Charles Whitman

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Charles Whitman
Charles Whitman in 1963
Born(1941-06-24)June 24, 1941
Lake Worth, Florida, U.S.
DiedAugust 1, 1966(1966-08-01) (aged 25)
Austin, Texas, U.S.
Cause of death
Multiple shotgun wounds
(ruled as justifiable homicide)
Other namesThe Texas Tower Sniper
OccupationFormer U.S. Marine
Engineering student
Spouse(s)Kathy Leissner (m. 1962–66)
ParentsCharles Adolphus "C.A." Whitman, Jr.
Margaret Whitman
DateAugust 1, 1966
Family: c. 12:15 a.m.–3:00 a.m.
Random: 11:48 a.m.–1:24 p.m.
Location(s)University of Texas at Austin, Texas
Target(s)Family, students, teachers and police
Injured32 (including 1 later fatality)
  (Redirected from Texas Clock Tower Massacre)
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This article is about the tower sniper. For the politician, see Charles S. Whitman. For the professor of English, see Charles Huntington Whitman. For the American zoologist, see Charles Otis Whitman.
Charles Whitman
Charles Whitman in 1963
Born(1941-06-24)June 24, 1941
Lake Worth, Florida, U.S.
DiedAugust 1, 1966(1966-08-01) (aged 25)
Austin, Texas, U.S.
Cause of death
Multiple shotgun wounds
(ruled as justifiable homicide)
Other namesThe Texas Tower Sniper
OccupationFormer U.S. Marine
Engineering student
Spouse(s)Kathy Leissner (m. 1962–66)
ParentsCharles Adolphus "C.A." Whitman, Jr.
Margaret Whitman
DateAugust 1, 1966
Family: c. 12:15 a.m.–3:00 a.m.
Random: 11:48 a.m.–1:24 p.m.
Location(s)University of Texas at Austin, Texas
Target(s)Family, students, teachers and police
Injured32 (including 1 later fatality)

Charles Joseph Whitman (June 24, 1941 – August 1, 1966) was an American engineering student and former U.S. Marine who killed 16 people and wounded 32 others in a spree shooting in Austin, Texas, on the University of Texas at Austin campus, in and around the Tower on the afternoon of August 1, 1966. Three people were shot and killed inside the university's tower and eleven others were murdered after Whitman fired at random from the 28th-floor observation deck of the Main Building. Whitman was shot and killed by Austin police officer Houston McCoy.[1][2][3][4][5]

Prior to the shootings at the University of Texas at Austin, Whitman had murdered both his wife and mother in Austin. The shooting would remain the deadliest shooting on a U.S. college campus until the Virginia Tech shootings in 2007.

Early life and education[edit]

Charles Joseph Whitman was born on June 24, 1941 in Lake Worth, Florida, the eldest of three sons born to Margaret E. (Hodges) and Charles Adolphus "C.A." Whitman, Jr.[6] Whitman's father had been raised in an orphanage in Savannah, Georgia[7] and described himself as a self-made man. In 1940, he had married Margaret, then 17 years old. The marriage of Whitman's parents was marred by domestic violence: Whitman's father was an admitted authoritarian who provided for his family, but demanded near perfection from all of them. He was known to physically and emotionally abuse his wife and children.[8]

As a boy, Whitman was described as a polite, well-mannered child who seldom lost his temper.[9] He was extremely intelligent: an examination at the age of six revealed his IQ to be 139.[10] Whitman's academic achievements were encouraged by his parents, yet any indication of failure or a lethargic attitude would be met with discipline—often physical—from his father.

Margaret Whitman was a devout Roman Catholic who raised her sons in the same faith. The Whitman brothers regularly attended Mass with their mother, and all three brothers served as altar boys at the Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church.[11]

Whitman Sr. was a firearms collector and enthusiast, who taught each of his sons from an early age how to shoot, clean, and maintain weapons. He regularly took them on hunting trips, and Charles became an avid hunter and accomplished marksman. His father said of him: "Charlie could plug (shoot) the eye out of a squirrel by the time he was sixteen."[12]

At the age of eleven, Whitman joined the Boy Scouts and earned a total of twenty-one merit badges in fifteen months.[10] On September 15, 1953, at the age of twelve years and three months, Whitman also earned the rank of Eagle Scout in Troop 119 in Lake Worth. Whitman was reportedly the youngest person in the world ever to become an Eagle Scout.[7][8] Whitman also became an accomplished pianist at the age of twelve.[13] At around the same time, he undertook an extensive newspaper route delivering the Miami Herald in and around his neighborhood. As he had many households to cover, on occasions, his parents used their car to assist their son on his route - particularly in bad weather.[14]

High school[edit]

Charles Whitman, pictured around 1959.

