Real Life Horror: Charles Whitman

Charles Whitman was an American mass murderer who became infamous as the “Texas Tower Sniper”.

Charles Joseph Whitman was born on June 24, 1941, in Lake Worth, Florida, the eldest of three sons born to Margaret E. (née Hodges) and Charles Adolphus Whitman Jr. Whitman’s father was raised in an orphanage in Savannah, Georgia, and described himself as a self-made man. His wife, Margaret, was 17 years old at the time they wed. Whitman’s parents moved a total of eight times in the first six years of Charles’s life before settling in a home in Lake Worth, where Whitman’s father subsequently opened a plumbing contract business. The marriage of Whitman’s parents was marred by domestic violence; Whitman’s father was an admitted authoritarian who provided for his family but demanded near perfection from all of them. He was known to physically and emotionally abuse his wife and children.

As a boy, Whitman was described as a polite child who seldom lost his temper. He was extremely intelligent — an examination at the age of six revealed his IQ to be 139. Whitman’s academic achievements were encouraged by his parents, and any indication of failure or a lethargic attitude were met with discipline — often physical — from his father. Margaret was a devout Roman Catholic who raised her sons in the same religion. The Whitman brothers regularly attended Mass with their mother, and all three brothers served as altar boys at the Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church in Lake Worth.

Whitman’s father was a firearms collector and enthusiast, who taught each of his young sons to shoot, clean, and maintain weapons. He regularly took them on hunting trips, and Charles became an avid hunter and accomplished marksman. His father said of him: “Charlie could plug the eye out of a squirrel by the time he was sixteen.” Whitman joined the Boy Scouts of America at age 11. He became an Eagle Scout at twelve years three months, reportedly the youngest of any Eagle Scout up to that time. Whitman also became an accomplished pianist at the age of 12. At around the same time, he began an extensive newspaper route.

On September 1, 1955, Whitman entered St. Ann’s High School in West Palm Beach, where he was regarded as a moderately popular student. By the next month, he had saved enough money from his newspaper route to purchase a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, which he used on his route. Without telling his father beforehand, Whitman enlisted in the United States Marine Corps one month after his June 1959 graduation from high school, where he had graduated seventh in a class of 72 students. Whitman told a family friend that the catalyst for his enlistment was an incident a month earlier, in which his father had beaten him and thrown him into the family swimming pool, almost drowning him, after he had returned home drunk after an evening socializing with friends. Whitman left home on July 6, having been assigned an eighteen-month tour of duty with the Marines at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. As Whitman travelled toward Parris Island, his father, who still had not known of Whitman’s enlistment, learned of his action and telephoned a branch of the federal government trying to have his son’s enlistment cancelled.

During Whitman’s initial eighteen-month service in 1959 and 1960, he earned a sharpshooter’s badge and the Marine Corps Expeditionary Medal. He achieved 215 of 250 possible points on marksmanship tests, doing well when shooting rapidly over long distances as well as at moving targets. After completing his assignment, Whitman applied to a United States Navy and Marine Corps scholarship program, intending to complete college and become a commissioned officer. Whitman earned high scores on the required examination, and the selection committee approved his enrolment at a preparatory school in Maryland, where he completed courses in mathematics and physics before being approved to transfer to the University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin) to study mechanical engineering later switching his focus to architectural engineering. He continued to receive his regular active-duty military pay while a student.

On September 15, 1961, Whitman entered the mechanical engineering program at UT Austin. Perhaps because he was free of the discipline and routine he had experienced while stationed at Guantanamo Bay, plus his courtship of a fellow student, Whitman was initially a poor student whose grades were largely unimpressive. His hobbies included karate, scuba diving, gambling, and hunting. Shortly after his enrolment at the university, Whitman and two friends were observed poaching a deer, with a passer by noting his license plate number and reporting them to the police. The trio were butchering the deer in the shower at Whitman’s dormitory when they were arrested. Whitman was fined $100 ($900 in 2020) for the offense. Whitman earned a reputation as a practical joker in his years as an engineering student, but his friends also noted he made some morbid and chilling statements. In 1962 he remarked to a fellow student, “A person could stand off an army from atop of [the Main Building’s clock tower] before they got him.”

