Charles Whitman – 1966

By | November 12, 2016

“After my death I wish an autopsy on me to be performed to see if there is any mental disorder”


The bullet-hole through which Whitman carried out his shooting spree


Charles Joseph Whitman was born on 24 June 1941 in Lake Worth, Florida. Along with his two brothers, he served as altar boy at his local Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church. He joined the US Marines Corps when he was 18, on 6 July 1959. On 15 September 1961 he enrolled on a mechanical engineering course at the University of Texas, thanks to a scholarship from the Marines. In December 1964 Whitman was honourably discharged from the Marines and returned to the University of Texas. In March 1966 he began acting oddly after his parents split up and his mother moved to Austin, Texas. On 29 March Whitman went to the campus counsellor to seek help for his unexplained violent losses of temper. He recommended Whitman see psychiatrist Maurice Dean Heatly. Whitman told him that he fantasized about shooting people from the top of a tall tower. Mr Heatly reported that Whitman had aggression issues but the student cancelled his next appointment because he wanted “to fight it out alone”.

On 31 July he wrote a note, which said, am prepared to die. After my death I wish an autopsy on me to be performed to see if there is any mental disorder.” He spent the next few hours with friends before going to his mother house just after midnight and stabbing her to death. He left a note saying: 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.” Then he went home, 906 Jewell Street, and stabbed his wife, Kathleen Frances Leissner, three times in the heart as she slept. Later that day, he collected an arsenal of guns and went to the observation deck of the university. He hit the receptionist Edna Townsley in the face with a rifle butt. Just after he had pulled her body out of sight, a young couple, Cheryl Botts and Don Walden, entered.

They saw a pool of blood on the floor but said nothing, smiled at Whitman, who returned the greeting, and left. Mike Gabour, 19, was not so lucky. Whitman shot him and his aunt and mother who were behind him. At 11.48am he climbed the tower and began shooting. Claire Wilson who was pregnant was shot in the stomach — she survived but the baby died. Thomas Eckman, 18, knelt beside his girlfriend to give first aid and was shot dead. Within 20 minutes, nine people were dead and eight wounded. The police tried using a light plane with a sniper aboard to take out Whitman but his marine training allowed him to drive the aircraft away. After 96 minutes three policemen burst into the tower and shot Whitman dead. He had killed 21 people and wounded 28 more.


University of Texas, 1 University Station, Austin, Texas, USA


11.48am Monday 1 August 1966


An autopsy, performed on Whitman, showed that he had a tumour the size of a walnut pressing on his brain which doctors believed may have caused the aggression.


The observation deck was closed for two years after the rampage. It reopened in 1968 but closed again in 1974 after a number of suicides. It reopened on 15 September 1999 but access is now strictly limited.

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