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Starkweather Case

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The names of Charles Raymond Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate hold a place in the history books as Nebraska’s most notorious mass murderers. Their saga began when 19-year-old Starkweather killed a gas station attendant in December 1957. Then, in late January 1958, Charlie and his 14-year-old girlfriend Caril began an eight-day murder spree that started with the murder of Caril’s family, and eventually led to ten total deaths before they were captured on the highway outside Douglas, Wyoming. Tried and convicted of murder, Charles Starkweather was executed at the Nebraska State Penitentiary on June 25, 1959. Also convicted, Caril Fugate’s initial life sentence was commuted to a 30 to 50 year sentence in 1973. In 1976, after serving 18 years, Fugate was paroled and she eventually resettled in Michigan.

The Starkweather case, seemingly tame in comparison to serial killings that have followed it in subsequent years, was one of the most heavily publicized mass murders in U.S. history, drawing national attention both to Nebraska and to the psychological issues surrounding disaffected youth. The community of Lincoln, and most of the rest of Nebraska, lived in a near-constant state of hysteria and panic for several days. The events inspired a fictionalized 1973 feature film — Terrence Malick’s Badlands (starring Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek) — and a 1993 television mini-series — Murder in the Heartland (starring Tim Roth and Fairuza Balk). Even a hit song, “Nebraska”, released by Bruce Springsteen in 1982, was based on the events of 1958. In 2004, Liza Ward, the granddaughter of Starkweather victims C. Lauer and Clara Ward, published the bestselling novel Outside Valentine, which incorporated the Starkweather spree into a fictional storyline.

Over the years, the Lincoln City Libraries has proven to be a prominent research site for individuals wishing to learn more about the Starkweather case. We have several unique or rare resources available to individuals wishing to do research on this topic.

Court transcripts for the Charles Starkweather trial and Caril Ann Fugate’s trial were filmed, and are in the possession of the Nebraska State Historical Society Archives. This information was provided by the Clerk of the Lancaster County District Court.

In the basement Periodicals Room of our main headquarters — Bennett Martin Public Library, 14th & “N” St. — you can find two unique resources, available for use in the library only.

The Starkweather-Fugate Press Clippings, 1958-1973, Lincoln Journal-Star, Lincoln, NE (microfilm)
A separate microfilm reel containing only the newspaper stories related to the Starkweather case.

The Starkweather Clippings Box (Updated to include all related articles through the end of 2021!)
All known articles from the Lincoln and Omaha papers (and a few other sources), photocopied and laminated, for easier readability. Click on the above link to see a complete index of the contents of this file.

The Starkweather Timeline
An abbreviated timeline of the events surrounding the Starkweather-Fugate murder spree, arrest, trials, and subsequent legal maneuverings that led to Starkweather’s execution and Fugate’s eventual parole. (Note: Both the The Starkweather Clippings Box and the The Starkweather Timeline are available as a PDF files.)

All of these resources complement the book Headline–Starkweather by Earl Dyer (364.152 Dye) in the list below. 

The Lincoln City Libraries system owns numerous books either exclusively about the Starkweather case or including references to it. Many of the books in this list are located only in the non-circulating collection available in our Jane Pope Geske Heritage Room of Nebraska Authors (click this link for information about the Heritage Room), or are in the non-circulating Reference Collection. Please click on the titles or jacket illustrations for the books below to check on the titles’ locations and availability in the libraries.

Encyclopedia of World CrimeEncyclopedia of World Crime by Jay Robert Nash (R 364 qNas v. 4)

Massive, four-volume chronicle of all types of crimes, worldwide. The Starkweather entry in volume 4 is only two pages, but still features a detailed recounting of the case, including an entire page of photographs of several of the victims. (Note: This set is no longer available from the Lincoln City Libraries.)
(Starkweather entry is in Volume 4.)

Encyclopedia of American Crime - 1982 ed.Encyclopedia of American Crime by Carl Sifakis (R 364.973 qSif)

Huge volume chronicling all types of American crimes and criminals. The Starkweather entry in this volume is approximately two pages long, with no illustrations. Published in 1982. (Note: 1982 edition no longer available from the Lincoln City Libraries.)
(Also available in an expanded 1992 edition and completely updated 2001 edition (2 volumes).)

Encyclopedia of American Crime - 2001 ed.The Encyclopedia of American Crime by Carl Sifakis (R 364 qSif 2001 v. 2)

Updated 2-volume set chronicling all types of American crimes and criminals. The Starkweather entry in this volume is approximately two pages long, with no illustrations. In this 2001 edition the Starkweather entry is in Volume 2.
(Also available in original 1982 edition and updated 1992 edition.)

