The Murder Spree of Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate

Lori Johnston
15 min readAug 11, 2020
(Photo source: NBC news)

In recent years Hollywood has glamorized and romanticized Charles Starkweather and his rampage that took 11 lives at the end of 1957 and beginning of 1958, with cinematic depictions in Badlands, Natural Born Killers and Kalifornia. Rather than being some kind of hero, as the fictional film portrayals suggest, Starkweather was nothing but a cold and cruel murderer.

He was born into a working class family in Nebraska, the third of seven children. He had been born with a slight birth defect that caused his legs to be misshapen and, as a schoolchild, suffered with a speech impediment. Being teased and bullied by other children, both due to his legs and his speech impediment, caused him to harbor a tremendous amount of rage which he eventually began to unleash on those he didn’t like. Coming from a working class family, along with his diminutive size, led to an intense envy and hatred for those who had what he wanted and felt was his due.

Charlie dropped out of school during his senior year of high school and gained employment at a warehouse near Whittier Junior High School, where his new girlfriend went to school. Caril Ann Fugate was thirteen; a petite and pretty girl, her older sister had been the girlfriend of one of Charlie’s friends. Caril Ann inadvertently led to Starkweather’s being banished from his family home after she crashed his vehicle into another. Charlie’s father, the legal owner of the car, had to pay the damages and an altercation between the two erupted, ending with father kicking son out of the house. Charlie quit his warehouse job in favor of employment as a garbage collector. His new job gave him the opportunity to scout out homes for robberies. It was also during this time that he decided he wanted to be a criminal and that dead people were all on the same level. He began to yell “go to hell,” and other obscenities at strangers and persons he encountered on his garbage route.

Starkweather considered himself a brother of sorts to James Dean, the original rebel without a cause, although his personal cause was to create fear in others and alleviate his always smoldering anger. He took to wearing a black motorcycle jacket, black and white cowboy boots and covering his naturally red hair with black shoe polish.

Lori Johnston

Writer, reader, margarita drinker. Currently looking for a “dare to be great” situation.