The Tangled Love of Caril Ann Fugate & Charles Starkweather

posted: 14 May 2021 | categories: Killer Couples, Killer Kids, Serial Killers

“The more I looked at people, the more I hated them.”

CHARLES STARKWEATHER

The love story of Caril and Charles is an infamous one, one with a body count. It’s also one that’s found its place in pop culture. Natural Born Killers, Badlands, Kalifornia, among others… all movies at least in part inspired by their story. Even Bruce Springsteen’s song Nebraska is based on the murders the couple committed.


about Caril Ann Fugate

Caril Ann Fugate was born on July 30, 1943. She was living in Lincoln, Nebraska with her mother and stepfather when she met and fell into a relationship with Charles Starkweather in 1956. He was eighteen and a high school dropout. And she was only thirteen years old. Very little of her life before meeting Starkweather is known.

Fugate has the dubious honor of being, to date, the youngest female in the United States to be tried for first-degree murder. She was just fourteen years old during their spree.[1]Cawthorne, Nigel. “Natural Born Killers.” TheSerial Killers and Mass Murderers: Profiles of the World’s Most Barbaric Criminals Washington Post, Ulysses Press, 2007, p. 5–36.

about Charles Starkweather

Charles Starkweather was born on November 24, 1938. By all accounts. his family was a hard-working, working-class family, with nothing to explain the atrocities Starkweather would eventually commit. However, his school life was a bit different. Starkweather had a mild birth defect, genu varum. This defect causes the knees to bow outward and the lower part of the legs to turn inward. This, combined with a speech impediment, led to bullying during his school years.[2]“Charles Starkweather Biography.” Biography.com, 21 Apr. 2014, https://www.biography.com/crime-figure/charles-starkweather.


the crimes

Starkweather’s first murder took place on November 30, 1957, just months after meeting Fugate. Robert Colvert was a service station attendant, and Starkweather forced him at gunpoint to give him $100 from the station’s till. Then he drove Colvert to a remote area where, after struggling with the gun, he shot him in the head and killed him. Fugate was not in any way involved with this murder. This would soon change.

Two months later, on January 21, 1958, Starkweather drove to his girlfriend’s house. Her mother and stepfather refused to allow him inside. His response was to kill both of them, as well as Fugate’s two-year-old sister, hiding the bodies afterward.[3]“Charles Starkweather Biography.” Biography.com, 21 Apr. 2014, https://www.biography.com/crime-figure/charles-starkweather. This is where the story becomes hazy. Starkweather maintained that Fugate was present for the killings, but Fugate has always stated that she was not present but came home to find Starkweather waiting for her. the gun openly displayed. She said that Starkweather told her that her family was being held hostage elsewhere, and that if she didn’t cooperate, they would be killed.[4]Flynn, Meagan. “Immortalized in Springsteen’s ‘Nebraska,’ the Former Girlfriend of Notorious Killer Charles Starkweather Asks for Pardon.” The Washington Post, 30 Jan. 2020, The … Continue reading

For six days, they holed themselves up inside the house, refusing to allow anyone inside. Only when other family members became suspicious did they finally flee. Their first stop was to the farm of a family friend, August Meyer. Starkweather shot and killed August, as well as his dog. As they attempted to flee, their car got stuck in mud, so they abandoned it. Soon after, two local teenagers, Robert Jensen and Carol King, stopped to help and give them a ride. In thanks, Starkweather held them at gunpoint and forced them to drive to an abandoned storm celler. He immediately shot Jenson and attempted to rape Carol. Failing that, he became enraged and shot her, too.[5]“Charles Starkweather Biography.” Biography.com, 21 Apr. 2014, https://www.biography.com/crime-figure/charles-starkweather.

In their car, they drove to a wealthy part of Lincoln, to the home of C. Lauer Ward and his wife, Clara. They were not home, but the family maid, Lillian Fenci, was. Starkweather stabbed her to death and killed the dog, and the pair laid in wait for the couple to return. Clara arrived first and was stabbed to death. When her husband returned, he was shot and killed by Starkweather. After stealing jewelry, the couple escaped in the dead couples car.[6]“Charles Starkweather Biography.” Biography.com, 21 Apr. 2014, https://www.biography.com/crime-figure/charles-starkweather.

