then took cash and guns from the house.

Starkweather and Fugate were forced to abandon their car when it got stuck in mud and were on foot when two local teenagers, Robert Jensen and Carol King, offered them a ride. As soon as they were in the car, however, Starkweather forced Jensen to drive to an abandoned storm shelter in Bennet, where both he and King were killed with shotgun blasts. The couple then drove off in Jensen's car.

Returning to Lincoln, Starkweather next turned his attention to a wealthy neighborhood he had once collected garbage in, specifically the home of industrialist C. Lauer Ward and his wife Clara. Clara Ward and live-in maid Lillian Fencl were both stabbed to death, and C. Lauer Ward was shot to death upon returning home later that evening. Starkweather and Fugate then loaded Ward's Packard with jewelry and headed west.

Capture, Trials, and Aftermath

The murders of the Wards and Stencl led the Governor of Nebraska to call out the National Guard to help conduct a block-by-block search of Lincoln for the killers. By the time Starkweather and Fugate reached Wyoming they were hearing radio reports about the murders and the search for Ward's Packard. On January 29, just outside Douglas, Wyoming, they found traveling salesman Merle Collison sleeping in his Buick. Starkweather killed Collison with a shotgun blast, but stalled the car as he tried to drive off because he was unfamiliar with the Buick's push-pedal emergency brake. A passing motorist who stopped to help was threatened with Starkweather's shotgun and was wrestling with Starkweather when Deputy Sheriff William Romer arrived on the scene. Fugate immediately ran to the deputy and surrendered, while claiming that she had been Starkweather's hostage, but Starkweather got into the Packard and sped away. Starkweather led deputies and police on a chase through Douglas that reached at least 100 miles an hour before a police bullet shattered the back window of the Packard, at which time Starkweather came to an abrupt stop and surrendered. According to contemporary police accounts, Starkweather stopped because he thought he had been shot; he was bleeding, but it was because he had been cut by shattered glass.

left: Starkweather in Converse County, Wyoming, custody
right: Caril Ann Fugate in custody

Starkweather in Converse County, Wyoming, custody Caril Ann Fugate in custody

Starkweather and Fugate were both extradited to Nebraska on January 31. Against his wishes, Starkweather's attorneys pleaded him not guilty by reason of insanity. He was found guilty of two counts of murder on May 23, 1958, and electrocuted at the Nebraska State Penitentiary on June 25, 1959.

Starkweather entering Nebraska State Penitentiary on January 31, 1958
Starkweather entering Nebraska State Penitentiary on January 31, 1958

Fugate, who was tried separately, repeatedly claimed that she had been Starkweather's prisoner and had not participated in any of the murders. Although Starkweather originally said that Fugate was indeed an innocent bystander to his crimes, he changed his story after learning that Fugate was accusing him of holding her against her will and even testified against her in court. Found guilty of one count of murder and sentenced to life in prison (on November 21, 1958), she spent 18 years at the Nebraska Correctional Center for Women in York before being paroled in June 1976.


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This page was last updated on June 25, 2017.