Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Number 1: Starkweather

The subject of several thinly-disguised movie plots and a Springsteen album, the Starkweather murders are clearly the most infamous crime in Lincoln’s history—so far.  One of the first mass murderers of the mass media age, six of Starkweather’s 11 victims were killed inside the City of Lincoln, and the first was just on the outskirts of town.  I didn’t live in Lincoln at the time, but my wife was a first grader at Riley Elementary School, and has vivid memories of the City gripped by fear in the days between the discovery of the Bartlett murders and Starkweather’s capture in Wyoming.

The case caused quite an uproar.  There was intense criticism of the police department and sheriff’s office for not capturing Starkweather earlier in the week after the discovery of the Bartlett’s robinson reportbodies.  Ultimately, Mayor Bennett Martin, and the County Board of Commissioners retained a retired FBI agent, Harold G. Robinson, to investigate the performance of local law enforcement.  His report essentially exonerated the local law officers, and made a few vanilla recommendations for improving inter-agency communication and training.  A faded copy resides in my desk drawer, passed down through five chiefs.

Now I know that many readers are mumbling to themselves “how obvious.” Hold your horses, though.  It’s not quite as obvious as you might think.  I recently had two experiences that drove this fact home to me.  The first was a visit by a small group of journalism students.  Only one member of the class had any idea, and her idea was pretty vague.  You need to remember that the Starkweather murders were in 1957 and 1958—before the parents of many college students were even born. 

The second experience was a visit by a Cub Scout den.  I was giving the kids a tour of the police station one evening.  We were in the front lobby waiting for everyone to arrive.  As I entertained the boys, I told the moms and dads that they might enjoy a small display in the corner of the Sheriff’s Office display case: the contents of Starkweather’s wallet—discovered a couple years ago locked up in the Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office safe.  After a few minutes, one of the confused fathers asked me who Starkweather was, and why it was significant.  


The Sereies:


Anonymous said...

My Mom was pregnant with me when these murders happened. They lived in Syracuse at the time and it is the only time in our family history that there was a loaded gun in the house. Very telling as my father was a complete fanatic about gun safety and never traveling with a loaded gun. (He was an army officer, hunter, and a competitive pistol and trap shooter so we had plenty of guns around)

Very scary times if you hear stories told by folks that lived it.

Anonymous said...

Many years ago in a garage on 22nd street at about Q to P street old men would gather to share a beer and share the babble that drinks produce. I was about 10 or so years old. Many occasions the adults would talk about the case. One of those people, who I do not recall his name, was a retired detective. He is deceased now. He said some pretty grusome things about the crime and what they had to view as they rushed to find answers. The one comment that has stuck in my mind is by this former detective. He said if you would have been at those crime locations, you would have thrown the switch on Stark your self.
Really creepy for my 10 year old thought process.
Thats all.
Oh, the dogs have gone as the eviction notice must have got some response.

Valerie Oakleaf said...

Chief Cassidy,
Thank you so much for this entire blog. Very interesting. I have lived in Nebraska my entire life and only knew about two of the events that you wrote about. Great history lesson for us!!
Starkweather has always been a fascinating case for me. I wasn't born until '68 but I have known about the case for as long as I can remember. My dad told me about it when I was 6 or so as I grew up in Rushville and went thru the Wounded Knee uprising. That was another time that Dad kept a loaded weapon in the house.
Anyway, thanks again for your blog. (Kind of bummed the history lesson is over, tho!)

Anonymous said...

"After a few minutes, one of the confused fathers asked me who Starkweather was, and why it was significant."

Don't expect to much from the average man or woman on the street. I've run into people who haven't heard of John Wayne Gacy, Wayne Williams, or Ted Bundy. Jeffrey Dahmer? They never heard of him. Trace Adkins and Lady Gaga? Oh, they know all about them, all right.

Anonymous said...

Chief-I was 5 for 10. Right there with you on 1 and 2, but hadn't heard of several of the older cases.

