In 1958, nineteen-year-old Charles Starkweather gained notoriety as one of the nation's first spree killers. He murdered eleven people in Nebraska and Wyoming. After a week on the run, he was arrested, later convicted, and sentenced to die in the electric chair.
Starkweather's girlfriend, Caril Fugate, fourteen, was with him throughout the murder spree. Was she his hostage or a willing participant in the murders that included her parents and three-year-old sister? This question still stirs debate more than fifty years later. Fugate claims she was too terrified to attempt escape-Starkweather had told her he would make a phone call and have her family killed if she disobeyed him. Unbeknownst to her, he had already murdered her family.
A jury found her guilty of being an accessory to first degree murder. She was sentenced to life in prison; however, in 1976 she was paroled. Now, in The Twelfth Victim, attorneys Linda M. Battisti and John S. Berry, Sr. pull together years of research to tell how Fugate was a victim of both Charles Starkweather and the Nebraska justice system. Their book tells how the teenager was grilled by prosecuting attorneys for hours before ever being told she had a right to an attorney.
The book details how Starkweather, who gave nine versions of how the murders occurred and had already been sentenced to death, became the chief witness against Caril at her trial. The authors also expose how Starkweather was coached for days by prosecutors on how to testify at Fugate's trial-including not telling the jury that he had planned to kill Caril on three separate occasions. It is a shocking story that has never been told.
The True Story of How a Fourteen-Year-Old Nebraska Girl Was Denied Justice in a Murder Case that Stunned the Nation
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About the Author
Linda M. Battisti is a trial lawyer in the office of the United States Trustee Program of the Department of Justice in Ohio. She lives in Cleveland, Ohio. John Stevens Berry is a trial lawyer who also conducts seminars and has been invited to the Judge Advocate General's Legal Center and School to lecture. He lives in Lincoln, Nebraska.
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The Twelfth Victim
The Innocence of Caril Fugate in the Starkweather Murder Rampage
By Linda M. Battisti, John Stevens Berry
Addicus Books, Inc.Copyright © 2014 Linda Battisti and John Stevens Berry, Sr.
All rights reserved.
Oh, I took my girl a-skating
I sat her on my knee
She lit a fart
Broke my heart
And shit all over me
Ohhhh, it ain't gonna rain no more, no more
— William Fugate
"If I've told you once, I've told you a thousand times not to sing those songs to the girls!" Velda Fugate stopped what she was doing and marched herself down the hall to where the entertainment was taking place.
Her little girls, Barbara, seven, and Caril Ann, four, were rolling on the floor laughing. The sound of their ringing laughter made their mother relent. Laughter was a treat Velda could allow her children — it didn't cost anything.
Velda returned to her task of packing; her bedroom floor was strewn with boxes, clothing, and what little odds and ends her family owned. They were being evicted from the small one-bedroom house they rented in a poor section of Lincoln, Nebraska. Velda wanted to have everything ready before the sheriff came this time.
She carefully took down from the wall her cherished porcelain-faced Chinese doll and wrapped it in newspaper. That doll always hung on a wall well out of reach of her two curious little girls who had no dolls of their own. That's because the Fugates were not only poor, but poorer than they needed to be. The head of the house drank his paycheck away and neglected such things as food, rent, and a forty-hour workweek. Velda found out about her husband's penchant for spirits after she married him. Being a devout Nazarene, she never drank, swore, or took the Lord's name in vain. She did take seriously the words, "No man shall put asunder" and tried to make the best out of a bad situation. Velda was just one of those born optimists who, when given lemons, made lemonade.
Velda was also a realist who refused to fill her children's heads with that Santa Claus and Easter Bunny nonsense. She realized early on in her marriage that William Fugate would never be able to provide his family with basic necessities, let alone toys and chocolate Easter eggs. Velda didn't want her children to grow up expecting such things only to be disappointed later on when the treats didn't arrive. Faith in the Lord would do her children more good than any foolish beliefs in a tooth fairy.
