Charles Starkweather

Charles Starkweather
Charles Starkweather
Background information
Birth name Charles Raymond Starkweather
Born November 24, 1938(1938-11-24)
Lincoln, Nebraska, United States
Died June 25, 1959(1959-06-25) (aged 20)
Lincoln, Nebraska, United States
Cause of death Execution by electric chair
Penalty Execution
Date December 1, 1957 – January 29, 1958
Location(s) Lincoln and Bennet, Nebraska; Douglas, Wyoming
Killed 11
Weapon(s) .22 Rifle
.410 shotgun

Charles Raymond Starkweather (November 24, 1938 – June 25, 1959)[1] was an American teenaged spree killer[2] who murdered eleven people in Nebraska and Wyoming during a two-month road trip with his 14-year-old girlfriend, Caril Ann Fugate. The couple was captured on January 29, 1958. Starkweather was executed seventeen months later, while Fugate served 17 years in prison.[3]


Early life

Starkweather was born in Lincoln, Nebraska, the third of seven children to Guy and Helen Starkweather.[4] The Starkweathers were a respectable family with well-behaved children, and although his family was of working class background, the family always had shelter and other resources.[5] 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, Irving Middle School, and Lincoln High School in Lincoln.[6] In contrast to his family life Starkweather possessed no kind remembrances of his time of going to school.[6] 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.[6] 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 for most of his life.

The sole aspect of school in which Starkweather excelled was gym.[4] It was gym class wherein he found a physical outlet for his growing rage against those who bullied him. Starkweather used his newfound physicality to begin bullying those who had once bullied him,[5] 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. His high school friend Bob von Busch would later recall:

He could be the kindest person you've ever seen. He'd do anything for you if he liked you. He was a hell of a lot of fun to be around, too. Everything was just one big joke to him. But he had this other side. He could be mean as hell, cruel. If he saw some poor guy on the street who was bigger than he was, better looking, or better dressed, he'd try to take the poor bastard down to his size.

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.[citation needed]

Relationship with Caril Ann Fugate

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.[4][5] 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.[4] 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".

1957: First murder

On November 30, 1957, Starkweather went to the Crest Service Station on Cornhusker Road in Lincoln, where he tried to purchase a stuffed toy dog for Fugate on credit. Robert Colvert, the station attendant, refused to accept credit and Starkweather left enraged. At 3:00 a.m. on December 1, 1957, Starkweather returned to the station with a 12-gauge shotgun. Initially he left the weapon in the car, entered the station, and bought cigarettes from Colvert. Starkweather left, drove down the road, turned around, and returned to the station, again leaving the weapon in the car. This time he purchased a pack of chewing gum and then once again left and drove away. He parked a distance away from the station, sported a red bandanna underneath a hat, and then walked to the station with the shotgun and a canvas bag. He held Colvert at gunpoint and stole $100 from the cash register before forcing Colvert to walk back to his car.[6] Starkweather drove Colvert to Superior St., a remote area outside of Lincoln, and forced him out of the car. At that point Colvert struggled with Starkweather and attempted to get hold of the shotgun. The shotgun fired in the scuffle, shooting Colvert in his kneecaps; Starkweather then killed the wounded Colvert with a shotgun blast to the head.[6]

Starkweather would later claim that in the aftermath of the murder, he believed that he had transcended his former self to reach a new place of existence, in which he was above and outside the law. He confessed the robbery to Fugate immediately, although claiming someone else had killed Colvert, which Fugate did not believe. However, despite her disbelief, she did not leave Starkweather.

1958 murder spree

On January 21, 1958, Starkweather visited Fugate at her home at 924 Belmont Avenue in the Belmont neighborhood of Lincoln.[1] Not finding her at home, he argued with Fugate's mother and stepfather, Velda and Marion Bartlett, who told him to stay away from their daughter. Starkweather then fatally shot the Bartletts with his .22 calibre rifle, and proceeded to strangle and fatally stab their two-year-old daughter, Betty Jean.[6]

After Fugate arrived at home, he told her of his recent actions, and they hid the bodies in various locations behind the house. The couple remained in the house for six days, turning people away with a note, written by Fugate, taped to the door that read: "Stay a Way Every Body is sick with the Flue. - Velda Bartlett. [sic]"[6] Fugate's grandmother became suspicious and contacted the Lincoln Police Department. When police arrived on January 27, Starkweather and Fugate had fled the house.[6]

Starkweather and Fugate drove to the Bennet, Nebraska farm house of seventy-year-old August Meyer, a Starkweather family friend, whom Starkweather killed with a shotgun blast to the head.[6] Nobody knows why Starkweather killed him, although he claimed that it was self-defense. 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 and killed both of them.[6] Starkweather later admitted shooting Jensen, claiming that Fugate shot King. The two fled Bennet in Jensen's car.