Bloodletters and BadmenBloodletters and Badmen: A Narrative Encyclopedia of American Criminals from the Pilgrims to the Present by Jay Robert Nash (R 364.092 qNas)

Five pages of the original edition of this encyclopedic volume are dedicated to the Starkweather case, with photos of nine of Starkweather’s eleven victims. Published in 1973. (Note: This set is no longer available from the Lincoln City Libraries.)
(Also available in completely updated 1995 edition.)

Starkweather: The Story of a Mass MurdererStarkweather: The Story of a Mass Murderer by William Allen (Heritage 364.152 All)

Perhaps the most in-depth examination of the Starkweather case, with references to several of the other books published prior to 1976 (particularly the volumes written by Professor James Reinhardt). This book contains detailed timelines, plus numerous photos of Starkweather, Fugate, the victims and the crime scenes. Published in 1976.
(Also available in a 1977 paperback reprint edition and 2004 retitled edition, below.)

Starkweather: The Story of a Mass Murder (1976 PB)Starkweather: The Story of a Mass Murderer by William Allen (Heritage 364.152 All 1977)

Paperback reprint of the 1976 edition above, with only very slight updates and/or corrections. Published in 1977.
(Also available in the original 1976 hardback edition, above, and 2004 retitled edition below.)

Starkweather: Portrait of a Teenage KillerStarkweather: Inside the Mind of a Teenage Killer by William Allen (364.152 All (Emmis Ed.))

Yet another reprint of the 1976 volume by Allen, with only very slight updates and/or corrections. Published in 2004.
(Also available in the original 1976 hardback edition and 1977 paperback edition, above.)

Caril (1974 ed.)Caril by Ninette Beaver (Heritage 364.152 Bea)

A look at Charlie, Caril and the events that led to Caril’s imprisonment — in three parts: Part One details Caril and Charlie’s backgrounds and relationship, and the crimes that were committed. Part Two is a detailed examination of the trials of both suspects. And Part Three is an exploration of Caril’s life growing up in the State Reformatory for Women in York, NE, and her on-going efforts to exonerate herself of the crimes for which she was convicted. Told almost exclusively from Caril’s point-of-view, after a series of interviews with Omaha news reporters. Published in 1974.
(Also available in a 1976 paperback edition, below.)

Caril (1976 ed.)Caril by Ninette Beaver Heritage (364.152 Bea 1976)

Paperback reprint of the original 1974 edition, with no apparent changes. Published in 1976.
(Also available in the original 1974 hardback edition, above.)

The Quality of MurderThe Quality of Murder: 300 Years of True Crime by Anthony Boucher (Heritage 364.152 Bou)

The case of Charles Starkweather and Caril Fugate is one of 24 profiled in this anthology of true crime essays. “The Status Seeking of Charles Starkweather”, by James McKimmey, comprises 8 pages in this volume. Published in 1962.

Headline StarkweatherHeadline: Starkweather — From Behind the News Desk by Earl Dyer (364.152 Dye)

Earl Dyer, retired executive editor of The Lincoln Star, was a 30-year-old city editor on January 28, 1958, the day three members of a Lincoln family were found brutally murdered at their home. With Star editor James Lawrence out of town, it fell to Dyer — and his counterparts at the competing Lincoln Journal — to cover those shocking deaths and the series of killings over the next three days. In Headline: Starkweather, Dyer recounts the story of the two hometown newspapers’ coverage of the murders; the multi-state manhunt for Charles Starkweather and his 14-year-old girlfriend, Caril Fugate; their arrests; their trials and convictions; the execution of Starkweather in 1959; and the eventual release and parole of Caril Fugate in 1976. Published in 1993, this book reprints many of the articles that appeared in these two newspapers, with typographic errors corrected and retrospective comments included.

Murder Cases of the 20th CenturyMurder Cases of the 20th Century: Biographies and Bibliographies of 280 Convicted or Accused Killers by David K. Frasier (R 364.152 Fra)

This reference book contains entries for over 280 killers from the famous Richard Speck to the relatively unknown Jack Henry Abbott who stabbed a waiter for not allowing him to use the toilet. The bibliographic biographies note (when applicable) birth and death dates, aliases, occupation, location of the murders, weapons, number of victims, time period, quotations, and a brief overview of the murder case with a bibliography of related books, films, plays, videos, and audio programs. — Annotation copyright by Book News, Inc. The Starkweather case is covered in five pages. Published in 1996. (Note: This title is no longer available from the Lincoln City Libraries.)

