Charlie Starkweather: Teenage Spree Killer

A killer and his girlfriend combine Bonnie and Clyde with Natural Born Killers. They committed 11 motiveless murders before eventually being executed.

Charles Raymond Starkweather was the third of seven children, born to Guy and Helen Starkweather, on 24 November 1938, in Lincoln, Nebraska. The United States was still gripped by the Depression during his formative years, and the Starkweathers were poor, but the children were raised well and regarded as well-behaved within the local community.

Starkweather, known as Charlie, struggled at school as a result of undiagnosed myopia, and his short stature, speech impediment and bowed legs made him the subject of bullying. He excelled at gymnastics, however, and used his strength to defend himself fiercely against all detractors, earning a reputation for toughness.

Starkweather was a James Dean devotee, and Dean’s untimely death in 1955, when Starkweather was 16, only added to his mystique. Starkweather mimicked Dean’s hairstyle and dress, and identified strongly with his “Teen Rebel” persona, trapped as he felt within the poverty of small-town Nebraska life, with its limited options for advancement.

Given his poor academic performance, Starkweather left school at 16, taking work as a lorry loader for a local newspaper business. Starkweather also became romantically involved with a kindred rebellious spirit, Caril Ann Fugate, who was only 13 years old at the time. Her youthful inexperience ensured that she cast him as the hero figure in her life, and he reciprocated by treating her like an adult, despite her young age. Understandably, her parents were not overjoyed at the union, and the pair revelled in their status as teen rebels.

His rebellious lifestyle saw Starkweather thrown out of his family home, making Fugate even more central to his life. He left the newspaper haulage job to find work as a refuse collector, but his poor wage made it impossible to support his accommodation and living costs, as well as providing luxuries for his girlfriend. The injustice of his poverty, as he saw it, began to consume him. This perceived injustice led ultimately to a killing frenzy that saw Starkweather labelled as a spree killer. A spree killer is usually someone who commits multiple murders, within a short period of time, as a direct result of the circumstances in which they find themselves. In contrast, a serial killer is usually driven by some internal psychopathology who chooses specific victims, or types of victims, to satisfy preconditions of their psychopathology.