In this week’s episode, Shevonne talks about Caril Ann Fugate who was the first youngest female to be convicted of first-degree murder. She has always said she was innocent but was she?
You can find the entire transcript on https://femalekillers.com/
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The Fairer Sex, Bombshell, Bitch, Mother, Girl Boss, Lady are some of the ways that have been used to describe women. “Killer” is usually not a word that comes to mind. Welcome to the Female Killers Podcast, where we will explore women who have killed out of revenge, love, or just pure evil.
Did you ever watch the 1973 Badlands with the amazing acting of Sissy Spacek and Martin Sheen? I remember watching it when I was younger and being shocked that it was based off the true story of Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate. Other movies have also come out that are influenced by this couple. Natural Born Killers, another great movie. Kalifornia, Murders in the Heartland, even The Frighteners, love that movie. Being 14 is a tough age for many. You are at the awkward stage where your voice is changing, acne is starting to show, and for girls many are starting to get their menstrual cycle. That age is also where you are most influenced by good-looking people who are master in smooth talking. Is this why Caril Ann Fugate was easily influenced to go on a murder spree with Charles Starkweather? Should she have gone to prison? Did she have Stockholm syndrome? Let’s talk about Caril Ann Fugate and the couple’s crimes.
Caril Ann Fugate and Carl Starkweather started dating a few months before the murder spree that resulted in the death of 11 people. After being captured, Caril Ann insists that she broke up with Carl on January 19 prior to the murder spree. A few days later in January 21st, Caril Ann arrived home, and she says that the house was empty except for Carl who told her that her family was sequestered and would be harmed if she didn’t go with him. However, her mother, Velda Barlett, her stepfather, Marion Bartlett, and her two-year old sister, Betty Jean Bartlett, were dead and their bodies were around the house.
I am not sure where the bodies were stored because the two stayed in the house for six days. When bodies start decaying, the smell is undeniably the stench of death. If Caril Ann didn’t know her family was dead on the property, then how come she didn’t smell their decaying bodies? It was January, and Nebraksa gets cold. It could have kept the bodies preserved and it could be possible that is why they were not letting out too much of a smell.
Caril Ann’s stepfather had been shot and stabbed. His body was wrapped in newspapers and in the chicken coop. Caril Ann’s mother Veldar Bartlett had also been shot and stabbed. She had been wrapped in bedclothes and was in the outhouse. Caril Ann’s sister Betty Jean had the worst of the injuries. She had been beat to death and her throat slashed. She was stuffed in a cardboard box but I couldn’t find where her body was found.
Family came to visit. Family like her sister, grandmother, brother-in-law, even Charlie’s brother. They were all turned away. Caril Ann would post on the door, “Stay a way. Every body is sick with the flue. Miss Bartlett.” Caril would say that she said “Miss Bartlett” with it underlined twice because she was “Fugate,” so anyone who knew them would know something was off being that she did not have the last name of Bartlett.
After awhile, the grandmother threatened to call the police. This is when the two would go on the infamous murder spree. They first stopped at Bennet, Nebraska where 70-year-old August Meyer lived. He was a friend of Charlie, and he was nice enough to let them stay at his home and having the use of his horses. When August Meyer was showing them the stables, Charlie took out a shotgun and killed August, his friend who offered him his home. Charlie would even beat August’s dog to death. Caril watched what was going on. She would say that would cause her to fear Charlie even more and to make sure to obey everything that he told her to do or say.
Later that night, the duo left August Meyer’s home where they encountered teenage couple, 17-year-old Robert Jensen and 16-year-old Carol King. The two probably saw a young couple like themselves, and the times were different so it was more acceptable to pick up strangers. The two offered them a ride which turned deadly. They went to a storm cellar where Robert would be shot seven times, and Charlie would rape Carol, and then shoot her dead. He left their bodies in a storm cellar.
By this time, Nebraska was hearing about the notorious couple and their victims. Police were telling people to check up on their loved ones every 30 minutes to make sure they were still alive. Residents were living in fear and some of them would say “Shoot first, talk later” if they encountered Charlie Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate.
