Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Charles Starkweather & Caril Fugate


In 1958, nineteen-year-old Charles Starkweather was desperate. Desperate to marry his jailbait girlfriend. Desperate to make some money for himself so he wouldn't be broke every day of his life. Desperate to get out of the Nebraska town where everyone had figured him for a loser.

He and Caril Fugate embarked on a murder spree that horrified the country. This was the country that had elected Eisenhower and Nixon for a second term in 1956 and where the FBI's J. Edgar Hoover was firmly entrenched as the national policeman. This was also a country that was undergoing unsettling cultural changes. Frightening and offensive symbols of rebellion emerged and thrived: Elvis Presley, James Dean and the whole rock 'n roll culture focused on a new generation that challenged the status quo of the sterile 1950's.

Charles Starkweather in his James Dean pose
Charles Starkweather
in his James Dean

The country that uncomfortably watched James Dean's Rebel Without A Cause in 1956 suddenly saw a Dean-like figure in Charles Starkweather to make them really uncomfortable. What was the world coming to? Were the violence and the alienation of Starkweather just the beginning of some uncontrollable trend that would destroy the fabric of society?

Perhaps, but it would take longer than anyone then expected. The cinematic embodiments of the Starkweather murder spree took a long time to hit the market and did not take hold as a genre for over 35 years. By then, Starkweather and Fugate are merely smudged antecedents, unrecognizable as a direct characters -- present only in their angst and isolation.

This frightening rebel twosome inspired a whole series of mainstream and not-so-mainstream movies like the 1974 Badlands of Terrence Malick, Wild At Heart by David Lynch, Quentin Tarantino and Tony Scott's 1993 True Romance, Dominic Sena's 1993 Kalifornia, and Oliver Stone's 1994 Natural Born Killers.

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