Profile of Charles Starkweather, 1950s Spree Killer

Profile of Charles Starkweather, 1950s Spree Killer

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Charles Starkweather had all the makings of growing up to be a respectable man, but greed, resentments, and jealousy ate at his soul and turned him into a cold-blooded killer that murdered at will during an eight-day killing spree. With his 14-year-old girlfriend at his side, the two killed anyone that got in their way, regardless of their relationship to their victims.

Childhood Years

Starkweather was born on November 29, 1938, in Lincoln, Nebraska to Guy and Helen Starkweather. Unlike many serial killers, Starkweather grew up in a modest and respectable home with hardworking parents who provided for their seven children.

Those who knew Charles as a child described him as well behaved and mild-mannered, as were all the Starkweather children. It was not until Charles started school that a deadly monster inside of him began to grow.

Elementary School Years

Born with genu varum, also known as bow-legged, Starkweather had to endure some early challenges. He also developed a speech impediment and was teased by his classmates. Suffering from undiagnosed severe myopia, which prevented him from being able to see objects twenty feet away, Starkweather was labeled as a poor student and perceived as being slow by his teachers, despite his 110 IQ.

It wasn't until he was 15 that his inability to see was diagnosed, but it was too late for Charles, who was already severely lacking in primary education.

Middle School Years

Starkweather was one of the kids that sat in the back of the class, distracted and seemingly annoyed by having to be there. But when it came to gym time, his self-esteem shined. Physically he had developed into a robust and coordinated athlete. That could have been a positive factor in his life.

Instead, Starkweather became one of the school bullies who his fellow students feared. As he grew older anyone who appeared better than him, regardless of if he knew them, was a possible victim of his quick kicks and hard fists.

High School Drop Out

At the age of 16, Starkweather dropped out of ninth grade and worked at a warehouse. He developed a passion for fast cars and renegade attitudes.

Around this time James Dean hit the big screen in the movie classics, "East of Eden" and "Rebel Without a Cause." Starkweather identified with James Dean's role as "Jim Start," the troubled and rebellious teenager. He started dressing like Dean with tight jeans, slicked-back hair and cowboy boots.

Starkweather embraced the "hood" persona and all the attitudes that went with it. He had developed into a moody, ego-driven defensive trouble maker who had little control over his quick temper and brewing rage.

Caril Fugate

Caril Fugate was the 13-year-old younger sister of Starkweather's best friend's girlfriend. The four began double dating, and the young impressionable Caril became infatuated with her James Dean look-alike boyfriend.

Starkweather was equally infatuated with Caril. She was pretty, as rebellious as he was and she adored him. What little money Starkweather made was spent on keeping Caril happy.

It did not take long for the word to get around that Caril was his, and anyone else who might be interested would be risking their lives to pursue her.

He left his job at the warehouse after several run-ins with his boss and began working as a trash collector. He liked the job better. It allowed him more time to see Caril after she got out of school, something Caril's parents did not like.

When rumors circulated that Starkweather and Caril were going to get married and that she was pregnant the Fugates decided to stop the relationship. This did little to deter the two. They continued to see each other.

The Unobtainable

Starkweather's life was falling apart. His father had kicked him out of the house after the two argued over an accident that Caril had in a car that he and his father owned together. Caril's parents totally rejected Starkweather and forbade their daughter from seeing him. He lost his job as a sanitation worker and got locked out of his room for not paying his rent.

It is at this point that the depressed and frustrated Starkweather decided that he had no future, but what little future he did have was going to be spent with Caril Fugate and all the material things that up to now had been unobtainable.

First Murder

On December 1, 1957, Robert Colvert, 21, was working at his job at the Crest gas station, when Starkweather robbed, kidnapped, then shot him in the back of the head on a dirt road outside of Lincoln, Nebraska.

The day before Colvert had refused credit to Starkweather who was short on cash and wanted to buy Fugate a stuffed animal. This hurt Starkweather's pride, and he wanted to get even. He could also use the $108 that he robbed from the station. As far as killing Colvert, in Starkweather's mind, the kid deserved it. He shouldn't have humiliated him the day before by refusing him credit.