Charlie and Caril Ann would drive to Lincoln, Nebraska in Robert Jensen’s car. They decided to go to a neighborhood known to be upper-middle class. They decided on a home owned by C. Lauer Ward. By the next day, C. Lauer Ward, his wife Clara, and their maid Lillian Fencil were dead.
The two would then switch cars from Robert Jensen’s to C. Lauer Ward’s so they could get out of Nebraska. The plan was to drive to Charlie’s brother’s home in Washington state. When they arrived in Douglas, Wyoming, they left Ward’s car because Charlie knew that by now, the police would be looking for it.
They saw a car parked near the Ayers Natural Bridge. It was own by 37-year-old shoe salesman Merle Collison who was napping in the car. Charlie shot his gun through one of the windows and told Merle to get out of the car. Can you imagine the fright Merle probably had? He’s sleeping and is woken up by a deranged man shooting his gun? He refused to get out of the car, and Charlie shot at the car several times.
It seems that Charlie and Caril Ann didn’t notice that another car was driving up to them. It was owned by oil landman Joe Sprinkle who thought the car owners needed help. He asked if Charlie and Caril Ann needed help, and Charlie asked if he could please help him with the emergency brake. Luckily for Joe, he saw Merle’s Collinson’s body slumped in the front seat. Charlie was ready to shoot Joe, but Joe didn’t hesitate and the two started wrestling for the gun. Luckily, Joe Sprinkle was able to get the gun away from Charlie.
While the two were fighting, Deputy Sheriff William Romer drove up. When he got out, Caril Ann ran towards him screaming, “He’s going to kill me. He’s crazy. He just killed a man.” Charlie jumped in the car and started speeding away. Sheriff Romer got back in his car with Caril Ann and started chasing after Charlie. Caril Ann started telling the Sheriff who Charlie Starkweather was.
Sheriff Romer was able to radio about the situation, and Police Chief Bob Ainslie and Sheriff Earl Heflin setup a roadblock. Charlie Starkweather saw it and decided to speed right through it. Police Chief Ainslie started chasing after him with Sheriff Heflin in the passenger seat. . They were going at speeds of over 100 miles per hour through the town of Douglas, which is crazy. Luckily, no one was on the road. Heflin shot at the car and blew the rear window. This made Charlie Starkweather come to a screeching halt. Some of the glass cut his ear lobe and right hand. It was found out later that he had also run out of bullets. The police shot at the car a few more times, and Charlie Starkweather surrendered.
Charlie would later say, “They would never have caught me if I hadn’t stopped.”
Caril Fugate seemed to be in a state of shock according to people were interacted with her. In jail, Caril Ann became agitated to the point that Sherrif Heflin had to sedate her. The next morning she woke up crying and screaming for her mother. She repeatedly asked to call her parents, and wondering why no one was letting her. Sheriff Heflin would say in an interview,” I don’t think she knew that her folks were killed.” When she was told her that her family was dead, Caril Ann broke down in tears.
Charlie Starkweather would tell police that Caril Ann Fugate had nothing to do with it and she did try to run away a couple of times. Even so, prosecutors charged Caril Ann with murder. During testimony, Sheriff Romer would say that Caril Ann had confessed to seeing her family killed.
Sheriff Heflin backed Romer and said that Caril Ann had several newspaper clippings in her pocket that her family was dead. I’m a bit confused because she was begging to speak to her family and seemed surprised they were dead. However, Sheriff Heflin who said she seemed not to know that her family is dead is now saying that she had newspaper clippings? That doesn’t add up.
During this time, Charlie Starkweather would change his story about Caril Ann Fugate and say that she was involved and had actually murdered a few of the victims.
Caril Ann Fugate was convicted of first-degree murder and felony murder in the commission of a robbery. The first youngest female to be sentenced in a first-degree murder case. –
Caril Ann spent 17 years in prison. Charles Starkweather was sentenced to death and was executed on the electric chair on 1959. It wasn’t until 1976 when she was paroled.
