A series of events led Starkweather to lead a nihilistic life, where he remained miserable. He was fired from his job at the Western Union newspaper warehouse and had to seek employment as a garbage collector at minimum wages. He began plotting bank robberies while going on rounds.
He committed his first murder in November 30, 1957. After being refused credit by Robert Colvert, who was an attendant at a service station, Starkweather repeatedly popped at the store to buy minor items. Eventually, he decided to brandish his gun and forced Colvert to give him $100.
After the robbery, Starkweather decided to drive to a remote area with Colvert. When Colvert tried to gain his control over the gun, Starkweather shot him in the head and killed him. The murder transformed him, and he innately believed that he could commit crimes without guilt or fear in the future.
On January 21, 1958, Starkweather committed a string of murders. When he wasn’t allowed to get his girlfriend, the 15-year-old Caril Ann Fugate, he shot her parents: Velda and Marion Bartlett. He also strangled and eventually stabbed their two-year-old daughter Betty Jeans.
After killing them, Starkweather hid the bodies inside the house. While he confessed that Caril was present during the murders, she refuted the claim by saying that she was asked to co-operate to ensure her family’s safety.
The duo stayed in the house until the police were alerted by Caril’s grandmother. The police arrived on January 27, 1958, but by that time Starkweather and Caril had left. The couple fled from the house and they drove to Bennet, Nebraska to August Meyer’s farmhouse. Meyer was his family friend.
Upon arriving at Meyer’s house, Starkweather killed him with a shot to his head. Later, he killed his dog as well. After this, the duo fled the scene again and abandoned the vehicle by driving it in the mud. They managed to get a ride from Robert Jensen and Carol King, two local teenagers.
Starkweather forced the teenagers to drive toward a storm cellar in Bennet. Subsequently, he killed Jensen by shooting him in the back of his head. Afterwards, he attempted raping Carol but couldn’t and killed her out of anger.
Later, Starkweather claim that he shot Jensen, but it was Fugate who killed Carol. She denied these allegations and claimed to have stayed in the car while he killed them. In the end, the pair fled the scene in Jensen's car.
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They drove to Lincoln and barged into the house of Clara and Lauer Ward, a wealthy industrialist. Starkweather first stabbed their maid Lillian Fenci and waited for the owners to return home. He proceeded to kill the dog next by breaking its neck as he feared that it would notify the Wards.
Clara arrived home, alone, and was stabbed to death. Starkweather claimed that Fugate was the woman behind Clara’s murder. Later, upon Lauer’s return, he shot him to death. Afterwards, they stole a car and jewelry and ran away.
Charles Starkweather had mostly remained off the radar until now, but the murders at the Ward house caused an uproar locally. Law enforcement agencies immediately took notice and officers were dispatched for a thorough search. The Governor and the chief of police also allowed a block-by-block search.
During the search, many citizens reported having seen Starkweather and Fugate and they were assumed to have killed the family. Despite this, the Lincoln Police weren’t able to find the pair or take them into custody.
Starkweather and Fugate, in the meanwhile, were out in search of a car and found Merle Collison, a salesman, sleeping in his car near Douglas, Wyoming. He was shot to death. While Starkweather claimed it was Fugate who killed him, she denied it.
When Starkweather tried to start the car, it stalled. A passerby stopped to help, and Charles threatened him with a rifle. Amidst this quarrel, a deputy sheriff had arrived. At this juncture, Fugate rushed to the sheriff with a cry of help and Starkweather drove off the scene to escape the police.
While driving at over 160 kms per hour, Starkweather’s car found the bullet, which shattered the windshield. This caused him to stop and surrender. He was taken to custody by the county sheriff Earl Heflin.
Trial & Execution
Charles Starkweather decided to choose to be extradited to Nebraska. The pair arrived in the state in January 1958. He stated that he kidnapped Fugate and she had not murdered anyone. However, he repeatedly changed his stance and testified against her at the trial.
Fugate maintained that she was a hostage throughout the series of events, and he had threatened to kill her family if she didn’t participate. Fugate also mentioned that she wasn’t aware of her family’s death. The presiding judge, Harry A Spencer, did not believe her as he was convinced that she could have escaped.
In the end, Starkweather was convicted for the murder of Jensen and sentenced to death. He was executed by the electric chair at Nebraska State Penitentiary. Fugate was convicted as an accomplice and was handed a life sentence in November 1958.
Family & Personal Life
Charles Starkweather was introduced to Caril Ann Fugate by her sister, in 1956. The couple started dating. However, their relationship soured owing to his family’s opposition. He began his murder spree by kidnapping Caril and they fled various scenes of crime together.
After receiving a murder conviction, Starkweather was executed by the electric chair in Lincoln, Nebraska on June 25, 1959. Subsequently, he was buried at the Wyuka Cemetery in Lincoln.
Since his death, Starkweather has been the subject of various documentaries that have profiled him as one of the most dangerous serial killers. A biopic titled ‘Starkweather’ was also released in 2004, where Brent Taylor essayed the role of Starkweather.