Berserk: Motiveless Random Massacres by Chester Graham (364.152 Gra)

It could happen at the mall, post office, or local diner. For the innocent, there is no place to hide from the men and women who’ve gone Berserk! From journalist Graham Chester come terrifying true stories of notorious mass murders and the deranged killers who committed them. 8 pages of shocking photographs. Includes references to Charles Starkweather and Caril Fugate. Published in 1993. (Note: This title is no longer available from the Lincoln City Libraries.]

Mass MurderMass Murder: America’s Growing Menace by Jack Levin & James Allen Fox (364.152 Lev)

Following an in-depth five-year study investigating simultaneous and serial murderers, Levin and Fox attempt to construct a profile of the kind of person who commits such crimes against their fellow man. Includes approximately eight pages dedicated to the Starkweather/Fugate case. Published in 1985.

Pro BonoPro Bono: The 18 Year Defense of Caril Ann Fugate by Jeff McArthur (364.152 McA)

In 1958, 19-year-old Charlie Starkweather went on a murder spree that paralyzed Nebraska, shocked the nation, and left 11 people dead. With him when he was captured was his 14-year-old ex-girlfriend Caril Fugate. The question soon arose, was Caril a kidnapped victim, or a heartless accomplice? Appointed to her case, Attorney John McArthur initially accepted the assignment out of a sense of constitutional duty. But as he delved deeper, he found that the truth was far more complicated than anyone was letting on. Up against incredible odds, and with a strong conviction of her innocence, McArthur remained with Caril and fought for her freedom for 18 years. For this service, he took no pay, accepting the case pro bono. This book follows the long struggle of McArthur, his partner Merril Reller, and John’s son James as they took on the Nebraska legal system and a public that had already determined Caril’s guilt before ever hearing a word of testimony. The story continues through all it influenced, such as Stephen King, who became a horror writer because of it, Bruce Springsteen, who wrote a whole album about it, Terrence Malick, Oliver Stone, Martin Sheen, and Peter Jackson, who wrote his first major movie based on the Starkweather-Fugate incident. Pro Bono explores aspects of this incredible story that have never been revealed before, and sheds new light on these terrifying and complex events. Published in 2012.

Waste LandWaste Land by Michael Newton (364.152 New)

Mike Newton shines new light on the dark saga of Charles Starkweather and his 14-year-old girlfriend, Caril Ann Fugate, who in 1958 embarked on a shocking, murderous rampage that lasted eight days and left 11 dead bodies in its wake — including Caril Ann’s family. Utilizing first-hand interviews, court transcripts, and death-row confessions, this account probes the mindset of history’s deadliest juvenile delinquents. Photo insert. Published in 1998.

Starkweather: Story of a Mass Murderer on the Great PlainsStarkweather: A Story of Mass Murder on the Great Plains by Jeff O’Donnell and Kevin Oliver (364.152 Odo)

A history of the Starkweather/Fugate murder case, told almost in the style of fiction, with a detailed timeline and appendices of documents related to the case. Particularly noteworthy is a chart comparing the differing details in Starkweather’s seven confession statements. Published in 1993.

The Murderous Trail of Charles StarkweatherThe Murderous Trail of Charles Starkweather by James M. Reinhardt (R 364.152 Rei)

James M. Reinhardt, a Professor of Criminology at UNL, spent approximately 30 hours interviewing Charles Starkweather at the Nebraska State Penitentiary both before and after his trial. This book, a volume in The Police Science Series, published in the late 1950s and 1960s, examines Starkweather’s background and history — often in his own words — in an attempt to uncover what would have pushed him to kill so brutally. Includes numerous illustrations not found in any other source. Published in 1960, and excerpted in shorter form as a chapter in the 1962 collection The Psychology of Strange Killers.

Nothing Left But MurderNothing Left But Murder by James M. Reinhardt (364.152 Rei)

UNL Professor of Criminology James M. Reinhardt revisits the Starkweather case as one of 17 different stories about young murderers. Exploring the reasons behind the various killings profiled here, Reinhardt attempts to illustrate common denominators in serial killers’ backgrounds. Published in 1970.

The Psychology of Strange KillersThe Psychology of Strange Killers by James M. Reinhardt (Heritage 364.152 R27p)

The case of Charles Starkweather and Caril Fugate is one of 10 profiled in this anthology of true crime essays. “Divided Away From People,” by Professor James M. Reinhardt, consists of 38 pages, and is described as being “adapted from The Murderous Trail of Charles Starkweather,” published two years earlier by the same company. Published in 1962.