On September 1, 1955, Whitman entered St. Ann's high school in West Palm Beach, where he was regarded as a moderately popular student whose intelligence was noted by teachers and his peers alike.[15] By the next month, he had saved enough money from his newspaper route to purchase a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, which he used on his route.[16]

At the age of sixteen, Whitman underwent a routine appendectomy and was hospitalized following a motorcycle accident.[17] In February 1958, Whitman was hospitalized for surgery to remove a blood clot which had formed around his left testicle. Whitman missed a total of sixteen schooling days.[18]

One month after his June 1959 graduation from high school (where he had graduated seventh in a class of seventy-two students),[7] Whitman enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. He had not told his father beforehand. Whitman told a family friend that the catalyst was an incident a month before. His father had beaten him and thrown him into the family swimming pool, almost drowning him, because Whitman had come home drunk after an evening socializing with friends.[8] Whitman left home on July 6, having been assigned an 18-month tour of duty with the Marines at Guantanamo Bay. His father still did not know he had enlisted.[7]

As Whitman traveled toward Parris Island, his father learned of his action and telephoned a branch of the federal government, trying unsuccessfully to have his son's enlistment canceled.[11]

U.S. Marine and college student[edit]

During Whitman's initial 18-month tour of duty in 1959 and 1960 he earned a Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal, a Sharpshooter's Badge, and the Marine Corps Expeditionary Medal. Whitman received 215 out of 250 possible points on shooting tests, and did well when shooting rapidly over long distances and aiming at moving targets. After completing his assignment, Whitman applied to a U.S. Navy and Marine Corps scholarship program, intending to complete college and become a commissioned officer.[8]

He earned high scores on the required examination, and the selection committee approved his enrollment at a preparatory school in Maryland. Whitman successfully completed courses in mathematics and physics before being approved to transfer to the University of Texas at Austin to study mechanical engineering. Later he majored there in architectural engineering. As a student, he received his regular active-duty military pay as he was still in the Marine Corps.

University life[edit]

Whitman entered the mechanical engineering program at the University of Texas at Austin on September 15, 1961. Whitman was initially a poor student whose grades were largely unimpressive. His hobbies included karate, scuba diving, gambling and hunting.[19] Shortly after his enrollment at the University, he and two friends were observed poaching a deer: a passer-by noted Whitman's license plate number and reported them to police. The trio were butchering the deer in the shower at Whitman's dormitory when arrested.[11] Whitman was fined $100 for the offence.[20]

Whitman acquired a reputation as a practical joker in his years as an engineering student, but friends also noted he made some morbid and chilling statements. On one occasion in 1962, as he and a fellow student named Francis Schuck Jr. browsed the bookstore in the Main Building of the University of Texas, Whitman remarked: "A person could stand off an army from atop of it [the Tower] before they got him."[21]


In February 1962, Whitman met Kathleen Frances Leissner, a teaching student two years his junior. Leissner was Whitman's first serious girlfriend. The couple courted for five months before announcing their engagement on July 19.[22]

On August 17, 1962, Whitman and Leissner married in a Catholic ceremony held in Leissner's hometown of Needville, Texas.[23] The couple chose the 22nd wedding anniversary of Whitman's parents as the date for their wedding.[21] Whitman's family drove from Florida to Texas to attend the event, and his younger brother Patrick served as best man. Fr. Leduc, a Whitman family friend, presided over the ceremony. Leissner's family and friends approved of her choice of husband, describing Whitman as a "handsome young man."[24]

Although Whitman's grades improved somewhat during his second and third semesters at the University of Texas at Austin, the Marine Corps deemed his academic performance unacceptable in terms of the scholarship. The Corps returned Whitman to active duty in February 1963.[25] Whitman returned to active duty at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina to serve the remainder of his five-year assignment.[26]

Camp Lejeune[edit]

Whitman apparently resented the fact that his college studies had ended. He was automatically promoted to the rank of Lance Corporal. On one occasion during his service at Camp Lejeune, Whitman and two other Marines were involved in an accident in which their Jeep rolled over an embankment. After single-handedly lifting the vehicle to free a fellow Marine,[27] Whitman fell to the ground unconscious from the effort. He was hospitalized for four days.[17]

He had a reputation among his peers as an exemplary Marine, but Whitman continued to gamble during his time at Camp Lejeune. In November 1963, he was court-martialed for gambling, usury, possession of a personal firearm on base, and threatening another Marine over a $30 loan, for which he had demanded $15 interest. Sentenced to 30 days of confinement and 90 days of hard labor, he was demoted in rank from Lance Corporal to Private.[8][28]

Whitman's self-penned journal.

Documented frustrations[edit]

In 1963, as he awaited his court martial, Whitman began to write a diary titled "Daily Record of Charles J. Whitman".[29] He covered his daily life in the Marine Corps and his interactions with Kathy and other family members. He also wrote about his upcoming court martial and contempt for the Marine Corps; he criticized them for inefficiencies. In his writings about his wife, Whitman often praised her, and wrote how he longed to be with her. He also wrote about his efforts and plans to free himself from financial dependence on his father.