In February 1962, 20-year-old Whitman met Kathleen Frances Leissner, an education major two years his junior. Leissner was Whitman’s first serious girlfriend; he briefly dated actress Deanna Dunagan just prior to beginning his relationship with her. They courted for five months before announcing their engagement on July 19. On August 17, 1962, Whitman and Leissner were married in a Catholic ceremony held in Leissner’s hometown of Needville, Texas. The couple chose the 22nd wedding anniversary of Whitman’s parents as the date for their wedding. Whitman’s family drove from Florida to attend the event, and his younger brother Patrick served as best man. Fr. Leduc, a Whitman family friend, presided over the ceremony. Leissner’s family and friends approved of her choice of husband, describing Whitman as a “handsome young man” who was both intelligent and aspirational. Although Whitman’s grades improved somewhat during his second and third semesters, the Marines considered them insufficient for continuation of his scholarship. He was ordered to active duty in February 1963 and went to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, for the remainder of his five-year enlistment.

Whitman apparently resented his college studies being ended, although he was automatically promoted to the rank of Lance Corporal. At Camp Lejeune, he was hospitalized for four days after single-handedly freeing another marine by lifting a Jeep which had rolled over an embankment. Despite his reputation as an exemplary Marine, Whitman continued to gamble. In November 1963, he was court-martialled for gambling, usury, possession of a personal firearm on base, and threatening another Marine over a $30 loan ($300 in 2020) for which he had demanded $15 in interest. Sentenced to thirty days of confinement and ninety days of hard labour, he was demoted from lance corporal (E-3) to private (E-1). While awaiting his court-martial in 1963, Whitman began to write a diary titled ‘Daily Record of C. J. Whitman’. In it, he wrote about his daily life in the Marine Corps and his interactions with his wife and other family members. He also wrote about his upcoming court-martial and contempt for the Marine Corps, criticizing them for inefficiencies. In his writings about Leissner, Whitman often praised her and expressed his longing to be with her. He also wrote about his efforts and plans to free himself from financial dependence on his father.

In December 1964, Whitman was honourably discharged from the Marines. He returned to UT Austin, enrolling in the architectural engineering program. To support his wife and himself, he worked as a bill collector for the Standard Finance Company. Later, he worked as a bank teller at the Austin National Bank. In January 1965, Whitman took a temporary job with Central Freight Lines as a traffic surveyor for the Texas Highway Department, while his wife worked as a biology teacher at Lanier High School. He was also a volunteer scout leader with Austin Scout Troop 5. Friends later said that Whitman had told them that he struck his wife on two occasions. They said that Whitman despised himself for this and confessed to being “mortally afraid of being like his father.” In his journal, Whitman lamented his actions and resolved to be a good husband and not abusive as his father had been.

In May 1966, Whitman’s mother announced her decision to divorce her husband because of his continued physical abuse. Whitman drove to Florida to help his mother move to Austin. He was reportedly so afraid that his father would resort to violence against his mother as she prepared to leave that he summoned a local policeman to remain outside the house while she packed her belongings. Whitman’s youngest brother, John, also left Lake Worth and moved to Austin with his mother. Patrick Whitman, the middle son, remained in Florida and worked in his father’s plumbing supply business. In Austin, Whitman’s mother took a job in a cafeteria and moved into her own apartment, though she remained in close contact with him. Whitman’s father later said he had spent more than a thousand dollars ($8,500 in 2020) on long-distance phone calls to both his wife and his son, begging his wife to return and asking his son to convince her to come back. During this stressful time, Whitman was abusing amphetamines and began experiencing severe headaches, which he described as being “tremendous”.

The day before the shootings, Whitman bought a pair of binoculars and a knife from a hardware store, and some Spam from a 7-Eleven convenience store. He picked up his wife from her summer job as a telephone operator before he met his mother for lunch at the Wyatt Cafeteria, which was close to the UT Austin campus. At about 4:00 p.m. the same day, Whitman and his wife visited their close friends John and Fran Morgan. They left the Morgans’ apartment at 5:50 p.m. so Kathy could get to her 6:00–10:00 p.m. shift. At 6:45 p.m., Whitman began typing his suicide note, a portion of which 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. These thoughts constantly recur, and it requires a tremendous mental effort to concentrate on useful and progressive tasks.”

