Killing Spree | The Charles Starkweather & Caril Ann Fugate Case

(Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate. Picture credit:

This is one of those cases that inspired a few Hollywood movies such as Natural Born Killers and Kalifornia amongst others. Bruce Springsteen even wrote a song about it. I am of course talking about the shocking killing spree that took place in Nebraska and Wyoming in the 1950s at the hands of 19 year old Charles Raymond Starkweather and his 14 year old girlfriend, Caril Ann Fugate.

This case is like something out of a novel and it's hard to believe that's it's true but these two young people murdered 10 people between December 1957 to January 1958 (Charles had committed a murder prior to the spree). Caril's part in the murders has always been debated as some people believe that she was led along in fear of Charles but others argue that she had plenty of opportunities to escape or raise the alarm but failed to do so.

They were like a young Bonnie and Clyde and Charles had a fixation on the late actor James Dean. Before I really looked into the case I remember seeing pictures of Charles and noticed that there was a pattern of quiffed hair and the cigarette hanging out of his mouth and I instantly thought of James Dean. Apparently he had seen the movie Rebel Without A Cause and he related to the character that James was playing.

Before I go into more of the case, don't forget you can find me on Instagram at @KittysOnTheCase as well as on other social media platforms

Please note that there may be some disturbing details included in this post.

Charles Raymond Starkweather was born into a respectable working class family in Lincoln, Nebraska on the 24th of November 1938. He was the third of seven children and although his family didn't have much money, they were careful with what they did have and so Charles and his siblings did not go without clothes or food. His parents were hard workers who taught their children to be responsible and well mannered.

Charles attended Saratoga Elementary School, Irving Middle School and Lincoln High School however his memories of school were not fond ones. Charles had been born with Genu Varum (also known as bow-leggedness) which caused his legs to be misshapen and affected his walking. He also had a speech impediment which caused him to be very self conscious, there were also other learning difficulties which caused him to struggle with certain subjects and it would take him a little bit longer to learn something. His teachers (who were not well versed in learning difficulties) simply put his struggles down to him not paying attention in class and failing to properly apply himself. To add to these struggles, he suffered a lot of bullying by his classmates.

As well as the learning difficulties, Genu Varum and speech impediment, he was diagnosed with having severe Myopia which meant that he could only see objects close up but from far away they would appear blurry, this may have contributed to his learning issues as he would not have been able to see what the teacher had been writing on the blackboard.

The one subject at school that Charles seemed to really enjoy and have a natural flair for was gym. Soon enough his confidence grew as he felt more stronger and physically fit but with this came a lot of arrogance and he would get revenge on the kids that bullied him but he would also pick on innocent kids.

A friend of Charles, Bob Von Busch would later say: ''He could be the kindest person you've ever seen. He'd do anything for you if he liked you. He was a hell of a lot of fun to be around, too. Everything was just one big joke to him. But he had this other side. He cold be mean as hell, cruel. If he saw some poor guy on the street who was bigger than he was, better looking, or better dressed, he'd try to take the poor b*stard down to his size,'' 

As I mentioned earlier, Charles became obsessed with James Dean after seeing the film Rebel Without A Cause. He identified strongly with the character that James was playing and started to grow his hair and style it like James, he also would have a cigarette hanging out of the edge of his mouth which was a kind of trademark of James Dean.

Charles was growing into a handsome boy but his well behaved manner was starting to take a turn as if he was trying to become like the character in Rebel Without A Cause.

Around 1956, Charles was introduced to a pretty 13 year old girl named Caril Ann Fugate. Even though Charles was much older at 18, it's not hard to imagine that Caril would have seen this good looking boy with this rebellious attitude and the whole James Dean vibe about him and developed a little crush. The feeling seemed to be mutual and they grew closer and started dating. Charles dropped out of school in his senior year and got a job in a warehouse which was near to where Caril went to school and he would visit her there everyday.

When his former employer later reflected on Charles as an employee, he said: ''Sometimes you'd have to tell him something two or three times. Of all the employees in the warehouse, he was the dumbest man we had.''

With Charles rebellious attitude, his parents were not happy, especially as he had managed to crash his car as he was teaching Caril how to drive. His father had to foot the bill for the damages and this resulted in a huge argument which ended with Charles being thrown out of his parents house.

Charles left his job at the warehouse and began working as a garbage collector. On his routes he would often go to some of the more affluent neighbourhoods and he would compare how the lifestyles of the people who lived in these places differed to his. On one of his routes he would collect the garbage from future talk show host Dick Cavett and would often chat to his father. He began using his garbage route to plot bank robberies and his personal motto which he believed in right up till his death was that ''Dead people are all on the same level.''

On the 30th of November 1957 Charles went to a service station to get a gift for Caril when the cashier, Robert Colvert, refused to give him credit, Charles wasn't happy and left the station. At 3:00am on the 1st of December 1957, Charles returned to the service station but this time he had a shotgun in his car. He seemed to be going back and forth with what he wanted to actually do because he returned a second time, left the shotgun in the car and bought a packet of cigarettes before driving away.

