1953: Dmytro Bilinchuk, Company 67 of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army 1979: Two former dictators of Ghana with four of their aides

1959: Charles Starkweather, Nebraska spree killer

June 25th, 2008 Headsman

Just past midnight this date in 1959, Charles Starkweather was electrocuted in Lincoln, Nebraska, for a mass-murdering road trip with his jailbait date that claimed ten lives.*

A loner and loser, Starkweather’s spree in January 1958 caught the national imagination and has never quite let it go since — the prototypical despair of miscarried white masculinity, a primal scream from the underbelly of the American dream.

Bowlegged, myopic, slightly speech-impaired, Starkweather was an outcast at school and fought back with his fists, then dropped out entirely and into a yawning dead-end economic life collecting garbage from the wealthier quarters of Lincoln. “The more I looked at people the more I hated them because I knowed they wasn’t any place for me with the kind of people I knowed,” he said in his confession. Starkweather palliated his isolation by aping James Dean, dreaming of a big robbery score, and losing his heart to 14-year-old Caril Ann Fugate, in whose adolescent eyes the beaten boy felt his stature grow.

He — or maybe they together — killed her parents when they tried to interfere in the relationship, and then eight days of murderous desperation ensued that riveted Lincoln and the nation: they lived a few days with the corpses, shooing neighbors away with a story about the flu, then fled like animals, killing ruthlessly for a couple of cars and a place to spend the night and heading for Wyoming — all to no end that would make a lick of sense, not even the cockeyed hope that there was somewhere to go to outrun the gore. Killing and running had just become what they did to keep from having to stop.

I had hated and been hated. I had my little world to keep alive as long as possible and my gun. That was my answer. (Source)

Four months after he murdered the Fugate family and not yet 20 years of age, Charles heard his own death sentence from jurors in the city he’d briefly but unforgettably terrorized. (There’s a pdf timeline of the case from the Lincoln Evening Journal here.)

He lived cruelly, and it went cruelly with him to the last; offered a chance to donate his eyes, Starkweather retorted that “nobody ever did anything for me when I was alive. Why should I help anybody when I’m dead?” According to the Los Angeles Times, the doctor who was supposed to pronounce the prisoner dead himself suffered a fatal heart attack minutes before the electrocution.

Fugate’s tender age and sex spared her a death sentence, even though Starkweather said that she ought to be “sitting in my lap” when he went to the chair. She was paroled in 1976 and has mostly stayed out of view since. Laura James at CLEWS recently posted an update on her whereabouts.

More detailed annotations of this notorious duo’s life and times can be found here and here; the Lincoln Journal Star recently published an online 50-year retrospective on the case with high production values.

But if Starkweather’s James Dean fixation denoted the pull of celebrity glamor culture, his death left an enduring legacy for a world that had nothing for him in life, a haunting name recognition few school shooters or bell tower snipers have been able to hold since. He captivated the boyhood Steven King:

I do think that the very first time I saw a picture of [Starkweather], I knew I was looking at the future. His eyes were a double zero. There was just nothing there. He was like an outrider of what America might become.

The title track of Bruce Springsteen’s 1982 album Nebraska is written as a first-person narrative by Starkweather, to the tune of a desolate acoustic accompaniment that imbues the killer’s brutality with an aching loneliness.

They wanted to know why I did what I did
Well sir I guess there’s just a meanness in this world

Martin Sheen wonderfully rendered a (heavily fictionalized) Starkweather character opposite Sissy Spacek on the silver screen in Badlands (1973):

Rather less artistically consequential, the 1963 low-budget film The Sadist, also based on the Starkweather case, is in the public domain and available free on Google video:* Starkweather killed a gas station attendant in a separate incident weeks before, so his body count is 11, with ten of them on his infamous spree.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Electrocuted,Execution,Infamous,Murder,Popular Culture,Serial Killers,USA

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33 thoughts on “1959: Charles Starkweather, Nebraska spree killer”

  1. Dave says:

    My grandfather oversaw Starkweather’s execution…and was on the board that granted Fugate’s parole.

  2. Martha Floyd says:

    He was worse then charles manson ??

  3. Robert Jones says:

    Like all serial killers, Charles Starkweather was a nobody
    who wanted to be somebody.

    He took eleven lives on a vicious murder spree. He was
    eventually caught, and burned for his vile crimes.

    He was only 20 years of age.
    You reap what you sow……

  4. mark says:

    I have never ever heard anybody glamorize Starkweather. He was obviously a disturbed guy and damaged beyond repair. Don’t remember him ever crying that he was being executed or trying to defend what he did. His anger led him to murder innocent people. He got caught and was executed, end of story. Seems silly to try to empower yourself by talking shit about him after he is dead.