Velda realized there was something very odd about William Fugate; he never mentioned a mother or father, or where he came from. No other Fugates lived in Lincoln. It would have been helpful to have known something about Fugate's background — it might explain his "Jekyll and Hyde" personality. When he was sober, Fugate was a fellow who could pull a penny out of your ear and entertain you all night with his guitar. When he was drunk, he was venom on two shoes. Velda was relieved when he didn't find his way home at times. When the girls asked their mother where Daddy was, Velda knew he was in either one of two places — a seedy bar or jail — but she never said so.
In contrast to their father's absence, Barbara and Caril only had to look up, and there Velda would be. Her pretty face was the first thing they saw in the morning because Velda would wake them up; her voice was the last thing they would hear at night because Velda sat by their bedside and told them stories until they drifted off. When Barbara came home from school, it was Velda who opened the door for her; and when Caril took her afternoon nap, it was Velda who held her in her arms and slept, too.
There was only one time when the little girls couldn't reach out and physically touch their mother — when Velda hid them in the closet. She did this as soon as Fugate came home. If she opened the door and found him sober, she called her children out at once. If she found him drunk, they had to stay in the closet until he went to sleep it off. Barbara and Caril would sit huddled on the closet floor, holding onto each other and crying while they listened to their father call their mother names you wouldn't call a dog. As soon as Velda got rid of him, she called them out from the closet and they would run crying into her arms.
"Oh mommy, are you all right?" they would cry.
"Of course, I'm all right, darlings," she would say. Then, to send them to sleep with sweet dreams, she would give them each a graham cracker with frosting Velda made out of milk and powdered sugar.
The Chinese doll was wrapped and boxed. The singing had stopped, and Velda's reverie was called off by little Caril Ann.
"Mommy, won't you draw me Betty Boop?"
"Sure I will, Honey. Find me a crayon. I haven't packed up everything yet."
VELDA'S ENTIRE FAMILY, the Streets, lived in Lincoln. Barbara and Caril were especially close to their grandmother, Pansy Street. Pansy was a big woman who could sit both the girls on her lap at the same time and rock them in her arms. Her favorite things in the whole world were grapefruits and chocolate-covered cherries, which she would smash and eat in a sandwich. The cherries, not the grapefruit. Pansy also crocheted the most beautiful doilies with delicate handkerchief edging. She tried to teach Barbara and Caril how to crochet and tat, but they never got the hang of it. Especially Caril Ann. If she couldn't learn to do something in five minutes, it wasn't worth doing. Pansy would try to instill patience in Caril when she would quit in frustration and throw her work on the floor. Just why should she have to learn how to make a bunch of dumb knots on a dumb piece of string anyway?
"Young lady, I don't like your tone of voice," Pansy would say as she walked away to begin another task.
Left alone to sulk, Caril would cry out how Grandma didn't love her anymore.
And her grandma would say, "I love you, Caril Ann, even though I may not like how you behave. There's a big difference."
Caril Ann gave her grandmother many opportunities to hate the sin but love the sinner when she cussed like a sailor. She learned how at a tender age from her father. This habit remained a shameful family secret until Caril was five years old. The girls' Aunt Lola took them one Saturday afternoon to the University of Nebraska football field to listen to the marching band practice. They ran into some friends, and Caril remained with the friends while her aunt and sister walked around the crowd. In a little while, Barbara flew excitedly across the cobblestone street in search of her little sister.
"Look, Caril! See what Aunt Lola let me wear," she cried. It was lipstick! Lipstick that turned Barb's lips as red as an apple!
"Me, too," Caril cried, not paying attention to the fast-approaching pickup truck. As she darted across the street, the truck knocked her down flat on her back and she found herself staring up at an exhaust pipe.
"Don't move, little girl," a voice warned.
Not listening, Caril rolled out from underneath the truck, made a fist, and hollered, "You dirty, goddam son-of-a-bitch truck driver! You runned over me!"
A rush to the nearest hospital revealed no broken bones or internal injuries. Even though the next day she was very sore and bruised black and blue, Caril insisted on going to church that morning. While Velda brushed her daughter's hair, a big chunk fell out. Velda warned Caril not to expect any cookies and milk after bible school because by now Reverend Proffit had heard all about the bad words she used yesterday. But when Caril returned home from church, she informed her mother that not only did she get cookies and milk like all the other children, but she got double for being an example of how you can get run over by a truck and still live through it — all by the grace of God!