In his note, Whitman went on to request an autopsy be performed on his remains after he was dead to determine if there had been a discernible biological contributory cause for his actions and for his continuing and increasingly intense headaches. He also wrote that he had decided to kill both his mother and wife. Expressing uncertainty about his reasons, he nonetheless stated he did not believe his mother had “ever enjoyed life as she is entitled to”, and that his wife had “been as fine a wife to me as any man could ever hope to have”. Whitman further explained that he wanted to relieve both his wife and mother of the suffering of this world, and to save them the embarrassment of his actions. He did not mention planning the attack at the university.

Just after midnight on August 1, Whitman drove to his mother’s apartment at 1212 Guadalupe Street. After killing his mother, he placed her body on her bed and covered it with sheets. How he murdered his mother is disputed, but officials believed he rendered her unconscious before stabbing her in the heart. He left a handwritten note beside her body, which read in part:

“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 at 906 Jewell Street, where he killed his wife by stabbing her three times in the heart as she slept. He covered her body with sheets, then resumed the typewritten note he had begun the previous evening. Using a ballpoint pen, he wrote at the side of the page:

“Friends interrupted. 8-1-66 Mon. 3:00 A.M. BOTH DEAD.”

Whitman continued the note, finishing it by pen:

“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 also left instructions in the rented house requesting that two rolls of camera film be developed and wrote personal notes to each of his brothers and a final note to his father (the contents of which were never made public). He last wrote on an envelope labelled ‘Thoughts for the Day’, in which he stored a collection of written admonitions. He added on the outside of the envelope:

“8-1-66. I never could quite make it. These thoughts are too much for me.”

At 5:45 a.m. on August 1, 1966, Whitman phoned his wife’s supervisor at Bell System to explain that Kathy was ill and unable to work that day. He made a similar phone call to his mother’s workplace five hours later. Whitman’s final journal entries were written in the past tense, suggesting that he had already killed his wife and mother.

On the morning of August 1, Whitman rented a hand truck and cashed $250 (equivalent to $2,000 in 2020) worth of bad checks at a bank. He then drove to a hardware store, where he purchased a .30 caliber Universal M1 carbine, two additional ammunition magazines, and eight boxes of ammunition, telling the cashier he planned to hunt wild hogs. Whitman then drove to Chuck’s Gun Shop where he purchased four more carbine magazines, six additional boxes of ammunition, and a can of gun cleaning solvent. At Sears he purchased a Sears Model 60 12 gauge semi-automatic shotgun before returning home. Whitman then packed into his footlocker a Remington 700 6-mm bolt-action hunting rifle, a .35-caliber pump rifle, the M1 carbine, a 9-mm Luger pistol, a Galesi-Brescia .25-caliber pistol, a Smith & Wesson M19 .357 Magnum revolver, the shotgun, of which he had sawn off the barrel and buttstock, as well as more than 700 rounds of ammunition. He also packed food, coffee, vitamins, Dexedrine, Excedrin, earplugs, jugs of water, matches, lighter fluid, rope, binoculars, a machete, three knives, a transistor radio, toilet paper, a razor, and a bottle of deodorant.  He put khaki coveralls on over his shirt and jeans.

At approximately 11:25 a.m.,  Whitman reached the University of Texas at Austin, where he showed false research assistant identification to obtain a parking permit.  Whitman wheeled his equipment toward the Main Building of the University. Whitman then entered the Main Building shortly after 11:30a.m., where he attempted to activate the elevator until an employee named Vera Palmer informed him that it had not been powered and turned it on for him; Whitman thanked Palmer, stating, “Thank you ma’am”, before repeatedly saying: “You don’t know how happy that makes me.” Exiting the elevator on the 27th floor (he highest floor the elevator reached, just one floor beneath the clock face), Whitman then lugged the dolly up the final flight of stairs to the hallway that led to a dog-legged stairway ascending to the rooms within the observation deck area. In the reception area, Whitman encountered the receptionist, 51-year-old Edna Townsley.

