Charles Starkweather and Caril Fugate spread fear throughout the high plains of Nebraska in the 1950s. In 1958, starting in their hometown of Lincoln Nebraska, they went on a killing spree that transfixed the United States. At 19 years old, Starkweather was a swaggering punk who wore blue jeans and a black motorcycle jacket. He was a unemployed high school drop out with a greasy duck tail haircut. He was small at 5’5” and he colored his red hair with black shoe polish. He tried to emulate a James Dean slouching cool demeanor. Much to her parent’s dismay 14 year old Caril Ann Fugate started dating this delinquent.
In January, 1958 Caril Fugate claimed she broke up with Starkweather. On January 21, she arrived home from school and found Starkweather waiting and her parents gone. She later claimed that Starkweather said that her family was being held captive and would be killed if she didn’t cooperate. She would later claim she did not know that her stepfather, Marion Bartlett, her mother, Velda Bartlett and her 2-year-old half sister Betty Jean Bartlett were already dead and their bodies hidden in an outbuilding on the property.
For the next six days, the couple stayed in the family’s home. Caril’s adult sister, grandmother and a brother-in-law as well as Starkweather’s brother came to the house. she told them that the family was sick and posted a warning on the door: “Stay a way. Every body is sick with the flue.”
Caril’s grandmother became suspicious and threatened to call the police. At that threat, the couple fled in her parent’s car. They drove to Bennet, Neb. and went to the home of Starkweather’s friend, August Meyer. They became stuck on a muddy country road and walked to Meyer’s house. He offered his horses to free their car. As the 70-year-old Meyer led them to the stables, Starkweather pulled his shotgun and killed the old man. He then beat the old man’s dog to death, breaking his shotgun in the process. Fugate would use this brutality later to claim she was sop afraid that her only option was to obey Starkweather.
The next crime occurred when a 17-year-old boy named Robert Jensen of Bennet and his 16-year-old girlfriend Carol King offered Charlie and Caril a ride. Starkweather shot Jensen and brutally raped and then killed Ms. King. They took Jensen’s car and returned to Lincoln. Starkweather and Fugate drove to an upper middle-class neighborhood and randomly chose a large home as a place to hide. They encountered the owner, C. Lauer Ward a prominent local businessman, and killed him, his wife Clara and their maid Lillian Fencil. Starkweather and Fugate used Ward’s 1956 Packard to flee Lincoln driving west across Nebraska. As they neared Douglas, Wyo., Starkweather decided to ditch the Packard because it was “too hot.” looking for another car, at the turnoff to Ayers Natural Bridge, he spotted a 37-year-old shoe salesman named Merle Collison from Great Falls, Mont., sleeping in hois car along the highway. Starkweather approached the vehicle, tapped on the window and fired through the side window killing Collison.
At about the same time, Joe Sprinkle, from Casper, Wyo., drove up and stopped to help after seeing the two cars parked on the highway. Sprinkle saw Collison’s body in the seat of his car and Charlie pulled a shotgun. Sprinkle, a large strong man, realized he had to fight for his life. he jumped on the much smaller Starkweather and they began wrestling for the gun. Sprinkle easily managed to wrench it away. As the two wrestled, Natrona County Deputy Sheriff William Romer drove up. the first thing he saw was a young girl bolting from Collison’s car and running towards Romer, screaming, “He’s going to kill me. He’s crazy. He just killed a man.” Meanwhile, Starkweather jumped into the Packard, turned it around and headed back towards Douglas. Romer, staying behind with Fugate who had identified the fleeing man as Starkweather, radioed for help.
Douglas Police Chief Bob Ainslie and Converse County Sheriff Earl Heflin heard the radio call and set up a roadblock at the Douglas city limits. When Starkweather blew through it, the officers gave gave chase through downtown Douglas. At 100 mph, Heflin fired out his window at the fleeing Starkweather. As they left the city limits, he shattered the Packard’s rear window, spraying glass. Starkweather slammed on the brakes, jumped out of the car and then bakc inside where the lawmen surrounded him. After several tense moments, punctuated by additional demands and gunfire from the lawmen, Starkweather surrendered. The officers found that he had run out of ammunition for his remaining gun. Starkweather later boasted the he would have shot it out except that he was out of ammo.
Both would be convicted of multiple murders. Carl Starkweather was executed June 25, 1959. Caril Ann Fugate was sentenced to life in prison. she spent 18 years and was released on parole in 1976.
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