Charles Whitman was born on June 24th 1941 in Lake Worth, Florida. The eldest of three sons for Margaret and Charles Senior. His father a self employed plumber ruled the house with harsh and violent discipline.
Charles was a bright student and an Eagle Scout. Each of the brothers were given guns, and firearms were found around the family home. In June 1959 Charles enlisted in the Marine Corps. He started basic training on July 6th 1959. He was first stationed at Guantanamo Naval base in Cuba where he excelled earning several medals and badges including a Sharpshooters badge. He also excelled at rapid fire from a long distance.
Continuing his career Charles won a scholarship to train as an engineer. On September 15th 1961 Charles Whitman entered the University of Texas in Austin as a Mechanical Engineering student. It was here that he met Kathy Leissner a student from Needville Texas. They soon started dating and on August 17th 1962 they married. Charles academic studies were not going so well and in December 1964 after being court marshaled on gambling and firearms charges he was honourably discharged from the Marines.
Determined to graduate Charles went back to the university, changing his major to Architectural Engineering. He took extra classes and part time work to support him and Kathy. Around this time his parents split up after another violent row and Margaret moved to Austin.
Charles was suffering from depression and worried that his temper was worsening. Kathy persuaded him to see a doctor who prescribed him Valium and referred him on to the University Psychiatrist Dr Maurice Heatly. Charles spoke of failure and hatred for his father. He even stated that he has thought about “Going up on the tower with a deer rifle and shooting some pigs” He never showed up for his second appointment.
By July 31st the strain became unbearable for Charles and he began planning his attack. After a normal day Kathy went to work at 6.00pm. Charles began typing his farewell letter at 6.45pm. He was interrupted by friends visiting who stayed until 8.30pm. Charles left home to pick up Kathy from her shift at 9.30pm. Kathy retired to bed whilst Charles left to visit his mother.
Margaret Whitman invited her son into her apartment, It is believed that Charles strangled her from behind with a rubber hose. He then stabbed her in the chest with his hunting knife. At 12.30am Charles returned home and continued writing his letter. At approx 2.30am he stabbed Kathy five times in the chest while she slept. Again he returned to the letter stating “Both Dead”
With the first part of his plan complete he could continue preparing for his ultimate goal. At 9.00am he left home and purchased several guns locally and general supplies. He called both is mother and wife’s employers to let them know they were ill that day. He filled his footlocker with all the guns and ammunition, loaded it in the car and headed for campus.
At approximately 11.30am Charles arrived at the security check point. He told the guard that he had heavy equipment to unload in the Science block and was permitted to drive through. He unloaded the car and towed his footlocker to the elevator at the bottom of the tower. Arriving on the 27th floor he then had to drag the locker up the stairs to the 28th floor.
Here he met 51 year old Edna Townsley the receptionist. He hit her with the butt of his gun, she was to die only hours later. At 11.50am a couple came down from the observation deck and Whitman allowed them to pass through to their safety.
When two families The Lamports and Gabours started up the stairwell they were shot at point blank range. Two family members died. Whitman arrived on the observation Deck at 11.45am and began shooting. He fired at random, picking off targets below, pedestrians, students and teachers.
At 11.52am the first calls started to come in to the Austin police department, they arrived on campus shortly after. Among the victims were Claudia Rutt and her boyfriend Paul Sonntag, he ran to help her and was picked off by Whitman in the process. Claire Wilson heavily pregnant was shot through the abdomen killing her unborn child.
Austin police were trying to get closer to the tower whilst remaining out of sight. Charles shot officer Billy Speed through a 6” gap between railings. The police started returning fire but it was impossible to hit him as he began shooting through gaps in the walls.
Some officers had managed to get up onto the 27th floor. Police officers Jerry Day, Houston McCoy and Ramiro Martinex along with civilian Allen Crum. At approximately 1.20pm McCoy, Martinez and Crum entered the observation deck. Martinez rounded the corner and fired his .38 at Whitman, McCoy also fired at him and by 1.24pm Charles Whitman lay dead.
Hours later Whitman’s name was released to the press. His father rang the police and asked them to check on his wife and daughter inlaw. In total Charles had killed 16 people and wounded 30. On the 2nd August an autopsy was performed on Whitman, it revealed a small brain tumour, Many have since speculated that the tumour may have contributed to his mental state and subsequent actions.
The observation deck was closed in 1976 following a series of suicides.
In 1999 the University of Texas president reopened the deck. There are now security guards present and mesh has been added to prevent jumpers.
Follow up -
Several songs have been written about Charles including, Kinky Friedman’s The Ballard of Charles Whitman and Harry Chaplin’s Sniper.