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The DISTURBING and True Story of Charles Whitman

Charles Whitman was a troubled individual. But his actions are debated to this day, due to his illness
Charles Whitman was a troubled individual. But his actions are debated to this day, due to his illness
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The pervasive odor of scorched gunpowder assaulted Ramiro Martinez’s senses as the elevator doors slid open, momentarily staggering him. Clutching at a hastily whispered Hail Mary, the off-duty officer from the Austin Police Department plunged into the observatory atop the University of Texas Tower.

In this grim setting, a malevolent gunman, equipped with a Remington 700, a shotgun, an M1 rifle, and a heart full of malice, had unleashed a torrent of bullets across the university’s “Forty Acres” for an agonizing ninety minutes.

On the ground, eleven souls lay lifeless, with thirty-one more bearing the wounds of this atrocity. Within the tower’s walls, the toll was equally grim: three individuals had been mercilessly slain and two others grievously injured.

Shortly after Martinez entered the observatory, he was joined by fellow Austin police officer Houston McCoy and a civilian, Allen Crum, employed by the University Co-op. During their tense ascent, they encountered a young man, injured and desperate. In a moment of raw emotion, the young man lunged for the shotgun cradled in McCoy’s grasp, his words fueled by anger and pain, “Let me shoot the sonofabitch.” Calm yet resolute, McCoy responded, “I’ll shoot him for you.”

On August 1, 1966, as the gunman opened fire from the UT Tower observation deck, smoke billowed from his rifle.

On August 1, 1966, as the gunman opened fire from the UT Tower observation deck, smoke billowed from his rifle.

The approach of the two officers, Martinez and McCoy, towards the assailant, Charles Whitman, was marked by cautious and deliberate movements. Their progress was not only hindered by the looming threat of Whitman’s potential counterattack, but also by the need to navigate through the erratic gunfire from well-intentioned citizens. These individuals, armed mostly with hunting rifles, were firing from 300 feet below, adding a layer of complexity and danger to the situation. What lasted only minutes felt like an eternity to them. Finally, rounding a corner, they had Whitman within their line of sight. Their shots rang out, and Whitman collapsed, lifeless, onto the floor of the observatory.

Yet, even with the threat neutralized, they were forced to remain sheltered, waiting for the sporadic gunfire from below to cease. For over sixty years, this harrowing episode on August 1, 1966, at the University of Texas at Austin, has been recounted as the definitive end of that massacre.

However, the grim reality is that what unfolded on the UT campus over two generations ago was not an isolated incident. Its echoes have reverberated through time, manifesting in repeated tragedies across Texas: Killeen (23 fatalities, 1991), Fort Hood (13 fatalities, 2009), Sutherland Springs (26 fatalities, including an unborn child, 2017), Santa Fe (10 fatalities, 2018), El Paso (23 fatalities, 2019), Midland-Odessa (seven fatalities, a mere four weeks later), Uvalde, where 19 schoolchildren and two educators fell victim to a teenage gunman, and most recently in Nashville.

Who was Charles Whitman?

Born on June 24, 1941, in Lake Worth, Florida, Charles Whitman was the eldest among three sons to Margaret E. (née Hodges) and Charles Adolphus Whitman Jr. Raised in an orphanage in Savannah, Georgia, his father carved out his own path in life, priding himself on being self-made. His mother, Margaret, was just 17 when she married. The Whitman household, however, was far from idyllic, shadowed by the specter of domestic violence. The senior Whitman, an authoritarian figure, was both physically and emotionally abusive towards his family, demanding nothing short of perfection from them.

In his youth, Whitman was known for his polite demeanor and rare bouts of anger. Demonstrating exceptional intelligence, a test at age six revealed his IQ to be 139. While his academic prowess was nurtured by his parents, any signs of failure or lack of effort were met with stringent discipline, often physical, from his father.

Raised in a devout Roman Catholic household by Margaret, the Whitman children regularly attended Mass and served as altar boys at the Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church in their hometown.

