|“||I do not quite understand what it is that compels me to type this letter. Perhaps it is to leave some vague reason for the actions I have recently performed. I do not really understand myself these days. I am supposed to be an average reasonable and intelligent young man. However, lately (I cannot recall when it started) I have been a victim of many unusual and irrational thoughts.||”|
Charles Joseph Whitman, a.k.a. "The Texas Tower Sniper", was a spree killer responsible for the University of Texas Shooting in 1966, killing sixteen people and wounding thirty-one others before he was killed by responding officers.
Whitman's massacre was the fourth-deadliest massacre at a U.S. campus, behind the 2012 Sand Hook Shootings committed by Adam Lanza, the 2007 Virginia Tech Massacre committed by Seung-Hui Cho, and the 1927 Bath School Bombings committed by Andrew Kehoe.
Whitman was born on June 24, 1941 in Lake Worth, Florida where his father, Charles Adolph "C.A." Whitman, ran a plumbing business and had, besides Whitman, two sons named Patrick and John with his wife, Margaret. He was sometimes abusive to her and would discipline his sons physically. Growing up, Charles was a pitcher in a local baseball team, took up piano lessons, was an Eagle Scout and was taught by his father how to handle firearms along with his brothers. All three brothers were also altar boys at the Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church. On July 6, 1959, less than a month after he turned 18, Charles joined the U.S. Marine Corps. His father, who was strongly opposed to the decision, personally made a call to "some branch of Federal government" and tried to have his son's acceptance reversed. Charles spent most of his service at the USMC's base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba and was a part of the Naval Enlisted Science Education Program (NESEP), a scholarship program which trained engineers who were to become officers. He earned a number of decorations, including a Sharpshooter's Badge, and proved to be an excellent marksman, especially at rapid fire from long distances and at moving targets. On September 15, 1961, he entered the mechanical engineering program at the University of Texas on a Marine Corps scholarship.
While studying, Whitman practiced karate, scuba diving and was also an avid hunter; the latter got him in trouble on one occasion when he shot a deer, took its carcass to his dorm room and skinned it in the shower. Also, though he was quite intelligent, his grades were sub-par and he began racking up some gambling debts. After marrying his girlfriend, Kathy Leissner, he did pick up the slack a bit, but the USMC withdrew his scholarship in 1963 and he was sent to active duty at the Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune near Jacksonville, North Carolina. Though he was promoted to the rank of Lance Corporal upon returning, it was difficult for him to re-adjust to the military after his time in civilian life; he was court-martialed for gambling, usury and possession of a non-regulation firearm. He was sentenced to 30 days of confinement and 90 days of hard labor and was demoted to the rank of Private. In 1964, he was honorably discharged, having had his father use his connections to get his service time shortened, and moved back to Austin, Texas, where he continued studying. While his wife worked as a biology teacher, he changed his major from mechanical engineering to architectural engineering and held down some jobs for short periods of time, including as a bill collector for Standard Finance Company, a bank teller and a traffic surveyor. He was also a Scoutmaster. In May of 1966, Whitman was contacted by his mother, Margaret, who announced that she was filing for divorce from her husband. Whitman went to Fort Worth and helped her and one of his brothers, John, move to Austin. The third brother, Patrick, stayed in Fort Worth with their father, who kept calling Whitman and asked him to talk Margaret into returning. Over time, Whitman became more and more troubled with the way his life had gone; his wife even suggested that he should seek counseling.
"8-1-66. I never could quite make it. These thoughts are too much for me."On July 31, Whitman apparently finally snapped completely. During the day, he bought a knife and a pair of binoculars at a surplus store and Spam at a 7-11, all of which he brought with him to the shooting. In the evening, he wrote a suicide note in which he requests that an autopsy of him be done after his death and that his remaining estate be donated to mental health research. At night, he killed first his mother, leaving a written apology by her side, and then his wife. In the morning the next day, he called their respective workplaces and told them they wouldn't be able to make their shifts. In the morning of the next day, August 1, he purchased a Universal M1 carbine rifle, claiming he was going to use it for hunting wild hogs, and a 12-gauge semiautomatic shotgun, the barrel and stock of which he shortened. He also bought numerous other items, including several other firearms (see below), a hatchet and a machete (neither of which were used during the shooting), ammunition, water, gasoline, canned food, a portable radio, a compass, a flashlight and batteries, a can of charcoal starter, and a box of matches. He packed the supplies in his old Marine footlocker and loaded it onto a two-wheel dolly he had rented, paying with useless checks, and drove to the university dressed in khaki coveralls.
