Charles Whitman

Charles Whitman (June 24, 1941 – August 1, 1966) gained infamy as the “Texas Tower Sniper,” an American mass m*rderer. On August 1, 1966, he used knives to fatally attack his mother and wife in their homes before proceeding to the University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin) armed with multiple firearms. Inside UT Austin’s Main Building, he k*lled three individuals before ascending to the 28th-floor observation deck of the clock tower. There, he indiscriminately fired upon unsuspecting victims for 96 minutes, resulting in the deaths of eleven more people and injuries to 31 others. Austin police officers eventually shot and k*lled Whitman. His rampage claimed a total of seventeen lives, with the 17th victim succumbing to injuries sustained in the attack 35 years later.

Early life and education

Charles Whitman was born on June 24, 1941, in Lake Worth, Florida, as the oldest of Margaret E. and Charles Adolphus Whitman Jr.’s three sons. Raised in an orphanage, Whitman’s father considered himself self-made. Margaret, only 17 at the time of their marriage, endured domestic violence within their relationship. Whitman’s father, though providing for the family, imposed near perfectionism, often resorting to physical and emotional abuse.

As a child, Whitman was noted for his politeness and rare displays of temper. Remarkably intelligent, he scored 139 on an IQ test at age six. His parents encouraged his academic pursuits, but any sign of failure was met with harsh discipline from his father.

Raised Roman Catholic by his devout mother, Margaret, Whitman and his brothers regularly attended Mass and served as altar boys at their church. Their father, an avid firearms enthusiast, taught them to handle guns proficiently from a young age, fostering Charles’s skill as a hunter and marksman.

At 11, Whitman joined the Boy Scouts, achieving Eagle Scout status at a record-breaking age. Additionally, he displayed musical talent, becoming a skilled pianist by 12, while also managing a newspaper route.

Entering St. Ann’s High School in 1955, Whitman was considered moderately popular. He purchased a Harley-Davidson motorcycle with earnings from his paper route without his father’s knowledge. Following an altercation where his father threw him into the pool for coming home drunk, Whitman enlisted in the Marines without parental consent, starting an eighteen-month stint at Guantánamo Bay.

During his service, Whitman excelled in marksmanship, earning accolades and applying for the Naval Enlisted Science and Education Program (NESEP). After performing well on exams, he attended a preparatory school in Maryland, then transferred to the University of Texas at Austin to study mechanical engineering.

In September 1961, Charles Whitman enrolled in the mechanical engineering program at UT Austin, initially struggling academically. Outside of his studies, he pursued various hobbies such as karate, scuba diving, gambling, and hunting. Shortly after starting at the university, Whitman and two friends were caught poaching a deer, which led to their arrest after being found butchering the animal in his dormitory shower. He was fined $100 for the incident.

Known for his penchant for practical jokes, Whitman also made unsettling remarks, once suggesting to a fellow student in 1962 that someone could hold off an army from the clock tower atop the Main Building.

In February 1962, at the age of 20, Whitman met Kathleen Frances Leissner, a 17-year-old education major. Their courtship lasted five months before they announced their engagement in July. They married on August 17, 1962, in a Catholic ceremony in Leissner’s hometown, coinciding with the 22nd wedding anniversary of Whitman’s parents. Despite Whitman’s family attending and his brother serving as best man, the marriage faced challenges due to Whitman’s academic struggles.

Although Whitman’s grades saw some improvement, they were still deemed inadequate by the Marines, leading to his activation for duty in February 1963. Stationed at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, Whitman expressed discontent over the termination of his college studies. However, he gained recognition for an act of heroism, lifting a Jeep to rescue a fellow Marine. Despite this, his involvement in gambling led to a court-martial in November 1963, resulting in a demotion from lance corporal to private and a period of confinement and hard labor.

Documented stressors

While awaiting his court-martial in 1963, Charles Whitman began documenting his experiences in the Marine Corps and his relationships in a diary titled “Daily Record of C. J. Whitman.” Within its pages, he chronicled his daily life, interactions with his wife, and his feelings toward the Marine Corps, criticizing its inefficiencies. Whitman frequently praised his wife, Kathleen Leissner, expressing his admiration for her and detailing his aspirations to achieve financial independence from his father.

