June 25, 1959
20-year-old Charles Starkweather is executed in the electric chair for murder
Starkweather was 18 when he met his future girlfriend, Caril Ann Fugate, who was 13 at the time. A year later, Starkweather robbed and killed a service station attendant who had refused to sell Starkweather a stuffed animal on credit. He confessed to Fugate that he had robbed the man but another had shot him. Fugate admitted after the couple’s capture that she didn’t believe Starkweather but played along out of fear. Starkweather later stated this murder changed him, making him feel as though he could kill without guilt or repercussions.
Less than two months later, Starkweather visited Fugate’s house while she was absent. Her parents demanded he leave so he shot and killed both of them. Next he killed their 2-year-old daughter by strangling and stabbing her. When Fugate returned, the couple hid the bodies behind the house and continued to live in the home for 6 days. Fugate’s grandmother became suspicious and called the police to investigate, but the couple had left the home shortly before the police arrived.
Starkweather and Fugate then drove to the home of an elderly family friend. He was killed along with his dog.
The pair abandoned their vehicle after becoming stuck in mud, but were quickly picked up by two teenagers, Robert Jensen and Carol King. Jensen was shot in the back of the head, then Starkweather attempted to rape King, though he was unable to. King was shot to death as well, though Fugate and Starkweather both claimed the other had shot her; Starkweather admitted to shooting Jensen.
Driving Jensen’s stolen car, their next stop was a wealthy area of Lincoln, Nebraska. They entered the house of C. Lauer Ward, stabbed Mrs. Ward and her maid to death, and snapped the neck of the family’s dog. Once Mr. Ward arrived home, they shot and killed him, filled his car with jewelry stolen from the house, and fled the state.
As Mr. Ward’s vehicle was easily recognizable, Starkweather and Fugate killed a sleeping motorist to steal his car. However, the newly stolen car featured a push-pedal emergency brake which Starkweather was unfamiliar with and the car stalled. A passing motorist stopped to help and Starkweather threatened him with a rifle. The scene was noticed by a deputy sheriff who came to investigate, which led Fugate to fleeing the vehicle, identifying Starkweather, and claiming he was going to kill her.
Starkweather led the deputy sheriff on a high-speed chase until a bullet shattered his windshield. One of the shards of glass cut Starkweather who began bleeding, and he surrendered. Sheriff Earl Heflin later stated “He thought he was bleeding to death. That’s why he stopped. That’s the kind of yellow son of a bitch he is.”
Although Starkweather and Fugate killed 11 people, Starkweather was given the death penalty for just his first murder, that of the service station attendant. Fugate was given a life sentence but was paroled after 17 and a half years. Fugate maintained she was a hostage during the entire killing spree and did not have a part in the murders. Starkweather disagreed, however, claiming she was a willing and eager participant, and that she should be “sitting on my lap” during the execution.
Starkweather is buried in Wyuka Cemetery, the same cemetery as five of his victims. According to The North Plate Telegraph, Starkweather occasionally has tourists wishing to visit his grave. The cemetery employees will bring the visitors to his grave, but only after first visiting those of the five victims also buried there. One employee, Fran Baatz, was quoted as saying “We don’t draw attention to him. He doesn’t deserve it. He destroyed life.” Likewise, if tourists asked about Starkweather, historian Ed Zimmer will first talk about the victims. “We wouldn’t know [Starkweather’s] name otherwise. He never gets top billing with me.”
The victims of the spree, as well as the gas station attendant Starkweather was executed for, are:
- Robert Colvert (21)
- Marion Bartlett (58)
- Velda Bartlett (36)
- Betty Jean Bartlett (2)
- August Meyer (70)
- Robert Jensen (17)
- Carol King (16)
- C. Lauer Ward (47)
- Clara Ward (46)
- Lillian Fencl (51)
- Merle Collison (34)
The spree has inspired many pieces of fiction including Natural Born Killers, The Frighteners, Kalifornia, and Bruce Springsteen’s song “Nebraska.”