Nebraska, Wyoming, and the Charley Starkweather Murders Part 2

About the murderer Charley Starkweather and his journey through Nebraska and Wyoming, history of the hunt for the serial killer.


C. Lauer Ward was the 48-year-old president of the Capital Steel Works, one of Lincoln's richest and most influential citizens. Nestling snugly near the heart of Lincoln's most exclusive and expensive residential area--the southeast side--was Ward's handsome, French Provincial house. He lived there with a housekeeper named Lillian and his wife, Clara, both of whom were marched to the 2nd floor, bound, gagged, and then stabbed to death, while C. Lauer was downtown in conference with Victor Anderson, the governor of Nebraska. And Charley was still there to greet Ward when he arrived home that evening, instead of the housekeeper. C. Lauer Ward didn't even have the chance to take his coat off.

Ward's black '56 Packard rode smooth. While Lincoln and the rest of the State drew closer to mass hysteria, Charley made good time drawing closer to Douglas, Wyo., some 500 mi. away. Was he getting tired of the Packard? Or did he merely realize how hot the car was? Twelve mi. out of Douglas, Charles Starkweather pulled over to the side of the road behind Merle Collison's new Buick, got out, walked over to the driver's side of the car while Caril crept into the back seat, and shot the sleeping shoe salesman 9 times in the head. The final victim.

The Hunt: It was a search for a "mad-dog killer." From the time the murders at the Bartlett house were discovered until Charles Starkweather's capture on January 30--3 days in all--Nebraska police and National Guardsmen manned hundreds of roadblocks, organized posses to cover Nebraska's back roads, and helped plan strategy with citizens' groups. The police had been given orders to shoot to kill. The governor had called on the National Guard to protect the National Bank of Commerce, on the off chance that there was some validity to the rumor that Starkweather was determined to rob it. Citizens' groups in Lincoln organized "check in" programs to help ensure safety. Parents removed their children from the schools. Doors were triple-locked. Houses blazed with lights all through the night.

Charley Starkweather was captured, finally, not by the thousands of law enforcement personnel all bent on his arrest, but by an oil company worker named Joe Sprinkle, who stumbled upon the Collison murder while intending only to help change a tire or give a lift. Instead, there was the bloody, crumpled body in the front seat. Instead, there was a kid with a rifle pointing toward him. Figuring that he "might just as well die fighting," Sprinkle rushed forward and wrestled for the gun. And as they scuffled, a deputy sheriff arrived--another accident. Caril Fugate, sobbing and screaming, "It's Starkweather! He's going to kill me . . ." made a beeline for the deputy, and Starkweather, the confusion his cover, made a bid for escape, jumping behind the wheel of the Packard and speeding off. Even at speeds of up to 110 mph, it was still a losing race. Starkweather succeeded in crashing a roadblock, continued on for some miles, only to be forced, finally, to halt when bullets shattered his windshield.

"I shot all those people in self defense," he told the deputy who had fired at his boots when Charles had declined to raise his hands, "People kept coming at me and I had to shoot. What else would you do . . . ?"

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