1958 : Killer couple strikes the heartland
On this day in 1958, Charles Starkweather, a 19-year-old high-school dropout from Lincoln, Nebraska, and his 14-year-old girlfriend, Caril Ann Fugate, kill a Lincoln businessman, his wife and their maid, as part of a murderous crime spree that began a week earlier and would ultimately leave 10 people dead. The killer couple’s deadly road trip, which generated enormous media attention and a massive manhunt, came to an end the following day, when Starkweather and Fugate were arrested near Douglas, Wyoming. The crimes later inspired a slew of books, movies and music, including Terence Malick’s 1973 film “Badlands,” starring Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek, and Bruce Springsteen’s 1982 song “Nebraska.”
Growing up, Charles Starkweather (1938-1959) was bullied and did poorly in school. He later idolized James Dean and identified with the actor’s rebellious, outsider image. Starkweather committed his first murder on December 1, 1957, when he robbed a gas station and killed the attendant. Reportedly, an attendant at the station had previously refused Starkweather’s attempt to buy a present for Fugate (1943- ) on credit.
Starkweather turned serial killer on January 21, 1958, when he shot Fugate’s stepfather and mother after arguing with them at their home, and strangled Fugate’s two-and-a-half-year-old sister. Starkweather and Fugate remained holed up at the scene of the crime for several days, before taking off in Starkweather’s car and murdering three more people–a farmer and two teenagers–on January 27. On January 28, the couple killed another three people–the Lincoln businessman, his wife and their maid. Starkweather and Fugate’s final victim, a shoe salesman, was killed on January 29; the couple was captured later that day.
Starkweather and Fugate were convicted of murder. He was given the death penalty and died in the electric chair on June 25, 1959. Fugate was sentenced to life in prison, but was released in 1976.