James Dean Wannabe by Linda
Remember Bonnie and Clyde? Sure, you do. We’re saving them for a special occasion but for today’s mug shot – try to envision a juvenile, less refined, and moronic version of that. Indefinitely, most people are familiar with Oliver Stone’s 1994 film, titled Natural Born Killers. What they don’t know though, is that Stone’s movie was actually loosely based on Charles Starkweather and Caril Fugate’s murder escapades.
Charles Raymond Starkweather
Dead people are all on the same level.”
This is the quote that Charles Starkweather adopted as his own personal philosophy to live by throughout his life. Born on November 24, 1938, Charles was the third of seven children to his parents, Guy and Helen Starkweather. Coming from a poor yet humble and hardworking family, they resided in Lincoln, Nebraska. Charlie had a rough start to begin with and school highlighted the troublesome times. With bow legs caused from a birth defect known as genu varum and a speech impediment to boot, he was a target for the school bullies. If being teased wasn’t bad enough, his teachers wrote him off as a slow learner accusing him of never applying himself to his full potential until it was eventually discovered that Charlie suffered from severe myopia which radically altered his vision. Finally Charlie found his safe haven. It was called gym class and he was face to face with the awareness of his own physical strength. Realizing that he was not only strong but coordinated as well, he used his physical abilities against the other boys in his school primarily taking aim on those who once bullied him. Needless to say, Charlie built quite the reputation of being the meanest, toughest kid in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Charlie made a friend in ninth grade – Bob Von Busch, who ended up being the gateway to Charlie’s soon to be much younger girlfriend. Both of the boys were devoted fans of James Dean who had seen all of his movies. Charlie took a grave fan frenzied liking to the movie Rebel Without a Cause and truly believed that he could closely relate. He began to dress like James Dean, style his hair the same way and emulate similar mannerisms from the film. A severe inferiority complex and trail of self-loathing was to ensue especially because unlike James Dean, Charlie was actually incredibly stupid, not slick or talented. (His teachers were partly correct) Let’s just say, he was never the brightest crayon in the box nor would he ever be.
Bob Von Busch started dating Barbara Fugate in 1956 and Charlie, then 18 years old, set his eyes on her younger sister Caril. Caril Fugate was straight up jailbait. She was a 13 year old with a rebellious streak and “don’t give a shit” attitude. Caril didn’t excel in school either but Charlie thought she was a “wizard”. Charlie dropped out of school his senior year to work at the warehouse for Western Union newspaper. The warehouse was close to Caril’s Junior high school and he was able to visit her every day. Even so, Charlie’s employer didn’t think much of his work saying, “Of all the employees in the warehouse, he was the dumbest man we had.”
Caril loved the idea of having an older lad fawning over her and doing whatever she had asked of him. Charlie always managed to give her whatever she wanted even though he was poor and reckless. He tried to teach her how to drive with the car that was owned by his father. After Caril crashed the 1949 Ford, Charlie had a physical altercation with his pops only to be kicked out leaving him to fend for himself.
Charlie quit his warehouse gig and became a garbage collector for minimum wage. He started to assume that this was it for him, that this is what life held in store for him and when life gives you a routed out map of the town, it is only fitting that you start to plot bank robberies. Right? At least that’s what Charlie thought.
Five Finger Discount or Die
Charlie was not rich and couldn’t buy Caril the world but he sure tried to… with credit. On December 1, 1957 at around 3:00 am, Charlie convinced himself that the only way he would ever get anything was to lead a life of crime. After being turned away from buying a stuffed toy dog the day before by Robert Colvert, Charlie stole a 12 gauge shotgun from Bob’s cousin and bought shells for it. Charlie entered the station, bought a pack of camels and then left. A few minutes later, Charlie came back, bought a pack of gum and then drove off. He parked his car close by and put on some makeshift disguise – a bandana over his mouth, a hat to cover his red hair and brought a canvas duffle bag along with the loaded shotgun. Colvert didn’t even know anyone was there until he felt the barrel of the gun pressing against his back. Charlie demanded for the money in the cash drawer in which Robert obliged. However, when it came to the safe, Robert didn’t know what the combination was and Charlie accepted his explanation. He forced Robert into the car and made him start driving towards one of the towns’ luminaries known as Bloody Mary, a crazy woman who fired shotguns full of rock salt at any and all trespassers. When given the chance to get out of the car, Robert tried to fight for his life but ended up getting shot. Yet, after already being down, on his hands and knees none the less, Charlie shot Robert Colvert again – this time, right in the skull.