Townsley observed Whitman’s trunk and asked to see his University work identification. In response, Whitman knocked Townsley unconscious with the butt of his rifle, splitting her skull, then turned his weapon and shot her in the back of the head before dragging her body behind a couch; Townsley would later die from her injuries. Moments after he had hidden Townsley’s body, a young couple named Cheryl Botts and Don Walden returned to the receptionist area, having been sightseeing upon the observation deck. The couple encountered Whitman holding a rifle in each hand. Botts observed a dark stain upon the floor beside the reception desk and later claimed that she believed that this large red stain was varnish, and that Whitman was there to shoot pigeons. Whitman and the young couple exchanged brief pleasantries before the couple left the reception area. After Botts and Walden had left the reception, Whitman barricaded the stairway. M. J. Gabour, his wife Mary Frances Gabour, and their sons Mike and Mark were in Austin visiting M. J.’s sister Marguerite Lamport and her husband William Lamport . Around 11:45am they were climbing the stairs from the 27th floor when they encountered the desk Whitman had placed in the entrance to the reception area. As Mike and Mark squeezed past, Whitman came forward and fired his shotgun, hitting Mike in the shoulder and Mark in the head, and then fired down the stairs, striking Marguerite and Mary Frances. M. J. and William, farther down the stairs, were not hit and went for help at Mike’s urging. Whitman then shot Townsley in the head before exiting to the observation deck, a vantage point 231 feet above ground level. Mike Gabour’s injuries left him unable to complete his Air Force training, and Mary Frances was left paralyzed from the neck down and legally blind. Mary Gabour later recollected that she and her sons had assumed the barricade was in place because the reception area was in the process of being cleaned and that Whitman, still donned in khaki overalls, was the janitor.

At 11:48a.m. Whitman began shooting from the observation deck 231 feet (70m) above the ground, targeting people on the campus and on a section of Guadalupe Street known as the Drag, which is home to coffee shops, bookstores, and other student hangouts. 18 year old anthropology student Claire Wilson was the first person Whitman shot from the tower. She and Thomas Eckman (18) were leaving the Student Union when Wilson, who was eight months pregnant, was shot in the abdomen at 11:47am; the unborn boy was killed. As Eckman went to her aid, he was shot in the chest and died instantly. Passer-by Rita Starpattern lay next to Wilson, and for an hour comforted her and kept her conscious. Eventually James Love, John “Artly” Fox and others left their protected locations (while Whitman was still shooting) and carried Wilson to safety and also retrieved Eckman’s body. Wilson remained hospitalized for three months. 33-year-old mathematician and father of two, Robert Boyer, the third person shot from the tower, was struck in the lower back. 31-year-old student Devereaux “Maitland” Huffman was shot next, in the arm. He fell to the ground, feigning death. Secretary Charlotte Darehshori came under fire as she ran to help Boyer and Huffman; she took refuge behind a concrete flagpole for an hour and a half and was not injured.

Three Peace Corps trainees David Mattson (22), Roland Ehlke (21), and Tom Herman were walking to lunch, Mattson had just bought a new watch and had raised his arm to eye level to show his friends when part of his wrist was blown off. Ehlke himself was to subsequently recall that he first became aware of his friend having been shot as he heard Mattson scream as the bullet hit him in the wrist. Ehlke then saw that shrapnel from the shot had embedded itself into his own left arm. Ehlke was again shot in the left bicep before he dived for cover. Upon seeing his friend lying prone, Ehlke emerged from cover to drag him to safety and was again shot in the leg as he did so. A 64-year-old local shopkeeper named Homer Kelly helped drag the wounded duo, plus Herman, into his shop, before he was himself shot and wounded in the leg. Thomas Ashton was shot in the chest on his way to meet Mattson and Ehlke for lunch. Nancy Harvey and Ellen Evganides were leaving the tower for lunch when they heard shots. They returned inside, where a guard told them it was safe to leave again. About 100 yards from the tower, Harvey was shot in the hip. Evganides was struck in the left leg by the ricochet of the shot. Aleck Hernandez was shot in the leg around 11:45am while delivering newspapers on his bicycle near the West Mall entrance. Soon after, Karen Griffith was shot in the shoulder and chest and her right lung was pierced; she died seven days later. Thomas Ray Karr was hit in the spine while coming to Griffith’s aid; he died approximately one hour later.

