Charles Joseph Whitman who was born on the 24th of June 1941 was shot dead by the police after killing 14 people and wounding at least 32 others in a shooting spree around the University of Texas (Sillup). He had previously killed his mother and his wife before orchestrating the deadliest university shooting rampage in the history of the United States before Seung Hui Cho killed 32 people in Virginia Tech in 2007. Charles Whitman had grown up in a complete nuclear family. His father was financially stable, running a successful plumbing business in Florida. His family was however scuttled after a dysfunctional marriage forced his mother to abandon his father and move to Texas (A &E Television Network). His father is reported to have been too demanding and required perfection from his wife and kids.
Charles Joseph Whitman’s father attended Bethesda School for Boys in Georgia. His mother Margaret was a devout catholic and met his father still in Savannah, Georgia and after their marriage, they moved to Lake Worth, Florida where Charles Whitman was born (A &E Television Network). He and his brothers, Patrick and John, served as altar boys at the Sacred Heart Roman Catholic church where Charles Whitman would later choose the confirmation name Joseph for himself. Charles Whitman was an extremely intelligent child; he scored 138 on an Intelligence Quotient (IQ) test when he was six years old. He loved music and sports and undertook piano lessons for five year. Later in high school, he became a pitcher for the school baseball team (A &E Television Network).
Charles Whitman excelled in his academics and as reports indicate, he was very much loved by his neighbors and peers. He however complained of migraine headaches, which were later to be attributed to a highly cancerous brain tumor discovered during the autopsy on his body (Macleod). Besides the negative impact on his mind from living in a dysfunctional family, Charles Whitman abused amphetamines and had other health complications.
Charles Whitman Senior had a large collection of firearms and taught his sons how to use firearms at a very young age. He taught them how to clean and maintain firearms and even took them out for target practice exercises (Sillup). It is from here that, as his childhood neighbors would come to report later, that Charles Whitman developed a very keen interest in firearms at a very young age. Perhaps this was ill-informed as when his son finally got the motive, he used his extensive knowledge of firearms to kill so many people.
Struggles with life
When Charles Whitman’s family became dysfunctional, he became much stressed to the stage of becoming psychotic (Time). In fact, a psychiatric serving at the University of Texas Health center later disclosed that the discussions he had with Charles Whitman centered on this topic. Against his father’s strong will, Charles joined the US Marines in July 1959. When the catholic father at the Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church, Father Leduc, asked him to explain his defiance to his father, Charles Whitman alleged that his father had been harassing him (Macleod). He said that on several occasions, Charles Whitman senior had come home drunk and physically assaulted him, sometimes shoving him into the family’s swimming pool. If these allegations are true, then Charles Whitman’s father contributed greatly into his son’s becoming demented.
On September 15th 1961, Charles Whitman enrolled in the University of Texas to pursue a Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering under a USMC scholarship. At the university, his hobbies included martial arts, scuba diving and hunting (Lavergne 12). By this time, he had already started to exhibit abnormal behavior. He once went on hunting hike while in campus, killed a deer and dragged in into the hostels and de-skinned it inside the shower of his dormitory. This outrageous prank coupled with poor grades in class prompted the USMC to withdraw his scholarship in 1963 (Time).
The previous year, Charles Whitman had met and fallen in love with Kathleen Frances Leissner, a fellow student at the University of Texas. They had traveled to Kathleen Frances’ hometown in Texas where they exchanged marriage vows in a wedding ceremony conducted by Father Leduc (A &E Television Network). After Charles Whitman’s scholarship was withdrawn, he resumed duty with the US military at the Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. Even though he was promoted to Lance Corporal, personal woes continued to follow him. To start with, he was involved in a road accident when an army jeep he was driving rolled over an embankment. He was hospitalized for four days.
In the November 1962, Charles Whitman love for firearms put him into trouble at his military station. He was found to be in possession of a personal firearm while on base. In addition, he had become fond of gambling and once threatened a fellow marine who owed him 30 dollars (Sillup). Whitman was demanding repayment plus a 15 dollar interest. These events led to his being court-martialed after which he was sentenced to 30 days confinement, 90 days of hard labor and then demoted from Lance Corporal into a Private.
Charles Whitman was honorably discharged from the United States Army. He returned to the University of Texas where he enrolled to study architectural engineering. Meanwhile, he was working at the Standard Finance Company offices as a bill collector before being hired as a teller by the Austin National Bank (Sillup). In January 1965, Charles Whitman took up a temporary job Central Flight Lines. He also surveyed traffic as part of the team at the Texas Highways Department. At the time Kathleen was teaching biology. Family trouble began to haunt him again when his mother officially announced she was divorcing his father. Charles Whitman drove all the way to Florida to help his mother relocate to Austin, Texas. His little brother John also departed from Lake Worth but Patrick opted to remain with his father. Charles was under extreme pressure from his father to convince his mother to return to Lake Worth and move in back with him (Sillup).