In December 1964, Whitman was honorably discharged from the Marines. He returned to the University of Texas at Austin, enrolling in the architectural engineering program. To support himself and Kathy, he worked as a bill collector for the Standard Finance Company. Later, he worked as a bank teller at the Austin National Bank. In January 1965, Whitman took a temporary job with Central Freight Lines as a traffic surveyor for the Texas Highway Department.[30][31] He also volunteered as a Scout leader for Austin Scout Troop 5 as his wife Kathy (having begun her career as a teacher) worked as a biology teacher at Lanier High School.[23][32][33]

Two close friends of Whitman, John and Fran Morgan, later told the Texas Department of Public Safety that he had told them of striking Kathy on three occasions.[34] They said that Whitman had despised himself for the behavior and confessed to being "mortally afraid of being like his father."[35] Whitman lamented his actions in his journal, and resolved to be a good husband and not abusive like his father.[32]

Separation of Whitman's parents[edit]

In May 1966, Margaret Whitman announced her intention to divorce Whitman's father because of his physical abuse.[36] The younger Whitman drove to Florida to help his mother move to Austin. Reportedly, Charles was so afraid his father would resort to violence as his mother left that Charles Whitman summoned a local policeman to remain outside the house as his mother packed her belongings.[36] Whitman's youngest brother, John, also chose to leave Lake Worth and move to Austin with his mother. The middle Whitman son, Patrick, remained in Florida. He worked with his father in the elder's plumbing supply business.

In Austin, Whitman's mother found work in a cafeteria and moved into her own apartment. She remained in close contact with Charles.[36] Whitman's father later admitted to having spent over a thousand dollars on regular long-distance phone calls to both his wife Margaret and Charles, pleading with his wife to return and trying to enlist his son to convince her to return.[36] At this stressful time, Charles Whitman was abusing amphetamines and began experiencing severe headaches. He later described these headaches as being "tremendous."[37]

On the eve of the shootings at the University Tower, Whitman wrote in his journal, reaffirming his love for his wife Kathy. These final entries were written in the past tense, suggesting he may have already killed Kathy and his mother.

The murders[edit]

Wife and mother[edit]

The day before the shootings, Whitman bought a pair of binoculars and a knife from a hardware store, and Spam from a 7-Eleven convenience store. He picked up his wife from her summer job as a telephone operator, before meeting his mother for lunch at the Wyatt Cafeteria, located close to the university.

At approximately 4:00 p.m. on July 31, Charles and Kathy Whitman visited their close friends John and Fran Morgan. They left the Morgans' apartment at 5:50 so that Kathy could get to her 6:00–10:00 p.m. shift.

At 6:45, Whitman began typing his suicide note, a portion of which read:

I do not quite understand what it is that compels me to type this letter. Perhaps it is to leave some vague reason for the actions I have recently performed. I do not really understand myself these days. I am supposed to be an average reasonable and intelligent young man. However, lately (I cannot recall when it started) I have been a victim of many unusual and irrational thoughts.[38]

Whitman wrote that he requested an autopsy be conducted upon his body, to determine if there was a biological reason for his actions and increasing headaches. He also wrote that he had decided to kill both his mother and wife. Expressing uncertainty about his reasons, he stated he wanted to relieve his wife and mother from the suffering of this world and to save them the embarrassment of his actions.[39] He did not mention planning the attack at the university.

Just after midnight on August 1, Whitman drove to his mother's apartment at 1212 Guadalupe Street. After killing his mother, he placed her body on her bed and covered it with sheets.[40] His method of murder is disputed, but officials believed he rendered her unconscious before stabbing her in the heart.[41]

He left a handwritten note beside her body, which read in part:

To Whom It May Concern: I have just taken my mother's life. I am very upset over having done it. However, I feel that if there is a heaven she is definitely there now [...] I am truly sorry [...] Let there be no doubt in your mind that I loved this woman with all my heart.[42]

Whitman then returned to his home at 906 Jewell Street, where he killed his wife by stabbing her three times in the heart as she slept. He covered her body with sheets, then resumed the typewritten note he had begun the previous evening.[41] Using a ballpoint pen, he wrote at the side of the page:

Friends interrupted. 8-1-66 Mon. 3:00 A.M. BOTH DEAD.[40]

Whitman continued the note, finishing it by pen:

I imagine it appears that I brutally killed both of my loved ones. I was only trying to do a quick thorough job [...] If my life insurance policy is valid please pay off my debts [...] donate the rest anonymously to a mental health foundation. Maybe research can prevent further tragedies of this type [...] Give our dog to my in-laws. Tell them Kathy loved "Schocie" very much [...] If you can find in yourselves to grant my last wish, cremate me after the autopsy.[38]

He also left instructions in the rented house requesting that two rolls of camera film be developed. Whitman also wrote personal notes to each of his brothers.

Whitman last wrote on an envelope labeled, 'Thoughts For the Day,' in which he stored a collection of written admonitions. He added on the outside of the envelope:

8-1-66. I never could quite make it. These thoughts are too much for me.[40]

At 5:45 a.m. on August 1, 1966, Whitman phoned his wife's supervisor at Bell System to explain that Kathy was ill and unable to work that day. He made a similar phone call to his mother's workplace five hours later.

The rifles and sawed-off shotgun used by Whitman in the massacre.