About 11:55am, David Gunby was returning to the library for a forgotten book when a shot passed through his upper left arm and entered his abdomen, severing his small intestine. Adrian and Brenda Littlefield, married only nine days, were leaving the tower when Brenda (17) was shot in the hip; Adrian (19) was struck in the back as he bent over her. After some time, all three were rescued by an armoured car which had been pressed into service to reach the injured. During surgery, it was discovered that Gunby had only one functioning kidney to begin with, which had now been severely damaged; he was in great pain for the rest of his life. In 2001, he died one week after discontinuing dialysis. His death was officially ruled a homicide. Claudia Rutt (18) and her boyfriend Paul Sonntag (18) had just run into Carla Wheeler (18), a friend, when they heard shots. They took refuge behind a construction barricade, but when Sonntag abruptly stood, Whitman shot him in the mouth, killing him instantly. Sonntag’s body fell against a parking meter and in doing so, knocked the barricade slightly open. Rutt attempted to move towards Sonntag’s prone body as Wheeler attempted to restrain her before Whitman fired once more: the bullet blew off three fingers of Wheeler’s left hand, then entered Rutt’s torso through the upper left chest. Sonntag’s grandfather, KTBC news director Paul Bolton, learned of his grandson’s death as the victims’ names were recited on air that day.

29-year-old electrical repairman Roy Schmidt took cover with others behind his car some 500 yards (460m) from the tower, but after about 30 minutes stood up in the belief he was out of range, and was immediately shot in the abdomen. He was the fatality farthest from the tower. At 12:08pm, Patrolman Billy Speed (24) was with another officer and others behind decorative balusters on the South Mall when he was shot through a gap in the masonry. He died soon after at the hospital. About noon, 38-year-old doctoral student and father of six Harry Walchuk was leaving a magazine store on Guadalupe when he was shot in the chest. 35-year-old basketball coach Billy Snowden, believing himself out of range, was struck in the shoulder while standing in a barbershop doorway. At over 500 yards (460m), he was the person shot farthest from the tower. Sandra Wilson (21) was shot in the chest on Guadalupe Street.

a 26-year-old Chemistry student Abdul Khashab, an exchange student from Iraq, and Janet Paulos (20), his fiancée, were shot near Guadalupe and 24th St. 21-year-old Lana Phillips believed she was out of range but was shot in the shoulder, Phillips’ own sister subsequently ran from cover to drag Lana to safety. Two 21-year-olds, Oscar Royvela and his girlfriend Irma Garcia, were shot near Hogg Auditorium. Garcia later recalled the bullet spun her “completely around” as it hit her in the left shoulder. Garcia immediately fell to the ground. Royvela instinctively attempted to help Garcia when he too was shot through the shoulder blade; the bullet then exiting through his left arm. Students Jack Stephens and Jack Pennington dragged them both to safety. A shot struck 26-year-old carpenter Avelino Esparza’s left arm near the shoulder, shattering the bone. His brother and uncle dragged him to safety. 36-year-old Robert Heard, a press reporter and veteran Marine, was shot in the arm. 18-year-old freshman John Allen was looking at the tower through a window of the Student Union when a bullet struck the window, followed by a second shot which severed an artery in his right forearm.

30-year-old Morris Hohman was using his business’ ambulance to take victims to the hospital when he was shot in his right leg at the corner of 23rd and Guadalupe. He later recalled, “I laid there for about forty to forty-five minutes … listening to two construction workers arguing about who was going to expose themselves to recover me.” F.L. Foster and Robert Frede were wounded in the crossfire between Whitman and those shooting from the ground. Della and Marina Martinez, visiting from Monterrey, Mexico, were both wounded by bullet fragments. Delores Ortega (30) suffered a cut on the back of her head either from flying glass or a direct hit. C.A. Stewart was not shot, but was injured in the commotion.

Some mistook the sound of shots for the noise from a nearby construction site, or thought that persons falling to the ground were part of a theatre group or an anti-war protest. One victim recalled that as she lay bleeding a passer-by reprimanded her and told her to “Get up.” Among those who grasped the situation, many risked their lives to take the wounded to safety. Ambulances from local funeral homes and an armoured car were used to reach the wounded. Four minutes after Whitman began shooting from the tower, a history professor was the first to telephone the Austin Police Department, at 11:52am. Patrolman Billy Speed (24), one of the first officers to arrive, took refuge with a colleague behind a columned stone wall. Whitman shot through the six-inch space between the columns of the wall and killed Speed. Officer Houston McCoy (26), heard of the shooting on his radio. As he looked for a way into the tower, a student offered to help, saying he had a rifle at home. McCoy drove the student to his home to retrieve the rifle.

