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Born Bad : Charles Starkweather
Natural Born Killer by Jack Sargent
|No doubt psychologists and profilers would make much of Charles Starkweather’s behavior as a stone cold killer. Skipping neatly past the more intellectual analysis, Starkweather was a loser, and a not too bright one at that.
Charlie came from a poor but decent family in Nebraska. School was a problem because he had an undetected, severe myopia. He couldn’t even read the biggest letter on the eye chart. He also had a slight speech impediment and bowed legs.
But he was no gimp. He excelled at gymnastics and possessed great strength. Regretably, these skills were often used to beat senseless other classmates. Before all the psycho-babble, we used to call it a “mean streak.”
He became enamored of the James Dean rebel image. Tried to imitate him.
What does seem genuine is that 19 year old Starkweather felt trapped. Saw his life as and endless road of hard drudge work leading toward death. And he felt isolated.
Which brings us to his partner in crime – 13 year old Caril Fugate. The pretty girl adored Starkweather and found his rebellious James Dean persona very appealing. She thought Charlie could do no wrong. Caril was no rocket scientist. Charlie basked in her attentions and treated her like a goddess.He quit school and had a succession of menial jobs. He lacked the smarts to ever hold a good position and so he determined that the only way to break the cycle of poverty was to steal.
His first kill was a gas station attendant who had humiliated Charlie the day before by not allowing Starkweather to buy a stuffed animal for Caril on credit. He robbed the man and then took him out and shot him.
The robbery murder was big news at the time. Because the attendant had not known the safe combination, Charlie settled for $100, mostly in coins, from the cash drawer.
The next day Charlie told Caril that he had robbed the gas station. Although he denied the murder, she knew better. In some way this knowledge bound them together. Starkweather was flying high. He had money, a girlfriend, and felt the law couldn’t touch him.
Now it gets even uglier.
Caril’s parents were seriously opposed to her relationship with Starkweather. So he goes over to their squalid filthy house; he would later claim to make peace with them. As he and Caril were the only living eyewitnesses, nobody knows the truth.
He claims Velda Bartlett, Caril’s mother, hit him. But he is in and out of that house that day. He even calls her stepfather, Marion Bartlett’s boss to say that Marion will be out for a few days due to illness.
Charlie and the parents argued. He goes outside to await Caril’s return from school, whereupon, she argues with her parents.
What is known for certain. Velda has been shot in the face and her head rammed repeatedly with a gunbutt. Marion has been shot and stabbed. And most gruesomely, the two and one half year old baby has been butted and stabbed. All are dead.
What follows is digusting. Caril and Charlie stuff Velda’s body down the outhouse hole. The baby gets put in garbage box and thrown alongside. Marion gets dumped in the chicken coop.
Caril and Charlie continue to live in that house for a week, with the dead, rotting bodies of her family outside.
They made up a story about everyone having the flu but this didn’t deter some of the inquiring visitors. Grandma Patsy and Marion’s boss, Bob Von Busch, both demanded police action. So the cops go out there and search the house only, and find nothing. Von Busch isn’t satisfied and so he returns to find the grisly remains.
On the run now, the pair sought shelter from 72 year old August Meyer, an old family friend. Whom they shot in the head.
When they first pulled up the dirt road to Meyer’s house, their car got stuck in the mud. After the killing some kindly neighbor helped them get unstuck, and they took a different road back to the house. Upon their return Charlie noticed that the blanket covering Meyer’s body was gone. He got spooked and they left – down the same road they got stuck on the first time. And of course, the brain trust got stuck again.
Now they abandon the car, taking only their weapons.
MORE DEAD PEOPLE
The hitched a ride with teens Robert Jensen and Carole King. He forced Jensen to drive back towards Meyer’s farm to an abandoned storm cellar. 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.
There was no evidence of rape. Later, Fugate said Starkweather did it. He said, she killed the girl in jealous rage.
DUMB AND DUMBER
Now they have Jensen’s car. And where do they head? Back to Lincoln where everybody is looking for them! They even drive past Caril’s house where the mass of police cars tells them that the bodies have been discovered.
IT’S JUST AS EASY TO KILL A RICH MAN
They sought to hide in the affluent area of Lincoln. They go to the home of C. Lauer Ward, the 47 year-old president of the Capital Bridge and Capital Steel companies. His wife Clara and Lillian Fencl, the maid, are home.
Clara is told to make coffee, then pancakes. What a rush! One of the wealthiest women in town is waiting on him. But no good deed goes unpunished, so of course she is stabbed to death. Repeatedly. As is the maid who they first tie to a bed.
When they newspaper is delivered, Charlie is excited to find he is headline news. A real bigshot.
Later that evening, Mr. Ward returns home. He gets shot. The next day business associates, alarmed by his inavailability, go to the house and find the victims.
PEOPLE IN HIGH PLACES
Ward had been a friend of Governor Anderson, who immediatey called out the National Guard in response to the slayings. A massive manhunt was underway.
STUPID IS AS STUPID DOES
Where does the brain trust go to hide? Straight back to Caril’s house. Seeing a car in the driveway they moved on. All the way to Wyoming. Where they come across poor Merle Collison, a travelling Montana shoe salesman, who was sleeping in his Buick, parked along the highway. Shot him in the head, neck, arm and leg.
And left him in the front passenger seat, dead as a doornail, while Caril crawled into the back. However, the speedy getaway is thwarted because – they can’t get the emergency brake released!
A young good Samaritan happens along to help but the dead body in the front seat is a big tipoff so he struggles with Charlie for the gun. Luckily, William Romer, a Wyoming deputy sheriff came by and stopped.
Caril bounds toward the Deputy to seek “rescue” from the killer in the car. Charlie takes off. Deputy Romer calls for reinforcements.
NOWHERE TO RUN TO
Racing at speeds up to 100 mph toward Douglas Wyoming, Douglas Police Chief Robert Ainslie, and Sheriff Earl Heflin of Converse Couny are on his tail. Heflin fired on the car with his carbine. Starkweather pulled over.
Why? Because Charlie thought he was bleeding to death. He wasn’t; he had just been scraped by some flying glass. But as mentioned, Charlie ain’t the brightest bulb.
HORNS OF A DILEMMA
Now here’s an interesting choice. Should I stay in Wyoming and go to the gas chamber for the murder of Merle Collison or go to the electric chair in Nebraska for killing all those other folks?
Charlie chose Nebraska. Another stupid decision. What he didn’t know and for some odd reason nobody bothered to tell him – the Governor of Wyoming was a death penalty opponent. He probably would have gotten a life sentence.
LAW AND ORDER
Charles Starkweather and Caril Fugate were both tried as adults for first degree murder and murder while committing a robbery.
In Charlie’s case, it took the jury 24 hours to find him guilty on both counts of first degree murder. The men and women of the jury specifically asked for the death penalty, which the judge granted.
Her lawyer tried to say that she had been a hostage and not a participant. You aren’t buying that one and neither did the jury. She too was found guilty.
Because she 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.
Charles Starkweather was executed June 25th, 1959.