June 25, 1959: Spree Killer Charles Starkweather Put to Death


WHAT HAPPENED? (1)


When he was 19 years old, Charles Starkweather murdered 11 people between November 1957 through January 1958 in Nebraska and Wyoming. 10 of his victims were killed in a 1 week period at the end of January. He was accompanied on his murder spree by his 14-year-old girlfriend, Caril Ann Fugate.


Fugate and Starkweather were both convicted on homicide charges. While Fugate was released from prison in 1976, Starkweather was sentenced to death and executed only 17 months after sentencing. His 1959 execution was the last in Nebraska until 1994.

ABOUT THE STAR CROSSED KILLERS (1)


Charles Starkweather was the 3rd of 7 children, born to Guy and Helen Starkweather in Lincoln, Nebraska. The family was working class, his father often unemployed due to rheumatoid arthritis. Helen supplemented the family while working as a waitress.


Though his home life was generally positive, he was born with a mild birth defect that affected the shape of his legs, and had a speech impediment, leading to constant teasing from his classmates throughout school. But as he grew up, he became stronger and excelled in gym class, which became an outlet for the rage against his bullies. He, then, became a bully, transitioning from a mild-mannered kid to one of the most troubled.


His high school friend remembered Starkweather as an extremely kind guy who was fun to be around and would do anything for those he loved, but he could be extremely mean, oftentimes for no reason.


In 1956, Fugate's sister introduced 18-year-old Starkweather to her 13 year old sister. He had previously dated the sister. He dropped out of high school and began dating Fugate, who was a student at Whittier Junior High School. He got a job nearby so he could be close to his child bride. His employer described his as the dumbest man who worked there.


Starkweather taught Fugate to drive, but she crashed his dad's car one time. In anger, Starkweather's father kicked him out of the home. He quit his job and became a garbage collector. Around the same time, he began to develop a nihilistic world view and started to plan bank robberies.

THE KILLING SPREE


In late November, 1957, Starkweather got mad at a service attendant named Robert Colvert for refusing to sell him a stuffed animal. (Appropriate gift for a 14-year-old girlfriend?) In his anger, he pulled out a gun and forced Colvert to give him $100. He forced him into his car and drove him to a remote area, where he shot him in the head. This was the first of his murders, though not necessarily part of the spree.


The spree began on January 21, 1958. Starkweather went to go pick up Fugate at her home, but her parents, rightfully, told him to stay away from their home. In anger, he shot her mother and stepfather, Velda and Marion Bartlett. Then, he strangled and stabbed their 2 year old daughter, Betty Jean, to death. He hid their bodies behind the home.


Starkweather claims that Fugate was home during the entire ordeal, but she claims she returned home and he held her at gunpoint, claiming her family was behing held hostage, and she had to cooperate to save her family. They stayed in the home until Fugate's suspicious grandmother called the police, who went to the home on January 27.


In a panic, they left and drove to 70-year-old August Meyer's farmhouse, a family friend. He killed Meyer and Meyer's dog. They abandoned their car and stopped 2 local teenagers, Robert Jensen and Carol King, who offered the couple a ride. They forced them to drive them to a storm cellar. Once there, he shot Robert and tried to rape Carol, but failed, making him angry so he shot her. He claims that Fugate shot Carol, but she claims she was not involved. They fled in the teen's car.


They drove to a wealthy section of Lincoln and entered the home of C. Lauer Ward and his wife, Clara. He stabbed their maid, Lillian Fenci, to death and then snapped the family's dog's neck. When Clara arrived home, she was stabbed to death, allegedly by Fugate. When Lauer returned home, he was shot and killed. They stole their jewelry and car. Law enforcement began going house to house after outrage sparked from the Ward's deaths.


Because the car had now been identified, they found a traveling salesman, Merle Collison, sleeping in his Buick along the highway. They woke him up and fatally shot him to take his car. Again, Starkweather claimed his "trigger happy" girlfriend ultimately killed him when the shotgun jammed, though she denies being responsible for anyone's death. The stolen car had a parking break, a feature Starkweather was not familiar with. The car stalled when he tried to drive off, and a passerby Joe Sprinkle stopped to help. Starkweather threatened him with his gun, but a Sheriff's Deputy arrived on the scene.


While Fugate ran to the police, Starkweather drove off, beginning a high speed car chase. Ultimately, he stopped and surrendered after being shot through his windshield and wounded.


