Charles Joseph Whitman (June 24, 1941–August 1, 1966) was a student at the University of Texas at Austin who, on Monday, August 1, 1966, killed 14 people and wounded 32 others during a shooting spree on and around the university's campus. On that date three were killed inside the University tower and ten more were shot from the 29th floor observation deck of the tower; one died a week later from her wounds. The tower massacre took place shortly after Whitman murdered his wife and mother at their homes in Austin. He was shot and killed by Austin Police Officer Houston McCoy, who was assisting Austin Police Officer Ramiro Martinez.
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 Austin,Texas, as Charles was protective of his mother, and had been for several years. 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. The elder Whitman had leveraged his business income into a way to control and manipulate his family, and buy favors within the community. By today's standards, his personality would have been deemed narcissistic with borderline personality features NOS, (not otherwise specified).
Whitman's frustrations with his dysfunctional parents, mainly the father, were complicated by amphetamine abuse and other health issues including headaches that he reported in one of his final notes as "tremendous".
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.
Lake Worth, Florida, to Camp LeJeune
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 which he enjoyed playing, dispite information that his father kept a belt to intimidate him to practise. 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, Charles, Patrick and John, served as altar boy's 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 Scoutmaster, 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 United States Marine Corps on July 6, 1959, two weeks after his eighteenth birthday. 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, which was denied due to Charles being a legal adult.
Marriage and marine
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 was 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 Military 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 May 1966, Whitman's mother announced she was filing for a divorce and contacted Charles after several altercations with his father. Whitman drove to Florida to assist his mother's move to Austin, Texas, where she found work in a cafeteria.
Whitman's father began to telephone Whitman several times a week, pleading and arguing 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 often, while at times making mention of trying to dissociate from his financial dependence on his father.
At 3 AM, the day of the shootings at the University tower, Whitman confirmed some of his feelings toward Kathy by writing them in the journal at his previous points of entry, after killing her.
Prelude to the tower shootings
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 Southern Bell System operator, before meeting his mother for lunch at her job at the Wyatt Cafeteria near the campus.
Around 4:00 p.m., they went to visit friends John and Fran Morgan, who lived in the same neighborhood. They left at approximately 5:50 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:
I do not quite understand what it is that compels me to type this letter. Perhaps it is to leave some vague reason for the actions I have recently performed. I do not really understand myself these days. I am supposed to be an average reasonable and intelligent young man. However, lately (I cannot recall when it started) I have been a victim of many unusual and irrational thoughts.
The note explained that he had decided to murder both his mother and wife, and mentioned the coming attacks at the university, by referencing himself in the past tense, as:
"...for the actions I have recently performed"
Expressing uncertainty about his actual reasons, he nevertheless observed that he felt he wanted to relieve them from the suffering of this world, and not be subject to his actions.
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 committing such acts.
Just after midnight, he killed his mother Margaret at her apartment on the fifth floor of the Penthouse Apartments, near the university in Austin, Texas. 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:
To Whom It May Concern: I have just taken my mother's life. I am very upset over having done it. However, I feel that if there is a heaven she is definitely there now...I am truly sorry...Let there be no doubt in your mind that I loved this woman with all my heart.
Whitman returned to his home at 906 Jewell Street and stabbed his wife Kathy up to five times in the heart as she slept, returning to the typewritten note he had begun earlier, finishing it by hand, and saying:
I imagine it appears that I brutally killed both of my loved ones. I was only trying to do a quick thorough job...If my life insurance policy is valid please pay off my debts...donate the rest anonymously to a mental health foundation. Maybe research can prevent further tragedies of this type.
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.
At the tower
Whitman had rented a hand truck 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 a mailman, Whitman packed it together with a Remington 700 6mm bolt-action hunting rifle with a 4x Leupold & Stevens Scope, an M1 carbine, a Remington 7mm magnum 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 at the University of Texas at Austin 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 two floors 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 afterwards, two families, the Gabours and Lamports, were on their way up the stairs when they encountered the barricade Whitman used to block entrance to the observation room. 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.
There's A Man With A Gun Over There...