    1. Rayan Alam says:

      Not only is he an asshole, he is also an idiot. Apparently he didn’t know that the wyoming governor at the time HATED the death penalty and even said he would commute starkweather sentence if he got death in wyoming. But he didn’t and got his trial in nebraska, effectively “f*cking himself.” He would probably still be alive today but in jail of he had known lol

      1. Sam says:

        It’s clear you don’t really know what you’re talking about. While it is true that Wyoming’s governor was opposed to thr death penalty at the time that was not well-known to the public and certainly not to Starkweather. Second, even if he had not waived extradition to Nebraska it’s almost a certainty that he would have been extradited, and he still would have been executed. Starkweather didn’t effectively “f**k himself” by waiving extradition. He only hastened the inevitable result.

  5. killer of killers says:

    Starkweather was an angry little man , in a big world….his anger stemming from his lack of intelligence and demeaning job…his anger got the better of him…and…he killed that gas station attendant (probably robbery motive )….when he found that killing was very easy for him , to do….he would not hesitate to do so…my guess is that when starkweather knew that the law might be closing in on him , for his first murder…he wanted to go on the run…he went to collect miss fugate , before leaving…fugates parents told him no….so….he gunned them down….that’s when he knew that he had no reservations about killing anybody who got in his way….potential spree killers are all around us …in every town…check your history…starkweather was not the first , nor would he be the last spree killer….CHARLES WHITMAN…..PAUL JHON KNOWLES…THE CRAZED UBER DRIVER , just to name a few…those people decided that they had nothing to lose…they were full of rage and hatred and wanted to die but not before they took a whole lot of people with them…we should try to reconize these people….because , they are out there , ready and waiting , for the right combination of things to set them off.

  6. Old Man mcCloud says:

    Caril and Charlie: May the prairie winds blow the dust of your memories from the face of the Earth forever!

  7. Susanne says:

    Caril Fugate was guilty as hell. ALL the evidence and witnesses indicate this. And she was convicted of murder in the perpetration of a robbery, which she admitted she did. The girl had numerous opportunities to escape or reach out. She didn’t. Now, 55 years later, you want to change history. Sorry, that aint gonna work.

  8. Cynthia says:

    “Fugate was not there at the time of the murders, but came home later. There are disagreements over whether she helped hide the bodies in a chicken house and an outhouse near the Lincoln home, and whether she even was aware that her family was dead.

    Both Battisti and John McArthur insist that Fugate did not learn that her family had been murdered until much later, after the pair’s arrest in Wyoming.

    The authors said that Starkweather told Fugate that her family was being held hostage, and that if she didn’t cooperate, Starkweather would make a phone call to his associates, and they would all be killed.

    Starkweather and Fugate stayed in her family’s house for six days before fleeing.

    Once, during those six days, police came to the house, but Fugate waived them away, saying everyone was sick but OK. She lied because she feared being shot by Starkweather if she didn’t, the authors say….
    McArthur, now a Los Angeles-based writer, said Fugate left other clues during the rampage, including throwing out the schoolbooks of victim Carol King to show the direction of Starkweather’s getaway.

    “Someone who was trying to help Starkweather wouldn’t have left such clues and messages,” he said….Battisti is less ambiguous. Fugate, she said, is “a completely innocent victim.”,,,
    Fugate wanted to escape and tell police but couldn’t, Battisti said, because she was trying to protect her family. She was portrayed as a young “tramp,” but according to Battisti, Fugate never slept with Starkweather.

    The author blames the emotion surrounding the horrific crimes for Fugate’s guilty verdict. Too many people, Battisti said, believed Starkweather’s testimony that Fugate was a willing participant.

    But Battisti and McArthur say Starkweather initially said that Fugate was not involved in the crimes.

    McArthur said it was only later, after police told Starkweather that Fugate had called him “crazy” and after they had offered him incentives to testify, that Starkweather changed his story.

    McArthur’s grandfather and father were so convinced of Fugate’s innocence that they took on her appeals without pay, or “pro bono.””

  9. Susanne says:

    Caril Fugate was guilty. She gave a confession but upon the advice of her lawyer, it was left unsigned and not admitted. She admitted on the ride back from Wyoming, after apprehension, that she had known about her family being killed. She also admitted that she had and Charlie had seen the headlines and cut out the pictures out of the paper. I recently read an article where she had quite a temper. She threatened a jr high teacher with her life because of some issue with Caril. In addition, their is suspicion she actually assisted moving her step fathers body out of the house as their were no signs the screen door had been used as a litter and Charlie would not have been able to do it himself. Yes, she was guilty, it is quite unfair she was able to do 17 years time, and has now garnered the sympathy vote because of her old age. She was a liar then just as much as Charlie. She was implicated and should have received the same punishment as he. I personally feel he should not have been put to death. Now she is an old married woman living in Ohio.Well, Caril, you are the one who has to deal with what you did. I bet you can’t wait to see Charlie soon…..

  10. Farley says:

    Remember that Caril was a 14-year old child at the time of her family’s killings. I personally know a cousin of Robert Jensen and a sibling of Carol King’s who suffered immensely through the trials and were just as repulsed with her as they were with Starkweather. I sat up in the dark listening to the radio (while my roommates slept) to the execution and will always remember the death of the attending physician, as well as releasing the wrong name on the broadcast for the first few minutes. There were two physicians present –that would have been a great shock to any of their friends or family members who may have been listening to the live broadcast also. Some attibuted that final death to Starkweather’s list, as well, since they felt that the stress of the situation may have caused a fatal heart attack to the physician. That was a scary time to be living in Lincoln or anywhere in the State for that matter.

