Spree Killer of Nebraska – James Dean Style

starkweather2He watched the movie and finally found a kindred spirit. One who was ‘a rebel without a cause’. Charles Starkweather, 18 years old, developed an unhealthy obsession with the screen persona of James Dean. He began dressing, walking, talking and even combing his hair in the fashion of the movie star. He felt that he connected with the actor. He(Dean) was another human who had felt the pains of life, that he himself had also felt, and therefore a person that Charles could admire. Whether he was able to keep the actor (James Dean) separated from the main character (Jim Stark) of the movie, is hard to say. And in the end, it wouldn’t truly mattered.

In school, shy, quiet, polite Charles was made fun of and picked on. He had a slight speech impediment and he was bow-legged. And, due to myopia, he couldn’t see worth a shit. But, as Charles grew, he became the bully and, as one of his friends would later say, one of the meanest guys he’d ever known.

Charles Starkweather  suffered from extreme self-loathing and had a severe inferiority complex. He felt that he could do nothing right and would live out his life in constant unrest. He was devoid of morals and could not fathom any true happiness coming into his miserable existence. He adopted the philosophy -“Dead people are all on the same level”.

In 1956, Charles had already dropped out of high school and was working as a garbage collector for minimum wage, after losing employment at the Western Union Newspaper Warehouse. His ex-employer from the Warehouse had stated that Starkweather was a poor worker who had to have instructions repeated two or three times and that he was the dumbest employee he’d ever hired. His girlfriend, 14 year old Caril Fugate, was still a student at the Whittier Junior High School and his father had banished him from the family for constant disputes. Nothing was looking real good at this point and Charles was getting more and more agitated with his futile life.

In November of 1957, Charles became angry when a gas station attendant refused to sell him an item on credit. So he pulled out a shotgun and demanded money. He then drove the attendant, Robert Colvert, to a remote area and killed him with one bullet shot to his head. Colvert would be his first kill, but definitely not his last.

A little over a year later, in January of 1958, Charles went over to his girlfriend’s house, where she lived with her parents. Caril’s parents stated that she wasn’t home and that he should leave. They also told him to stay away from them and their daughter. (Caril’s two year old half-sister) Instead, he shot them both. Then proceeded to stab their daughter several times before strangling her to death. He waited on Caril. Together, the two hid the bodies in the back yard and started their run from the law.

They drove straight away to the farmhouse of a seventy year old family friend in Bennet Nebraska. There, Charles shot the old man and his dog.

The two, young fugitives, with Charles already having 5 murders under his belt, decided to make a run for it. They ditched the car and started walking. Lucky for them, two nice teenagers stopped to pick them up. Before long, the kids were forced, at gun point, to turn the car around and head back to an abandoned storm shelter, where Charles immediately shot the young boy and tried to rape the girl. He was, for some reason, unable to accomplish that deed and eventually just shot her to death. Charles and Caril made their escape in the teenagers car.    

Charles drove to Lincoln, Nebraska, into a wealthy section of the town, and the two broke into a home, owned by an industrialist by the name of C.L.Ward. There, the two would stab the maid and Mrs. Ward to death, snap the dog’s neck and murder Mr. Ward with a gun shot wound to the head. The couple loaded the Ward’s family car with items stolen from the home and they headed, full speed ahead, out of Nebraska.

Realizing that the Ward murders had gained a lot of attention and that the law was now seeking them out via the stolen car, the young criminals decided that they should quickly find a different vehicle to lessen their chances of being caught. They soon came across a traveling salesman, taking a nap in his car on the side of the road. They shot him and attempted to steal the vehicle. While trying to make their getaway, the car stalled. As Charles tried to restart the engine, a passerby-er saw the couple and stopped to see if he could help. Panicked, Charles threatened the man with a gun and a fight broke out. As luck would have it, and to the total dismay of Starkweather, a police officer happened upon the scene.

More than likely, knowing what fate was about to befall her, Caril took opportunity to set precedence for the innocent plea she would make in the whole ugly mess created over the last 8 days, from January 21 to January 29th, and raced wildly toward the officer, screaming – “It’s Starkweather! It’s Starkweather! Help me! He’s going to kill me!”-

Charles, likewise understanding the severity of the situation, got the car started, put it in gear and raced to escape. The officer fired and the shattered the windshield, sending glass flying everywhere inside the car. Starkweather was struck and was losing blood from his ear. He stopped the car and gave himself up.

The sheriff would later state that Starkweather “thought he was bleeding to death” and that’s why he surrendered. He didn’t want to die.

He died anyway. But not from bleeding out. He was electrocuted, 17 months later, after he was found guilty of 11 counts of cold blooded murder. He was only 20 years old.

And the judge didn’t buy Caril’s ‘hostage’ crap either. She got life.



There are several books available if you would like to read more.




pic credit – Murderpedia