|Born||Charles Joseph Whitman
June 24, 1941
Lake Worth, Florida, U.S.
|Died||August 1, 1966 (aged 25)
Austin, Texas, U.S.
|Cause of death||Shot by police|
Charles Joseph Whitman (June 24, 1941 – August 1, 1966), a student at the University of Texas at Austin, killed 14 people and wounded 32 others during a shooting rampage on and around the university's campus. Three were killed inside the University's tower and ten killed from the 29th floor observation deck  of the University's 307 foot administrative building on August 1, 1966; one died a week later from her wounds. The tower massacre happened shortly after Whitman murdered his wife and mother at their homes. He was shot and killed by Austin Police Officer Houston McCoy, assisted by Austin Police Officer Ramiro Martinez. The incident was the deadliest university shooting in United States history until the Virginia Tech massacre of 2007, when Seung Hui Cho killed 32 people.
Charles Whitman grew up in an upper-middle class family headed by a father who owned a successful plumbing contract business in Lake Worth, Florida. Whitman excelled at academics and was well liked by his peers and neighbors. There were underlying dysfunctional issues within the family that escalated in 1966, when his mother left his father and moved to Texas. The elder Whitman was an authoritarian who provided for his family, but demanded near perfection from all of them. He was also known to become physically and emotionally abusive.
His frustrations were complicated by a dysfunctional family, abuse of amphetamines, and health issues including headaches that he reported in one of his final notes as "tremendous." A glioblastoma, which is a highly cancerous brain tumor, was discovered during autopsy that experts on the "Connally Commission" claimed may have conceivably played a role in causing his actions. He was also affected by a court martial as a United States Marine, failings as a student at the University of Texas, ambitious personal expectations and psychotic features he expressed in his typewritten note left at 906 Jewell Street, Austin, Texas, dated both July 31, 1966 and later by hand "3 A.M., both dead August 1, 1966".
Several months prior to the tragedy, he was summoned to Lake Worth, Florida to pick up his mother who was filing for divorce from his father. The stress caused by the break-up of the family became a dominant discussion between Whitman and a psychiatrist at the University of Texas Health Center on March 29, 1966.
Whitman's father, Charles Adolph Whitman, was raised at the Bethesda School For Boys in Savannah, Georgia. He met his wife, Margaret, in Savannah where they were married. She was a devout Roman Catholic while his religious views were unformed. They eventually moved to Lake Worth, Florida, where he opened a sewage plumbing business and purchased a home on South L Street in Lake Worth. Three sons were born to the Whitmans: Charles, Patrick, and John.
The Whitman children were raised in Lake Worth and attended St. Ann's High School in West Palm Beach. Charles was an extremely intelligent child, scoring 138 on an IQ test at age six. He took five years of piano lessons and was a pitcher on his high school baseball team.
Whitman's childhood neighbors reported that Whitman had a fascination with firearms from a young age. Whitman's father had an extensive firearm collection and taught all of his sons how to shoot, clean and maintain weapons. Charles had been exposed to guns as a young child, and never had any recorded incident of misuse or abuse of firearm use.
All three Whitman children served as altar boys at Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church, and Whitman chose the Confirmation name Joseph for himself. As a 12-year-old, he was among the youngest in history to achieve Eagle Scout and the first in Lake Worth to do so at that age. When Whitman was 14 and still serving as an altar boy, his Scout leader, Joseph Leduc, completed seminary and served as the priest of Sacred Heart for one month. Leduc, later a confidant of Whitman, was a family friend who had accompanied Whitman and his father on several hunting trips. At the age of 16, Whitman underwent a routine appendectomy and was hospitalized following a motorcycle accident.
Against his father's wishes, Whitman enlisted in the Marines on July 6, 1959. He explained to Fr. Leduc that he had come home drunk several weeks earlier and his father had hit him repeatedly and pushed him into the family's swimming pool. While Whitman was aboard a train headed towards Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, his father telephoned "some branch of Federal Government" in an attempt to have his son's enlistment canceled.
Whitman entered the mechanical engineering program at the University of Texas on September 15, 1961, through a USMC scholarship. His hobbies at this point included karate, scuba diving, and hunting. This last hobby got him into trouble at the University when he was involved in a prank in which he shot a deer, dragged it to his dormitory, and skinned it in his shower. As a result of both this incident and sub-standard grades, Whitman's scholarship was withdrawn in 1963.