Preparations for tower shootings[edit]

On the morning of August 1, Whitman rented a hand truck from Austin Rental Company and cashed $250 ($1800 in 2013 dollars) of worthless checks at the bank before driving to a hardware store, where he purchased a Universal M1 carbine, two additional ammunition magazines and eight boxes of ammunition, explaining to the cashier that he planned to hunt wild hogs.[43] Whitman then drove to Chuck's Gun Shop, where he purchased four further carbine magazines, six additional boxes of ammunition, and a can of gun cleaning solvent.[44] He then drove to Sears, where he purchased a Sears Model 60 12 gauge semi-automatic shotgun before returning with his purchases to his home.[45]

Inside his garage, Whitman sawed off the barrel of the 12-gauge shotgun, and packed the weapon, together with a Remington 700 6mm bolt-action hunting rifle, a .35 caliber pump rifle, a .30 caliber carbine, a 9mm Luger pistol, a Galesi-Brescia .25-caliber pistol and a Smith & Wesson M19 .357 Magnum revolver, and over 700 rounds of ammunition into his footlocker. He had already packed in it food, coffee, vitamins, Dexedrine, Excedrin, earplugs, jugs of water, matches, lighter fluid, rope, binoculars, a machete, three knives, a transistor radio, toilet paper, a razor and a bottle of deodorant.[46] Before heading to the tower about 11:00 a.m., Whitman dressed in khaki coveralls over his shirt and jeans.[47]

At approximately 11:35 a.m.,[46] Whitman arrived on the University of Texas at Austin campus. Showing a security guard, Jack Rodman, false identification as a research assistant, he obtained a 40-minute parking permit, saying he was delivering equipment.[46] Whitman wheeled a rented dolly carrying his equipment toward the Main Building of the University.

Entering the Main Building, Whitman tried to activate the elevator. Vera Palmer, an employee, said it had not been powered and turned it on for him. Whitman thanked her, saying: "You don't know how happy that makes me [...] how happy that makes me."[43] He then ascended to the 27th floor of the tower (the highest floor the elevator reached); just one floor beneath the clock face.[48]

Main building of the University of Texas at Austin from where Whitman fired upon those below from the observation deck.

Whitman lugged the dolly and equipment up the final flight of stairs to the hallway that led to a dog-legged stairway ascending to the rooms within the observation deck area.[49] In the reception area, Whitman encountered 51-year-old receptionist Edna Townsley. Whitman knocked her to the floor and hit her in the head with his rifle butt, splitting the back of her skull. He then struck Townsley above the left eye, causing a second fracture, before dragging her body behind a couch.[50]

Moments later, an Austin couple named Cheryl Botts and Don Walden returned to the reception area; having been observing the view upon the observation deck. The couple encountered Whitman leaning across the couch,[51] holding a rifle in each hand. Botts observed a dark stain on the floor beside the reception desk, and later said she believed it to be varnish. Walden himself thought Whitman was there to shoot pigeons. Whitman and the couple exchanged brief pleasantries before the couple left.[52] Whitman then barricaded the stairway.

As he prepared to enter the observation deck, he saw two families: M. J. Gabour, his wife Mary and their teenage sons Mike and Mark and the boys' aunt and uncle, Marguerite and William Lamport, ascending the stairs toward his makeshift barricade. Mary Gabour later recollected that she and her sons had thought the barricade was in place for cleaning the reception area and that Whitman—still donned in khaki overalls—was the janitor. As 16-year-old Mark Gabour and his 18-year-old brother Mike tried to look beyond the barricade and open the door, Whitman fired his shotgun at them, instantly killing Mark with shots to the head and neck. He shot Mike in the head, shoulder and left leg, knocking him unconscious. Both brothers fell down the staircase in front of their family. Whitman fired the sawed-off shotgun three more times through grates, hitting and wounding Mary Gabour in the head and killing 56-year-old Marguerite Lamport with a shot to the chest.[53]

Whitman closed and barricaded the door to the reception area. He then shot Edna Townsley in the left side of her head before walking onto the observation deck.[54] The Tower has a vantage point 231 feet (70 m) above ground level.[55]

Shooting from the tower[edit]

The first shots fired by Whitman from the tower's outer deck came at approximately 11:48 a.m. He first hit Claire Wilson, an 18-year-old anthropology student who was eight months pregnant. Whitman shot Wilson in the abdomen, killing her unborn child. The shot dropped Wilson to the concrete on the mall as her fiancé, 18-year-old Thomas Eckman, asked her, "What's wrong?"[56] Whitman shot and killed Eckman as he tried to help Wilson. He next shot Robert Boyer, a 33-year-old mathematician, who was killed instantly by a single shot to the lower back.[57] After shooting Boyer, Whitman shot a 31-year old student named Devereau Huffman in the right arm; Huffman fell wounded beside a hedge.[58] When Charlotte Darehshori, a young secretary, ran to help Boyer and Huffman, she came under fire. She crouched beneath the concrete base of a flagpole for an hour and a half, shielding herself from Whitman's view.[59] Nearby, Whitman shot David Gunby, a 23-year-old electrical engineering student walking in the courtyard.[60] Whitman fatally shot Thomas Ashton, a 22-year-old, in the chest.[61] Next he shot Adrian and Brenda Littlefield as they walked onto the South Mall. Two young women, Nancy Harvey and Ellen Evganides, were wounded as they walked down the West Mall. Whitman shot Harvey, who was five months pregnant, in the hip, and Evganides in the leg and thigh.[62] Both Harvey and her unborn child survived.