The following day Starkweather told Fugate about the murder. She did not end the relationship after hearing the news. For Starkweather, this was a sign that their relationship was forever sealed.

What was going through the mind of Starkweather in the weeks before January 21, 1958, is not known, but the pressure of having to one day face the consequences for murdering Colvert were surely mounting. But now with the monster inside of him unleashed, there would be no going back to his normal, dismal life.

The Bartlett Family

According to Starkweather, on January 21 he decided to try to mend his relationship with Fugate's parents. He went over to their house to invite her stepfather Marion Bartlett to go hunting. He also brought Fugate's mother Velda Bartlett two pieces of carpet.

The Bartletts, who believed that their young daughter was pregnant by Starkweather, were not swayed by his good intentions and an argument broke out. Starkweather became unhinged and shot Velda in the face and Marion in the back of the head.

The Bartlett's daughter (Fugate's sister), two-and-a-half-year-old Betty Jean, was also not spared. Starkweather shut off her frightened cries by slashing her repeatedly in the throat with a knife. Then to make certain no one survived the massacre, he stabbed all of his victims again.

He then put Velda's body inside the commode of the family outhouse. He put Betty Jean's body inside a box of garbage and also placed her in the outhouse. Marion's body was left on the floor of the chicken coup.

Life Goes On

Starkweather and Fugate lived in her dead parent's house like a couple honeymooning for the next six days. To those who stopped by they were greeted with a handwritten note stuck on the front door that said, "Stay away Every Body is sick with the Flue."

Friends and family of the Bartletts weren't buying the flu note, and after a lot of persistence the police did a physical search of the home and found the bodies, but not before Starkweather and Fugate had fled.

August Meyer

Now on the run, Starkweather, and Fugate weaved through back roads and made it to Bennet, Nebraska, where August Meyer, 70, and a long time friend of the Starkweather family lived.

As they made their way up the rough dirt road that led to Meyer's farm their car got stuck in the snow. The couple abandoned it and continued on foot to the old man's house.

What transpired afterward is unclear, except that Starkweather and Meyer got into a confrontation and Meyer ended up dead from a shotgun blast that removed a large portion of his head.

Well fed from food from Meyer's kitchen and loaded up with the dead man's guns and whatever cash they could find, Starkweather and Fugate headed by foot to the nearest main road. If they were to survive, they needed to get their hands on a car.

Robert Jensen, Jr. and Carol King

The couple hitched a ride with Robert Jensen, Jr., 17, and 16-year-old Carol King. Without wasting any time, Starkweather forced Jensen to go to a torn down school that was nearby. The terrified couple was led to a storm cellar. There Starkweather shot Jensen six times in the head and King once in the head.

When the police discovered the young couple, it was noted that King's pants had been pulled down and her genitals had been slashed, but there were no signs that she had been sexually assaulted.

Starkweather later said that Fugate was responsible for the slashing. She thought Starkweather was sexually attracted to King and acted out of jealousy.

A Strange Turn of Events

As more of Starkweather's victims were discovered the manhunt for the fugitives intensified. At first, Starkweather talked about going out of state to Washington, but for some strange reason the couple turned Jensen's car around and headed back to Lincoln.

They passed by Fugate's family home, but when they spotted the police cars that surrounded the house, they headed to the more affluent side of town where the rich lived.

The Wards and Lilian Fencil

Starkweather was familiar with the big homes that lined the streets from his days as a trash collector. One of the wealthiest homes belonged to C. Lauer Ward, 47, and his wife Clara Ward, also 47. Ward was the president of the Capital Bridge Company and the Capital Steel Company and one of the wealthiest men in town.

On January 30, 1958, now eight days on the run, Starkweather, and Fugate forced their way into the Ward home. Inside were Clara and their live-in maid Lilian Fencl.

Starkweather told the women that they had nothing to fear, then ordered Clara to fix breakfast. He liked being waited on by the woman whose trash he had collected so often.