In August 1962, Whitman married Kathleen Frances Leissner, another University of Texas student, in a wedding that was held in Leissner's hometown of Needville, Texas, and presided over by Fr. Leduc. The following year, he returned to active duty at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, where he was both promoted to Lance Corporal and involved in an accident in which his Jeep rolled over an embankment. After rescuing a fellow Marine, Whitman was hospitalized for four days. In November 1962, Whitman was court-martialed for gambling, possessing a personal firearm on base, and threatening another Marine over a $30 loan for which Whitman demanded $15 interest. He was sentenced to 30 days of confinement and 90 days of hard labor and was demoted to the rank of Private.
In December 1964, Whitman was honorably discharged from the Marines and returned to the University of Texas, this time enrolling in the architectural engineering program. Whitman was working as a bill collector for Standard Finance Company and later as a bank teller at Austin National Bank. In January 1965, he had taken a temporary job with Central Freight Lines and worked as a traffic surveyor for the Texas Highway Department. He also volunteered as a Scoutmaster for Austin Scout Troop 5 while Kathy worked as a biology teacher at Lanier High School.
In early 1966, Whitman's mother announced she was obtaining a divorce. Whitman drove to Florida to assist his mother move to Austin, Texas, where she found work in a cafeteria. The move prompted his youngest brother John to leave Lake Worth as well. However his brother Patrick decided to continue living with their father, whose plumbing supply business employed him. Shortly after, John was arrested for throwing a rock through a window and released after paying a $25 fine.
Whitman's father began to telephone Whitman several times a week, pleading with him to convince his mother to return to Lake Worth, but he refused.
After the attacks, a study of Whitman's journal revealed that Whitman lamented that he had acted violently towards Kathy, and that he was resolved both to be a good husband and to not follow his father's abusive example. However, John and Fran Morgan, close friends of Whitman's, later told the Texas Department of Public Safety that he had confided in them that he had struck Kathy on three occasions.
Within the journal are entries covering his everyday life in the Marine Corps and his reactions to contacts with Kathy and other family contacts. He also wrote about his court martial and disrespect for the Marine Corps and the inefficiencies he perceived with the Corps. Other items he discussed were the effects of missing Kathy and his love for her. He praised Kathy and often while at times making mention of trying to dissociate from his financial dependence on his father.
On the eve of the shootings at the University tower, Whitman confirmed in writing some of his feelings he felt for Kathy by writing them in the journal at his previous points of entry. He wrote these in the past tense, suggesting he had already killed his wife and mother.
The day before the shootings, Whitman purchased binoculars and a knife from Davis' Hardware, as well as Spam from a 7-Eleven store. He then picked up his wife from her summer job as a Bell operator, and they went to a matinée before meeting his mother for lunch at her job.
Around 4:00 p.m., they went to visit friends John and Fran Morgan, who lived in the same neighborhood. They left at approximately 5:30 so that Kathy Whitman could leave for her 6:00-10:00 p.m. shift that night. At 6:45, Whitman began typing his suicide note, a portion of which read:
The note explained that he had decided to murder both his mother and wife, but made no mention of the coming attacks at the university. Expressing uncertainty about his actual reasons, he nevertheless observed that he felt he wanted to relieve them from the suffering of this world.
He also requested that an autopsy be done after his death, to determine if there had been anything to explain his actions and increasing headaches. He willed any money from his estate to mental health research, saying that he hoped it would prevent others from following his route.
Just after midnight, he killed his mother Margaret. The exact method is disputed, but it seemed he had rendered her unconscious before stabbing her in the heart. He left a handwritten note beside her body, which read in part:
Whitman returned to his home at 906 Jewell Street and stabbed his wife Kathy three times in the heart as she slept, returning to the typewritten note he had begun earlier, finishing it by hand, and saying:
He wrote notes to each of his brothers and his father and left instructions in the apartment that the two canisters of film he left on the table should be developed, and the puppy Schocie should be given to Kathy's parents.
At 5:45 a.m. on Monday, August 1, 1966, Whitman phoned Kathy's supervisor at Bell to explain that she was sick and could not make her shift that day. He made a similar phone call to Margaret's workplace about five hours later.