"The above title from 'For What It's Worth' Buffalo Springfield c. late 1966"
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 on the South Mall; 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, APD Officer Houston McCoy received the original call to respond. All active police officers in Austin were then ordered to the campus. Other off-duty officers, Travis County Sheriff's deputies, and Texas Department of Public Safety troopers also responded to 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 that the civilian shooters should be credited, as they made it difficult for Whitman to take careful aim without being hitPolice 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. Most of the victims were rushed 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 the 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 away. He was partially shielded by the observation deck tower lights and in a position to defend an assault 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 point blank 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.
Wounded on August 1, 1966
Austin Police Chief Miles and media leaks
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, one of which was broadcasting the names of the victims as their names became available, 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 The event dominated the national and international news that day. It also led President Lyndon B. Johnson to call for stricter gun control policies.
Whitman at the University of Texas Health Center
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.
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.
At the Cook Funeral Home on August 2, 1966, 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, who found a brain tumor and initially reported as an astrocytoma brain tumor in the Autopsy Protocol Report, although results from the subsequent Governor's report investigation doctor's revealed the tumor was a grade 4 Glioblastoma Multiforme that conceivably could have been a factor in Whitman's actions.
Although Whitman had been prescribed drugs, and Whitman had a vial containing dextroamphetamine 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 fight/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.
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, after exhuming Whitman's body in Florida.
Texas Governor's Commission Report of August 8, 1966
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.
Whitman's final note reflects:
"I talked with a Doctor once for about two hours 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 of provocation. Repeated inquiries attempting to analyze his exact experiences were not too successful with the exception of his vivid reference to
'thinking about going up on the tower with a deer rifle and start shooting people'."
The Commission's Recommendations
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 rehabilitation after the event. In respect to the recommendations made regarding the victims, they were never followed.
According to Esquire Magazine,
There is no monument, plaque, or notice on the University of Texas campus about that day and the killings. Every few years, the matter comes up, and every few years no one can decide what, if anything, to do.
University of Texas "Memorial" Garden
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 effected, was placed near the pond. The costs appear to have been under $1000.00 for materials.
Glioblastoma and Whitman's behavior
- Deep, dull headaches that recur often and persist without relief for long periods of time
Whitman reports this in his last notes.
- Difficulty walking or speaking
This is reported in the Marine Records
- Eyesight problems, including double vision
Whitman's eyesight had a sudden and profound shift while in the Marines, they had eyeglasses ordered to correct the vision issue
The University of Texas will not release the records, it is suspected in his last months that he did have mild seizures
See records below.
These symptoms occurred several times in the Marine records. The record pages here all reflect the vomiting, dizziness, headaches and other health issues Whitman had while in the Marines, and some of the latter dates as a student at the University of Texas.
Errors from the media
The video from Youtube that follows this text, is from a documentary about Whitman. The professional authorities in their respective fields, make assertions that simply don't follow the facts.
- Gary Lavergne, the author of "A Sniper In The Tower", states that Whitman's actions created the largest mass murder in American History at the time" (I'm paraphrasing, but the reader can watch for themselves and hear what he says at about the 7:10 mark of the video). The fact is, at the time of Charles actions that began on July 31, 1966, Andrew Kehoe, of Bath, Michigan, had far exceeded the actions of Whitman. He blew up the local school, killing 45 people, mostly children, and wounding 58 others. That's 103 directly affected people, compared to 49 directly affected people by Whitman which includes the 17 dead and 32 injured. That fact is here . The narrator also mentions that Whitman was 19 when an episode with the father caused him to join the marines. The fact is, the episode happened several weeks before his 18th birthday, so Charles would have been 17 at the time, and joined the Marines a few weeks after his 18th birthday. He could not have been 19 at the time. The doctor who suggests in the video that he killed his mother out of anger for her not protecting him, didn't read his notes, or did no analysis of the whole story at all before making that statement. Whitma's motive to kill his mother and wife was protecting his mother from the abuses of the father, and his wife for his future actions. Period. These errors of the media get broadcasted and seen by viewers who should get qualified information that is researched for the facts, this is a case of how the mistakes get transmitted in a viral way, with negative regard for the facts. Enjoy the video.
- Rhawn Joseph (2000). Neuropsychiatry, Neuropsychology, Clinical Neuroscience. Academic Press.
- Charles Whitman, Discovery Channel