When Starkweather realized that law enforcement knew what car he and Fugate were using, he knew it was time to find a new vehicle. To that end, when they discovered Merle Collison, a traveling salesman, sleeping in his car, he woke him and shot him, taking the car.[7]“Charles Starkweather Biography.” Biography.com, 21 Apr. 2014, https://www.biography.com/crime-figure/charles-starkweather. However, the car had a parking brake, which Starkweather didn’t know how to operate. A passerby stopped to help, seeing the struggle. At that moment, a Wyoming sheriff’s deputy happened to be driving by and stopped. At this point, Fugate ran to him, begging to be saved. She told him Starkweather had just murdered the man in the car and that he had been holding her hostage. Starkweather fled in the car but was caught soon after. [8]Flynn, Meagan. “Immortalized in Springsteen’s ‘Nebraska,’ the Former Girlfriend of Notorious Killer Charles Starkweather Asks for Pardon.” The Washington Post, 30 Jan. 2020, The … Continue reading Collison was the last murder Starkweather committed.


the punishment

Starkweather was only tried of a single murder, that of Robert Jenson. He was convicted and sentenced to death. He was executed by electric chair on June 25, 1959. Fugate was convicted as his accomplice and was given a life sentence. She served seventeen and a half years before being paroled in June 1976.[9]“Charles Starkweather Biography.” Biography.com, 21 Apr. 2014, https://www.biography.com/crime-figure/charles-starkweather.


the aftermath

Although the jury did not believe her, Caril Ann Fugate has always maintained that she was Starkweather’s hostage. During her time in incarceration, she was a model prisoner, and upon release, has lived a life free of criminal activity. In February of 2020, she applied for another pardon. A previous request for a hearing was denied in 1996.

There are are people with strong opinions, both for the granting of the pardon, and those against it. Many don’t believe her continued protests of innocence. There are those that believe that, despite her age, she should have received the same sentence as Starkweather. Not surprisingly, many of those people are the family members of some of the victims. [10]Donnelly, Francis X. “Michigan Woman Seeks Pardon in Starkweather Murder Spree in Nebraska.” The Detroit News, 17 Feb. 2020, The Detroit News, … Continue reading What is surprising is that some of the victims’ family members fully support Fugate’s fight for a pardon. Liza Ward is one of those people, along with other members of her family. She is the granddaughter of the Wards. She’s studied the case extensively and has said the following.

“I could not find a single piece of evidence that she was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt,” said Ward, 44. “What I found, in fact, was that she was the victim of a system, an old boys network, that was fueled by the anger, fear and grief of the time. It was just unbelievable to me, the miscarriage and mishandling of justice,” she said.[11]Hammel, Paul. “Granddaughter of Starkweather Victims Says Caril Ann Fugate Deserves a Pardon.” Daily Nonpariel, 18 Feb. 2020, Daily Nonpariel, … Continue reading


the after aftermath

On February 18, 2020, the Nebraska pardons board refused to pardon Caril Ann Fugate. The vote was a unanimous 3-0 against the request.[12]Associated Press. “Notorious Killer Charles Starkweather’s Ex-Girlfriend Denied Pardon by Nebraska.” NBC News/Associated Press, 18 Feb. 2020, NBC News, … Continue reading


my take

The truth is… we will likely never know the reality of the he siad/she said between Fugate and Starkweather. We will probably never know whether she was truly his hostage or not.

But it’s hard not to wonder just how much she really could have had to do with it, how much power she had during the spree. Here are some things to consider when it comes to Caril Ann Fugate.

  • cognitive abilities: Some reports have suggested that she tested below the normal range of intelligence, as Starkweather himself did. If this is true, that would be something that would most definitely had an effect on her thought processing.
  • her age: Fugate was thirteen when she met and entered into a relationship with Starkweather. She was only fourteen and in eighth grade during the course of the spree. With age comes wisdom. At thirteen, the juvenile brain is nowhere near developed in the causal areas. That impedes one’s judgment in every way.
  • the time: In the 1950s, society expected women to be caregivers, to be obedient. Women’s focus was to be on the home, the husband, and the family unit. Fugate was young and in love, Starkweather her “soul mate.” She’d been raised to believe that her obedience and respect should go to the man in her life. At such a young age, is it that hard to believe that she’d be intimidated by a man like Starkweather?

works cited[+]

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