There was one person in their family the girls didn't like. It was their great-grandmother, Grandma Hitchcock, or, as the girls called her, "Grandma Witchcock." Grandma Witchcock lived in a big spooky-looking house in Havelock, a suburb of Lincoln. She always dressed in long black dresses and was just down-right weird in her beliefs about dead spirits. Pansy and Velda would take the girls across town on a bus to visit her sometimes. Before they got there, Velda would warn them to be sure to mind their manners and not ask their great-grandmother for anything. Then she'd tell Caril she had a smudge on her face, lick her index finger, and wipe it off.
Grandma Witchcock had waiting for them foul-smelling potions of herbs she concocted and made the girls wear in a tobacco pouch tied around their necks. She said it would prevent them from catching colds and measles from the neighborhood kids. And it worked, too, because none of the neighborhood kids wanted to play with the malodorous Fugate girls whenever they came to visit. As soon as their visit ended and they left her house, the girls would toss their tobacco pouches into the nearest bushes.
At the top of the stairs, Grandma Witchcock had a room that she always kept locked. Caril and Barbara used to dare each other to peek through the keyhole, but neither one ever did. They were terrified of what might be behind that door and figured they were better off not knowing.
THE VERY LAST MOVE the family would make with Fugate landed them at 410 North 10th Street in Lincoln, a tenement house run by a kind landlady, Mae Holley. Also living at Mae's were Velda's mother Pansy, and her sister, Lola, and Lola's husband and their twins, Timmy and Tiny. Caril was eight years old and in second grade. She failed first grade because the family moved five times in two years. Barbara hated school, and she hated moving. She could not count the number of times she came home to find the house packed in boxes. Changing schools so often never allowed her to make friends. What's the use? And why bother to catch up in school? She knew they would only be moving, and she'd get behind again.
Living at Mae's was like living with an extended family. Barbara especially liked living there because she finally made a friend her own age, Franny Ortiz. Franny's family came from Mexico, and at times the most tantalizing aromas emanated from inside their apartment, so much so that Barb and Caril often found themselves beckoned to the Ortiz door, usually around dinner time. Barbara developed a passion for Mexican cooking and would sneak hot dogs to Franny in exchange for some of her mom's tortillas.
Their tenement house was close to the State Theater, and on Saturdays Velda, Barbara, and Caril walked to the matinees. Velda was like a kid herself and walked so fast to get there that her daughters had to yell, "Hey, mom, wait for us!" Kids got in for free if they showed five milk-top cartons to the cashier. They would tie them together on a string, holler "five," and walk on in.
Trips to the closet didn't stop after they moved, and now Fugate's fights with his wife were heard by the whole tenement house. The last time the girls hid in the closet they heard something more than the usual tirade. Blows, a scream, and then a thud against the kitchen table brought the girls out of the closet in time to see their father's hands squeezed around Velda's throat. Barb got a butcher knife and brandished it in the air while Caril found a hammer, got down on her hands and knees, and tried to hit her father's toes. Both girls were screaming, "Don't hurt our mother! Let go of our mother!"
When Pansy burst through the door she witnessed a macabre scene of four Fugates going around in a circle performing what looked like some kind of a war dance. Pansy grabbed the knife out of Barb's hand, Fugate ran out the door, and the four of them held onto one another for how long they didn't know.
Finally, Velda said, "That does it. He goes."
LATER THAT YEAR, for the first time in their lives the girls had a Christmas tree. A spindly, brittle tree, faintly smelling of pine, was standing proudly in a tree holder borrowed from the Ortiz family. The girls transformed it into something magnificent. They spent hours making decorations fashioned from foil wrapping taken from Velda's Camel cigarettes. They ironed out the foil with their nails and wrapped it around pencils to form make-believe icicles. They fashioned chains out of colored crepe paper. When they finished, Velda oohed and aahed and said it was the prettiest tree in all of Nebraska. It didn't matter a hoot if any Christmas presents turned up under it.
