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The Story of Charles Whitman - Lara Türeli '24

Introduction

In this research paper, the story of Charles Whitman will be examined and explained under five points: who Charles Whitman was, his career and background, concerns about his health, the mass murder he caused, and his death – including the results of his autopsy.


Who Was Charles Whitman?

Charles Whitman was raised in Lake Worth, Florida. He was the eldest of three brothers. People who knew Charles Whitman thought he was the perfect American boy. It was said that he was a hard-working, caring person who continuously pushed himself to do better. However, apparently, his accomplishments never reached his father's standards.


Whitman’s father believed in parenting methods that included abuse and harsh punishments. He not only treated his kids this way but also beat his wife. Because of this Charles Whitman hated his father deeply. His mother, on the other hand, was a caring religious person whom Whitman loved dearly. Whitman’s father was a fanatic gun lover. This passion of his led him to teach Charles how to shoot from a very young age. Whitman’s shooting precision was one of the few things his father was proud of.


Even though he seemed to be a good person who cared for his mother, brothers, and wife Charles Whitman is widely known because of the mass murder he was the cause of at the University of Texas in 1966. Where he killed 18 people, injured 31, and eventually got killed by the police – while trying to stop him from hurting more people.


Career and Background

The way Whitman was treated by his father pushed him to leave the environment he grew up in. Even though his grades were good, his academic record was stained by his actions in school. Because of this, instead of going to school, he joined the Marines. Since Whitman had years of practice with a gun, and during his time at boot camp, he qualified as a sharpshooter. After his time at boot camp, he was sent on duty at Guantánamo Bay naval base in Cuba for 18 months. His success in Cuba resulted in his appointment to a training school in Maryland. His academic success earned him a military scholarship for mechanical engineering at the University of Texas. Here he met Kathleen Leissner, another student at the university, who he would eventually marry.


After some time at the university, under his military scholarship, his grades started dropping causing him to lose his scholarship and be called back to active duty. After he finished his time in active duty, Whitman went back to the University of Texas to study architectural engineering. Soon later Whitman’s mother left his father and moved to Austin, Texas. With this change, Whitman’s anger and hatred for his father grew stronger, leading him to more violent tendencies. He started documenting his violent impulses and sought out psychological help. In one of his psychological help sessions, he confessed that he fantasized about shooting people from the tower at the University of Texas. On August 1 1966 he killed 16 people and injured 31. He was killed by police officers during this time. Before his death, he specifically asked for an autopsy to understand if his impulses may have been caused by a physical problem.


Health Concerns

Whitman had many issues deeply rooted in his relationship with his father. His violent impulses, the way he treated his wife, and his mother leaving his father led Whitman to seek psychological help. He went to one of the school psychiatrists at his university. Here, he told the psychiatrist, Dr. Maurice D. Heatly, about his violent impulses and his fantasies about killing people from the tower on the university campus. Dr. Maurice D. Heatly told Whitman to come back for more sessions; however, Whitman never returned for more help.


Whitman documented his feelings and thoughts regularly. The day before the shooting at the tower, Whitman wrote, “I do not really understand myself these days. I am supposed to be an average reasonable and intelligent young man.” This shows that Whitman was also able to recognize that he wasn’t acting like his usual self. He explains how the trauma caused by the household environment he grew up in may have affected how he felt but that he couldn’t deal with it on his own.


Mass Murder: Texas Sniper

On August 1, 1966, the texas tower shooting took place. The person behind this mass murder was Charles Whitman. The night before Whitman wrote about his newly unusual impulses and thoughts in a possible suicide note. However, he did not write about what he would do the next day. The night before the mass shooting, Whitman went to his mother’s house in Austin and killed her. After returning to his house he also killed his wife in her sleep. He left a note next to her wife saying “I don’t want her to have to face the embarrassment [sic] my actions would surely cause her.… 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….Similar reasons provoked me to take my mother’s life.” This shows that Whitman thought that he was doing his wife and mother a favor by killing them. Another thing to note from this note is that even though he doesn’t specifically talk about the shooting he implies that he will be doing something outrageous.


The next day Whitman prepared for the shooting. He assembled his weapons which included guns, riffles, knives, and a machete; he also packed food and water. Later in the morning he headed to the university with these supplies. He disguised himself as a worker and made his way to the top of the clock tower. Once he reached the reception of the observatory of the tower he killed the receptionist. As he made his way up to the top of the tower he killed two and wounded two other people who were there as visitors. Once he got to the top of the tower he set up to start shooting. Whitman shot randomly in all directions. His previous experiences with guns gave him an advantage against the police and the innocent people on campus. After killing 14 people and wounding at least 30, three police officers and an armed citizen climbed up the stairs to stop Whitman. Once the four reached the observatory, Ramiro Martinez and Houston McCoy shot and killed Whitman.


Death and Autopsy Reports

As Whitman wishes, an autopsy was conducted to try and understand the motive behind these murders. As a result of the autopsy, a mass was found in his brain. It was argued that this mass would not be the reason for the shooting. However, after more research, it was understood that the tumor was a glioblastoma tumor. The aggressive nature of the tumor led researchers to believe that this may have caused these actions. This led some investigators to believe that the tumor may have pushed against the amygdala, causing irregular patterns in Whitman’s fight-or-flight responses. Moreover, these are just hypotheses and the reason for why he did this is not certain.


Conclusion

To conclude, many who knew Charles Whitman thought that he was the ideal American man. He served in the army, was invested greatly in his studies, and lived a “normal” life with his wife. However, his upbringing, his relationship with his father, his father's relationship with his mother, and his exposure to guns from a young age surfaced Whitman’s violent tendencies. He was the shooter of the texas tower shooting causing 16 deaths and at least 30 injuries. Even though he had a traumatic past, had some psychological issues, and - apparently - a brain tumor, the reason why he did this will never truly be understood.


Bibliography

Acar, H. (2020, April 10). The Factors Affecting Trauma Rates. Archives of Surgery and Clinical Case Reports. Retrieved November 25, 2022, from https://www.gavinpublishers.com/article/view/the-factors-affecting-trauma-rates


Lavergbe, G. (2007, April 27). The Legacy of the Texas Tower Sniper. Gary Lavergne. Retrieved November 25, 2022, from http://www.garylavergne.com/LegacyTowerChronicle-Lavergne.pdf


Silverman, L. (2016, August 2). Gun violence and mental health laws, 50 years after Texas Tower Sniper. PBS. Retrieved November 25, 2022, from https://www.pbs.org/newshour/nation/gun-violence-mental-health-laws-50-years-texas-tower-sniper


Wallenfeldt, J. (2022, July 22). Texas tower shooting of 1966. Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved November 25, 2022, from http://www.britannica.com/event/Texas-Tower-shooting-of-1966/The-shooting.






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