He then tied each of the women up in separate rooms and stabbed them to death. Annoyed by Clara's barking poodle, he crushed the dog's neck with his rifle, leaving it alive to suffer.

When C. Lauer Ward returned home from work, he met with the same fate as his wife and Fencil. Starkweather shot him dead.

The F.B.I.

Starkweather and Fugate loaded up C. Lauer Ward's 1956 black Packard with supplies and decided to get out of town.

When the Wards' bodies were discovered the Governor put the F.B.I. and the National Guard on the case to stop the fugitives.

Merle Collison

Starkweather decided that they needed to get rid of Packard after hearing descriptions of them and the car on the radio.

Merle Collison was a traveling shoe salesman who decided to pull off on a side road for a nap just outside of Douglas, Wyoming. Starkweather spotted the napping man, pulled over and woke him up. He demanded that Collinson switch cars with him, but the salesman refused. Not having time to argue, Starkweather shot him in the head nine times.

Collison had a Buick with a push-pedal emergency brake, and Starkweather did not know how to release it. When he stalled out a passer-by offered to help, he was met with a rifle pointed at his face and the two began to wrestle.

At the same time deputy Sheriff William Romer drove up on the pair, and Fugate sprang from the front seat of the Buick, screaming and pointing at Starkweather, saying, "He's killed a man!"

Starkweather jumped into the Packard and took off with Romer following close behind. Romer called for back up as he tried to keep up with Starkweather who was driving up to 120 miles an hour.

More officers joined the chase, and one of them managed to shoot out the back windshield of the Packard. When a piece of the spraying glass cut Starkweather, he thought he had been shot and quickly pulled over and surrendered.

In Custody

The killing spree of Starkweather and Fugate was over, but the task of putting together the pieces of who did what had just begun for authorities.

At first, Starkweather said Fugate was not responsible for any of the killings.

Fugate insisted she was a victim and not a participant in any crimes. She told investigators that she had been held hostage and that Starkweather said he would kill her family if she did not go along with his demands.

Fugate's hostage story quickly dissolved after she admitted to being present when her family was butchered.

Both were charged with first-degree murder, and they were extradited to Nebraska to stand trial.

The Trial of Charles Starkweather

The list of charges against Starkweather was lengthy, and the only defense his lawyers could bring to the table that could save him from the electric chair was an insanity defense. But to Starkweather, going down in history as insane was unacceptable. He used every possible opportunity to thwart his lawyers' efforts by announcing that he was indeed sane during his killing spree. Instead, he said he killed his victims out of self-defense, a position no one believed.

The jury found him guilty on two charges of first-degree murder and recommended that he be put to death in the electric chair. The court agreed, and he was sentenced to die on June 25, 1959.

The Trial of Fugate

When Starkweather found out that Fugate said she was his hostage, he stopped protecting her and told the authorities of her activity which included slashing Carol King's genitals and shooting C. Lauer Ward. He also said she was responsible for Merle Collison's murder and went as far as describing her as one of the most trigger happy people he had ever met.

He testified against her in court, although it was pointed out by her defense that he had changed his story at least seven times in the past.

Few believed Fugate's defense of being a victim and she was found guilty of murdering Robert Jensen, Jr. and given a life sentence because of her age.

In the years following her sentencing, she continued to insist that she was a victim. Her sentence was later commuted, and she was paroled in June 1976. Except for one interview, Fugate never spoke publically about her time spent with Starkweather.

The Final Curtain Call

On June 25, 1959, Starkweather's execution was on schedule. Earlier in the evening, he had ordered cold cuts for his final meal. He was asked if he wanted to donate his eyes, which he said no adding, "Why should I? Nobody ever gave me anything."

Just after midnight, ‚Äčthe 20-year-old spree killer was escorted to the execution chamber with his head shaved and dressed in a prison denim shirt and jeans.

When Starkweather was asked if he had any final words, he merely shook his head no.

There was to be no last scene for the James Dean wannabe. No words to send journalist off scribbling in their notebooks. He, like other killers before him, was strapped into the electric chair, hit with 2200 volts of electricity and killed.

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