Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Charles Whitman: The Texas Bell Tower Sniper


Charlie had killed fourteen people and injured dozens more in a little over ninety minutes. Soon, Charlie Whitman's name was being broadcast nationwide in television and radio news bulletins. In Needville, Texas, Kathy Whitman's father heard his son-in-law's name on the radio. Concerned for his daughter, he contacted Austin police. Kathy's friends were calling, too, expressing concern and offering support. A car was sent to the Whitman's Jewell Street home. Peering through a window, Officers Donald Kidd and Bolton Gregory saw Kathy's body lying in bed. They entered the house through the window and found that she had been dead for some time. They also found Charlie's notes. "Similar reasons provoked me to take my mother's life also," one read. Arriving at the Penthouse at around 3:00 p.m., police found the body of Margaret Whitman.

It soon became known that Charlie had sought the help of Dr. Heatly some months before, and Heatly released all his records regarding him to the public. Because Charlie had told Heatly of his fantasy of killing people from the tower during his one appointment, Heatly was suddenly under intense scrutiny. He was never found responsible in any way for the killings, however. The general consensus was that he'd done the best he could with the information he was given by Charlie. Nothing else about Charlie suggested that he would do what he did, so Heatly did not consider him a threat to himself or others.

When Charlie's body was autopsied doctors discovered a small tumor in his brain. Some of his friends and family have seized upon this as the cause of his actions, but experts concur that this is doubtful. Charlie was buried in Florida beside his mother. As he was an ex-Marine, an American flag covered his coffin. Kathy Whitman was buried in her hometown of Needville, Texas.

At the Texas Tower the observation deck remained open for several years. The University spent $5000 repairing bullet holes in 1967. There were suicides, though, four of them in the years between 1968 and the closing of the deck in 1974. In 1976 the University of Texas Regents declared the deck permanently closed, and so it remained for over twenty years.

In October, 1998, University of Texas President Larry Faulkner announced plans to reopen the observation deck. He asked for the support of the University Regents in making the Tower a positive symbol of Texas pride once again. The Regents approved his plan, and on September 15, 1999 (the school's 116th anniversary) the deck was reopened. There are security guards on the ground floor of the Tower and on the deck itself, which is surrounded by a stainless steel lattice to prevent suicides and falls. Visitors can once again enjoy the panoramic view from the Tower, but must pass through a metal detector to gain entry. The ghost of Charlie Whitman is, for the most part, exorcised. Yet the security precautions remind visitors that safety can only be ensured through hyper-vigilance.

There was a time when things weren't like that. Charlie Whitman ended it for good.



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