In December 1964, Whitman was honorably discharged from the Marines and returned to UT Austin, switching his field of study to architectural engineering. To support himself and his wife, he took on various jobs, including bill collector at Standard Finance Company and bank teller at Austin National Bank. In January 1965, he briefly worked as a traffic surveyor for the Texas Highway Department while his wife taught biology at Lanier High School. He also volunteered as a scout leader for Austin Scout Troop 5.

Later, friends revealed that Whitman had admitted to striking his wife on two occasions, expressing deep remorse and fear of resembling his abusive father. In his journal, he vowed to be a better husband and avoid the patterns of abuse he witnessed in his upbringing.

In May 1966, Whitman’s mother decided to divorce his father due to ongoing physical abuse. Whitman assisted his mother in relocating from Florida to Austin, fearing for her safety and requesting police presence during the move. His youngest brother joined them in Austin, while another remained in Florida to work in their father’s business.

After the separation, Whitman’s mother found employment and settled into her own apartment, maintaining close contact with her son. Meanwhile, Whitman’s father desperately attempted to reconcile, spending significant sums on long-distance calls. Amidst this turmoil, Whitman struggled with amphetamine abuse and debilitating headaches.

Events leading to the shooting

On the eve of the shootings, Whitman purchased binoculars, a knife from a hardware store, and some Spam from a nearby 7-Eleven. He then picked up his wife from her summer job as a telephone operator before joining his mother for lunch at the Wyatt Cafeteria, situated close to the UT Austin campus.

Around 4:00 p.m., Whitman and his wife visited their friends John and Frances Morgan. They departed the Morgans’ apartment at 5:50 p.m. to ensure Kathy could make it to her 6:00–10:00 p.m. shift.

At 6:45 p.m., Whitman began typing his suicide note, expressing confusion about his motivations and stating:

“I don’t quite understand what it is that compels me to type this letter. Perhaps it is to leave some vague reason for the actions I have recently performed. I don’t really understand myself these days. I am supposed to be an average reasonable and intelligent young man. However, lately (I cannot recall when it started) I have been a victim of many unusual and irrational thoughts. These thoughts constantly recur, and it requires a tremendous mental effort to concentrate on useful and progressive tasks.”

In his note, Whitman requested an autopsy be conducted after his death to explore if there was a biological explanation for his actions and his debilitating headaches. He also mentioned his decision to end the lives of both his mother and wife. Despite his uncertainty about his motives, he expressed a belief that his mother had not experienced the joy she deserved in life, while acknowledging his wife’s exceptional qualities as a spouse. Whitman stated his intention to spare them further suffering and shield them from the shame of his actions. Notably, he made no reference to planning the attack at the university.

Shortly after midnight on August 1, Whitman drove to his mother’s apartment on Guadalupe Street. After taking her life, he laid her on her bed and covered her with sheets. The exact method of her death remains disputed, though authorities believed he incapacitated her before fatally stabbing her in the heart.

Beside his mother’s body, Whitman left a handwritten note expressing remorse and a belief that she had found peace in heaven. He then returned to his residence on Jewell Street, where he fatally stabbed his wife as she slept, covering her body afterward. He resumed the typed note from the previous evening, adding a handwritten message stating, “Friends interrupted. 8-1-66 Mon. 3:00 A.M. BOTH DEAD.”

In concluding his note, Whitman expressed a desire for a swift and thorough conclusion to his actions, acknowledging the appearance of brutality in his actions toward his loved ones. He urged the settlement of his debts with any valid life insurance proceeds, with the remainder to be anonymously donated to a mental health foundation in hopes of preventing similar tragedies. He requested that his dog be entrusted to his in-laws, noting his wife’s affection for the pet, and asked to be cremated following the autopsy.

Additionally, Whitman left instructions in the rented house for the development of two rolls of camera film and wrote personal messages to each of his brothers. His final words were penned on an envelope labeled “Thoughts for the Day,” containing a collection of written reflections, where he added, “8-1-66. I never could quite make it. These thoughts are too much for me.”