Karen Griffith, aged 17.
Charlotte Darehshori takes refuge behind the concrete base of a flagpole as a wounded student lies beside a hedge.

Whitman began to fire upon people walking on Guadalupe Street; he shot and wounded 17-year-old newspaper delivery boy Alex Hernandez, before fatally wounding 17-year-old Karen Griffith[63] with a shot to the shoulder and lung. The next victim was a 24-year-old senior named Thomas Karr, whom Whitman fatally shot in the back as he walked to his residence after completing an exam. On the third block, Whitman shot and wounded 35-year-old basketball coach Billy Snowden from a distance of over 1,500 feet (460 m). Nearby, he shot 21-year-old Sandra Wilson in the chest.

On the corner of 24th and Guadalupe, Whitman shot and wounded two students, Abdul Khashab and his fiancee Janet Paulos, outside a dress shop. Khashab, a 26-year-old chemistry student from Iraq, was shot in the elbow and Paulos in the chest.[64] The next to be shot was a 21-year-old named Lana Phillips, whom Whitman wounded in the shoulder.[65] Phillips' sister ran from cover to drag Lana to safety.

Three Peace Corps trainees, Tom Herman, Roland Ehlke and David Mattson, were Whitman's next targets. The trio were shot at as they walked toward a luncheon for volunteers. Mattson had part of his wrist blown off.[52] Ehlke subsequently recalled that he heard Mattson scream as the bullet hit him in the wrist; the youth saw shrapnel from the shot had embedded into his own left arm. Ehlke was shot in the left biceps before he dove for cover. Ehlke emerged from cover to drag his friend to safety and was shot again in the leg.[66] A 64-year-old local shopkeeper named Homer Kelly helped drag the wounded duo—plus Herman—into his shop, before he was shot and wounded in the leg.

To the rear of the intersection of 24th and Guadalupe Street, Whitman targeted two 21-year-olds, Oscar Royuela and Irma Garcia, as the pair walked toward the university's biology laboratory. Shot first, Garcia later said the bullet spun her "completely around" and she fell to the ground. Royuela tried to help Garcia when he was shot through the shoulder blade; the bullet exited through his left arm.[67] Students Jack Stephens and Jack Pennington ran from cover and dragged the pair to safety. Whitman targeted a 26-year-old carpenter named Avelino Esparza and seriously wounded him in the left shoulder.

Directly in front of the entrance to the West Mall on Guadalupe Street, two 18-year-old students named Paul Sonntag and Claudia Rutt had taken refuge behind a construction barricade alongside teenager Carla Sue Wheeler. Whitman started shooting in that direction and hit Sonntag in the mouth, killing him instantly. Sonntag's body fell against a parking meter and knocked the barricade slightly open.[68] Rutt tried to reach Sonntag while Wheeler restrained her; Whitman shot a bullet that severed three fingers of Wheeler's left hand, and hit Rutt in the chest. Rutt died later in hospital;[63] Wheeler survived.

A block north of where Sonntag and Rutt were killed, Whitman shot and killed Harry Walchuk, a 38-year-old doctoral student and father of six. He next shot the 36-year-old press reporter Robert Heard in the arm as Heard ran toward two highway patrolmen coming on the scene. Slightly north, 18-year-old freshman John Allen was wounded in the forearm as he and acquaintances looked toward the tower from the University of Texas Union.

Fatalities and Wounded
Familicide murders
  • Margaret Whitman, 43. Mother of Charles Whitman. Killed by bludgeoning and stab wounds.
  • Kathy Whitman, 23. Wife of Charles Whitman. Killed by stab wounds to the chest.
Killed inside Tower
  • Edna Townsley, 51. Bludgeoned and shot by Whitman in the Tower reception.
  • Marguerite Lamport, 56. Killed by a shotgun wound to the chest.
  • Mark Gabour, 16. Killed by a shotgun wound to the head.
Shot from observation deck
  • Claire Wilson, 18. Lost the baby she was carrying after being shot through the abdomen.
  • Thomas Eckman, 18. Shoulder wound. Kneeling over Claire Wilson when he was shot
  • Dr. Robert Boyer, 33. A physics professor killed by a single shot to the lower back.
  • Thomas Ashton, 22. A Peace Corps trainee killed by a gunshot to the upper left chest
  • Karen Griffith, 17. Gunshot wound through the lung.[69] Died August 8.
  • Thomas Karr, 24. University senior. Killed by a single shot through the spine.
  • Billy Speed, 23. Police officer. Killed by a shot to his shoulder which traveled into his chest.
  • Harry Walchuk, 38. Doctoral student. Killed by a single shot to the chest.
  • Paul Sonntag, 18. Shot through the mouth while hiding behind construction barriers.
  • Claudia Rutt, 18. Fiancé of Sonntag. Killed by a gunshot to the chest.
  • Roy Schmidt, 29. An electrician killed by a single shot to the stomach.
Died later of injuries
  • David Gunby, 58. Gunshot wound of lower back.[70] Died in 2001. Death ruled a homicide.[52]