Born BadBorn Bad: Charles Starkweather — Natural Born Killer! by Jack Sargent (364.162 Sar)

In 1958, garbageman Charlie Starkweather, accompanied by his jailbait sweetheart Caril Ann Fugate, embarked upon a killing spree which shocked America. Modelling himself on James Dean, Starkweather took teen rebellion to its logical and bloody conclusion, killing first Caril’s disapproving father and then a succession of other victims before being apprehended and executed in the electric chair. Born Bad tells the story of the star-crossed bluejean lovers and their violent stand against the world, including quotes from Starkweather to illuminate his twilight creed of flaming youth unleashed. The book also investigates the cinematic legacy of the archetypal gun-crazy killer couple, including such films as Terrence Malick’s Badlands (DVD), David Lynch’s Wild at Heart, the Quentin Tarantino-scripted True Romance and Oliver Stone’s notorious Natural Born Killers. Published in 1996.

Spree KillersSpree Killers by A&E Home Video (Video 364.152 Spr – no longer in the libraries’ collection)

A 50-minute 1993 episode of the television series American Justice. Description from the American Justice website: “In the late fifties, a young Nebraskan named Charles Starkweather, obsessed with James Dean, took the rebellious image of his hero to a psychopathic extreme. Along with his teenage girlfriend, Carol Ann Fugate who claimed that she “just went along for the ride” Starkweather killed 10 innocent people on a terrifying murder spree. American Justice® examines every detail of this famous case, from the investigation and capture to the trial and execution of Starkweather and Fugate’s imprisonment. It is a story that yields insight into the nature of violence in America, and is also a textbook case of a spree killer, whose motives are often obscure. In Starkweather’s case, he seemed to be after fame, once boasting that his crimes would be remembered. And they were, for his odyssey forms the basis for the 1973 film Badlands (DVD), starring Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek. Here, many of those involved, including Nebraska State Troopers, police detectives and newsmen who covered the story, offer their opinions on one of the most infamous cases to ever come out of America’s Heartland.”

Starkweather (on DVD)Starkweather by Velocity Home Entertainment (Video Starkweather – no longer in the libraries’ collection)

Starkweather is a 90-minute 2004 fictionalized telling of the Starkweather case: “Before Bundy, before Manson, before Dahmer, Charles Starkweather, accompanied by his 14-year-old girlfriend Caril Ann, terrorized America with a brutal killing spree that horrifed the entire country. Their serial killing resulted in 11 horrific human slaughters, as they unleashed their wrath through the states of Nebraska and Wyoming…This is the true story of America’s most notorious teenage killer.”

Pro BonoThe Twelfth Victim by Linda M. Battisti and John Stevens Berry (Biography Fugate)

In 1958, nineteen-year-old Charles Starkweather gained notoriety as one of the nation’s first spree killers. He murdered eleven people in Nebraska and Wyoming. After a week on the run, he was arrested, later convicted, and sentenced to die in the electric chair. Starkweather’s girlfriend, Caril Fugate, fourteen, was with him throughout the murder spree. Was she his hostage or a willing participant in the murders that included her parents and three-year-old sister? This question still stirs debate more than fifty years later. Fugate claims she was too terrified to attempt escape-Starkweather had told her he would make a phone call and have her family killed if she disobeyed him. Unbeknownst to her, he had already murdered her family. A jury found her guilty of being an accessory to first degree murder. She was sentenced to life in prison; however, in 1976 she was paroled. Now, in The Twelfth Victim, attorneys Linda M. Battisti and John S. Berry, Sr. pull together years of research to tell how Fugate was a victim of both Charles Starkweather and the Nebraska justice system. Their book tells how the teenager was grilled by prosecuting attorneys for hours before ever being told she had a right to an attorney. The book details how Starkweather, who gave nine versions of how the murders occurred and had already been sentenced to death, became the chief witness against Caril at her trial. The authors also expose how Starkweather was coached for days by prosecutors on how to testify at Fugate’s trial-including not telling the jury that he had planned to kill Caril on three separate occasions. It is a shocking story that has never been told. Published in 2014.

Other Websites
Wikipedia page on Charles Starkweather – including many more references to the Starkweather Case’s influence throughout popular culture
The Killing Spree That Transfixed a Nation (from the Wyoming State Historical Society)
Charles Starkweather’s grave on Find-a-Grave
Photos of the gravestones of Starkweather’s victims, in and around Lincoln, NE