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A Sniper in the Tower

The Charles Whitman Murders

Gary M. Lavergne

Publication Year: 1997

On August 1, 1966, Charles Joseph Whitman ascended the University of Texas Tower and committed what was then the largest simultaneous mass murder in American history. He gunned down forty-five people inside and around the Tower before he was killed by two Austin police officers. During the previous evening he had killed his wife and mother, bringing the total to sixteen people dead and at least thirty-one wounded. The murders spawned debates over issues which still plague America today: domestic violence, child abuse, drug abuse, military indoctrination, the insanity defense, and the delicate balance between civil liberties and public safety. "An outstanding job of chronicling one of the most significant cases in the annals of American crime. . . . Lavergne skillfully researched, documented, and analyzed a case that in many ways defined the concept of ‘mass murder’ . . . will likely become a classic in anyone’s library of true crime editions."--James Alan Fox, Dean of Criminal Justice, Northeastern University, Boston, Massachusetts, and an authority on mass murder

Published by: University of North Texas Press

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p. -

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Prologue: Weathered Metal Plaques

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pp. vii-xiii

U.S. Highway 59 in Texas spans both rural and urban areas. Through Houston the traffic can be murderous, but just south of the metro area, near Rosenberg, drivers breathe a sigh of relief....

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1: Two Very Different Upbringings

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pp. 1-15

During the post-World War II era, middle class workers populated the community of Lake Worth, Florida, a seaside community along the Atlantic Coast. Hardworking entrepreneurs...

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2: The Soldier and the Teacher

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pp. 16-35

After basic training, Charlie was stationed at what was then one of the most troubled spots in the world-Guantanamo Naval Base, Cuba-beginning on 9 December 1959. At least one of his marine buddies believed that, above and beyond being in the marines...

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3: Austin Is Different

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pp. 36-49

Metropolitan Austin has always had a large representation of families who are relatively new to the area, with roots spread throughout the United States. "Native Texans" call them "naturalized Texans." Many people relocate believing in the...

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4: The Nice Facade

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pp. 50-63

Charlie's involvement with Boy Scout Troop 5 of the Methodist Church and his reported membership in the Lion's Club suggest some openness to camaraderie, but he struggled to establish relationships. Members of study groups in the College of Engineering...

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5: Oozing with Hostility

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pp. 64-76

Some of the finest behavioral scientists in the world would one day conclude that Charlie Whitman was "intelligent, intense, and driven," qualities that should result in success and satisfaction. But Charlie found frustration instead...

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6: After Much Thought

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pp. 77-97

During the summer of 1966 mass murder frequented the news. Truman Capote's In Cold Blood ushered in a "new journalism," where real events were reported with fictional techniques. Capote engaged in a prolonged investigation...

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7: The Neat Little House and the Swank Apartment

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pp. 98-123

On the front lawn of 906 Jewell Street, a single sapling struggled to reach the heights of the older trees in the neighboring yards. The front yard faced south, and from the street a narrow concrete sidewalk connected...

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8: The Glass-Paneled Door

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pp. 124-138

On I August 1966 beneath a cloudless sky, Charles Whitman drove from the neat little house on Jewell Street to the University of Texas at Austin. Weather forecasters predicted warm, humid nights and hot sunny days. Experienced...

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9: Strange Noises

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pp. 139-153

Once outside on the observation deck Charles Whitman began to spread out his arsenal. He placed the footlocker on the west side, approximately halfway between the northwest and southwest corners...

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10: Houston

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pp. 154-166

"I am just a West Texas Cowboy" Indeed! Houston McCoy embodied the Texas stereotype: a slow West Texas drawl, an ellipticallyshaped face, piercing frontier eyes that look...

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11: Ramiro

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pp. 167-180

Early on the morning of 1 August 1966, a handsome young Hispanic police officer named Ramiro Martinez began his day by bringing his two-year old twin daughters, Janette and Janice, to day care. Mrs. Vernell Martinez, a...

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12: The General

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pp. 181-196

The heat-they remembered the heat. Virtually all of the wounded knew that the best way to avoid another shot from Charles Whitman was to lie still and play dead, but for many the heat became unbearable. Onlookers pitied the wounded....

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13: Independent Actions

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pp. 197-208

In a short time, nearly all of Austin's police force had reported for duty. Some of the officers went directly to the campus. Others, including Officers George Shepard, Phillip Conner, Harold Moe, and Milton Shoquist...

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14: The White Headband

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pp. 209-222

After Ramiro Martinez knocked down the dolly Whitman had wedged outside the door, the men on the twenty-eighth floor stared at the windows and listened carefully. They could hear...

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15: To Whom It May Concern

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pp. 223-237

Charles Whitman began shooting from the deck at 11:48 A.M. Ninety-six minutes transpired before his shooting spree ended, enough time for major news organizations to cover some of the tragedy live...

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16: APD

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pp. 238-253

Somehow, it seemed pathetically appropriate. Flags on the University of Texas campus had already been lowered in tribute to fifty-six-year-old retired Army Reserve Lieutenant Colonel Richard Bryant...

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17: Why Did He Do It?

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pp. 254-271

Once he returned to Austin, Governor John Connally assembled a blue-ribbon commission to look.into every medical aspect of the Tower incident. The commission members were giants in their...

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18: Who Killed Charles Whitman

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pp. 272-286

In 1985 two sociologists from Northeastern University, Jack. Levin and James Alan Fox, completed a "comprehensive exploration of the characteristics of and the circumstances which precipitate mass murder,"...

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Epilogue: The Writer from Austin

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pp. 287-298

Thirty years after the Tower incident, people on the Austin Police Force still think. of Charles Whitman, and they still get angry: At .APD headquarters, a typical government building, visitors walk...

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Notes on Sources

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pp. 299-304

In his landmark work. on the Kennedy Assassination entitled Case Closed, Gerald Posner effectively demonstrated how the passage of time and repeated exposure to large amounts of coverage of an infamous incident tend to blur the recollections...

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pp. 306-310

First and foremost I wish to thank my wife Laura. Writing is an avocation for me; my real job requires extensive travel. Taking on a project like this took me away from her on holidays, vacations, and weekends, Even while we were...


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pp. 311- 324

E-ISBN-13: 9781574413380
Print-ISBN-13: 9781574410297

Page Count: 344
Illustrations: 54 b&w illus.
Publication Year: 1997

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Mass murderers -- Texas -- Austin -- Biography.
  • Mass murder -- Texas -- Austin.
  • Whitman, Charles Joseph, 1941-1966.
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