The murder made major news considering it was such a small town. After his first murder, Charlie felt an unusual euphoria and believed that he actually was not only above the law but that it didn’t apply to him anymore. He told Caril that he robbed Colvert but had nothing to do with the murder which she never believed. This murder ultimately set the precedent for the remainder of their relationship. But after the high of his first murder wore off, Charlie had to deal with a little thing called reality. He had since moved to his own place that he couldn’t afford, especially after he had been fired from being a garbage man. His landlord showed no mercy when she locked him out in the winter because he was past due on rent. His girlfriend’s parents pretty much despised him and even worse, assuming Caril was pregnant from a little weight gain, they were not supportive of the relationship in any way, shape or form.
A Family Affair
On January 21, 1958, Charlie showed up at Caril’s house with a rifle and some ammunition. He claimed he was trying to smooth over the rift that had formed with Caril’s family and was hoping to go hunting with her stepfather, Marion Bartlett. Velda, Caril’s mother, answered the door. She told him how she really felt about him and not only asked him to leave but to never see her daughter again. The argument escalated and Velda even slapped Charlie around a bit. Even after being physically pushed out, Charlie went back again claiming that he forgot the rifle. When he got to the door, Marion, Caril’s stepfather was clearly sick of his face because he literally kicked Charlie out.
This is where it starts to get a little disturbing. Charlie went to a pay phone, called Marion’s employer and said that he would be out of work for a few days due to illness. After making a premeditated call, Charlie sat at Caril’s house until she got home from school. Upon telling her about the argument he got into with her parents, Caril went in and started arguing with her mom, Velda. Of course, Charlie just waltzed in behind her because after all, he was “a rebel without a cause”.
Velda noticed Charlie right away and didn’t hesitate to go at him again. Except this time, the gentleman that Charlie was, he hit her back. She put up a bit of a fight but still gave Charlie an opportunity to grab the gun. Seeing the commotion, Marion charged into the room with a claw hammer and without hesitation Charlie shot him in the head. Velda, apparently, came at Charlie with a knife only to get shot in the face. That wasn’t enough for Charlie. He was clearly a fan of the “double tap” (if you’re not familiar with the movie Zombieland, get familiar). Charlie continued to strike the butt of the rifle into her head as she made the last attempt to not only save herself but to reach her two year-old, Betty Jean who witnessed all of the horror and was crying hysterically. After he hit her with the rifle butt, he took it and hit the helpless toddler as well.
I picked up that knife that the old lady had, started to walk in the bedroom and the little girl kept yelling, and I told her to shut up, and I started to walk again, and just turned around and threw the kitchen knife I had at her… they said it hit her in the throat, but I thought it hit her in the chest. I went on into the bedroom.” Charlie said and continued, “Mr. Bartlett was moving around, so I tried to stab him in the throat, but the knife wouldn’t go in and I just hit the top part of it with my hand, and it went in.”
Where was Caril throughout all of this? Oh, she was there but didn’t do anything to stop it yet tried to maintain her innocence later on stating that she was terrorized and taken hostage. However, what happened next seems to contradict her side of the story. With that being said, Caril was lucky that she was underage when she was a willing spectator of her parents and baby step sister being murdered. In the aftermath, Caril’s mother’s body was drug to an old outhouse and forced into the toilet opening. The step father’s body was left on the floor of the chicken coop and Betty Jean was put in a box that had been used for garbage. Caril and Charlie cleaned up inside, ridding the house of the blood that was left behind. It has been said in more than one article, that the couple enjoyed Pepsi and potato chips that night… only yards away from the rotting bodies and continued to stay there throughout the rest of the week.
Visitors came the next couple of days growing suspicious even though Caril posted a sign on the door saying “Stay away, Everybody is sick with the flu.” Sensing that the sign wouldn’t work much longer, the couple finally decided to skip town.
