Starkweather was born in Lincoln, Nebraska, the third of seven children born to Guy and Helen Starkweather. The Starkweathers were a respectable family with well-behaved children of working class background. The family was poor, but they always had the basics. Guy Starkweather was by all accounts a mild-mannered man; he was a carpenter who was often unemployed due to rheumatoid arthritis in his hands. During Guy’s periods of unemployment, Starkweather’s mother supplemented the family income by working as a waitress. Starkweather had attended Saratoga Elementary School, Everett Junior High School and Lincoln High School in Lincoln. In contrast to his family life, Starkweather remembered nothing positive of his time at school. Starkweather was born with genu varum, a mild birth defect that caused his legs to be misshapen. He also suffered from a speech impediment, which led to constant teasing by classmates. He was considered a slow learner and was accused of never applying himself, although in his teens, it was discovered that he suffered from severe myopia that had drastically affected his vision.
The sole aspect of school in which Starkweather excelled was gym. It was gym class wherein he found a physical outlet for his growing rage against those who bullied him. Starkweather used his new found physicality to begin bullying those who had once bullied him, and soon his rage stretched beyond those who had bullied him to anyone whom he happened to dislike. Starkweather soon went from being considered one of the most well-behaved teenagers in the community to one of the most troubled. After viewing the film Rebel Without a Cause, Starkweather developed a James Dean fixation and began to groom his hairstyle and dress himself to look like Dean. Starkweather related to Dean’s rebellious screen persona, believing that he had found a kindred spirit of sorts, someone who had suffered torment similar to his own whom he could admire. Starkweather developed a severe inferiority complex and became self-loathing, believing that he was unable to do anything correctly and that his own inherent failures would cause him to live in misery.
In 1956, eighteen-year-old Charles Starkweather was introduced to thirteen-year-old Caril Ann Fugate. Starkweather dropped out of Lincoln High School in his senior year and became employed at a Western Union newspaper warehouse. He sought employment there because the warehouse was located near Whittier Junior High School in Lincoln, where Caril was a student. His employment allowed him to visit her every day after school. Starkweather was considered a poor worker, and his employer later recalled, “Sometimes you’d have to tell him something two or three times. Of all the employees in the warehouse, he was the dumbest man we had.”
Starkweather taught Fugate how to drive, and one day she crashed his 1949 Ford into another car. Starkweather’s father paid the damages, as he was the legal owner of the vehicle. This caused an altercation between Starkweather and his father. Refusing to condone his son’s behavior, he banished his son from the household. Starkweather quit his job at the warehouse and was employed as a garbage collector for minimum wage. Starkweather began progressing towards his nihilistic views on life, believing that his current situation was the final determinant of how he would live the rest of his life. He used the garbage route to begin plotting bank robberies and finally conceived his own personal philosophy by which he lived the remainder of his life: “Dead people are all on the same level.”
Late on November 30, 1957, Starkweather became angry at Lincoln service station attendant Robert Colvert for refusing to sell him a stuffed animal on credit. Starkweather returned several times during the night to purchase small items, then finally – brandishing a shotgun – forced Colvert to hand over $100, then drove Colvert to a remote area. After Colvert was injured during a struggle over the gun, Starkweather killed him with a shot to the head. Starkweather later claimed that after killing Colvert he believed he had transcended his former self, reaching a new plane of existence in which he was above and outside the law.[vague] He immediately confessed to Fugate that he had robbed Colvert, though claiming someone else had killed him, which Fugate later said she did not believe.
On January 21, 1958, Starkweather went to his girlfriend Caril Fugate’s home to see her. Fugate was not there, and after Fugate’s mother and stepfather, Velda and Marion Bartlett, told him to stay away, Starkweather killed them with his shotgun, then killed their two-year-old daughter Betty Jean by strangling and stabbing her. After Fugate arrived, they hid the bodies behind the house. They remained in the house until shortly before the police (alerted by Fugate’s suspicious grandmother) went there on January 27. Starkweather and Fugate drove to the Bennet, Nebraska, farm house of seventy-year-old August Meyer, a family friend. Starkweather killed him with a shotgun blast to the head (in self-defense, Starkweather later claimed). He also killed Meyer’s dog.
Fleeing the area, Starkweather and Fugate 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 shelter in Bennet, where he shot Jensen in the back of the head. He then attempted to rape King but was unable to perform; he became angry with her and shot her to death. Fugate mutilated King’s genitalia in an apparent jealous rage. Starkweather later admitted shooting Jensen, claiming that Fugate shot King. 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 at 2843 South 24th Street. Both Clara and maid Lillian Fencl were fatally stabbed, and Starkweather snapped the neck of the family dog. Starkweather later admitted throwing a knife at Clara; however, he accused Fugate of inflicting the multiple stab wounds that were found on her body. He also accused Fugate of fatally stabbing Fencl, whose body also had multiple stab wounds. When Lauer Ward returned home that evening, Starkweather shot 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, with all law enforcement agencies in the region thrown into a house-by-house search for the killers. Governor Victor E. Anderson contacted the Nebraska National Guard, and the Lincoln chief of police called for a block-by-block search of the city. Frequent sightings of the two were often reported, with concomitant charges of incompetence against the Lincoln Police Department for their inability to capture the two. Needing a new car because of the high profile of Ward’s Packard, they found traveling salesman Merle Collison sleeping in his Buick along the highway outside the Wyoming city of Douglas. After they woke Collison, they shot him. 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.
The salesman’s car had a push-pedal emergency brake, which was something new to Starkweather. While attempting to drive away, the car stalled. He tried to restart the engine, and a passing motorist stopped to help. Starkweather threatened him with the rifle, and an altercation ensued. At that moment, a deputy sheriff arrived on the scene. Fugate ran to him, yelling something to the effect of: “It’s Starkweather! He’s going to kill me!” Starkweather tried to evade the police, exceeding speeds of 100 miles per hour (160 km/h). A bullet shattered the windshield, and flying glass cut Starkweather deep enough to cause bleeding. He then stopped abruptly and surrendered. 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.” Both Starkweather and Fugate were captured in Douglas.
Starkweather chose to be extradited to Nebraska instead of Wyoming and he and Fugate were extradited to that state at the end of January 1958. He believed that either state would have executed him. He was not aware that the Governor of Wyoming at the time was an opponent of the death penalty. Starkweather first claimed Fugate was captured by him and had nothing to do with the murders; however, he changed his story several times, finally testifying at Fugate’s trial 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 that Fugate was held hostage by Starkweather, as she had many opportunities to escape.
Starkweather was found guilty and received the death penalty for the murder of Robert Jensen, the only murder for which he was tried. He was executed by electric chair at the Nebraska State Penitentiary in Lincoln, Nebraska, at 12:04 a.m. on June 25, 1959. He is buried in Wyuka Cemetery in Lincoln along with five of his victims, including the Ward couple. Fugate received a life sentence on November 21, 1958. She was paroled in June 1976 after serving 17 1/2 years at the Nebraska Correctional Center for Women in York, Nebraska. She settled in Lansing, Michigan, where she changed her name and worked as a janitor at a Lansing hospital. Fugate married in 2007 and, apart from a radio talk-back show in 1996, has refused to speak of the murder spree. Upon marrying Frederick Clair, she changed her name to Caril Ann Clair and was living in Stryker, Ohio when he passed away in a car accident on August 5, 2013.
- November, 24, 1938
- Lincoln, Nebraska
- June, 25, 1959
- Lincoln, Nebraska
Cause of Death
- execution by electric chair
- Wyuka Cemetery
- Lincoln, Nebraska