A firearms collector and enthusiast, Whitman’s father imparted his passion to his sons, teaching them to shoot, clean, and maintain weapons. Frequent hunting trips were a family affair, and Charles, in particular, excelled as a marksman, earning his father’s praise for his precision with a rifle.

A Photograph of Charles Whitman

A Photograph of Charles Whitman

Whitman’s involvement in the Boy Scouts of America began at age 11, and he swiftly ascended to Eagle Scout at just twelve years and three months, a record for the youngest to achieve this rank at the time. Additionally, Whitman developed a talent for playing the piano, mastering it by the age of 12. Around this period, he also started managing a substantial newspaper route.

In September 1961, Charles Whitman commenced his studies in the mechanical engineering program at the University of Texas at Austin. His academic performance at the outset was subpar. Whitman’s extracurricular interests were diverse, encompassing activities such as karate, scuba diving, gambling, and hunting. Not long after starting university, Whitman and two friends were implicated in a poaching incident. A bystander noted his vehicle’s license plate and reported them to the authorities. The group was apprehended while processing the deer in the shower of Whitman’s dormitory. For this infraction, Whitman faced a fine of $100, equivalent to about $1,000 in the year 2022.

Throughout his tenure as an engineering student, Whitman gained a reputation for his penchant for practical jokes. However, his friends also recall him making statements of a disturbing and macabre nature. In a notable incident in 1962, he chillingly 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.”

This statement, in retrospect, casts a foreboding shadow over the events that were to unfold.

Charles Whitman Gets Married— And Demoted

In February 1962, at the age of 20, Charles Whitman encountered Kathleen Frances Leissner, a young education major three years his junior, marking the start of his first significant romantic relationship. Prior to this, Whitman briefly dated actress Deanna Dunagan before initiating his relationship with Leissner. Their courtship, lasting five months, culminated in their engagement announcement on July 19.

The couple exchanged vows in a Catholic ceremony on August 17, 1962, in Leissner’s hometown of Needville, Texas, coincidentally selecting the 22nd wedding anniversary of Whitman’s parents for their own nuptials. Whitman’s family journeyed from Florida for the occasion, with his brother Patrick serving as the best man. The ceremony, overseen by Father Leduc, a family friend of the Whitmans, saw Leissner’s circle warmly embracing Whitman, praising him for his intelligence, ambition, and good looks.

During his subsequent semesters at UT Austin, Whitman showed some improvement in his academic performance. However, it was deemed insufficient by the Marines for the continuation of his scholarship, leading to his recall to active duty in February 1963. He was stationed at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina for the remainder of his five-year enlistment.

Charles Whitman in a file photo

Charles Whitman in a file photo

At Camp Lejeune, Whitman experienced a mix of achievements and setbacks. He was hospitalized briefly after heroically freeing a fellow Marine from beneath a Jeep. Despite this act of valor and his generally commendable record as a Marine, Whitman’s penchant for gambling persisted. In November 1963, he faced a court-martial for various charges, including gambling, usury, unauthorized possession of a personal firearm on base, and threatening another Marine over a loan. His punishment included thirty days of confinement, ninety days of hard labor, and a demotion from lance corporal (E-3) to private (E-1).

In December 1964, Charles Whitman was honorably discharged from the Marine Corps. He resumed his studies at the University of Texas at Austin, this time in the architectural engineering program. To support himself and his wife, he initially worked as a bill collector for Standard Finance Company and later as a bank teller at Austin National Bank.

In January 1965, Whitman undertook a temporary role as a traffic surveyor for the Texas Highway Department with Central Freight Lines. Concurrently, his wife Kathleen worked as a biology teacher at Lanier High School. Additionally, Whitman dedicated his time as a volunteer scout leader with Austin Scout Troop 5.

Friends of Whitman later revealed that he had confessed to hitting his wife on two occasions, an act he deeply despised in himself, fearing it mirrored the abusive behavior of his father. In his personal writings, Whitman expressed remorse for these actions and committed himself to being a better husband, striving not to emulate his father’s abusive tendencies.

