Authors: Nigel Cawthorne
Tags: #True Crime
The most barbaric murderers of our times
Copyright © Nigel Cawthorne, 2006
The right of
to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
Condition of Sale
This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out or otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent publisher.
Summersdale Publishers Ltd
46 West Street
Printed and bound in Great Britain
ISBN 1 84024 485 2
Murder is close to the human heart. We have all said in anger or irritation ‘I’ll kill you’ or ‘I could have killed so-and-so’. No matter how little we meant it, everybody wonders at one time or another whether they could actually kill. How can we be sure that no murderer lurks within?
Once that anger wells up inside, who can know how far things could go? Can you be sure that you could control that murderous rage? What would happen if you had too much to drink? Or if stress made you snap? And if you killed once and got away with it, would the temptation to murder again be too much?
Then again we are all potential victims. You are not even safe in your own home – most murders occur within families – or on the streets even in broad daylight – there could be a sniper on the roof intent on killing whoever steps into their sights. At night, things get worse. A sex killer could be lurking in the shadows. A murderer eager to kill for Satan or some other perverted cause might be climbing in through that unlocked window. Nowhere is safe.
It is not just your own safety that you have to worry about. Your friends and family are also at risk. Ian Brady and Myra Hindley – the Moors Murderers – preyed on defenceless children, torturing and murdering them for their own perverted gratification. Myra Hindley is now dead and Ian Brady, unrepentant, still refuses to reveal where all the bodies are buried, despite the evident distress of the families of their victims. More recently two American high-school students went on a rampage, slaughtering their fellow pupils: even at school our young ones are at risk.
The UK, America and Australia have all been terrorised by hideous killings: in England sullen loner Michael Ryan devastated the quiet village of Hungerford with inexplicable acts of murderous violence; America was horrified by the actions of a lone sniper who picked off innocent victims in Austin, Texas; and in Australia a gang of lesbian vampires killed their victim to drink his blood. There have also been those killers who were motivated by an overwhelming sexual desire. In the 1960s the Boston Strangler used his sexual charisma to talk his way into women’s apartments and, often persuaded them to take their clothes off and have sex before he murdered them. The Yorkshire Ripper followed his nineteenth-century namesake by slaughtering prostitutes or those who he thought were prostitutes. He claimed he was doing God’s work.
Ted Bundy’s insatiable libido sent him on a nation-wide killing spree and Dennis Nilsen killed men he had picked up so that they would not leave him. He then dissected their bodies, cooked them and flushed them down the toilet. Jeffery Dahmer came up with another solution. He ate his victims.
Like Brady and Hindley, couples can become so deeply involved that they will kill anyone who gets in their way – even family members. Charles Starkweather and his girlfriend Caril Fugate killed her family, before going on a killing spree which has inspired several films. No one is sure how many people were murdered by Fred and Rosemary West as they usually picked on transients who no one would miss, and the case of Dr Harold Shipman, who killed at least 215 people proves that sometimes you cannot even trust your own family doctor.
Emanuel Tanay, a professor of psychiatry at Wayne State University, pointed out that murder is not the crime of criminals, but that of ordinary citizens. The great majority of murders are family affairs, committed by outwardly ordinary people who never murder or commit any other crime – except on the one fateful occasion. And when the psychotic killer strikes, the result is often wholesale slaughter.
details these shocking cases and takes you inside the minds of the people who committed these horrendous crimes. Are they inhuman beasts who are beyond compassion or understanding? Or are they human beings just like us, but who have simply overstepped a line? You decide.
In the meantime, be on your guard. Anyone around you could be a potential killer. There may even be one lurking inside.