Having seen several students shot in the South Mall, a history professor was the first to telephone the Austin Police Department at 11:52 a.m.;[72] four minutes after Whitman had first fired from the tower. Austin patrolman Billy Speed was one of the first police officers to arrive at the University; he and a colleague took refuge behind a columned stone wall, through which Whitman shot through the six-inch spacing between the columns of the wall and killed Speed. At a distance of approximately 1,500 feet (460 m), Whitman shot and killed 29-year-old electrical repairman Roy Schmidt as he tried to hide behind a parked car.

Students and university staff worked to assist and move the wounded to safety, risking their lives. One student later recalled, "That was the moment that separated the brave people from the scared people ... I realized I was a coward." Medical personnel used an armored car and provisioned ambulances from local funeral homes to reach the wounded.[52] A 30-year-old ambulance technician named Morris Hohmann was shot in the leg on West 23rd Street as he tried to evacuate the numerous wounded. The wound severed a major artery. A fellow ambulance technician gave him first aid before he was taken to Brackenridge Hospital, the only one with a local emergency room. The Brackenridge Hospital administrator declared a state of emergency. Medical staff raced there to reinforce the on-duty shifts. Numerous volunteers donated blood at both Brackenridge Hospital and the Travis County Blood Bank.

The shootings and news of the sniper caused panic in and around the University. All active police officers in Austin were ordered to the campus. Off-duty officers, Travis County Sheriff's deputies, and Texas Department of Public Safety troopers also converged on the area.

Approximately 20 minutes after first shooting from the observation deck, Whitman began to encounter return fire from both the police and other armed citizens. One Texas Ranger used a student as spotter to help locate the sniper. At this point, Whitman chose to fire through waterspouts located on each side of the tower walls. This action largely protected him from gunfire below, but limited his range of targets.[52] Police sharpshooter Marion Lee reported from a small airplane that he had observed a single sniper firing from the observation deck. Lee tried to shoot Whitman from the plane, but the turbulence proved too great. Whitman shot at the plane, and it moved off to circle from a greater distance.

Entering the tower[edit]

Three officers who responded to reports of the sniper were Ramiro Martinez, Houston McCoy and Jerry Day.[72] Prior to advancing upon the tower, McCoy had seen his colleague Billy Speed killed.[72] Both Martinez and Day had driven to the University of Texas after listening to radio reports.[73]

Accompanied by 40-year-old civilian Allen Crum—whom the trio encountered as they ran toward the tower—they were the first to reach the tower's observation deck. After reaching the 26th floor by elevator, they encountered M. J. Gabour. Gabour—clutching his wife's shoes[7]— screamed that his family had been shot and tried to wrestle the rifle from Day to shoot Whitman himself. Day consoled Gabour and led him to safety before joining McCoy, Crum and Martinez as they walked up to the 27th floor.[7]

Beneath the stairwell leading to the reception area, Officer Martinez saw the body of a teenage boy, Mark Gabour. Next to him lay a middle-aged woman, Marguerite Lamport.[74] Nearby, Mike Gabour lay slumped against the wall, with his mother lying face down in a pool of blood. The officers turned Mary Gabour onto her side to prevent her from drowning in her own blood. Mike Gabour gestured to the observation deck and said, "He's out there."[74]

End of the massacre[edit]

Stepping outside the south door at approximately 1:24 p.m., Martinez, closely followed by McCoy, proceeded north on the east deck, while Day, followed by Crum, proceeded west on the south deck, with the intention of encircling Whitman. Several feet before he reached the southwest corner, Crum accidentally discharged the borrowed rifle.[73] Whitman was apparently initially unaware of Martinez and McCoy on the observation deck. He was partially shielded by the deck tower lights and in a position to defend against assaults from either corner, but his attention was drawn to where Crum had accidentally discharged his rifle.[73]

As Whitman sat crouched with his back positioned on the north wall, and looking in the north-west corner area of the observation deck where Crum's shot was heard, Martinez jumped around the corner into the north-east area and rapidly fired all six rounds from his .38 police revolver from a distance of approximately 50 feet (15 m) at Whitman - all of which missed. As Martinez fired, McCoy jumped to the right of Martinez and fired two fatal shots of 00-buckshot with his 12-gauge shotgun, hitting Whitman in the head, neck and left side.

The body of Charles Whitman lies upon the observation deck.