At 5:45 a.m. on August 1, 1966, Whitman called his wife’s supervisor at Bell System, falsely claiming she was ill and unable to work. He made a similar call to his mother’s workplace five hours later.

Whitman’s last journal entries were written in the past tense, suggesting he had already taken the lives of his wife and mother.

University of Texas Tower shooting

At approximately 11:35 a.m., Charles Whitman arrived on the UT Austin campus. Disguised as a research assistant, he falsely claimed to be delivering equipment when questioned by a security guard. Proceeding to the 28th floor of the Main Building’s clock tower, he took the lives of three individuals within the tower before unleashing gunfire from the observation deck, armed with a hunting rifle and other weapons.

During the harrowing 96-minute ordeal, Whitman tragically ended the lives of 15 individuals and wounded 31 others. However, his rampage was halted when Patrolman Houston McCoy and Ramiro Martinez of the Austin Police Department ascended to the top of the tower. Acting swiftly, a combination of shots from both officers ultimately brought Whitman’s rampage to an end, resulting in his demise.

Death and inques

Medical History

Medical records revealed that Charles Whitman had consulted multiple physicians at UT Austin in the year leading up to the shootings, receiving various prescriptions. Between fall and winter of 1965, he sought help from at least five doctors before visiting a psychiatrist who did not prescribe him medication. On another occasion, he was given Valium by Jan Cochrum, who advised him to see the campus psychiatrist.

On March 29, 1966, Whitman met with Maurice Dean Heatly, the staff psychiatrist at the University of Texas Health Center, a meeting referenced in his final suicide note. Whitman expressed his concerns about overwhelming violent impulses, lamenting that he had only seen the doctor once and had since grappled with his mental turmoil alone.

Heatly’s records of the session described Whitman as a “massive, muscular youth” exuding hostility, and noted his admission of experiencing intense periods of aggression with minimal provocation. Despite attempts to delve into his experiences, Whitman’s vivid reference to contemplating a shooting spree from the tower with a deer rifle stood out in the analysis.


Although Charles Whitman had been prescribed medication and was found in possession of Dexedrine at the time of his passing, the toxicology report was delayed due to his embalming on August 1, after his body was taken to the Cook Funeral Home in Austin. However, Whitman had requested an autopsy in his suicide notes, a request later approved by his father.

On August 2, an autopsy was performed by Coleman de Chenar, a neuropathologist at Austin State Hospital, at the funeral home. Samples of urine and blood were collected to test for traces of amphetamines or other substances. During the autopsy, Chenar made a significant discovery: a “pecan-sized” brain tumor, identified as an astrocytoma with a small amount of necrosis.

Connally Commission

Following the tragedy, Governor John Connally of Texas formed a task force to investigate Charles Whitman’s actions and motives, composed of neurosurgeons, psychiatrists, pathologists, and psychologists, including John White and Maurice Heatly from the University of Texas Health Center. Despite exhaustive toxicology tests yielding no significant results, the commission meticulously examined all available autopsy materials.

After a thorough review, including an extensive hearing on August 5, the commission disputed the initial diagnosis of astrocytoma with minimal necrosis made by Coleman de Chenar. Instead, they identified the tumor as a glioblastoma multiforme, noting widespread necrotic areas and vascular abnormalities. While psychiatric contributors suggested a potential link between the tumor and Whitman’s actions, stating it could have impacted his emotional regulation, neurologists and neuropathologists were cautious, citing limitations in current understanding.

Forensic investigators have postulated that the tumor’s pressure on Whitman’s amygdala, a brain region associated with anxiety and fight-or-flight responses, might have played a role in his actions. However, conclusive evidence regarding the tumor’s direct influence on Whitman’s behavior remains elusive.


A joint Catholic funeral service was held for Charles Whitman and his mother in Lake Worth, Florida, on August 5, 1966. They were laid to rest together in Florida’s Hillcrest Memorial Park. Given his status as a military veteran, Whitman was honored with a military burial, his casket adorned with the American flag.

This article uses material from the Wikipedia article Charles Whitman, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

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