Natural Born Killers
Name: Charles Starkweather
Accomplice: Caril Fugate (the youngest woman ever to be tried for first-degree murder in the US)
Number of victims: 11 killed
Favoured method of killing: Shooting, stabbing
Reign of terror: December 1957
Stated motive: ‘general revenge upon the world and its human race’
Executed: 25 June 1959
Charles Starkweather was born on 24 November 1938 in a poor quarter of Lincoln, Nebraska. He was the third of eight children – seven boys and a girl. His father, Guy Starkweather, was a convivial man who liked a drink. A handyman and a carpenter, he suffered from a weak back and arthritis, and could not always work. His wife, Helen, a slight, stoical woman, worked as a waitress and, after 1946, became practically the sole provider for her large family.
Although the Starkweathers knew little of their roots, the first Starkweather had left the old world in the seventeenth century, sailing from the Isle of Man in 1640. The name was well known across the mid-West and there was even a small town called Starkweather in North Dakota. Somehow the name Starkweather seemed eerily redolent of the wind sweeping the Great Plains.
Charles Starkweather had happy memories of his first six years, which he spent playing with his two elder brothers, Rodney and Leonard, helping around the house with his mother and going fishing with his dad. But all that changed in 1944 on his first day at school. When they enrolled at Saratoga Elementary School, all the children were supposed to stand up and make a speech. When it came to Starkweather’s turn, his classmates spotted his slight speech impediment and began to laugh. Starkweather broke down in confusion. He never forgot that humiliation.
Starkweather soon gained the impression that the teacher was picking on him, and he believed that the other children were ridiculing him because of his short bow-legs and distinctive red hair. Later, from his condemned cell, he wrote: ‘It seems as though I could see my heart before my eyes, turning dark black with hate of rages.’ On his second day at school he got into a fight, which he found relieved his aggression. He claimed to have been in a fight almost every day during his school life, though his teachers remembered little of this.
Despite his high IQ Starkweather was treated throughout his school career as a slow learner. It was only when his eyes were tested at the age of 15 that it was discovered he could barely see the blackboard from his place at the back of the class. He was practically blind beyond 20 feet.
Starkweather felt that life had short-changed him. He was short, short-tempered, short-sighted and short on education. He was forced, by poverty, to wear second-hand clothes. Classmates called him ‘Little Red’ and he remembered every perceived slight. It made him as hard as nails.
Starkweather’s reputation as a fighter spread throughout Lincoln and toughs from all over the city came to take him on. He said later that it was the beginning of his rebellion against the whole world, his only response to being made fun of. At the age of 15, he was challenged by Bob von Busch. They fought each other to a standstill. Afterwards they became firm friends. Von Busch was one of the few people who saw the amusing and generous side to Starkweather’s nature. The rest of the world saw barely repressed hostility.
Starkweather dropped out of Irving Junior High School in 1954, when he was just 16 years old, taking a menial job in a newspaper warehouse. His boss treated him as if he was mentally retarded and he hated it.
Although Starkweather continued to love and respect his mother, his relationship with his father sometimes degenerated into open hostility. In 1955 they had a fight and Starkweather went to stay with Bob von Busch and his father. The two teenagers were car fanatics. They spent a lot of their spare time at Capitol Beach, the local race-car track. Starkweather raced hot rods there and participated in demolition derbies. The two boys also took to joyriding in stolen cars, occasionally stripping them down for spare parts.
When von Busch started dating Barbara Fugate, Starkweather began to see less of him. Then, in the early summer of 1956, Bob took Starkweather to a drive-in cinema on a double date with Barbara and her younger sister Caril. Caril Fugate was just 13 years old, though she could easily have passed for 18. She and Barbara were the daughters of Velda and William Fugate, a drunkard and a convicted peeping Tom. The couple had divorced in 1951 and Barbara and Caril’s mother married again. The family lived at 924 Belmont Avenue, an unpaved road in the poor quarter of Lincoln.
Caril Fugate seemed the perfect mate for the moody Charlie Starkweather. Although she was short – five foot one – she was self-confident and most people found her opinionated and rebellious. She often wore a man’s shirt with the sleeves rolled up, blue jeans and boots. Like Starkweather, she did badly at school. Considered slow, she had little experience of life. She had left Lincoln only once, for a holiday in Nebraska’s Sand Hill.