Not So Lucky 7
This was the beginning of the end. Charlie and Caril went on a killing spree leaving seven dead. Facts are blurry and Caril’s participation or lack there-of is still not completely known. There are interviews where Charlie has said that she partook in some of the murders but because of lack of witnesses, no one will ever really know except for Caril herself.
January 27, 1958 – the couple sought refuge at Charlie’s elderly friend’s farm. Charlie shot August Meyer, 72, in the head and covered his body with a blanket. He also killed Meyer’s dog. Caril and Charlie stole his guns, money, ate his food and took a cat nap.
January 27, 1958 – later that evening after their car got stuck in the mud, Caril and Charlie hitched a ride from a couple of teenagers. They managed to hide their shotguns as they climbed into the back seat with Robert Jensen, 17, and Carol King, 16.
Charlie forced Robert to drive back towards the farm they had just left and ended his life with 6 bullets into his head. It is unclear who actually killed Carol but she was shot in the head, left half naked with her jeans around her ankles with multiple stab wounds to her abdomen and privates. There was no evidence of rape. Caril claimed to have been in the car while Charlie maintained that she killed Carol out of jealousy. They stole the teen’s car and started to drive back towards Lincoln – where a manhunt looking for them had begun. So instead of fleeing to Washington like they originally planned, Caril and Charlie decided to go back to the town where everyone knew who they were. Brilliant.
January 28, 1958 – Early in the morning, Charlie led the couple to the wealthy part of town where the president of the Capital Bridge and Capital Steel companies lived, C. Lauer Ward. His wife Clara, maid and 2 dogs were home at the time. The maid, Lillian Fencl answered the door. Charlie pointed his gun, locked the dog downstairs and assured both of the ladies that nothing bad would happen. Clara was cool as a cucumber, she even fixed Caril a cup of coffee and made waffles for Charlie. Attempting to find a getaway, Clara went upstairs to retrieve her shoes. Charlie caught on – went upstairs, struck her with a knife and continued to stab her to death. He even snapped the neck of their small poodle that was hiding up there.
Around 5:30 pm, C. Lauer Ward came home to the barrel of Charlie’s gun. He was shot and finally, it was the maid’s turn. Caril and Charlie tied her to the bed and stabbed her to death. They packed up their fancy car with all the valuables they could find and fleed.
January 29, 1958 – Realizing that their car was a target, they decided to find a new ride after crossing the border into Wyoming. That’s where they found Merle Collison, a traveling salesman, sleeping in his car on the highway. Charlie woke him up and not satisfied with a quick response, shot him numerous times in the head instead. Caril was in the back seat and Merle’s dead body was in the passenger seat. Charlie couldn’t figure out how to release the emergency brake and when a young man stopped to lend a hand, he saw the body.
Charlie and the man started to get into a physical altercation when deputy sheriff, William Romer, stopped to see what the commotion was about. Caril realized that the end of their joy ride was near and ran to the deputy asking for the police shouting that Charlie had killed someone. Comprehending that he was ultimately betrayed by his girlfriend, Charlie ran to the fancy car and started to drive off.
Romer ordered road blocks and alerted other authorities. Chief Robert Ainslie and Sheriff Earl Heflin fled after Charlie exceeding 100 miles per hour in speed. The back window was shot out of the car Charlie was driving and he finally came to a stop in the middle of the highway. But not because he was guilty or ready to turn himself in. Charlie thought he had been shot and wanted medical attention. The blood that was on Charlie’s face and ear was actually caused by a shard of glass hitting him when the back window burst.
Charles Raymond Starkweather received the death penalty by electric chair on June 25, 1959. He was buried in the same cemetery as 5 of his victims – Caril’s family and the Ward couple.
Caril Fugate was the youngest female to be tried for first degree murder in the United States. She received a life sentence and was paroled in June 1976. She had since changed her name, remarried in 2007 and was recently in a car accident this past August 2013 that left her husband dead. Caril is still alive today and refuses to speak of the murder spree.
If you would like to be really disturbed – listen to the last interviews with Charlie Starkweather.