Around noon, Officer Ramiro “Ray” Martinez (29) was off duty at home when he heard about the attack on the news. Having called the police station, he was instructed to go to the campus and direct traffic. Once there, he found other officers already doing that, so he went to the tower. He assumed he would find a team of officers there, but when he reached the 27th floor, he found only Department of Public Safety Agent Dub Cowan, 40-year-old retired Air Force tail gunner Allen Crum, who was a manager at the University Book Store Co-Op, and Police Officer Jerry Day. Officers attempting to reach the tower were forced to move slowly and take cover often, but a small group of officers including Houston McCoy (26) began making their way to the tower via underground maintenance tunnels. Officers and several civilians provided suppressive fire from the ground with small weapons and hunting rifles, forcing Whitman to stay low and fire through storm drains at the foot of the observation deck’s wall. A police sharpshooter in a small plane was driven back by Whitman’s return fire but continued to circle at a distance, seeking to distract Whitman and further limit his freedom to choose targets.

Martinez, Crum, and Day searched the 27th floor, the men encountered M.J. Gabour. Gabour, clutching his wife’s shoes, screamed that his family had been shot and immediately attempted to wrestle the rifle from the hands of officer Jerry Day in order that he (Gabour) could shoot Whitman. Day consoled Gabour and led him to safety before joining McCoy, Crum and Martinez. Martinez started up the stairs to the observation deck, and Crum insisted on covering him, asking Martinez to deputize him first. Beneath the stairwell leading to the reception area, Martinez found Marguerite Lamport, Mark Gabour, Mary Gabour, and Mike Gabour. Mike Gabour gestured to the observation deck, saying: “He’s out there.” Martinez reached the observation deck first. He told Crum to remain at the door. McCoy and Day reached the observation deck a few minutes later. At some point, Crum accidentally fired his rifle. Around 1:24pm, while Whitman was looking south for the source of the rifle shot, Martinez and McCoy rounded the north eastern corner of the observation deck. jumped around the corner into the northeast area and rapidly fired all six rounds from his .38 police revolver from a distance of 50 feet at Whitman, all of which missed. McCoy leaped out while Martinez was firing and saw Whitman’s head looking over the light ballast, McCoy fired his 12-gauge shotgun at the top of the ballast with shots of 00-buckshot, hitting Whitman between the eyes with several pellets, killing Whitman instantly. McCoy fired again, hitting Whitman on his left side. Martinez grabbed McCoy’s shotgun, ran to Whitman’s prone body, and fired a direct shotgun blast into the deceased Whitman’s left arm. In the immediate aftermath, Martinez was nearly shot himself by those on the ground, who did not yet realize that Whitman was dead.

Martinez then threw the shotgun onto the deck and hurriedly left the scene, repeatedly shouting the words “I got him.” After tending to the wounded in the stairwell, APD Officers Milton Shoquist, Harold Moe and George Shepard made their way up the stairs to join APD Officer Phillip Conner and Texas Department of Public Safety Agent W.A. Cowan; arriving on the 28th floor as Martinez, McCoy, Day and Crum remained on the observation deck. Moe heard Martinez as he ran past shouting “I got him,” and relayed his words to the APD radio dispatcher hand-held radio. Houston McCoy subsequently appeared before the Travis County Grand Jury on August 5, 1966, where Whitman’s demise was ruled to be justifiable homicide. Altogether, Whitman killed sixteen people and wounded thirty one in the 96 minutes before he was shot and killed.

Investigating officers found that Whitman had visited several UT Austin physicians in the year before the shootings; they prescribed various medications for him. Whitman had seen a minimum of five doctors between the fall and winter of 1965 before he visited a psychiatrist from whom he received no prescription. At some other time he was prescribed Valium by Jan Cochrum, who recommended he visit the campus psychiatrist. Whitman met with Maurice Dean Heatly, the staff psychiatrist at the University of Texas Health Centre, on March 29, 1966. He referred to his visit with Heatly in his final suicide note, writing, “I talked with a Doctor once for about two hours and tried to convey to him my fears that I felt come [sic] overwhelming violent impulses. After one visit, I never saw the Doctor again, and since then have been fighting my mental turmoil alone, and seemingly to no avail.” Heatly’s notes on the visit said:

“This massive, muscular youth seemed to be oozing with hostility […] that something seemed to be happening to him and that he didn’t seem to be himself. He readily admits having overwhelming periods of hostility with a very minimum of provocation. Repeated inquiries attempting to analyze his exact experiences were not too successful with the exception of his vivid reference to ‘thinking about going up on the tower with a deer rifle and start shooting people.”