To the girls of Lincoln, Charles Starkweather did not seem like much of a catch. He had never had a proper girlfriend before. He was just five foot five, with bow-legs, a pug face and the reputation of a hoodlum. But Caril liked him. His tough, rebel image appealed to her. She did not care about his working-class origins or his dead-end job. Far more fascinating were the stories he told of his fantasies about being a cowboy or the fastest hot-rod driver in town. What’s more, with his slicked-back hair and cigarette dangling from his lips, he looked the spitting image of the latest teenage idol, James Dean, on whom Starkweather consciously modelled himself.
Starkweather liked Caril too. He liked the way she wore make-up and swore. After their first date, Caril went out with another local boy. Starkweather tracked him down and threatened to kill him if he saw Caril again.
After that Caril Fugate and Charles Starkweather started going steady. It made Starkweather feel good to be wanted. They lived in a world of their own and with Caril, he forgot about his problems. He quit his job at the warehouse. He had been working part-time as a rubbish collector with his brother Rodney since he was 13. Now he worked the rubbish trucks full-time. He earned a pittance but he got off work early enough to meet Caril from school every day.
Their parents were against the match. Caril’s mother and stepfather thought that 17-year-old Starkweather was too old for Caril and they thought that he was leading their daughter astray. Starkweather’s father, who co-owned Starkweather’s pale blue 1949 Ford sedan, banned Caril – whom Starkweather had taught to drive – from taking the wheel. In the late summer of 1957, however, Caril was involved in a minor accident with the car. Starkweather’s father hit his son so hard that he knocked him through a window.
Starkweather left home for good. He moved in with Bob von Busch, who had just married Barbara. Soon he was persuaded to move out of their cramped apartment and he took a room of his own in the same apartment block, one of the very few in town at the time.
Starkweather and Caril went on dates to the cinema, sometimes alone, sometimes with Bob and Barbara. Or they would just drive around, listening to distant rock ’n’ roll stations on the radio. Starkweather also liked to get out of the small city of Lincoln, which had a population of just 100,000 in 1958. He found Nebraska’s capital city claustrophobic and felt contempt for the local people’s law-abiding, Christian ways. Lincoln had just three murders a year before Starkweather went on his spree, and boasted more churches per head than any other city in the world. Out in the huge, flat countryside around Lincoln, Starkweather felt at home. He had craved the solitary life of a backwoodsman since he was a child.
‘When the sun was setting in its tender glory,’ he later wrote of an early experience of the wilderness, ‘it was as though time itself was standing still. The flames still burn deep down inside of me for the love of that enchanted forest.’
Out in the woods he would experience that feeling again.
‘I would sit down against a large tree,’ he said. ‘I gazed above and between the lagged limbs into the sky for miles and miles.’
Caril shared that romantic view of the natural world. She would accompany him on hunting trips and, in the evening, they would lie back, holding hands, and stare up into the clear, starry, black Nebraskan sky. There he told her of the deal he had made with death. Death, he said, had come to him in a vision. Half-man, half-bear, it had taken him down to hell, but hell was not as he had always imagined, ‘it was more like beautiful flames of gold’. The few other people he had trusted enough to tell his vision to had thought him crazy and had changed the subject. But Caril said she loved him and that she wanted to go there, to hell, with him. And in his love for her, Starkweather thought, at last he had found ‘something worth killing for’. His one great aim in life now was for Caril to see him ‘go down shooting, knowing it was for her’.
Starkweather liked to buy presents for Caril – soft toys, a record player and a radio, so she could enjoy music at home. He also bought her jewellery, including a locket with ‘Caril’ and ‘Chuck’, her nickname for him, engraved on it. But buying presents on the $42 a week he earned as a garbage collector did not come easy – especially when there was rent to pay and a car to keep on the road. Starkweather soon began looking around for an easier way of making money.