He returned again and bought a packet of chewing gum and began driving away. This time he parked his car a short distance away from the service station and decided to go back in with the shotgun where he tried to hold Robert Colvert at gunpoint, forcing him to hand over the money in the cash register. Charles then forced Robert into his car and drove him to a remote area in Lincoln. At some point there was a scuffle between the pair with Robert trying to grab a hold of the shotgun but he ended up getting shot in his knee caps. Charles then shot Robert in the head. Robert was just 21 years old and he was working extra shifts at the service station because his partner was pregnant. There was no personal relationship between him and Charles, they were unknown to each other.

After killing Robert, Charles later claimed that something inside him had changed and that he felt like he'd transcended his former self to a new place of existence.

(Caril Ann Fugate and Charles Starkweather. Picture credit:

On the 21st of January 1958, Charles visited the family home of Caril but she wasn't there. Caril's mother and stepfather didn't approve of the relationship he had with their young daughter and told him to stay away. This resulted in an argument and Charles pulled out the shotgun and killed both Velda and Marion Bartlett, he also strangled and stabbed Betty Jean to death. Betty Jean was just two years old. He then hid the bodies in some outbuildings behind the house. Charles later claimed that Caril had been there the whole time the killings were taking place.

Caril's version of events is that she returned home to find her family missing and Charles pointing a gun at her. She says that she cooperated with him because he had told her that her family were being held hostage and that if she did exactly as he asked, they would remain safe.

Charles and Caril stayed together in the house for about 6 days and a note was put on the front door for visitors to stay away as the family had the flu. Caril's grandmother became suspicious and contacted the police, however when the police arrived, Charles and Caril had already left.

Some time later the pair drove to a farmhouse and murdered 70 year old August Meyer, they also shot his dog before they left and decided to abandon their car.

A young couple, Robert Jensen (17) and Carol King (16) were driving by when they spotted Caril and Charles walking in the road and decided to stop and give them a ride. Charles and Caril got into the car and quickly switched from being nice and polite to hostile pretty quick with Charles pointing the gun at the couple and forcing them to drive to an abandoned storm cellar in Bennet.

Robert was shot in the back of the head and Charles attempted to rape Carol, when he was unable to so he became frustrated and angry and fatally shot her. According to Charles, he killed Robert but it was Caril who killed Carol King. Caril claimed that she stayed in the car the entire time and didn't take part.

The pair took off in Robert's car and drove to an affluent area of Lincoln. They targeted the home of C. Lauer Ward. As they entered the house they realised that their maid, Lilian Fenci (51) was the only one home so Charles stabbed her to death and they waited for C. Lauer (47) and his wife, Ciara (46) to return home.

Charles also killed their dog by breaking it's neck. Ciara was the first to arrive home and was stabbed to death, Charles later claimed that he threw a knife at Ciara but it was Caril who stabbed her numerous times. When C. Lauer did eventually return home, Charles fatally shot him.

Not long after this, Charles and Caril filled up C. Lauer's car with stolen goods and left Nebraska.

The murders shocked the local people within Lancaster County and the police were everywhere trying to find out information about the people who had carried out these horrendous crimes, they went from door to door trying to find the killers and gather as much information as they could.

There were several reports by the locals that they had seen Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate at various times and locations within the area but the Lincoln Police Department was accused of being too slow with not chasing up leads quick enough.

Knowing that the police were on their tail, Charles and Caril knew they had to find another car as soon as possible. They spotted a travelling salesman (Merle Collison, 37) who was asleep in his car along the highway outside Douglas, Wyoming. They woke the unsuspecting man up and he was fatally shot by Charles who later accused Caril of performing a Coup-de-grace, he claimed she was the ''most trigger happy person'' he had ever met. Caril has always denied killing anyone and claims to have been a victim who just followed Charles out of fear for her life.

They attempted to drive away in Merle's car but it stalled because the brake had not been released, a good Samaritan stopped by and offered to help but Charles threatened him with the gun and a struggle ensued. During the commotion a police officer just happened to be driving by and stopped. In a strange turn of events, Caril ran to the officer screaming ''It's Starkweather! He's going to kill me!''

Charles managed to get the car started and drove off, exceeding speeds of 100 miles per hour (160 km/h). A bullet shattered the windscreen and some of the flying glass had caught his skin, he thought he had been shot as he could see some blood. Eventually he knew the game was up and surrendered to the police. Converse County Sheriff Earl Heflin said ''He thought he was bleeding to death. That's why he stopped. That's the kind of yellow son of a b*tch he is.''

In custody, Charles claimed that he did kidnap Caril and that everything was all down to him. However, he changed his story several times and testified during Caril's trial that she was just as much a part of the murders as he was.

(Charles Starkweather, Picture credit: Murderpedia)

Caril still claims to this day that she thought her family was being held hostage and that she had to do everything Charles had said or he would kill them. Investigators and the Judge didn't believe Caril as there were so many opportunities for her to have escaped or called for help.