Starkweather and Fugate drove to a wealthier section of Lincoln, where they entered the home of industrialist C. Lauer Ward and his wife Clara at 2843 24th Street.[6] 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,[6] 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 Douglas, Wyoming. After they woke Collison, he was shot. 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.

Trial and execution

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 he 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 received the death penalty for the murder of Robert Jensen (the only murder for which he was tried), and Fugate received a life sentence on November 21, 1958. Her sentence was eventually commuted, allowing her to be paroled in June 1976.

Starkweather was executed in the electric chair at the Nebraska State Penitentiary in Lincoln, Nebraska, at 12:01 a.m. on June 25, 1959. Fugate was paroled in June 1976 after serving 18 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 has never married and refuses to speak of the murders. Starkweather is buried in Wyuka Cemetery in Lincoln along with five of his victims: the Bartlett family and the Ward couple.


  1. Robert Colvert (21), gas station attendant
  2. Marion Bartlett (57), Fugate's stepfather
  3. Velda Bartlett (36), Fugate's mother
  4. Betty Jean Bartlett (2), Velda and Marion Bartlett's daughter
  5. August Meyer (70), Starkweather's family friend
  6. Robert Jensen (17), Carol King's boyfriend
  7. Carol King (16), Robert Jensen's girlfriend
  8. C. Lauer Ward (47), wealthy industrialist
  9. Clara Ward (46), C. Lauer Ward's wife
  10. Lillian Fencl (51), Clara Ward's maid
  11. Merle Collison (37), traveling salesman

Depictions in media

Film and television

The Starkweather-Fugate case inspired the films The Sadist (1963), Badlands (1973), Natural Born Killers (1994) and Starkweather (2004). The made-for-TV movie Murder in the Heartland (1993) is a biographical depiction of Starkweather with Tim Roth in the starring role, while Stark Raving Mad (1983), a film starring Russell Fast and Marcie Severson, provides a fictionalized account of the Starkweather-Fugate murder spree. The 1996 Peter Jackson film The Frighteners features a central plot elements with a Starkweather-inspired killer who goes on a similar murder spree complete with a kidnapped female accomplice. "The Thirteenth Step," the January 11, 2011 episode of Criminal Minds, depicts a North Dakota and Montana newlyweds killing spree similar to the Starkweather-Fugate case.[7]


The 1974 book Caril is an unauthorized biography of Caril Ann Fugate written by Ninette Beaver. Liza Ward, the granddaughter of victims C. Lauer and Clara Ward, wrote the 2004 novel Outside Valentine, based on the events of the Starkweather-Fugate murders. The 1997 novel Not Comin' Home to You by Lawrence Block fictionally parallels the Starkweather & Fugate spree. Horror author Stephen King was strongly influenced by reading about the Starkweather murders when he was a youth, keeping a scrapbook about them[8] and later creating many variations on Starkweather in his work. Starkweather is said to have been a schoolmate of Randall Flagg in The Stand. King said in later interviews that the character The Kid, who appears in the complete and uncut edition of The Stand, was modeled after Charles Starkweather. King's novella 1922 includes an outlaw couple that share some parallels with Starkweather and Fugate.[citation needed]


Bruce Springsteen's 1982 song "Nebraska" is a first-person narrative based on the Starkweather events; likewise Badlands is full of themes regarding alienation and resentment by the protagonist. The song "Badlands" by Church of Misery on their album Houses of the Unholy centers on the murders and is told from a first-person perspective.[citation needed]

Starkweather was also featured in Billy Joel's song We Didn't Start the Fire under the lyrics Starkweather, Homicide.


  1. ^ a b Wishart, David J. (2004). Encyclopedia of the Great Plains. U of Nebraska Press. p. 462. ISBN 9780803247871. Retrieved 22 October 2010. 
  2. ^ Rule, Ann (2004). Kiss Me, Kill Me: Ann Rule's Crime Files. Simon and Schuster. p. 224. ISBN 9780671691394. Retrieved 22 October 2010. 
  3. ^ Flowers, R. Barri; H. Loraine Flowers (April 2005). Murders In The United States: Crimes, Killers And Victims Of The Twentieth Century. McFarland. p. 176. ISBN 9780786420759. Retrieved 22 October 2010. 
  4. ^ a b c d Charles Starkweather at
  5. ^ a b c World of Criminal Justice on Charles Starkweather at
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate, retrieved (December 9, 2009)
  7. ^
  8. ^ The Stephen King interview, uncut and unpublished.

External links

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