Whitman had rented a Dolly from Austin Rental Company and cashed $250 of worthless checks at the bank before going to Davis' Hardware and purchasing an M1 carbine, explaining that he wanted to go hunting for wild hogs. He also went to Sears and purchased a shotgun and a green rifle case. After sawing off the shotgun barrel while chatting with postman Chester Arrington, Whitman packed it together with a Remington 700 6mm bolt-action hunting rifle with a 4x Leupold Scope, an M1 carbine, a Remington .35 caliber pump rifle and various other equipment stowed in a wooden crate and his Marine footlocker. He also had a .357 Magnum revolver, 9mm German Luger, and another small caliber pistol on his person. Before heading to the tower, he put khaki coveralls on over his shirt and jeans. Once in the tower, he also donned a white sweatband.
Pushing the rented dolly carrying his equipment, Whitman met security guard Jack Rodman and obtained a parking pass, claiming he had a delivery to make and showing Rodman a card identifying him as a research assistant for the school. He entered the Main Building shortly after 11:30 a.m., where he struggled with the elevator until employee Vera Palmer informed him that it had not been powered and turned it on for him. He thanked her and took the elevator to the 27th floor of the tower, just one floor beneath the clock face.
Whitman then lugged the dolly up one long flight of stairs to the hallway that led to a dog-legged stairway that went up to the rooms within the observation deck area. Edna Townsley was the receptionist on duty and observed Whitman's trunk and asked if he had his University work identification. He then knocked her unconscious with the butt of his rifle and dragged her body behind a couch; she later died from her injuries at Seton Hospital. Moments later, Cheryl Botts and Don Walden, a young couple who had been sightseeing on the deck, returned to the receptionist area and encountered Whitman, who was holding a rifle in each hand. Botts later claimed that she believed that the large red stain on the floor was varnish, and that Whitman was there to shoot pigeons. Whitman and the young couple exchanged hellos and the couple left for the elevators. When they were gone, Whitman barricaded the stairway.
Shortly afterward, two families, the Gabours and Lamports, were on their way up the stairs when they encountered the barricade. Michael Gabour was attempting to look beyond the barricade when Whitman fired the sawed-off shotgun at him, hitting him in the left neck and shoulder region, sending him over the staircase railing onto other family members. Whitman fired the sawed-off shotgun two more times through grates on the stairway into the families as they tried to run back down the stairs. Mark Gabour and his aunt Marguerite Lamport died instantly; Michael was partially disabled and his mother was permanently disabled.
The first shots from the tower's outer deck came at approximately 11:48 a.m. A history professor was the first to phone the Austin Police Department, after seeing several students shot in the South Mall gathering center; many others had dismissed the rifle reports, not realizing there actually was gunfire. Eventually, the shootings caused panic as news spread and, after the situation was understood, all active police officers in Austin were ordered to the campus. Other off-duty officers, Travis County Sheriff's deputies, and Texas Department of Public Safety troopers also converged on the area to assist.
Once Whitman began facing return gunfire from the authorities and civilians who had brought out their personal firearms to assist police, he used the waterspouts on each side of the tower as gun ports, allowing him to continue shooting largely protected from the gunfire below but also greatly limiting his range of targets. Ramiro Martinez, an officer who confronted Whitman, later stated in his book that the civilian shooters should be credited, as they made it difficult for Whitman to take careful aim without being hit. Police lieutenant and sharpshooter Marion Lee reported from a small airplane that there was only one sniper firing from the parapet. The plane circled the tower, trying to get a shot at Whitman, but turbulence shook the plane too badly for him to get Whitman in his sight. As the airplane took fire, Lee asked the pilot, Jim Boutwell, to back away, but "stay close enough to offer him a target and keep him worried." The airplane, which was hit by Whitman's rifle fire, continued to circle the tower from a safe distance until the end of the incident.
Whitman's choice of victims was indiscriminate; most of them were shot on Guadalupe Street, a major commercial and business district across from the west side of the campus. Efforts to reach the wounded included an armored car and ambulances run by local funeral homes. Ambulance driver Morris Hohmann was responding to victims on West 23rd Street when he was shot in the leg, severing an artery. Another ambulance driver quickly attended to Hohmann, who was then taken about ten blocks south of UT to Brackenridge Hospital, which had the only local emergency room. The Brackenridge administrator declared an emergency, and medical staff raced there to reinforce the on-duty shifts. Following the shootings, volunteers donated blood at both Brackenridge and the Travis County Blood Bank.
