To the naked eye, Charles Whitman seemed like any other student attending the University of Texas. As a former Marine, Whitman took full advantage of the paid scholarship opportunity the military offered him and quickly applied to a mechanical engineering program. The university graciously accepted Whitman with open arms. The following year Whitman would meet his wife, Kathleen Frances Leissner, and after only five months of courtship she would agree to marry him.
On the outside it would seem that Whitman was on his way to great things. A new bride and a fast track on to a great career, but as we know all too well here, looks can be very deceiving. Whitman’s grades were unimpressive at best and he found himself in hot water over a “prank” where he shot down a deer and skinned it in a dorm shower. The university had been fed up with Whitman and by 1963, just two years into his program, the USMC revoked his scholarship and ordered him to serve out the rest of his five-year enlistment.
Whitman was stationed to Camp Lejeune in February of 1963. Though he was an exemplary Marine, Whitman had developed somewhat of a gambling problem through the years and even the threat of a court marshal wasn’t enough for him to kick his habit. That November, in addition to gambling, Whitman had finally been court marshaled for a number of infractions including carrying a personal firearm on base and threats made to another Marine over a small loan. He was sentenced to 30 days imprisonment and an additional 90 days of hard labor. He was also demoted from lance corporal to private.
By 1965, Whitman had been writing regularly in a journal on his frustrations regarding the Marines, his family and his love for his wife. He began seeking out psychological consultations from a number of doctors through the University of Texas Heath Center. One doctor described Whitman as having violent outbursts with little to no provocation and his heavy abuse of amphetamines more than likely did little to help the underlining issue.
A year later Whitman would begin his preparations for one of the most bloodiest massacres in recent Texas history.
It was just after midnight on August 1st, 1966 when Whitman drove to his mother’s apartment. He stabbed her in the heart as she slept. Next to her body he placed a note:
“To Whom It May Concern:
I have just taken my mother’s life. I am very upset over having done it. However, I feel that if there is a heaven she is definitely there now […] I am truly sorry […] Let there be no doubt in your mind that I loved this woman with all my heart.”
Whitman then returned to his home and stabbed his wife Kathleen three times as she slept. There he left a suicide note, which included a partial explanation for the murders. Portions of it read:
“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.”
“I imagine it appears that I brutally killed both of my loved ones. I was only trying to do a quick thorough job […] If my life insurance policy is valid please pay off my debts […] donate the rest anonymously to a mental health foundation. Maybe research can prevent further tragedies of this type […] Give our dog to my in-laws. Tell them Kathy loved “Schocie” very much […] If you can find in yourselves to grant my last wish, cremate me after the autopsy.”
Whitman did not elude to the rest of his plan. Those who have studied Whitman’s crimes speculate that the murder of both his wife and mother were to save them the shame and embarrassment of his actions.
At approximately 5:45 AM Whitman phoned Kathleen’s employer and told them that she was feeling ill and would not be into work that morning. He also took the time to place a similar phone call to his mother’s place of employment.
Later that morning Whitman would report to the Austin Rental Company where he rented a hand truck, then went to the bank where he cashed $250 worth of bogus checks. Whitman took the money and immediately went to a hardware store where he purchased eight boxes of ammunition, a couple extra magazines and a Universal M1 carbine. He explained to the cashier that he was going on a hunting trip.
From there Whitman went to Chuck’s Gun Shop in order to purchase four more carbine magazines, six more boxes of ammo and gun cleaning solvent. One would think that he had purchased everything necessary to follow through with his plan at this point, but Whitman wasn’t finished.
Driving to a local Sears store, Whitman purchased one more item. A Sears model 12-gauge shotgun.
Whitman took all of his weapons home and got to work. He sawed off the barrel and the butt stock of the shotgun, then loaded it along with five other guns, 700 rounds of ammunition, food, coffee, vitamins, earplugs, Dexedrine, water, matches, rope, binoculars, lighter fluid, a machete, several other knives, a transistor radio, a razor and some deodorant into a footlocker. He packed this all up into his car and started heading towards the University of Texas campus at around 11 AM that morning.
Arriving on campus, Whitman provided a security guard with false identification as a research assistant in order to obtain free 40-minute parking. He then loaded his personal arsenal onto the hand truck he had rented and pushed it towards the observation tower. When he arrived to the campus’ main building he became frustrated by the fact that the elevator had not been operational. A kindly employee switched it on for him.
From there Whitman road the elevator up to the 27th floor, then dragged the dolly up the last flight of stairs necessary to reach the observation tower. On the last floor he encountered a receptionist. He hit 51-year-old Edna Townsley in the head with the butt of his rifle twice before dragging her body behind a couch. A young couple came in from the observation deck and saw the blood on the floor, but assumed that the stain had been from some sort of varnish and that Whitman was there to shoot pigeons. They exchanged pleasantries before the couple went on their way.
Whitman had just finished barricading the stairway as two families attempted to access the them, believing that they were in place to clean the reception area and that Whitman had been the janitor. Whitman began firing at the families. Mark and Mike Garbor were the first to be shot, their mother Mary Garbor was also shot in the head, but survived.
Also in the reception area was Marguerite Lamport. Whitman shot her in the chest before shooting and finishing the job on Edna Townsley.
With his plan in motion, Whitman stepped onto the observation deck. There he began shooting at passerbys indiscriminately. After 20 minutes 13 people would be shot dead, two would later die of their injuries sustained, and an additional 31 people would be wounded.
Civilian responders returned fire with Whitman, forcing him to seek shelter while waiting for police, Texas Rangers and the Texas Department of Public Safety to arrive. Police attempted to use a small airplane to shoot at Whitman, but Whitman was quick to return fire and the mission was aborted for safety reasons.
Three police deputies and a civilian were tasked with entering into the tower. At 1:24 PM, Officer Ramiro Martinez entered into the South entrance, while the other officers and civilian Alan Crum circled around to the other entrance in order to trap Whitman. Whitman was crouched in a corner, shielded by the lights on the deck tower. As the officers began making their move, Alan Crum’s rifle accidentally discharged, momentarily distracting Whitman. It was in that instant that the officers, along with Crum, began firing at Whitman.
Martinez later credited the many civilian responders that day with assisting in saving the lives of many people, by forcing Whitman to take shelter. The incident later led to the creation of the S.W.A.T. Team in states across the country.
The tower would remain closed for the better part of the 25 years following the shooting. It reopened in 1999, but visitors are only allowed access through guided tours.