A Sniper in the Tower: The Charles Whitman Murders

A Sniper in the Tower: The Charles Whitman Murders

A Sniper in the Tower: The Charles Whitman Murders

A Sniper in the Tower: The Charles Whitman Murders

Synopsis

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.

Excerpt

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. They are safely into the countryside. Rosenberg inhabitants, like many small-town Texans, worry about "planned communities" of deed-restricted, monotonous, brick homes creeping closer. They cling to an agrarian tradition while welcoming vast riches from the oil and gas industry. Crops of all types carpet tracts of rich, dark soil, while oil- searching and oil-producing rigs dot the landscape.

Near the exit to Farm-to-Market Road 2218 are the Davis- Greenlawn Funeral Chapel and a large, well-manicured cemetery. Golf carts transport visitors and maintenance personnel. The main entrance is near the access road, but many visitors are attracted to a smaller, less ostentatious entrance on the northeast side. The bumpy path leads to an even smaller drive, where blades of grass struggle to grow through compacted gravel. At the confluence is a large white marble carving of Da Vinci's The Last Supper. That portion of the cemetery is nearly full, and unoccupied sites have long ago been sold and await their inhabitants. The graves are marked by weathered metal plaques on small marble slabs. Visitors are seldom distracted by the traffic noise from Highway 59; more noticeable are the chirping birds in a nearby wooded area. Here is peace.

Kathleen Leissner Whitman is buried here. Gothic lettering on her plaque indicates that she was born in 1943 and died in 1966. Far too young to have found the peace of a grave, she lies beneath an oak tree. Nearby, weak and rotted limbs from a towering pine fall to the ground as if to join the dead. The family service director of Davis- Greenlawn Cemetery steps off a golf cart and volunteers, "Hardly anyone ever comes here anymore, and few people around here even know who she is, but many of the old-timers tell me that reporters from all over the world were here for her funeral." Attached to the weathered plaque is a small black vase with nearly-fresh poinsettias. "I see to it that flowers are there, at least most of the time. I kind of adopted her. It just seems right."

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