  11. Duane says:

    I don’t know why my comment was deleted, so it it goes again. Wiliam Allen interviewed everyone involved in the case, including Caril. Caril maintained the same story for over 50 years, Charlie changed his story 7 or 8 times. Yet Charlie was believed and Caril wasn’t? Even though Charlie was known to be a compulsive liar. Read the discussion section under Caril’s Wikipedia page. The person posting as Diddley Squat did their research. Susan, you should do the same.

  12. Duane says:

    Susan, you need to wake up. Were you there? Were you watching through a window when Caril’s family was murdered? Go read William Allen’s book


    Well at least he was exicted quickly instead of the 14 to 15 years of stupid appeals like they have today

  14. jim mccord says:

    Coleman,both of the gravesites you inquired about(Colvert and Collison)can be found on the Find-a-Grave site.I just checked it.Merle Collison is buried in Mount Olivet Cemetery in Great Falls,Montana and Beaver Crossing Cemetery where Bob Colvert rests is in Seward County Nebraska.This may also be of interest for you.Though I’m not sure of the exact day that Starkweather was buried I read a newspaper article recently that reported that his family allowed approx. 100 people who were gathered outside the funeral home that was handling his arrangements (Umbergher’sMortuary on Vine St. and 48th St.) to come inside and view him in his casket before his service.It stated that there were no plans for public viewing but the family gave in when so many curiosity seekers turned out on the streets.

  15. jim mccord says:

    Bobby Colvert is buried in Beaver Crossing(NE.)Cemetery,Merle Collison’s grave is in a cemetery in Great Falls(MT.) ,the name escapes me just now but you can google his name on the find-a-grave site and it is listed with a few photos.I have seen a photo of Bob Colvert’s grave too but don’t believe it was on that site.I think you can find it by goggling Beaver Crossing Cemetery.Hope this helps.On a side note,this is the anniversary of Starkweather’s execution;so glad you’re no longer with us Charlie.

  16. coleman says:

    Can anyone clue me in as to the burial sites of the gas station attendant {Colvert} and the shoe salesman {Collison}? I have visited all of the graves of the other victims. My interest in Starkweather comes from the fact that my brother, a Nebraska State trooper, played a minor role in the transport of Charlie from Wyoming to Lincoln after the arrest and that I live in the West Nebraska area where he and Fugate were jailed overnite before there departure to Lincoln.

  17. coleman says:

    The Bartlet’s and the baby, the Ward’s, Charlies’ parents and Charlie are all buried in the Lincoln cemetery. The two teens and the elderly farmer are buried in the Bennett cemetery. The Ward’s maid is buried in the Wahoo cemetery while the Wyoming shoe salesman is probably buried ijn Montana. The Bartlet baby was buried with the mother.

  18. susan j. sager says:

    Duane – wake up dear, Caril Ann Fugate was most assuredly there when her parents and baby sister were killed. Something warped and turned around was going on in that little girls head when and where all that took place. She will burn in hell when she dies. Last I heard she has had a stroke and is in poor health. (I have family in Michigan and Ohio – my great Aunt is an RN – and they know of her whereabouts and her poor health concerns.

  19. Duane says:

    June 25th happens to be my birthday. Thank you State of Nebraska. Yeah it was ironic that I was in Lincoln for the 50th Anniversary of Charlie’s execution and while searching for Charlie’s dad’s grave at Wyuka Cemetary, got the news that Farrah had died. And not long later while at Charlie’s grave my girlfriend got the call that MJ died. Who’s gonna die on my birthday next year? I don’t think Charlie’s execution ended the evils in America, it may have started it. Now Larry, aside from obviously being illiterate, do some research, there’s no evidence that Caril was there when Charlie killed her family. She apparantly had no idea they were dead.

  20. red says:

    you wouldnt be calling him no hero if he had murdered your family

  21. Charles Starkweather is Lincoln, NE’s real life Freddy Krueger and still his picture makes people wet there pants. On The 50th Anniverary of his demise, two notables died on June 25, 2009; Farrah Fawcett & The beloved king of pop, Michael Jackson. And the funny thing about the execution of Charles Starkweather, it was supposed to end the evil in America. But it got worse, you had “Birmingham Sunday” you had the demise of JFK, you had the demise of Dr. King & The Manson Murders and Columbine & leading up to 9/11. It looks like Charles Starkweather has the last laugh on us.

  22. larry says:


  23. larry says:


  24. eddiethekid says:

    My hero.

  25. Jim McCord says:

    My faith is restored in you Headsman by posting this pos on your blog for today.Charlie was a total waste of humanity and has been glamorized way too much through the years since his and Fugate’s killing spree across the Great Plains.He was a cowardly,cruel little misfit who was right where he needed to be when he sat down in the electric chair.Have a nice day.Jim

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