When Charles was first taken to Nebraska Penitentiary after his trial he believed that he was supposed to be put to death and claimed that if he was to be executed then Caril should be too.

For some reason, Charles was only tried for the murder of Robert Jensen, possibly because he was given the death penalty. He was to be executed by electric chair at the Nebraska State Penitentiary in Lincoln, Nebraska. His sentence was pretty quick compared to a lot of other cases where people can be on death row for years, even decades.

Charles Raymond Starkweather was executed on the 25th of June 1959. He is buried in the same cemetery (Wyuka Cemetery) as five of his victims.

''They say this is a wonderful world to live in, but I don't believe that I ever did really live in a wonderful world...the more I looked at people, the more I hated them, because I knowed [sic] there wasn't any place for me with the kind of people I knowed. I used to wonder why they was here, anyhow. A bunch of goddamned sons-of-b*tches looking for somebody to make fun of.'' - Charles Starkweather.

Caril Ann Fugate was the youngest female in US history to date to be tried for first degree murder. She was sentenced to life imprisonment but was paroled after 17 years in 1976. On her release from prison she moved to Lansing, Michigan and had various jobs such as janitorial assistant and medical technician. She has since retired.

She married a man in 2007 by the name of Fredrick Clair, in another strange turn of events, the couple were involved in a car accident in 2013, Fredrick died at the scene but Caril managed to survive the crash. Her stepson had since claimed that she has suffered various strokes over the years and is said to be living a private life somewhere in Michigan.

Caril had this to say about Charles: ''I told him I didn't want to see him again but he came back. I kept telling him to leave. I told him to leave and I didn't want to ever see him again. Don't you think that I, everyday of my life, that I think to myself, why dear God didn't he just kill me and be done with it?''

Lyrics from Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska

''From the town of Lincoln, Nebraska with a sawed-off .410 on my lap. Through the badlands of Wyoming I killed everything in my path. 

I can't say that I'm sorry for the things that we done. At least for a little while sir, me and her, we had us some fun.

Now the jury brought in a guilty verdict and the judge he sentenced me to death. Midnight in a prison store room with leather straps across my chest.

Sheriff when the man pulls that switch sir and snaps my poor neck back. You make sure my pretty baby is sittin' right there on my lap.

They declared me unfit to live, said into the great void my soul'd be hurled. They wanted to know why I did what I did. Well sir, I guess there's just a meanness in this world.'' 

My thoughts...

I remember watching Natural Born Killers years ago but at that time I didn't know it was inspired by a real case. It's a crazy, disturbing story and when I think of Charles and Caril, I think of them as a kind of young Bonnie and Clyde, not to make them sound glamorous but I guess it was also really shocking because they were young, especially Caril.

Do I think that Caril was innocent? I think that she may have been wrapped up in the fantasy with Charles and being such a young age too. I do think he was the one in charge and with his handsome looks and rebellious attitude, this may have seen exciting for Caril.

It's like they both thought they were in a movie but reality soon caught up with them. When Caril was arrested she was reported to have smiled at the cameras and Charles was always doing his James Dean pose. They strike me as immature with no remorse for their actions.

The authorities didn't waste anytime putting Charles to death, nowadays these death row sentences can take a very long time.

What are your thoughts on this case? Should Caril have been released or should she have remained in prison? Let me know in the comments below.


Robert Colvert
Marion Bartlett
Valda Bartlett
Betty Jean Bartlett
August Meyer
Robert Jensen
Carol King
C. Lauer Ward
Ciara Ward
Lilian Fenci
Merle Collison

Further reading & sources:

Charles Starkweather: Murderpedia
Charles Starkweather: Find A Grave
Starkweather Case: Lincoln City Libraries
Charles Starkweather: Wikipedia
Caril Ann Fugate: Wikipedia
Caril Ann Fugate: Psychology Today
Charles Starkweather: Born To Kill? Documentary

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Check out some of the true crime cases I have covered previously:

The Acid bath Murderer | John George Haigh

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The Fake Uber Driver | The Samantha Josephson Case

The McDonald's Massacre (1984) | James Huberty

Wicked Child | The Mary Bell Case

What Really Happened To India Chipchase?

The Sylvia Likens Case

The Tragic Life & Death of Marvin Gaye

The Camden Ripper: Anthony John Hardy

Deadly Obsession: The Ricardo Lopez Story

Targeted: The Kriss Donald Story

-Toxic Relationship: The Tracie Andrews Story

Stalked To Death: The Alissa Blanton Story

Rod Ferrell And The Kentucky Vampire Cult

What Happened To Dominique Dunne?

What Happened To Heather Elvis?

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  1. Being Nebraska born and raised this case literally hits home. I don't remember when or why but I know I learned about this in school, which is weird. I guess I have the public school system to thank for my love of true crime. 😂😂 I drive by Wyuka all the time and I always consider visintg his gravesite, but if I remember right it's been desecrated it vandalized several times. Great reporting as always, now that's 3 coffees I owe you...

    1. Thank you so much for taking the time to read my post and commenting. If you ever do get to visit his gravesite can you post a pic on insta lol. Much love : ) x