10 people were killed during the spree, and 11 people were killed total by Starkweather, and potentially Fugate, including:


Robert Colvert, 21; Gas station attendent

Marion Bartlett, 58; Fugate's stepfather

Velda Bartlett, 36; Fugate's mother

Betty Jean Bartlett, 2; Fugate's half sister

August Meyer, 70; Fugate's family friend (dog was also killed)

Robert Jensen, 17; motorist who offered to help the couple

Carol King, 16; Robert Jensen's girlfriend

C. Lauer Ward, 47; wealthy industrialist (family dog was also killed)

Clara Ward, 46; Lauer Ward's wife

Lillian Fencl, 51; The Ward's maid

Merle Collison, 34; traveling salesman

TRIAL & EXECUTION


Starkweather was extradited from Wyoming to Nebraska. He initially claimed that he had kidnapped Fugate and that she had nothing to do with the killings, but then said that she was a willing participant in all of them. Fugate has always maintained that he was holding her hostage, threatening to kill her family... Though they were in the family's house for 6 days while her dead parents and sister were nowhere to be found. (1)


The Judge did not believe Fugate was held hostage, as she had many chances to escape. (1)


For some reason, Starkweather was only tried and convicted for the murder of Robert Jensen. He was sentenced to death, and executed by electric chair on June 25, 1959, less than 2 years after the murder spree. He was buried in Wyuka Cemetery, along with 5 of the people he murdered. (1)


Fugate was given a life sentence, but was paroled in June of 1976 after only serving 17 and a half years in prison. She moved to Lansing Michigan and changed her name. She holds a job as a janitor in a Lansing hospital. She has refused to speak about the murder spree. (1)


Fugate married Frederick Clair in 2007, but while living in Stryker, Ohio, the couple was involved in a 2013 car crash in which she was seriously injured and her husband was killed. (1)


Now, in 2020, she is seeking a pardon from the Nebraska Board of Pardons. To this day, she maintains her innocence and claims she was an unwilling participant, tagging along under the guise of saving her family that had already been murdered. Her boyfriend at the time said that if he was going to get the electric chair, she should be "sitting on his lap". (2)


Family members of the victims, however, do not want her to receive a pardon, and want her to just quietly move past it. She only served 17 years of a life sentence, and was able to start her life anew in her 30s. To bring up everything that happened back then to have a personal pardon that does nothing except clear her name is selfish. (2)


According to relatives, Caril has tried to lead a quiet life, holding a steady job and raising her 4 stepsons from her deceased husband. But they claim that having her name tied to a notorious killing spree has left her "a shell of a woman" who wishes she could wash everything away. (2)


Caril babysat for a woman, Kathy Ross, for 14 years, and Kathy's mother said that she was a wonderful woman who deserved everything good that came to her for the rest of her life. When Caril met her future husband, his sons spent months reading up on everything about their potential future step mom before giving their dad their blessing. They said she is an amazing mother, and believe she is innocent. (2)


In my opinion, even if she finished off her life as a saint, bringing up the brutal murders of 11 people so long after their deaths seems selfish. Sure, she was 14, but it does seem like she was more involved than she said. Additionally, she just wants to be innocent, a formal forgiveness for crimes she claims she didn't commit. But the people who believed in her guilt still would. It seems like a play just for her own peace of mind. If she knows she didn't do it, a pardon nearly 60 years later doesn't change anything.


But enough about Fugate, back to Starkweather. He killed a man who wouldn't sell him a toy. He stabbed a 2-year-old baby. He killed people who offered to help him and killed others for no reason at all. He snapped a dog's neck. And, it appears, he did all of this becuse his 14-year-old girlfriend's parents didn't want him to come inside their house because he was old and she was in middle school.


In the story I wrote just yesterday, a 19-year-old gang member who brutally murdered 2 teen girls sat on death row for 17 years before being executed. Starkweather, a 19-year-old spree killer sat on death row for only 17 months. The death penalty process is extremely confusing and strange, and to have a difference that big in similar crimes is insane. I think I would rather Starkweather sit behind bars for the rest of his life.


11 people were killed in 1957 and 1958 by Starkweather, and potentially Fugate, for just about no reason at all. His murder spree is one of the most notorious in history, happening in a time where "these things just don't happen". They do happen, now, but the town of Lincoln, Nebraska will never forget Charles Starkweather, and the 11 lives he took with him.

REFERENCES:

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Starkweather

2.https://www.detroitnews.com/story/news/local/michigan/2020/02/18/michigan-woman-claims-innocence-seeks-pardon-murder-spree/4783145002/


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