My friend Melinda Morgan, a journalism school graduate from the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, has zero tolerance for sloppy reporting. When Morgan heard Chris Cuomo of ABC News refer to the mall shooting in Omaha that took the lives of eight people as the worst massacre in the history of Nebraska, she was all over it.
“Cuomo’s wrong,” Morgan said. “In 1958, Charles Starkweather and his underage girlfriend Caril Ann Fugate murdered 10 people on a killing spree in Nebraska and Wyoming.”
Morgan and Starkweather attended the same junior high school in Lincoln, and she even recalls talking to him on one occasion. She described him as a short, bandy-legged fellow with bright red hair who just seemed “kind of underprivileged.”
After Starkweather dropped out of school, he eventually took a job as a garbage collector, and as fate would have it, the Morgan family’s home was on his route. Morgan said she and her boyfriend were double-dating with another couple when she was alarmed to hear on the car radio early news reports about the Starkweather-Fugate mass murders.
According to Wikipedia, it was while working as a garbage collector at the minimum wage that “Starkweather began plotting bank robberies, and finally found his own personal philosophy by which to live out the remainder of his life: ‘Dead people are all on the same level.’"
The killing spree began in earnest in January, 1958, when Starkweather shot Fugate’s mother and stepfather and fatally clubbed her two-year-old sister. The remainder of the killings took place with Starkweather and Fugate on the run from Nebraska to Wyoming.
It was only later determined that in November 1957 Starkweather had killed the atttendant at a gas station in Lincoln for refusing to allow him to buy a toy dog on credit for Fugate.
All told, Starkweather was convicted of 11 murders and executed in the electric chair at the Nebraska State Penitentiary on June 25, 1959. Fugate was sentenced to life in prison but was paroled in 1976.
Starkweather may have died, but his notoriety lives on: he is said to have inspired the films The Sadist, Badlands, Natural Born Killers, Starkweather, Murder in the Heartland and the Bruce Springsteen song Nebraska.
Which brings us back to the Von Maur Mall in Omaha where the youthful Robert Hawkins, who shot and killed five women and three men last week before taking his own life, has no doubt achieved a similar notoriety. He wrote in his suicide note: “Now I’ll be famous.”