After tending to wounded in the stairwell area between the 27th and 28th floors, APD Officers Milton Shoquist, Harold Moe, and George Shepard were making their way up the stairs to join APD Officer Phillip Conner and Texas Department of Public Safety Agent W. A. "Dub" Cowan, both arriving in the tower’s 28th floor observation deck reception room just as APD Officers Houston McCoy and Jerry Day and a civilian, Allen Crum, were following APD Officer Ramiro Martinez out the south door onto the observation deck. Martinez, closely followed by McCoy, proceeded north on the east deck while Day, followed by Crum, proceeded west on the south deck. Several feet before reaching the southwest corner area, Crum accidentally discharged a shot from his borrowed rifle at the same time Martinez jumped onto the northeast corner area, and rapidly fired all six rounds from his .38 police revolver. As Martinez was firing, McCoy jumped just to the right of Martinez and with his 12 gauge shotgun, fired two fatal 00 buck shots into the head, neck, and left side of Whitman, who was sitting with his back towards the north wall in the northwest corner area approximately fifty feet distance. He was partially shielded by the observation deck tower lights and in a position to defend a confrontation from either the northeast corner or the southwest corner.
Martinez threw his empty revolver onto the deck, grabbed McCoy's shotgun, ran to the prone body of Whitman, and fired a point blank shot into Whitman's upper left arm. Martinez then threw the shotgun on the deck and hurriedly left the scene repeatedly shouting, "I got him." Moe, with a hand held radio that had not functioned inside the building, on hearing Martinez as he ran past, relayed Martinez’s words to the APD radio dispatcher.
At the Cook Funeral Home the next day, an autopsy was performed as requested in Whitman's suicide note and approved by Whitman's father, Charles Adolf Whitman, and performed by Dr. Chenar. A brain tumor was found and initially reported as an astrocytoma brain tumor, although results from the subsequent Governor's report investigation revealed the tumor was a glioblastoma that could have been a factor in the event.
There was a joint funeral service for Whitman and his mother officiated by Fr. Tom Anglim at his home parish of Sacred Heart in Lake Worth. Due to his status as a veteran Marine, Whitman had a casket draped with an American flag for his burial in Section 16 of the Hillcrest Memorial Park in West Palm Beach, Florida, next to his mother and brother John.
Chief Robert "Bob" Miles, of the Austin Police Department, had been monitoring the events from his office. After the shootings began, the local media, including today's Austin American Statesman and Associated Press, were hounding the Chief for information. Since there was no communication coming from the tower, and only the local media coverage on TV and radio, the office was having trouble keeping up with the demands of the press to give information it did not have.
Officer Harold Moe, who was the only officer with a communication radio, notified the chiefs office that the situation was over, and that Martinez claimed to have killed Whitman. In order to appease the media and get them to stop hounding the office for information, Miles gave a news release that the siege was over and that Martinez was the officer who had ended it. This premature releasing of incorrect information, was the genesis for interdepartmental problems. Martinez never disputed the information, in light of the fact that the other officers did. Chief Miles, several years later, would recant the account and correct the information to say that McCoy had actually killed Whitman.
Houston McCoy was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder in 1998 by a doctor from the Department of Veterans Affairs in Waco, Texas, who attributed the condition to the tower shooting three decades earlier. As of 2007, he is living in western Texas.
Ramiro Martinez became a narcotics investigator, a Texas Ranger, and a Justice of the Peace in New Braunfels, Texas. In 2003, Martinez published his memoirs, entitled, They Call Me Ranger Ray: From the UT Tower Sniper to Corruption in South Texas.
Whitman had visited several University doctors who prescribed various medications, although most of the specific medications are unknown. According to a list compiled by investigating officers, Whitman had seen at least five doctors between the fall and winter of 1965, before a visit with a psychiatrist who gave no prescription. He was prescribed Valium by Dr. Jan Cochrum, who recommended he visit a campus psychiatrist. Maurice Dean Heatly, a staff psychiatrist at the University of Texas Health Center, met Whitman on March 29, 1966. Whitman mentioned the visit with Heatly in his final suicide notes, saying that the visit was to "no avail".