Martinez threw down his now-empty revolver and grabbed McCoy's shotgun, running to Whitman's supine body and firing point blank into his upper left arm. Martinez threw the shotgun onto the deck and hurriedly left the scene, repeatedly shouting the words, "I got him."[2] After tending to the wounded in the stairwell, Austin Police Department (A.P.D.) Officers Milton Shoquist, Harold Moe and George Shepard ascended the stairs to join A.P.D. Officer Phillip Conner and Texas Department of Public Safety Agent W.A. Cowan, arriving on the 28th floor. Moe heard Martinez as he ran past shouting, "I got him," and relayed his words to the APD radio dispatcher's hand-held radio.[2]

Ramiro Martinez was initially—and incorrectly—credited by the media as being the officer who killed Whitman.[75]

On August 5, 1966, Houston McCoy appeared before the Travis County Grand Jury to give testimony[76] in relation to the death of Charles Whitman;[77] McCoy was the only officer called to testify. At the hearing, Whitman's death was ruled as a justifiable homicide.[78][79]

Martinez later credited the numerous civilian shooters for saving "many lives" by forcing Whitman to take cover; limiting his range of targets.[80]


On August 2, an autopsy was conducted upon the body of Charles Whitman by Dr. Chenar (a Neuropathologist at Austin State Hospital) at the Cook Funeral Home in Austin, Texas. The autopsy, which had been requested by Whitman himself in his suicide notes, was approved by his father. Dr. Chenar discovered a tumor which he labeled as an astrocytoma, which he noted as being approximately the size of a pecan. Further in his report, he describes the tumor as having a small amount of necrosis, and concluded that the tumor had no effect upon Whitman's actions the previous day. (However this result was later revised; see Connally Commission below)

Although Whitman had been prescribed drugs, and was in possession of Dexedrine (which a friend stated he consumed "like popcorn")[52] at the time of his death, no toxicology test was performed because Whitman had been embalmed prior to the autopsy being conducted; therefore, no urine was available to test for traces of any amphetamines having been consumed, however, Dexedrine tablets were found in a vial on his person, after his death.[81]

In late 2014, about 100 brains, including one believed to be that of Whitman, were reported missing from a collection at The University of Texas at Austin. The Austin State Hospital transferred the brains to the university in 1986. As the university's psychology lab only had room for about 100 brains, an additional 100, including Whitman's, were moved to the basement of the university's animal research center. On December 2, 2014, researchers found that the brains were no longer in the basement.[82] The brains were discovered the next day at another university, the University of Texas in San Antonio.[83]

Connally Commission[edit]

Findings of Connally Commission[edit]

In the days following the shootings, Texas Governor John Connally commissioned a task force of professionals to examine the physical autopsy findings and material related to Whitman's actions and motives. The commission was composed of neurosurgeons, psychiatrists, pathologists, psychologists and the University of Texas Health Center Directors, Dr. John White and Dr. Maurice Heatly. They examined Dr. Chenar's paraffin blocks of the tumor, stained specimens of it and Whitman's other brain tissue, in addition to the remainder of the autopsy specimens available.

Following a three-hour hearing on August 5,[84] the Commission said that the findings of Dr. Chenar's initial autopsy conducted on August 2 had been in error; that a tumor was found that conceivably could have had an influence on Whitman's actions. Specifically, the Commission's autopsy material, including a paraffin block containing two pieces of brain tumor, were reviewed by Drs. William O. Russell (Head Pathology at MD Anderson Hospital, and Head of the Pathology Work Group of a government study panel), Kenneth M. Earle (Chief Neuropathology Branch, Armed Forces Institute of Pathology), Joseph A. Jachimczyk (Clinical Professor of Forensic Pathology at Univ Texas), and Paul I. Yakovlev (Clinical Professor of Neuropathology and Curator, Warren Museum, Emeritus, Harvard Medical School and Consultant in Neuropathology at Mass General Hospital).[85] The report, dated September 8, 1966, found that a tumor reported removed from the right temporal-occipital white matter by Dr. Chenar exhibited features of a glioblastoma multiforme, with widespread areas of necrosis and palisading of cells, although this would not be sufficient information to accurately subtype the tumor by modern criteria. The report also reported a "remarkable vascular component" in the microscopic examination of the tumor, which may have related to the glioblastoma itself, but they interpreted as having "the nature of a small congenital vascular malformation." The psychiatric reviewers contributing to the Connally report concluded that "the relationship between the brain tumor and ... Whitman's actions ... cannot be established with clarity. However, the ... tumor conceivably could have contributed to his inability to control his emotions and actions", while the neurologists/neuropathologists concluded that "the application of existing knowledge of organic brain function does not enable us to explain the actions of Whitman on August first."

Forensic investigators have theorized that the tumor may have been pressed against the nearby amygdala region of his brain. The brain contains two amygdalae, one on each side, and the amygdalae are known to affect fight-or-flight responses. Some neurologists have since speculated that his medical condition was in some way responsible for the attacks, in addition to his personal and social frames of reference.[86]

Commission recommendations for victim aid[edit]

The Connally Commission recommended that the university and state aid the wounded and those affected by the events. Aid to survivors and the wounded were to include loans, with University of Texas and State of Texas agencies to temporarily assist those with medical and mental issues, and support rehabilitation. Neither the university nor state acted on these recommendations.[87]

Investigation related to visits to medical personnel[edit]

Prescription vials at Whitman's home.