Suddenly, William Fugate stormed through the door and ran straight into the bedroom without saying a word to anybody. Nobody had seen him in over a week since he tried to strangle Velda. In less than ten minutes, he emerged carrying a suitcase and ran out of the apartment so fast that he knocked over their beautiful Christmas tree. Caril ran over to the window and saw a taxicab parked underneath a streetlight. It was dark and snowing. As her father approached the cab, a woman got out of the backseat and held the door open for him. The driver started the ignition and Fugate drove out of their lives.
IT WAS JUST THE THREE OF THEM NOW. Velda's divorce from Fugate left her with nothing but the clothes on her back and a fierce determination to provide for her children without the aid of any welfare, which she was too proud to accept, and without any help from Fugate, which she knew she would never get.
Velda found a job, and the girls adjusted to being latchkey kids. Living at Mae's turned out to be a plus; there was always Aunt Lola, Mrs. Ortiz, and Mae to whom the girls could run in emergencies. Pansy worked all day.
All three pitched in to do the cooking, wash the dishes, make the beds, and clean the house. Doing the laundry was an all-day affair reserved for Saturdays. Two large buckets had to be filled and emptied over and over again, one with hot water to wash, the second with cold water to rinse. Items needed to be wrung and then hung on a clothesline to dry. Living together in a peaceful environment made these domestic tasks seem fun.
Velda developed a passion for jigsaw puzzles, which she would only work on after the girls went to bed. She looked forward to an hour or two of quiet time alone before turning in for the night. However, the impish Caril often made it difficult for her mother to concentrate on her hobby. The girls still slept in the same bed; Barb was skittish in the dark and always covered her head with the blanket and faced the wall. Caril took shameless delight in whispering, "Oooh, Barb. There's someone looking at you through the window."
"Stop it, Caril," Barb would snap while Caril giggled. "Quiet down in there, both of you," Velda warned.
"Oh, yes, there is. He's gonna get you," Caril continued. "Did you hear what I said?" Velda warned again.
"He's opening the window now."
Barb started to cry.
"Don't make me have to come in there," Velda said for the third time, which meant she was coming in.
"All right, both of you! I want you to be quiet and get to sleep, do you understand me?" Velda yelled in exasperation, to which Barb retorted that she couldn't get to sleep with Caril Ann scaring her about some man looking in the window.
Velda assured her elder daughter that no man was tall enough to look through a second-story window. And nobody could get into the apartment, either. Every night before going to bed, Velda slid a long, black-handled kitchen knife sideways between the crack in the wood molding which ran parallel to the front door so it would serve as a bar on the door.
THE MOVIE The Thing, staring James Arness, was playing at the State Theater, and everyone was raving about it as being the spookiest movie ever. Arness, who later gained fame as "Marshall Dillon" on the popular Gunsmoke TV series, played the seemingly indestructible monster that terrorized a group of scientists doing research at the North Pole. Barbara and Caril cried that they would just die if they couldn't see this movie.
A flying saucer crashes at the North Pole. The only thing remaining at the crash site is a body frozen in ice. The research expedition transports the body in a giant ice cube back to the laboratory to study it. An electric blanket inadvertently thrown over the ice cube melts the ice and frees the monster. The explorers stare out a window in horror as the escaped monster fights off and kills a few of their sled dogs, but not before one dog tears off the monster's arm. The monster runs away — where to, nobody knows. The arm is being studied to determine what it consists of when, lo and behold, it starts to move. It's alive! The explorers huddle together terrified in a long corridor at the end of which stands a door to the greenhouse. They slowly approach the door, open it, and out lurches the monster in all his menace! It has grown another arm!
Excerpted from The Twelfth Victim by Linda M. Battisti, John Stevens Berry. Copyright © 2014 Linda Battisti and John Stevens Berry, Sr.. Excerpted by permission of Addicus Books, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Part I. Caril Fugate's Story: The Beginning,
Part II. Starkweather's Rampage,
Part III. The Arrests,
Part IV. The Trial of Charles Starkweather,
Part V. The Trial of Caril Fugate,
About the Authors,
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