30th Anniversary of Mass Murder Spree
LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) _ Thirty years ago, residents patrolled the streets of Nebraska’s state capital with shotguns. An army of National Guard troops and deputies were mobilized. Telephones were so busy that Lincoln’s system failed.
The names on everyone’s lips were Charlie Starkweather and Caril Fugate, a teen-age pair whose crime spree left 11 people dead and terrorized an entire state. Even schools 400 miles away were dismissed so parents could take their children home to safety.
″The public was all up in arms,″ retired police chief Joe Carroll recalled. ″Just everybody was frantic, carrying arms. Gun shops sold out, people were on the streets carrying shotguns. ... It was just fortunate that some innocent person didn’t shoot some other innocent person.″
Less than 48 hours later, the geatest manhunt in state history was over. In the decades since his execution - the last in Nebraska, Starkweather has become a folk hero of sorts.
A fictionalized account of the killing spree was told in the movie ″Badlands,″ starring Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek. Bruce Springsteen sang about Starkweather and Miss Fugate on his ″Nebraska″ album.
The trail of bodies began with the death of 21-year-old gas station attendant Robert Colvert, who was robbed, abducted and shot to death. His body was left on a country road.
Two months later, on the afternoon of Jan. 27, 1958, authorities went to Marion Bartlett’s home northwest of town. Bartlett, his wife and daughter had not been seen for a week.
Police found the bodies of Bartlett, 57, and his 35-year-old wife, Velda, in an outbuilding. Their 2-year-old daughter, Betty Jean, had been clubbed to death with the butt of a gun and her body stuffed in a cardboard box.
Missing were Mrs. Bartlett’s 14-year-old daughter by a previous marriage, Caril Ann Fugate, and her boyfriend, Charlie Starkweather, a short, bow-legged redhead who loved guns and hot rods.
Starkweather, 19, a sometimes garbage man who had trouble holding a job, was now a murder suspect.
By the time an arrest warrant was issued that night, three more people were dead.
August Meyer, 70, was shot when he answered a knock at the door of his Bennett farm, 16 miles from Lincoln. Robert Jensen, 17, and Carol King, 16, a popular high school couple from Bennett were murdered, their bodies dumped in a storm cellar.
Starkweather and Miss Fugate headed west, but returned to Lincoln for a better car.
On Tuesday, Jan. 28, the couple went to the home of C. Lauer Ward. Clara Ward, 50, and her longtime housekeeper, Lillian Fencl, 51, were tied up and stabbed to death. Ward, 48, president of a Lincoln steel company, was shot in the head when he returned home.
When Gov. Victor Anderson heard about the death of his friend Ward, he mobilized the National Guard.
Twenty-five Jeeploads of Guardsmen swarmed the city and 19 state patrol mobile units were dispatched along with 28 additional troopers. More than 100 men reported to the Lancaster County Sheriff’s office. Many feared martial law was next.
About 520 miles west of Lincoln, near Douglas, Wyo., Starkweather and Miss Fugate were driving Ward’s Packard when they spotted a Buick parked on a side road on Jan. 29. Starkweather killed Merle Collison, 37, of Great Falls, Mont., who was asleep behind the wheel.
Starkweather had trouble releasing the parking brake in Collison’s car as he tried to drive it onto the main highway. A salesman who stopped to help Starkweather wrestled with him as a deputy sheriff drove by.
″He’s going to kill me, he’s crazy 3/8″ Miss Fugate screamed as she ran toward the patrol car driven by Deputy Bill Romer.
Romer radioed for help. Meanwhile, the salesman wrested the gun from Starkweather, who sped away in the Packard.
Officers fired several shots into the fleeing car. When Starkweather finally stopped and got out, his ear was bleeding from a cut from flying glass.
Before he was returned to Lincoln, Starkweather ″confessed all the murders,″ Carroll said.
Starkweather was charged with 11 counts of murder but went to trial only for the Jensen slaying. He was executed in the electric chair June 25, 1959.
Miss Fugate was charged with murder only in the Jensen slaying and was convicted, in part by Starkweather’s testimony, of first-degree murder and sentenced to life.
Her sentence was later reduced and she was paroled in 1976. She lives in relative obscurity in a small city in Michigan, refusing interviews.
″She was guilty all right,″ Carroll said. ″Starkweather wrote on the wall of his jail cell that he killed nine and Caril killed two.″