Did the LJS have anything about Starkweather on the 50th anniversary? If not, it seems that would have been of interest to the public that lived during that time.

I always enjoy the historical perspective. Thank you.


Tom Casady said...




Who is Lady Gaga?


Yes, they did a spread on the 50th anniversary. The murder everyone forgets about is the first--Robert Colvert at the Crest Station robbery.

Steve said...

Given the tension that was present all over town at that time, and the fact that guns were probably seldom hidden or secured in those days, its almost surprising that there weren't dozens of shootings by nervous citizens mistaking friends, relatives, or other innocent people for the seemingly ubiquitous Starkweather. I was only eight at the time, but I don't recall any such incidents. I do remember having my freedom to roam the neighborhood curtailed until he was finally caught.

Anonymous said...

These were all great selections and obviously the Starkweather case had to top the list. When Charlie went on his rampage I was still in elementary school and living on the family farm in Eastern Colorado. Almost all of the area radio stations had mentioned the murders and when the manhunt spread West it put fear into everyone. I remember a trip in to town to see my Grandmother and when we tried to open the door it was locked. That was the first time I knew that doors to houses could be locked. The Starkweather murders scared everyone and within the next few years the Clutter family (In Cold Blood) murders and the Big Springs Bank killings really woke rural citizens to the fact that danger was not exclusive to big cities.

Gun Nut

Anonymous said...

Chief, I was curious why the Martina McMenamin murder wasn't on your list. This was a murder of innocence at its finest and the murderer is still wandering the streets of Lincoln harrassing young dark haired girls.

Anonymous said...


I am sure he didn't put that on here because it is still an open case. Probably wouldn't be a good idea for the chief of police to write something about it and have it later used by the defense when the killer is found. I am sure he thinks about that on a daily basis.

Anonymous said...

I remember the adults talking about these days and of their panic. He was also mentioned in our churches and schools as the rampage was unprecedented in Nebraska history.

History? Who takes history classes anymore?

Anonymous said...

Chief thanks for the history lesson. That was awesome, now lets hear about your 'b' list or the one hit wonders... thanks again for the stroll down memory lane. Lots of lessons learned.

Anonymous said...

Tom, thanks for the interesting recounts of history.
I remember Grandma locking the doors in the country (which was NEVER done), saying Starkweather was on the loose...

Anonymous said...

My dad and his brother were both going to UNL - living in Lincoln in an apartment house and it was owned by Charlie Starkweather's aunt with the same last name. Needless to say, when they heard the news that it was a Starkweather that the police were looking for, they packed up their stuff in the middle of the night and drove back home. After he was caught, they had my grandpa call her and let her know that they were not renting from her any more. She said, I dont blame you for leaving - I was so worried about it that I left too.

Prairie Girl said...

So - according to his address his residence was at 10th & R streets at the corner of the UNL campus? I guess that was before there was an I-180.

Greg Soukup said...

I had figured 2 of your top 10 would include my father in some way. I was 4 when Charlie and Carol had their rampage, and according to "the stories" my Dad was one of the officers who went to Carol Anne's parents house after her parents had been murdered and stuffed into the chicken coop. Purportedly, Charlie was behind the door after Carol Anne opened it.
Scary stuff when you're 4, and chilling to even think back on it now.

Anonymous said...

I just came upon this blog. My mom knew Caryl ann fugate in school. She didn't like Fugate. My mom said she was a bully and a lot of kids were afraid of her because she would pick on them after school. She always wanted to fight. My mom remembers that day when my grandpa came to pick her and her siblings up.When the intercom announced everyone was getting out early. She remembers the fear everyone had, grandpa and my great-grandpa getting their hunting rifles out of the closets. She remembers the the national guards driving and walking down the streets with assault rifles. The doors of every home locked and guns cocked ready for a break in. I always asked about that time. It was a scary time for the residents in Lincoln Nebraska.