One day before Charles Whitman committed his infamous horrendous killings around the University of Texas; his life was not out of the norm. He had previously purchased a cache of arms, binoculars and a knife claiming to be preparing to go on a hike hunting wild hogs (Lavergne 18). He drove as usual to pick up his wife from his place of work and took her to a matinee before meeting his mother for lunch. In the afternoon, they visited his friends Fran and John Morgan in the neighborhood and left at around five thirty so that Kathleen would make it to her night shift starting at six. At 6.45, Charles Whitman started typing his infamous suicide notes indicating that he could not understand the motivation behind the acts he was about to do and that he had been bombarded with many irrational thoughts (Sillup). He declared the true love he felt for his mother and wife and then started his mission.
Sometime after midnight, he suffocated and stabbed her mother fatally. When Kathleen returned from work, he crawled on her and stabbed her three times in the heart as she slept, killing her instantly. He then sat down and continued with his notes, noting down that he had just killed the two people he loved most in the world (Time). He then wrote an order directing that proceeds from his life insurance and estate be donated to a mental health research institution so that tragedies like the one he was committing would not occur in future (Time).
The following morning, he loaded his arms cache into a dolly and cheated his way up the bell tower. The first person to detect danger was the receptionist named Edna. After she asked if he had a worker’s identification card, he knocked her out with the butt of a rifle. Moments later, Whitman opened fire to two families who were making their way up the tower, killing two people instantly. At approximately 11.48 a.m. on August 1 1966, he fired his first shot from the bell tower’s outer deck (Time). What followed was a 96-minute ordeal in which he gunned down 14 people and wounded 34 more before police officers led by Martinez, Jerry Day and Houston McCoy and a hastily assembled force killed him (Lavergne 37).
Charles Whitman’s Motivations
Charles Whitman was obviously mentally ill. He kept a personal diary titled “The Daily Record of C. J. Whitman” in which he openly admitted to himself that he was having a personality crisis (Lavergne 47)). He lamented in one of the entries that he was finding himself acting violently towards his wife Kathleen. Deep inside, a keen observer will see a deeply tormented man whose ambitions had not been fulfilled, a man who had not been fully appreciated by his father and family the way he would have wanted.
Charles Whitman was frustrated with life. Despite his being intellectually gifted, he did not manage to satisfy the requirements for the award of a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Texas. He was therefore in the process of venting his anger out on people. Some of his closest friends, John and Francis, disclosed during the inquiry into the University of Texas tower shootings that Charles Whitman himself had admitted to them that he had physically assaulted his wife Kathleen on more than three occasions (Macleod).
When Charles Whitman joined the Marines, his conduct was unbecoming. It would be correct to conclude that he joined the army merely to exert his authority and independence from his demanding father (Lavergne 27). In his journal mentioned above, he once wrote concerning his contempt and disrespect for the marines. Being the genius he was, he pointed out what he perceived were the shortcomings of the marines. He was therefore not content with his position not only in the marines but in the society as a whole and his overwhelming energy and ego made him feel he could either have become a better person and made considerable input to the society, or his potential was not fully utilized (Macleod).
Another explanation for the outrageous crimes that Charles Whitman committed was the anomaly in his brain and central nervous system. Charles confirmed in his writings that he had seen several mental health experts. The mistake that happened was that almost all of them believed he had a psychological disorder and gave him prescription drugs to contain his runaway emotions of anger and confusion (Lavergne 61). The problem was that despite the fact that Charles Whitman had had a tumultuous childhood and early adulthood, he had a life threatening brain tumor that was responsible for his bizarre conduct. Records available from the university health services prove that he had sought professional help on several occasions. On many of these and to close associates, Charles Whitman remarked that it would be simpler for him to escalate the University of Texas’s bell tower and indiscriminately kill (Lavergne 62) people. It is very unfortunate that no one realized he actually meant was he said until it was too late and 14 people were already dead and many others were wounded.
Charles Whitman was a good man who wanted to make the most out of life. In his journal, which he filled daily during his stay in the marines and later, he often expressed his desire to become a better man than his father had been. He also loved his wife Kathleen dearly. The explanation to what made him commit those murders however emanated more from his brain tumor than from psychological effects of life experiences (Sillup). Later research shows that glioblastoma tumors prompt victims to react with progressive irritation and rage especially in the latter stages. Studies carried out indicated he was to die early due to this condition; it is an explanation as to why he could not control his emotions and actions.
A&E Television Networks. “Charles Whitman Biography.” Charles Whitman Biography. 2007. 6 Apr. 2010. <http://www.biography.com/articles/Charles-Whitman-11495598>
Lavergne, Gary. A Sniper in the Tower: The Charles Whitman Murders. Denton, TX: University of North Texas, 1997.
Macleod, Marlee. “Charles Whitman: The Texas Tower Sniper.” Charles Whitman: The Texas Tower Sniper 2010. 6 Apr. 2010. <http://www.trutv.com/library/crime/notorious_murders/mass/whitman/bibli_8.html>
Sillup, Amy. “Mass Murder Charles Whitman.” The University of Texas Tower Sniper. 22 May. 2010. 6 Apr. 2010. <http://criminals-outlaws.suite101.com/article.cfm/mass-murderer-charles-whitman>
Time. “Nation: The Madman in The Tower.” Nation: The Madman in the Tower. 12 Aug. 1966. 6 Apr. 2010. <http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,842584-9,00.html>