Although Whitman had been prescribed drugs and was in possession of Dexedrine at the time of his death, the toxicology was delayed because Whitman had been embalmed on August 1, after his body was brought to the Cook Funeral Home in Austin. However, an autopsy had been requested in the suicide notes left by Whitman and was then approved by his father. On August 2, an autopsy was conducted by Coleman de Chenar (a neuropathologist at Austin State Hospital) at the funeral home. Urine and blood were removed to test for traces of amphetamines or other substances. During the autopsy, Chenar discovered a “pecan-sized” brain tumour, which he labelled an astrocytoma and which exhibited a small amount of necrosis. These findings were later revised by the Connally Commission: “It is the opinion of the task force that the relationship between the brain tumour and Charles J. Whitman’s actions on the last day of his life cannot be established with clarity.”

John Connally, then governor of Texas, commissioned a task force to examine the autopsy findings and material related to Whitman’s actions and motives. The commission was composed of neurosurgeons, psychiatrists, pathologists, psychologists, including the University of Texas Health Center Directors, John White and Maurice Heatly. The commission’s toxicology tests revealed nothing significant. They examined Chenar’s paraffin blocks of the brain tumour, stained specimens of it and Whitman’s other brain tissue, in addition to the remainder of the autopsy specimens available. Following a three-hour hearing on August 5, the commission concluded that Chenar’s finding had been in error. They found that the tumour had features of a glioblastoma multiforme, with widespread areas of necrosis, palisading of cells, and a “remarkable vascular component” described as having “the nature of a small congenital vascular malformation”. Psychiatric contributors to the report concluded that “the relationship between the brain tumour and […] Whitman’s actions […] cannot be established with clarity. However, the […] tumour conceivably could have contributed to his inability to control his emotions and actions”, while the neurologists and neuropathologists concluded: “The application of existing knowledge of organic brain function does not enable us to explain the actions of Whitman on August first.” Forensic investigators have theorized that the tumour pressed against Whitman’s amygdala, a part of the brain related to anxiety and fight-or-flight responses.

Upon completing all the information that the Commission had gathered, recommendations were made to aid the wounded and those affected by the events. Aid to survivors and the wounded were to include loans, with University of Texas and State of Texas agencies to temporarily assist those with both medical and lingering mental issues and rehabilitation after the event. These recommendations were never followed. Officers Romero Martinez and Houston McCoy were awarded Medals of Valor by the city of Austin. Following the shootings, the tower observation deck was closed. The various bullet holes were repaired and the tower was reopened in 1968. It was closed again in 1975 following four suicides.  After a stainless steel lattice and other security features were installed, it was again reopened in 1999, but only to by-appointment guided tours, and all visitors are screened by metal detectors. In 2006, a Memorial Garden was dedicated to those who died or were otherwise affected. A monument listing the names of the victims was added in 2016 on the shootings’ fiftieth anniversary. The tower’s clock was stopped for 24 hours beginning at 11:48 a.m. The day was declared by the City of Austin as ‘Ramiro Martinez Day’.

A joint Catholic funeral service for Whitman and his mother Margaret was held at his home parish of Sacred Heart in Lake Worth on August 5, 1966. The service was officiated by Fr. Tom Anglin. They were buried in Florida’s Hillcrest Memorial Park. Since he was a military veteran, Whitman was buried with military honours; his casket was draped with the American flag. He was laid to rest in Florida’s Hillcrest Memorial Park alongside his mother and, later, his brother John (who was murdered in 1973). There was no mention of his wife’s funeral.

“This is a warning to the citizens of Austin: Stay away from the university area. There is a sniper at the University Tower firing at will, it’s like a battle scene. He fires a shot, and another shot, and another shot, it’s a battle between the sniper and the police.”


If you want to watch a documentary on Charles Whitman then just check out the video below:

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