In 1983, on a national show that I couldn’t find the name of what show it was, Caril Ann Fugate took a lie detector test and passed. She said that this made her feel vindicated and proves that she did not willingly take part in the murder spree with Charlie Starkweather.
In August 29, 2017, in her seventies, Caril Ann, whose last name is now Clair, wants to be pardoned for those murders 60 years ago. More than 60 years after she accompanied Charlie Starkweather on one of the nation’s most notorious killing sprees, Caril Ann Fugate is seeking a pardon. I learned that a pardon doesn’t mean that she is innocent. Just that she has been forgiven for her crimes. Caril Ann says she wants a pardon so that she can have a peace of mind now that she is elderly. She wrote, “The idea that posterity has been made to believe that I knew about and/or witnessed the death of my beloved family and left with Starkweather willingly on a murder spree is too much for me to bear anymore. Receiving a pardon may somehow alleviate this terrible burden.”
Caril Ann also wrote that, ““When I was 14 years old, I was abducted and held captive by Charlie Starkweather. I was terrified and did whatever he wanted me to.” She says that Charlie had told her that he had a gang who was holding her family hostage. If she tried to leave him, then they would kill them.
In her letter, she continues talking about Charlie Starkweather. “Starkweather frightened me to death … whatever (he) told me to do I did. I lived in constant fear for my family’s safety. Because I loved them with all my heart.”
In February 2020, Nebraska’s pardon board that consisted of three members rejected Caril Ann Fugate’s request for a pardon. One of the victims, Carol King, cousin Dave Ellis expressed he was pleased with the decision. “I can't express in words how overjoyed and happy I am that she did not get pardoned. She (King) was only 16 years old. She deserved to have a full life she never got.”
However, Lisa Ward, who lose her grandparents, said that Caril Ann was a victim. “I have met her and she has cried in my arms. And I have cried in her arms. And she feels damned pain. You can bet it. This woman has been in pain all her life.”
Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson said, “There have been seven different state or federal court opinions on the case. There's been books, movies, songs all towards this case. I think it's important as you look at the purpose of her request understand, that is not the role of the Pardons Board. We can't come in and alleviate the burden she feels for this case.”
And about Charlie saying she was involved? Caril Ann Fugate says it was when she sent him a letter saying that she never wanted to see him again. Him saying she was involved was a form of retaliation.
Before researching this case, I always thought that Caril Ann Fugate was involved. All the movies that I had seen made her look like a willing participant. However, I don’t think she was. She thought her family was still alive when they were caught. She also ran screaming to the Sheriff when Charlie was wrestling for the gun. She also told the Sheriff everything about him. Charlie Starkweather said she wasn’t involved, and then changed his mind and was the star witness in her trial? I feel she was treated like the villain when she was also a victim. Even 60 years later, Caril Ann Fugate is still treated like an evil woman who took part in the murder spree. A waitress who was interviewed talked about her interaction with the two. She said that Caril Ann went into the diner to get four hamburgers and kept staring at her intently. The waitress was handing her the hamburgers, and Charlie came in and gave Caril Ann money to pay for them. The waitress said that Caril Ann was very cold towards Charlie. She said Caril Ann kept staring at her. Was it to try to plead with her eyes that she was a captive? The waitress would also say that Caril Ann was alone so she had plenty of time to ask for help. However, if she thought her family was in danger, Caril Ann probably thought she would get them killed if she told anyone. I feel she should had gotten the pardon, but it seems people still think she is guilty because she didn’t ask for help or run. Let me know what you think.
Thank you for joining again this week on the Female Killers Podcast. My name is Shevonne, and I do the research, writing, and narrating. Please make sure to visit our website at femalekillers.com, where you can subscribe to the show on iTunes, Stitcher, or via RSS so you’ll never miss a show. While you’re at it, if you found value in this show, I’d appreciate a rating on iTunes – or if you’d tell a friend about the show, that would also be great! I am currently working on improving the podcast for you, so thank you for being part of the ride.