Investigating officers found that Whitman had visited several University doctors in the year prior to the shootings, who had prescribed him various medications. Whitman had seen a minimum of five doctors between the fall and winter of 1965, before he had visited a psychiatrist (he received no prescription from the latter). He was prescribed Valium by Dr. Jan Cochrum, who recommended he visit the campus psychiatrist.[32]

Whitman met with Maurice Dean Heatly, the staff psychiatrist at the University of Texas Health Center, on March 29, 1966.[88] Whitman referred to his visit with Heatly in his final suicide note. He said, "I talked with a Doctor once for about two hours and tried to convey to him my fears that I felt come [sic] overwhelming violent impulses. After one visit, I never saw the Doctor again, and since then have been fighting my mental turmoil alone, and seemingly to no avail."[38]

During Whitman's command of the tower, the university learned that the shooter might have been a student. Once his identity was released, officials conducted a search of Whitman's records and found that Whitman had visited the University Health Center on several occasions. The University did not release the medical records and academic history of Whitman at the University of Texas, citing legal and ethical issues.[89] The only medical record released was that of Dr. Heatly, who did so once it became known to the press that Whitman had visited him prior to the shootings.

Dr. Heatly's notes on the visit reflected Whitman's own comments about feeling hostility:

This massive, muscular youth seemed to be oozing with hostility [...] that something seemed to be happening to him and that he didn't seem to be himself.

Dr. Heatly also referred to a statement by Whitman:

He readily admits having overwhelming periods of hostility with a very minimum of provocation. Repeated inquiries attempting to analyze his exact experiences were not too successful with the exception of his vivid reference to 'thinking about going up on the tower with a deer rifle and start shooting people'.[90]

After attending just one session with Dr. Heatly, Whitman never visited him again.

The south door to the observation deck, where Whitman began his siege.


At the time of the shootings, the Austin Police Department had no specialized tactical unit to deploy in response to reports of a sniper. Officers were equipped with revolvers and shotguns, which were ineffective against a sniper; some went home to get their own rifles. In addition, officers had few radios, and the city's phone system was overwhelmed. The shootings subsequently helped cause other departments across America to form SWAT teams. The Los Angeles Police Department's SWAT team, formed just after the Whitman incident, in turn inspired many other departments to form similar groups after its usage against the Black Panthers in 1969 and the Symbionese Liberation Army in 1974.[91][80][52] Whitman's procurement of firearms over the counter would lead to the passage of the Gun Control Act of 1968 which codifies Title I of the act into law.


A joint funeral service for Charles Whitman and his mother, Margaret, was held at their family's home parish of Sacred Heart in Lake Worth on August 5, 1966. The Catholic service was officiated by Fr. Tom Anglin. As a veteran, Whitman was entitled to burial with full military honors; his casket was draped with the American flag. He was buried in Florida's Hillcrest Memorial Park next to his mother.[92][93] His brother John M., who was murdered outside a Lake Worth nightclub in 1973, was later buried next to his mother and brother.[94][95][96]

Observation deck operations[edit]

Following the shootings, the Tower observation deck was closed to visitors. In 1967, the University of Texas spent $5,000 to repair the bullet holes left from the shooting. The tower reopened in 1968. Following the suicides of four people from the Tower's reopening until 1974, the Tower was closed to the public for a second time in 1975.[97] It re-opened September 15, 1999, but only by controlled access. Visitors are allowed only with guided tours scheduled by prior appointment, and after being screened by metal detectors. Other security measures, including stainless steel lattice, were installed.[98][99]

University of Texas Memorial Garden[edit]

In January 2003, the University of Texas at Austin committed $200,000 and sought another $800,000 to redesign the "Memorial Garden" dedicated to recognize the deaths of August 1, 1966. The Memorial Garden was dedicated in 2006, 40 years after the event, at an unknown cost and for minimal materials.[100] A bronze plaque, dedicated to all who were affected, was placed near the pond.[101]

Dedication of "Tower Heroes" plaque[edit]

In 2008, on the 42nd anniversary of the attacks, the following names were added to a plaque on an Austin police precinct building, dedicated to officers and other persons who helped stop Whitman on August 1, 1966. With the exception of Billy Speed, the only officer killed by the sniper, and Marion Lee, a sharpshooter trying to operate from a plane, the names on the plaque are of those who acted within the tower; it is recognized that the list is incomplete.[2]


See also[edit]


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  • Mayo, Mike (2008). American Murder: Criminals, Crimes and the Media. Visible Ink Press. ISBN 1-578-592569
  • Morris, Jr. Ray,. (2009). The Time of My Life: Remembrances of the 20th Century. Dog Ear Publishing. ISBN 1-608-44142-3
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  • Tobias, Ronald. (1981). They Shoot to Kill: A Psycho-History of Criminal Sniping. Boulder, Colorado: Paladin Press. ISBN 0-87364-207-4

External links[edit]