Although Whitman had been prescribed drugs, and Whitman had a vial containing Dexedrine on his body after his death, the autopsy could not establish if he had consumed any drugs prior to the shooting. Whitman's bodily fluids had been removed and his body embalmed prior to the autopsy, so there was no urine to test for the amphetamines. However, it was revealed during the autopsy that Whitman had a glioblastoma tumor in the hypothalamus region of his brain. Some have theorized that this may have been pressed against the nearby amygdala, which can have an effect on fright/flight responses. This has led some neurologists to speculate that his medical condition was in some way responsible for the attacks, as well as his personal and social frames of reference.
The University of Texas refuses to release the medical records and history of Whitman at the University of Texas citing legal and ethical issues. The only record released was that of Dr. Heatly once it had become known to the press that Whitman had seen a psychiatrist at their facility.
Whitman's final note reflects: I talked with a Doctor once for about two hours (sic) and tried to convey to him my fears that I felt come (sic, probably meant "some") 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.
Dr. Heatly's notes on the visit confirmed the visit with Whitman, reflecting his claim of hostilities: 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." Dr. Heatley also referenced an ominous statement that Whitman did not refer to in his letter, "He readily admits having overwhelming periods of hostility with a very minimum provocation... his exact experiences were not to successful with the exception of his vivid reference to "thinking about going up in the tower and shooting people with a deer rifle. Whitman never visited Dr. Heatly again.
Almost immediately, Governor John Connally commissioned a task force of professionals to examine the facts surrounding Whitman's actions and possible motives. The commission was composed of neurosurgeons, psychiatrists, psychologists and the University of Texas Health Center Director, Dr. White, as well as Dr. Maurice Heatley, the last known person to treat Whitman prior to the event. The Commission found that Dr. Chenar's initial autopsy was in error, that the glioblastoma tumor conceivably could have had an influence on his actions (pgs. 10-11), and that the vascular formation of veins around the area of the tumor may have been a congenital formation, suggesting that the tumor had been dormant and suddenly appeared due to the necrosis that surrounded the tumor. This suggested that Whitman was predisposed to develop the tumor and die at an early age, whether he had gone on the rampage or not. The study was done using Dr. Chenar's paraffin wax slide specimen of the tumor, stained specimens of Whitman's brain tissue and the remainder of the brain matter that was available.
During Whitman's command of the tower, the university became aware that the shooter might have been a student. Once the identity of Whitman was released, officials of the university did a search of Whitman's records and found that Whitman had been to the University Health Center on several occasions. On March 29, 1966, Whitman had a session with Dr. Maurice Heatley, an employee and psychiatrist at the University's Health Center in Austin. Whitman references the visit in his typewritten letter found at his residence at 906 Jewell Street, Austin, TX and dated July 31, 1966.
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, University of Texas and the State of Texas agencies to temporarily assist those with medical and lingering mental issues and rehabilatation after the event. In respect to the recommendations made regarding the victims, they were never followed. According to a Dateline NBC special, the question comes up about what to do about the University tragedy every few years, although no suggestions ever emerge from discussions.
In 2003, the University of Texas committed $200,000 and sought another $800,000 to redesign the "Memorial Garden" that was dedicated in recognition of the events on and around the campus on August 1, 1966. After years of neglecting to recognize the significance of the tragedy that day, by either public or private acknowledgment, the Memorial Garden was dedicated in 2006, forty years after the event, at an unknown cost and for minimal materials. After years of planning and consulting, a bronze plaque, dedicated to all who were affected, was placed near the pond.
After the shooting, the Tower observation deck was closed for two years, reopening in 1968. However, after several suicides, it was closed again in 1974 and remained closed until September 15, 1999. Access to the tower is now tightly controlled through guided tours that are scheduled by appointment only, during which metal detectors and other security measures are in place. Repaired scars from bullets are still visible on the limestone walls.
On the 42nd anniversary of the tragedy, the following names were added to a Precinct Building in Austin, Texas and dedicated to the principal heroes who helped stop Whitman on August 1, 1966. The below-mentioned names on the plaque represent the individuals who were within the tower and directly affected the outcome, although it was recognized that the list is incomplete.
Charles Joseph Whitman (born June 24, 1941 in Lake Worth, Florida – died August 1, 1966 in Austin, Texas) was a ex-marine and student who is best known for committing the Tower shooting at the University of Texas at Austin on August 1, 1966 where he killed 14 people and wounded 32 others. It was the deadliest school shooting until the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre.
The Insane Clown Posse song "The Tower" contains references to Whitman.