The family dynamic took a significant turn in May 1966 when Whitman’s mother, Margaret, decided to divorce her husband due to his continued physical abuse. Whitman traveled to Florida to assist his mother with her relocation to Austin. Fearing potential violence from his father during the move, Whitman even had a local police officer stand guard as his mother packed her belongings. His youngest brother, John, also moved to Austin with their mother, while their middle brother, Patrick, stayed in Florida to work in their father’s plumbing supply business.

Whitman and Leissner at their wedding in 1962

Whitman and Leissner at their wedding in 1962

In Austin, Margaret Whitman secured employment in a cafeteria and lived independently, though she maintained a close relationship with her son. Whitman’s father, struggling with the separation, reportedly spent over $1,000 (equivalent to about $9,600 in 2022) on long-distance calls, pleading with his wife to return and urging his son to persuade her to reconcile.

During this tumultuous period, Whitman’s personal struggles escalated. He began misusing amphetamines and suffered from severe headaches, which he described as “tremendous,” adding to the complex tapestry of factors that marked this phase of his life.

Charles Whitman Starts to Lose It

The day before the tragic shootings, Charles Whitman engaged in a series of seemingly mundane activities. He purchased binoculars and a knife from a hardware store, along with some Spam from a 7-Eleven. Later, he picked up his wife, Kathy, from her summer job as a telephone operator and then met his mother for lunch at the Wyatt Cafeteria near the UT Austin campus.

In the afternoon, the Whitmans spent time with their friends, John and Frances Morgan, leaving just before Kathy’s evening shift. It was after this visit, at around 6:45 p.m., that Whitman began composing his suicide note. The note expressed his confusion and struggle with irrational thoughts, revealing his lack of understanding of his own mental state. He wrote about being tormented by unusual thoughts and his difficulty in focusing on productive tasks.

In this note, Whitman requested an autopsy to investigate any biological causes for his actions and persistent headaches. He shockingly revealed his decision to kill his mother and wife, trying to rationalize these plans by suggesting he wanted to spare them from future suffering and the shame of his actions. Notably, he did not mention his plans for the university attack.

23-year-old wife of Charles Whitman, Stabbed three times in the chest while she was sleeping early Monday, August 1, 1966.

23-year-old wife of Charles Whitman, Stabbed three times in the chest while she was sleeping early Monday, August 1, 1966. View the uncensored picture on the Morbid subreddit here, or on Google Drive here.

After midnight on August 1, Whitman went to his mother’s apartment and killed her, leaving her body neatly covered on her bed. The exact method of her murder is debated, but it’s believed he first knocked her unconscious before fatally stabbing her. Beside her body, he left a note expressing regret but asserting his belief that she was now in a better place.

Whitman then returned to his home, where he murdered his wife Kathy as she slept, stabbing her multiple times. He covered her body and continued his typewritten note, bluntly stating “BOTH DEAD” with a ballpoint pen.

He concluded the note with requests regarding his life insurance, his dog, and his own remains, asking for cremation after an autopsy. Whitman also left personal notes for his brothers and added a final entry to his “Thoughts for the Day” envelope, reflecting on his inability to cope with his thoughts.

The next morning, Whitman called Kathy’s supervisor to falsely report her illness. He made a similar call about his mother’s absence from work later that day. His final journal entries, written in past tense, suggest he had already committed the murders of his mother and wife by this time.

The University of Texas Shooting and Aftermath

On the morning of August 1, 1966, Charles Whitman arrived at the University of Texas at Austin campus around 11:35 a.m. Masquerading as a research assistant, he misled a security guard, claiming he was there to deliver equipment. Whitman then ascended to the 28th floor of the Main Building’s clock tower. Once inside the tower, he killed three people and subsequently opened fire from the observation deck using a hunting rifle and other firearms.

In the ensuing 96 minutes of terror, Whitman fatally shot fourteen individuals and injured 31 others. The rampage was brought to an end when Patrolman Houston McCoy and Ramiro Martinez of the Austin Police Department bravely made their way to the top of the tower. A combination of shots fired by both officers resulted in Whitman’s death.