Arriving at the university, Whitman entered the Main Building's tower, using his old Career Identification Card which allowed him to carry heavy equipment on campus. He took the elevator to the 27th floor and carried his cargo up three floors. On the 28th floor, he knocked out a receptionist, Edna Townsley, with the butt of a rifle (it is unknown which rifle). She later died of her injuries in a hospital. A family of six (M.J. and Mary Gabour, their two sons Mark and Michael, and William and Marguerite Lamport) soon got past a barricade set up by Whitman and entered the floor he was on. He immediately fired at them with his sawed-off shotgun, killing Marguerite Lamport and Mark Gabour, as well as severely injuring Mary and Michael Gabour. M.J. Gabour and William Lamport escaped uninjured, both running for help. At 11:48 a.m., Whitman started firing with his rifles at random bypassers from the tower's outer observation deck after barricading the door behind him. By the time police arrived, students and other pedestrians were hiding behind whatever cover they could find. When they arrived, two police officers, Billy Speed and Jerry Culp, took cover behind a statue along with some other people. Whitman managed to hit Speed in the abdomen through a six-inch gap, killing him. More police officers of both the Austin Police and the University Police were called in and started unsuccessfully returning fire at him from a long distance. Civilians also began bringing out their guns and fired at Whitman.
Finally, police officers Jerry Day, Houston McCoy, and Ramiro Martinez; Department of Public Safety officer W.A. Cowan; armed civilian Allan Crum; and some others managed to make their way to the tower's 27th floor. They carried Mary and Mike Gabour to safety and approached the door to the observation deck, where Whitman was perched. After they broke through his barricade, Martinez snuck around a corner and emptied his .38 revolver at Whitman, but missed. While Whitman reached for his weapon to return fire, McCoy shot him twice with a shotgun and then ran towards his body, which was still alive and twitching, and fired another shot into him at point-blank range, killing him. At 1:24 p.m., Whitman was declared dead. During his autopsy, it was discovered that he had an aggressive brain tumor that could have affected his ability to control his emotions. In spite of what he had done, Whitman, being an ex-Marine, was buried with an American flag draped over his coffin at the Hillcrest Memorial Park in West Palm Beach, Florida, next to his mother and brother John. In 1976, the observation deck was closed for the public and remained closed until the university's 115-year anniversary in 1999.
In his suicide note, Whitman said he killed his mother and wife to spare them from the murder spree he would launch. He might have just been telling himself that, as he actually was angry at his family. It should be noted that the nature of these particular killings suggested rage, since both were very violent, personal, and that the targets were women that he professed to love a great deal. He had been taking amphetamines months before the massacre, making his frequent mood swings become more violent as it progressed.
Whitman killed his mother and wife by stabbing them; his mother was also shot. During the University of Texas campus massacre, he usually fired from the tower's observation deck at bypassers with the following firearms he brought:
- A Universal M1 carbine rifle
- A sawed-off 12-gauge semiautomatic shotgun
- A scoped Remington 700 ADL bolt-action hunting rifle
- A Remington M 141 .35-caliber pump-action rifle
- A .357 Magnum Smith and Wesson Model 19 revolver
- A 9mm Luger P08 semiautomatic pistol
- A Galesi-Brescia semiautomatic pistol
Whitman placed one weapon each at a different position on the observation deck, allowing him to fire from all directions and to give the illusion that there were multiple shooters. He was a better marksman at hitting moving targets than stationary targets. Whitman also murdered Edna Townsley by striking her head with the butt of a rifle, then shooting her, and attacked the Gabours and Lamports at the stairway with the aforementioned sawed-off 12-gauge semiautomatic shotgun.
- Whitman bears some similarities to Mark Essex, who killed nine people and wounded thirteen others in a murder spree. Both were spree killers who committed their murders on two separate days (Essex killed his victims on December 31, 1972 and January 7, 1973; Whitman killed his victims on July 31, 1966 and the following day of August 1), committed a majority of their killings at multistory buildings, killed victims inside said buildings and murdered several more outside by shooting at them from inside the building, and claiming the lives of at least one police officer.
On Criminal Minds
In the novel Killer Profile, Whitman is mentioned to have been one of the rampage killers covered in Max Ryan's book Serial Killers and Mass Murderers: Profiling Why They Kill, which the unsub used as basis for a series of copycat murders. It is unknown if he was really planning to copy Whitman as well, much less how he would have planned to do so and flee the scene without getting caught.
- Wikipedia's article about Whitman and the killing spree
- TruTV Crime Library articles about Whitman and the killing spree
- The Texas State Historical Association's page about Whitman
- Document collection related to Whitman
- Letter written by Whitman before the killing spree
- Aboutsociology's page about Whitman
- Crime & Investigation Network's biography of Whitman
- The police report of Whitman's arsenal and gear on Wikisource
- Behind the Tower's article about Whitman's victims