Charles Whitman and the Texas Tower Shooting

I have done so many recent crimes as of late that I decided to take it back a few decades and tell an infamous story from the 1960's. I often tell myself that when I do some of these older crimes I open myself up for more inaccurate information that was published but then in the same breath I remind myself that I still tend to do this in our modern age.  This is also case that has been analyzed and analyzed more over the years and ideas have changed.  Some will argue that original assessments were correct, but I am unsure that I can agree with this.  I believe that as science and technology progresses in different areas it allows us to understand things more clearly.  

For the most part Charles Whitman is vilified.  Looking at the surface of things it is hard not to point to Whitman and think of evil.  He murdered his mother and then his wife.  After calling into both of their bosses to say they were ill and would not be making it to work he rented a truck, loaded an arsenal of weapons and supplies in it and went to the University of Texas were he entered their 300 foot tower that had an observation deck.  By the time it was over 14 more people, including himself would be dead, at least 30 people were injured and later 2 more people would die.  

After it had ended and they had identified Whitman they went to his home and found his wife, Kathryn's body as well as several notes written by Whitman himself left for authorities.  They also went to his mother's apartment and found the same situation. Based on his letters it was theorized that sometime the night before Charles had gone to his mother's nearby apartment and had stabbed and shot her.  He then covered her in her bed and left a note saying that he was responsible and that although he did not like doing it he thought it would put her out of her suffering. Then sometime after his wife had gone to bed he had gone in and stabbed her several times in the heart. Like he did with his mother, he covered Kathryn, leaving her in her bed.  Among the things he left were letters to his brothers, a diary and all but a manifesto to be read by authorities.  It seems that Charles knew that what he was doing was not right and yet could not understand his need or desire to do so. He could not explain his actions.  He theorized that the killing of his wife and mother may have had to do with the shame they would feel after he was done with his other actions but he never mentioned going to the University of Texas and doing what he did.  He described, and it was documented, that over the last several months and weeks leading up to his rampage he had sought help from a range of doctors not just for the severe headaches he began suffering from but also from what he called irrational thoughts and fits of anger.  He indicated that he knew he would himself die through all of this and asked that an autopsy be performed and that his brain be examined to see if there were any signs of mental illness.  Apparently his body was already taken to the morgue and embalmed before his notes were either found or at least gotten where they needed to be but his wish was granted, in sorts anyway. They were unable to determine if there were any drugs of any sorts (although apparently he had some prescription medication) in his system but his brain was examined.  And.... well a tumor, about the size of a pecan, was found.  The medical examiner who performed the autopsy determined however that the tumor had not affected Whitman's actions and played no part in his behavior.  His decision was not the final or the end of it though.

A few days after the rampage that ended at the top of the tower with Charles Whitman being shot multiple times Governor John Connally (the same Governor who was in JFK's motorcade and injured in 1963) gathered a group of doctors to look over the autopsy results and make their own conclusions.  They disagreed with the medical examiner and believed that the tumor had in fact affected Whitman's behavior.  They believed that the tumor was against the part of his brain that not only controlled his reasoning it had caused the irrational behavior that Whitman himself had described as having.  Over the last several decades these results have continued to be in debate but most believe the Connally Commission (as it was called) likely got it right. 

Prior to the actions taken at the University of Texas, there was only on record a few other incidents of mass shootings in the United States. Most of those had some correlation with politics, government or the mafia. In 1965 a 16 yr old boy perched himself on a hill in California and began shooting at vehicles.  When he was done 4 people were killed, including himself (he shot himself as police approached), and 10 were wounded.  There had been obvious outrage and a few of the survivors sued the boy's parents claiming they had not properly raised him but the courts sided with the parents (which I must say in that era I found that interesting).  So in 1966 when a seemingly normal and nice young man went to the University armed with an arsenal of weapons and simply began shooting, people wanted to know why.  It was still an era where people were curious and wanted to study.  I say this because it seems that now days we do not want to find real reasons for this sort of behavior but to simply dismiss people like Whitman as evil and unbalanced. And yet we do not want to know if there is a reason for that evil and unbalance.  It seems that over time we have become desensitized to serial and mass murderers, especially as of late.  Obviously in our day of terrorists threats we know some of the answers and I think there was interest into looking into what made Jeffrey Dahmer tick because his crimes seemed to fascinate people but beyond that we generally just pass these people off.  

