Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Charles Starkweather & Caril Fugate


Charlie Starkweather was born into a poor, uneducated, but hardworking family in Lincoln, Nebraska, on November 24, 1938. He was the third of seven children that Guy and Helen Starkweather would have.

Guy and Helen Starkweather
Guy and Helen Starkweather

Despite the Depression years in which he and his siblings were born, they never went without food or shelter. They were poor, but it did not stop Charlie from having a decent childhood and good memories of the things his family did together. Their community considered the Starkweather children well behaved.

William Allen in Starkweather describes Guy as a "handsome and talkative" man, who was better suited for white-collar work than the carpenter's trade that he had chosen. "He didn't have the necessary physical stamina and, because of various ailments including a weak back and arthritis, did not work regularly. Helen, a small woman with frizzy red hair...was strong and kind, the one who held things together." She worked as a waitress to augment the limited family income.

While Charlie's early childhood memories are very pleasant, his school experiences were traumatic for him. The comfort he felt in his family surroundings vanished in the classroom. The children laughed at his minor speech impediment and teased him about his bowed legs.

Even though Charlie was of average intelligence, he never applied himself and was considered a slow learner. One sure contributor to his problems, which went undetected until he was fifteen, was his severe myopia. He couldn't even read the largest letter on the eye chart.

One of the only subjects in which he excelled was gym. He was well coordinated and strong. His gymnastic abilities were the only legitimate source of self-esteem that he had. The flip side of the coin was that he used those same physical abilities to fight on a continuous basis with the other boys in the school.

"He blamed all of his fights on being made fun of as a child. Sometimes his battles were brief outbursts of violence, but other times they were frenzied and prolonged, not ending until they were broken up or his opponent lay senseless. He earned a reputation for being one of the meanest, toughest kids in Lincoln..." (Allen)

In the ninth grade, he met Bob Von Busch, who after Charlie fought with him, became one of his closest friends. Bob said of him, "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 could 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 bastard down to his size."

Both of the boys were James Dean fanatics. They saw all of his movies. There was no question that Charlie tried to imitate Dean's mannerisms, clothes and hairstyle tight jeans and cowboy boots. But Charlie was no James Dean in looks, brains or talent. He was a very flawed imitation.

What was genuine in Charlie, however, was the isolation and rebellion that Dean perfected in his talented characterizations. Jack Sargeant in Born Bad sees Starkweather in his autobiography (which Starkweather aptly titled Rebellion ) "revealed as acutely sensitive, not just to the taunts of his fellow students but also to his family's low social position and poverty. For Starkweather, poverty was a trap, he could map its confines, and trace its borders, but Charles could see no escape for himself;...He believed that his very life was rigidly controlled: he saw that he would not be able to flee the bludgeoning poverty which had characterized his working class childhood but instead would be condemned to repeat it, eventually finding himself a manual job, a wife, having children and then simply dying."


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