Serial killers : the serial homicide case of the day

The Serial Homicide Case of the Day, from "Hunting Humans, the Encyclopedia of 20th Century Serial Killers" , by Michael Newton

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  Starkweather, Charles and Fugate, Caril Ann

Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate in 1958.

Born to poverty in Lincoln, Nebraska, during 1940, Charles Starkweather was the runt of the litter, myopic and bowlegged, standing five foot two at age 17. Taunted by classmates in school, he lapsed into "black moods" as a child, developing "a hate as hard as iron" against his fellow man. Dropping out of high school to work as a garbageman, he displayed peculiar, anti-social behavior in public, sometimes shouting curses from his garbage truck, at total strangers. The sole exception to his misanthropic attitude was the affection Charlie felt for 14-year-old Caril Ann Fugate, but even that was tarnished by his rage. Caril's family disapproved of the relationship, justifiably unnerved by Starkweather's moods and his habit of carrying a favorite rifle wherever he went.

On December 1, 1957, Starkweather held up a gas station in Lincoln, abducting the attendant, 21-year-old Robert Colvert, and driving him into the countryside, where he was killed by a close-range shotgun blast. No one suspected Charlie of the crime, and his primal satisfaction in the act of murder was amplified by feelings of power when he escaped detection.

Seven weeks later, on January 21, 1958, Starkweather was visiting Caril Ann's home when he got into a violent argument with her mother, Velda Bartlett. As Charlie recalled the incident, "They said they were tired of me hanging around," and blows were exchanged, Starkweather falling back on his favorite equalizer, blasting Bartlett and her husband where they stood. With Caril looking on, Charles grabbed her sister, two-year-old Betty Bartlett, and choked the girl to death by ramming his gun barrel down her throat. Caril then retired to watch TV, while Charles concealed the bodies and prepared some sandwiches. A sign was posted on the door -- "Stay a Way. Every Body is Sick With the Flu" -- and the teenaged lovers spent six days in Caril's home, rebuffing relatives and police officers before they finally left, and the crime was discovered.

On January 28, Starkweather's car bogged down on the property of a local farmer, 70-year-old August Meyer. The result was "a helluva argument," climaxed with Charles shooting Meyer and his dog "in self-defense." Leaving their car in the mud, Starkweather and Fugate walked to the highway and stuck out their thumbs, securing a lift from high school sweethearts Robert Jensen, 17, and Carol King, 16. At gunpoint, Charlie made them drive to an abandoned school and ordered them into the cellar, where Jensen was shot six times in the head. King was also shot to death, her genitals slashed with a knife, but Charlie blamed Caril for the crime, citing "jealousy" as the motive.

Escaping in Jensen's car, Starkweather considered surrender, but Caril allegedly talked him out of it. Returning to Lincoln on January 30, they invaded the home of businessman C. Lauer Ward, binding his wife Clara and a maid, 51-year-old Lillian Fencl, before stabbing both women to death in a bedroom. Charles next went after the family dog, breaking its neck before he settled down to wait for Ward's return from work. Blasting the businessman dead on the threshold, Starkweather fled in his limousine, Caril riding shotgun, intent on escaping to Washington state.

On February 1, they stopped at Douglas, Wyoming, after slipping through a dragnet that included 200 members of the Nebraska National Guard. Seeking a new car, they found shoe salesman Merle Collison asleep in his vehicle, and Starkweather pumped nine bullets into the helpless victim. Stuck behind the steering wheel, Collison's body was giving Charlie fits when another motorist stopped to offer help and Starkweather got the drop on him. They were grappling over Charlie's gun when a deputy sheriff arrived, and Caril Ann jumped into the squad car, pointing at Charles as she cried, "He killed a man!"

Outnumbered, Starkweather fled in the Ward limousine, topping speeds of 120 mph as his pursuers radioed ahead for a road block. Concentrated gunfire drove him off the road at last, and Charles surrendered after he was cut by flying glass. In custody, he made a full confession to his crimes, sharing responsibility with Fugate in what some of her friends described as a spiteful last fling. Sentenced to death, Starkweather was electrocuted at the Nebraska state prison on June 24, 1959. Caril Ann drew a term of life imprisonment for her role in the murder spree, winning parole in June 1976.

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