Following the tragedy, an in-depth examination of Whitman’s medical history was undertaken. It was revealed that he had sought medical help from various physicians at UT Austin in the year preceding the shootings. These doctors had prescribed him different medications. In the fall and winter of 1965, Whitman consulted with at least five doctors before seeing a psychiatrist, who did not prescribe him any medication. At a different point, he was given Valium by Jan Cochrum, who also advised him to see the campus psychiatrist.

Mother of Charles Whitman, who was stabbed in the chest and shot in the back of the head in the early morning of Monday, August 1, 1966.

Mother of Charles Whitman, who was stabbed in the chest and shot in the back of the head in the early morning of Monday, August 1, 1966. View the uncensored picture on the Morbid subreddit here, or on Google Drive here.

Whitman had a significant meeting with Maurice Dean Heatly, the staff psychiatrist at the University of Texas Health Center, on March 29, 1966. In his final suicide note, Whitman mentioned this consultation, expressing his attempts to convey his overwhelming violent impulses to the psychiatrist. Heatly’s notes from the session indicated Whitman’s apparent hostility and his admission of having intense periods of hostility with minimal provocation. Notably, Heatly documented Whitman’s mention of contemplating a shooting spree from the tower.

An autopsy was performed on August 2, following Whitman’s request in his suicide note and his father’s approval. The procedure was carried out by Coleman de Chenar, a neuropathologist at Austin State Hospital, at a funeral home, as Whitman’s body had been embalmed on the day of his death. The autopsy included tests for amphetamines and other substances in his blood and urine. During the examination, Chenar discovered a pecan-sized brain tumor, identified as an astrocytoma with some necrosis, raising questions about its potential impact on Whitman’s behavior and actions.

Charles Whitman’s Tumor

In response to the tragic events involving Charles Whitman, then-Governor of Texas John Connally established a task force to thoroughly investigate Whitman’s autopsy findings and delve into the factors influencing his actions and motives. This commission included experts from various fields, such as neurosurgeons, psychiatrists, pathologists, and psychologists, and was further strengthened by the inclusion of University of Texas Health Center Directors John White and Maurice Heatly.

The commission conducted extensive tests, including a toxicology analysis, which yielded no significant findings. They meticulously examined the brain tumor initially identified as an astrocytoma by Chenar, analyzing stained specimens of the tumor and Whitman’s other brain tissues, along with other available autopsy samples.

Body of Charles Whitman, the Texas Shooter, after being Shot and Killed

Body of Charles Whitman, the Texas Shooter, after being shot and Killed. View the uncensored picture on the Morbid subreddit here, or on Google Drive here.

After a comprehensive three-hour hearing on August 5, the commission determined that the initial diagnosis of the brain tumor as an astrocytoma was incorrect. Instead, they identified the tumor as a glioblastoma multiforme, a more aggressive type characterized by widespread necrosis, cell palisading, and a notable vascular component akin to a small congenital vascular malformation.

The psychiatric experts on the panel noted that while a clear connection between the brain tumor and Whitman’s violent actions couldn’t be definitively established, the tumor could have potentially influenced his inability to control his emotions and actions. However, the neurologists and neuropathologists on the commission were more cautious in their conclusions, stating that current knowledge of organic brain function didn’t provide a sufficient explanation for Whitman’s behavior on that fateful day.

Forensic investigators have speculated that the tumor may have exerted pressure on Whitman’s amygdala, a brain region associated with anxiety and fight-or-flight responses, possibly influencing his actions.

A joint Catholic funeral service for Whitman and his mother was held in their hometown of Lake Worth, Florida, on August 5, 1966. Both were laid to rest in Hillcrest Memorial Park in Florida. Whitman, being a military veteran, received military honors at his funeral, including the draping of his casket with the American flag.

RIP Victims.

Next, read about the Story of The Weirdest Olympics of All Time! Then, about the Buffalo Soldiers Who Fought in WW2.

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Written By

Abin Tom Sebastian, also known as Mr. Morbid in the community, is an avid fan of the paranormal and the dark history of the world. He believes that sharing these stories and histories are essential for the future generations. For god forbid, we have seen that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.

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