Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Charles Whitman: The Texas Bell Tower Sniper

Back in Austin

Charlie returned to Austin with a fervent sense of purpose. His failure as a Marine and as a student embarrassed him, and he was determined to redeem himself. He changed his major from mechanical engineering to architectural engineering and began applying himself more vigilantly than he had in his first spell at the university. He took a job as a bill collector for the Standard Finance Company, then moved on to a teller position at Austin National Bank. In his spare time, he served as scoutmaster for Boy Scout Troop 5. He worked hard at being upstanding and admirable, yet constantly berated himself for not living up to his own expectations. His copious journals contain countless self-improvement schemes and lists of traits he felt he should develop. In the early period of his marriage, he had followed his father's example and become violent with his wife. He was determined not to repeat this behavior and reminded himself in his journal of how a kind and caring husband should act. He seemed to have no inner foundation of morals on which to build his own character; his constant self-instruction was an attempt to impose such a structure from outside himself. A friend described him as, "like a computer. He would install his own values into a machine, then program the things he had to do, and out would come the results." From time to time, though, his façade would crumble. He was subject to bouts of temper and frustration, which only served to further damage his self-respect.

Kathy Whitman (Texas Dept of Public Safety)
Kathy Whitman
(Texas Dept of Public

Kathy Whitman did the majority of the breadwinning in the Whitman household. Her job as a teacher at Lanier High School in Austin provided a salary and health insurance; Charlie's income supplemented hers, but he was keenly aware that his wife earned more than he.

Furthermore, he continued to receive money and expensive gifts from his father. Charlie hated freeloaders, yet that was how he saw himself. He hated failure, yet he had failed to accomplish anything he had set out to do since he left home at 18. He saw being overweight as a sign of weakness, yet he was unable to keep himself as trim as he had been in the Marines. Outwardly, Charlie was diligent and conscientious, a devoted husband and a hard worker; inwardly, he seethed with self-hatred.

Kathy Whitman noticed her husband's ever bleaker outlook and began to gently urge him to seek counseling. Meanwhile, C.A. and Margaret Whitman separated after another violent row. Margaret and Charlie's brother Patrick moved to Austin in the spring of 1966. C.A. called ceaselessly, begging Margaret to return to him, but she refused. In May she filed for divorce. Charlie's troubled family, it seemed, had followed him. In this place where he was determined to make a new start he was constantly reminded of his past. His depression and anxiety worsened, and Kathy finally persuaded him to see a doctor that spring.

Dr. Jan D. Cochrun prescribed Valium for Charlie and referred him to University Health Center Staff Psychiatrist Dr. Maurice Dean Heatly. Heatly found that Charlie "had something about him that suggested and expressed the all-American boy," but that he "seemed to be oozing with hostility." Charlie spoke mainly of his lack of achievement and his hatred of his father. At one point, he told Heatly that he had fantasized about "going up on the Tower with a deer rifle and shooting people." Heatly was not disconcerted. Many of his patients had made references to the Tower, and Charlie showed no behavior patterns as of yet that indicated that he was serious. He had, in fact, been making such comments for years, and everyone dismissed them as nonsense. Heatly suggested that Charlie return a week later, and told him that he could call at any time. Charlie did not return, nor did he call.

In the summer of 1966, Charlie dutifully attended to his class work and his job as a research assistant with the help of the amphetamine Dexedrine. Sometimes he went for days without sleep, studying and attending to various projects. He was taking a very heavy course load, trying harder than ever to excel. But the drug made him inefficient. Even though he spent many hours working, he could not seem to accomplish what he wanted. As a result, his self-esteem suffered even more. Additionally, his father was still calling, trying to get Charlie to convince Margaret Whitman to return to him in Florida. Though friends and family generally agreed that Charlie was under strain and trying to do too much, no one noticed he was edging quietly toward violence. As the Texas summer heat intensified, Charlie became ever more consumed by his fantasies of killing. 

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