I remember reading about Charles Starkweather’s murderous rampage when it happened. It was 1958 and I was about ten years old. I don’t recall the newspapers in the East carrying all the horrific details of what he did to some of his eleven victims in the course of his long killing spree. I do remember that when he finally faced righteous gunfire he instantly gave up, whimpering about his wounds – some cuts from flying glass.  His craven surrender marked him as a coward as well as a monster.

I also remember that he was always spoken of in tandem with Caril Ann Fugate, his fourteen-year-old girlfriend who was along for every bit of the terror ride. Because she had held a gun on some of the victims, she was tried for murder. Starkweather claimed that it was she who had crushed the skull of her own beloved baby sister, and her accusers said that she, out of jealousy, was the one who used a knife to mutilate the genitalia of the teenage girl whose corpse Starkweather sodomized after murdering her. (The theory was that she was jealous of the rape/murder victim for capturing Charlie’s interest.) But many others felt she was the equivalent of a kidnap victim, a classic case of Stockholm Syndrome, and that Starkweather committed all the actual violence.

Now comes the 2023 book “Starkweather: the Untold Story of the Killing Spree That Changed America” by Harry N. MacLean. The author, who grew up when and where it happened and remembers it more vividly than most of us, makes a compelling case for Fugate’s innocence. Convicted and sentenced to the penitentiary where she was always a model prisoner – Starkweather was sent to the electric chair in a much more timely manner than would have been the case today – and at this writing she is still alive. Eighty years old, crippled by a stroke, and under a different last name in an assisted living facility.

At least anti-gunners can’t blame “assault rifles.” Starkweather did his killing with knives and with a sawed-off .410, a couple of Winchester pump guns and a single shot rifle all in .22 rimfire.

I can buy MacLean’s theory of Caril Ann Fugate’s innocence. I certainly can’t point to proof of her guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

MacLean’s very well-written and researched book disappointed me in one respect, though. He never touches on the fact that the cowardly monster Starkweather would never have become an infamous spree killer if his first victim – or really any of them – had carried a gun with which to fight back. He does note that throughout the region citizens armed themselves…in their homes, and some even illegally carrying. You see, at that time Nebraska, the locale for most of the horror the psychopath inflicted, had no provision for law-abiding citizens to carry loaded handguns in public. Fortunately today, in the places Starkweather terrorized when he ran rampant, that is no longer the case.


  1. Unfortunately, too many people still don’t carry their guns. The recent mass shooting in Arkansas is a case in point. In a constitutional carry/shall issue state, none of the victims or bystanders were armed. I would speculate that none were trained either.

  2. Richard, agreed. Far too many folks STILL think of a handgun (or any gun) as a talisman that makes evil dissolve. Not just Arkansas, either. The Clutter’s had a shotgun in their house. Jay Sebring had a loaded .38 in his sports car. The victims of the Walmart in El Paso (that were American citizens) all had the luxury of legal CCW in TX during their event. The list goes on. I can think of lots of potential reasons folks AREN’T armed, but it seems the media, in their disarmament frenzy, never seem to ask the question. I believe one reason is the potential for prosecution DS’s across the country. What seems cut and dried to most of us in the 2A community seems to go over their heads.

  3. I had not heard of Starkweather before your blog post. This sounds very interesting. I would like to read the book. It is on Kindle, which with Audible, is my go to preference for reading books now.

  4. How accurate is the 1973 movie about it? “Badlands” starring Sissy Spacek and Martin Sheen? The movie suggested that Caril Fugate was a young psychopath born to a family of psychopaths.

  5. I remember that crime spree well. I was 16 years old at the time of the murders. I lived in Plattsmouth, Nebraska, about 40 minutes from Lincoln, Nebraska. Plattsmouth and surrounding areas are and were very rural. My uncle, a former US Marine veteran was a reserve Deputy Sheriff in our County. In those days reserve deputies had powers of arrest as bestowed on them by the Sheriff. For a while they didn’t know where these two were. So for a few hours one night I got to ride shotgun with my uncle which was very memorable as I was in charge of the squad shotgun should we run into trouble. A very tense time for many farmers for many did not have telephones in those years.
    There was a TV movie made in about 1993 called Murder in the Heartland about the spree.
    Staring Tim Roth as Starkweather and Fairuza Balk as Caril Fugate. Well acted. Good Cast.

  6. In Jeff Cooper’s Commentaries he cited Starkweather as an example of a psychopath who gave up immediately in the face of serious resistance.


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