Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Charles Whitman: The Texas Bell Tower Sniper

Preparations

Charlie's first concrete action toward the plan he'd been formulating came on July 31. That morning he bought a Bowie knife and binoculars at a surplus store, and canned meat at a 7-11. Afterwards, he picked up Kathy from her summer job as a telephone operator for Southwestern Bell. They went to a movie, and then joined Margaret Whitman for a late lunch at the cafeteria where she worked. Following lunch, they dropped in on their friends John and Fran Morgan. The Morgans found Charlie unusually quiet, but suspected no trouble. Kathy returned to Southwestern Bell for another shift at 6:00 p.m. Charlie went home alone. At 6:45 p.m,. he began typing a letter of explanation and farewell.

"I don't quite understand what it is that compels me to type this letter," he wrote. "Perhaps it is to leave some vague reason for the actions I have recently performed." He went on to say he'd increasingly been a victim of "many unusual and irrational thoughts" and that his attempt to get help with his problems (the visit to Dr. Heatly) had failed. He expressed a wish that his body be autopsied after his death to see if there was a physical cause for his mental anguish. As he continued, he outlined his plan for the coming 24 hours. "It was after much thought that I decided to kill my wife, Kathy, tonight after I pick her up from work at the telephone company," he revealed. "The prominent reason in my mind is that I truly do not consider this world worth living in, and am prepared to die, and I do not want to leave her to suffer alone in it." He continued, "similar reasons provoked me to take my mother's life also."

Charlie's typing was interrupted by a visit from Larry and Eileen Fuess, a couple with whom Charlie and Kathy were friends. The Fuesses found Charlie unusually calm, but happy. They chatted for a while. Charlie told stories, talked of buying land on Canyon Lake, and spoke very sentimentally of Kathy. Twice he said, "It's a shame that she should have to work all day and then come home to....." but didn't finish the sentence. The three friends bought ice cream from a street vendor, and the Fuesses left around 8:30 p.m.

Presently, Charlie left the house to pick up Kathy. Her shift ended at 9:30, and they were probably back home by 9:45. Kathy chatted on the phone for a while, then Charlie called his mother, asking if he and Kathy could come over and enjoy the air conditioning at her apartment. But Kathy didn't accompany him to his mother's place. She went to bed, and Charlie left their house around midnight.

Margaret Whitman greeted her son in the lobby of her apartment building, The Penthouse. When they were inside apartment 505, Charlie attacked her. The exact circumstances are not known, but it seems that he choked Margaret from behind with a length of rubber hose until she was unconscious. He then stabbed her in the chest with a large hunting knife. There was also massive damage to the back of her head, but since no autopsy was performed, it is uncertain if the wound was inflicted with a gun or with a heavy object. Margaret Whitman was dead by 12:30 a.m., at which time Charlie sat down to write another letter of explanation. "I have just taken my mother's life," he wrote, "I am very upset over having done it...I am truly sorry that this is the only way I could see to relieve her sufferings but I think it was best." He placed his mother's body in bed and pulled up the covers, then composed another note, this one designed to delay the discovery of what he'd done. He posted this one, intended for the building houseman, on the door of apartment 505. It read, "Roy, I don't have to be to work today and I was up late last night. I would like to get some rest. Please do not disturb me. Thank you. Mrs. Whitman."

Charlie left The Penthouse at about 1:30 a.m. but quickly returned saying he was Mrs. Whitman's son and needed to get into her apartment to get a prescription he'd promised to fill for his mother. Probably, he had forgotten a bottle of Dexedrine, which he would need in the coming hours. The doorman let him into the apartment, and he returned in about five minutes with a pill bottle. He left The Penthouse for good around 2:00 a.m.

Kathy Whitman lay in bed asleep when Charlie returned home. Quickly and quietly, he pulled back the bedding and stabbed her five times in the chest. She probably never awoke. He then turned his attention to the letter he'd been typing the previous evening when the Fuesses had visited. "3:00 a.m.," he scrawled on the page in blue ink, "Both dead." With his pen he continued the explanation of his crimes, placing the blame for everything on his father and trying to make sense of the twisted morality that had brought him to murder. "I imagine it appears that I bruttaly [sic] kill [sic] both of my loved ones," he wrote. "I was only trying to do a quick through [sic] job." He wrote a few more notes, one to each of his brothers and one to his father. He left instructions that the film in his cameras be developed, and that his and Kathy's dog be given to her parents. For a little while he looked back in his diaries, highlighting entries where he had extolled his wife's virtues in years past. Then he set about preparations for the killing spree which would follow in a few hours.

 

 

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