Nebraska was on the eastern edge of the old Wild West. Cattle ranchers had wrested it from the Sioux and it had been cowboy country until the cereal farmers fenced it in and forced the cattlemen to move on. Starkweather felt himself very much part of that old tradition. He loved guns and spent hours stripping them down and oiling them. And he loved to shoot. Although he was short-sighted, he was a good shot and practised shooting from the hip like an old time gunfighter. He also loved detective films and true crime comics, and he began to fantasise about being a criminal. But he was not interested in being a burglar or a sneak thief. To Starkweather, crime meant armed robbery.
Although he had had a few adolescent scrapes, he had never been in any real trouble with the law. Now, to keep Caril, he started planning a criminal career. Bank robbery was plainly the pinnacle of the profession, but he thought he had better start small – by knocking over a petrol station. He chose the Crest Service Station on Cornhusker Highway that ran out of Lincoln to the north. He used to hang out there tinkering with his car and knew the petrol station pretty well. A couple of times, when he had been locked out of his room for not paying the rent, he had slept there in his car, surviving on chocolate bars and Pepsi from the vending machines. The petrol station attendant would wake him at 4.15 a.m. so that he would be on time for work.
On 1 December 1957 a new attendant named Robert Colvert had just taken over. Colvert was 21 and just out of the Navy, where he had been known as ‘Little Bob’. He was nine stone, and around five foot five. Earlier that year he had got married. His wife Charlotte was expecting and he had taken the night job at the petrol station to support his growing family. He was new to the job and barely knew Starkweather, though they had had a row the day before when he refused to give Starkweather credit on a toy dog he wanted to buy for Caril.
It was a freezing night and a bitter Nebraskan wind was blowing in from the plains, when Starkweather pulled into the service station around 3 a.m. Colvert was alone. Starkweather was nervous. He bought a pack of cigarettes and drove off. A few minutes later he came back. This time he bought some chewing gum and drove off again. The coast was clear. It was now or never.
Starkweather loaded the shotgun he had stolen from Bob von Busch’s cousin, Sonny. He pulled a hunting cap down over his red hair and tied a bandanna around his face.
Back at the petrol station, Starkweather pointed the shotgun at Colvert and handed him a canvas money bag. Colvert filled the bag with the notes and loose change from the till. But then Starkweather’s plan went badly wrong. Although he knew the station’s routine and how much money was kept there overnight, the new man did not know the combination of the safe and could not open it. Starkweather forced him into the car at gunpoint. Colvert drove. Starkweather sat in the passenger seat, the shotgun trained on Colvert. They headed for Superior Street, a dirt road a little way north, used by teenagers as a lovers’ lane.
The only witness to what happened next was Starkweather. He claimed that, as they got out of the car, Colvert made a grab for the gun.
‘I got into a helluva fight and shooting gallery,’ he said. ‘He shot himself the first time. He had hold of the gun from the front, and I cocked it and he was messing around and he jerked it and the thing went off.’ Colvert was hit and fell, but he was not dead. He tried to stand up. Starkweather reloaded the shotgun. He pressed the barrel to Colvert’s head and pulled the trigger. ‘He didn’t get up any more.’
Although Starkweather had been nervous before, the killing filled him with a feeling of serenity he had not experienced since childhood. He felt free, above the law. The robbery had earned him just $l08. Five months later, on 24 April 1958, Robert Colvert’s widow Charlotte gave birth to a daughter.
When Starkweather picked up Caril later that day, he told her about the robbery, but claimed that an unnamed accomplice had done the shooting. That evening he threw the shotgun in a creek. A few days later he fished it out, cleaned it and put the gun back in Sonny’s garage. It had not even been missed.
During the police investigation, several of the other service station attendants mentioned Starkweather’s name, but no one came to visit him. He paid off his back rent, had his car resprayed black and spent ten dollars on second-hand clothes, paying with the loose change he had got from the till in the petrol station. The owner of the store was suspicious and reported the matter to the police. But no effort was made to question him.
The fact that no one seemed even to suspect him of the robbery and murder gave Starkweather a great deal of satisfaction. It was his first taste of success. Until then he had always been the underdog. Now he had showed that he could outwit authority.