I recently read a book by the lawyer who defended John Wayne Gacy. He truly believed that Gacy was insane and had something wrong with him and expressed such to the jury.  He asked that instead of giving him a death sentence he should be studied, which obviously could have been done after death also I suppose, to see what caused him to do the things he did so as to possibly see the signs to prevent later.  When it comes to serial killers we have found out some information that has, or at least should, help us to identify predators early on. For example we know that many serial killers tended to kill and mutilate animals when they were young.  Now, obviously not every serial killer has done this but at least we know something to look for, although I am unsure it is taken very seriously.  However, when it comes to mass killings we know very little and yet Charles Whitman begged to find an answer in 1966 for his actions.  He wanted to know, and the world should have to, why suddenly his behavior had changed over time to the point in which he had desires that he knew was wrong but could not control.  I am sure there are some that would simply say this was a cop-out and I could probably agree with you if in fact there had not been a tumor found on Whitman's brain.  There is absolutely no evidence that this was diagnosed prior to his murders.  He had sought medical help complaining of headaches, he had even seen a psychiatrist at the University expressing things but he did not follow up in treatment as requested and it was not reported until after his death.  He had even mentioned going to the tower and start shooting. Now, I believe today if someone went into a psychiatrist's office and said those things it would be reported to the point in which it would have been prevented, but I do not believe that, unless completely pushed, there would have ever been tests done to see if there was an issue causing him to have those feelings.  He would have been passed off as another evil person and those involved would be hailed as heroes for preventing his actions. 

Now, I know that I have rambled and spoken so much of Charles Whitman's issues and not his victims as I should have.  I just feel that as a society we owe it to ourselves and everyone to know why things like this happen and while obviously I do not agree with Whitman's actions, I do think that he tried to get answers, even if it was in death. He even requested that if his insurance paid out that his debt were paid and that the rest be donated anonymously to a mental health facility. He knew that what he did was wrong, he just could not explain why and he did not want this to happen again and yet it has, over and over.

With that said I do want to give a list, and little information about his victims:

1) Kathryn Whitman.....   Charles' wife

2) Margaret Whitman...  Charles' mother.  He is buried next to his mother.  In 1973 Charles' brother, John, was murdered outside a nightclub and was later buried with his mother and Charles.

3) Edna Townsley....  She was the receptionist at the observatory deck at the tower.  Charles first beat her with the butt of his gun and then he later went back and shot her in the head.

4) Mark Gabour.. he, his brother, parents and aunt and uncle were all leaving the observatory just after Edna was killed.  Mark was shot after trying to prevent Charles from entering the area.  His brother, Mike was injured at that time as was his mother, Mary.

5) Marguerite Lampert....  she was Mark Gabour's aunt and was killed during the time of this shootout.

6) Unborn baby of Claire Wilson....  Claire was 18 and was walking through the common area when Charles, from the tower, shot her directly in her stomach killing her baby.

7) Thomas Eckman... was Claire Wilson's finance and was leaning over her after she had been shot when he himself was shot.

8) Robert Boyer... was a physics professor at the University

9) Thomas Ashton... was a student and peace corps trainee

10) Thomas Karr... was a senior at the University

11) Billy Speed... a police officer who had gone to the scene

12) Harry Walchuck... a student at the University

13) Paul Sonntag

14) Claudia Rutt... finance of Paul Sonntag

15) Roy Schmidt... an electrician who happened to be in the area

16) Karen Griffith... died 7 days after being shot in the lung

17) David Gunby... he died in 2001 but his death was ruled a homicide connected to the shooting.  David had been born with only one kidney and when Whitman shot him he was hit in his only remaining kidney.  He spent the rest of his life having issues due to this.

One thing that I did fail to mention about Whitman that I feel that I should is that after graduating high school he joined the Marines.  He actually joined without telling his father.  His father was an abusive man and it was later all but believed that he had done so to get away from him.  In fact, just a few months prior to her death Margaret had moved to Texas from Florida when she finally left her abusive husband.  At any rate while he served his first 18 months in the Marine Corp he had earned a "Sharpshooter Badge."  He had been taught guns and gun safety as a young child by his father.  Although the shooting from the tower lasted just over an hour in that time he murdered the people above and injured over 30 more.  Most believe, probably accurately, that his sharpshooting training made this already tragic situation, more so.  There has always been controversy surrounding issues with Lee Harvey Oswald and the issue of his military training (there is dispute as to whether he was an actual sharpshooter himself).  Now, it does not appear that when either of these men, Oswald or Whitman, received their training there would have been any signs of things to come, but in my opinion this is one of the reasons we should be studying some of these people, especially serial killers to know what to look for.  We cannot continue to wait until bad things happen and just pass it off as evil and forget about it.  


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