This week I wanted to do something a little different. Even though this event occurred many years ago, the name and event remains the same. Also, I doubt this aspect has been discussed at any great length. This event occurred before I was born and before many today were born. It even occurred before Charles Manson and Helter Skelter. As many of us may not remember this particular event, it does go down in history as one of the greatest mass murders of our time.
The late 1950’s was the birth of television, poodle skirts, Elvis on his way to the top and rebellion just waiting to break out. James Dean brought that rebellion out and many teens in America caught on to it. One particular young man, Charles Starkweather, was especially fond of Dean. He emulated his look and found many parallels within their lives. Starkweather grew up in the state of Nebraska. He came from a good family and was one of seven children. He had a stuttering problem and was bowlegged. Despite that, nothing out of the ordinary was reported during this time. Except for one glaring exception and that was he was bullied in school. The first day of kindergarten was a day that left a strong imprint in his mind and a turning point in his life. He went to school and was teased relentlessly for his stuttering and having bowlegs. Children would distance themselves from him and when picking team sports, he was always picked last. This was not just in kindergarten but throughout his school career. I read a book entitled Waste Land: The Savage Odyssey of Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate. The book stated his family life was good but his life at school was a nightmare. During his formative years, he felt society failed him and started to believe that the world saw him as garbage. He even had a job as a garbage collector as he dropped out of school in the 9th grade. His marks were poor and nobody ever intervened on his behalf in school. When he reached early adulthood, his attitude was that everyone believed he was trash and he rebelled against society completely. Some may argue that he was not biologically wired right. I do not buy into that. If this were the case, it would have come out during those earlier years in some way. The only thing that seemed to stand out was the abuse he endured at the hands of his peers.
Starkweather shook society to the core. He and his young girlfriend, Caril Ann Fugate, went through Nebraska and a small portion of Wyoming during late 1957 and early 1958 by robbing and murdering eleven people including Fugates own family. He was a angry young man who was tired of being seen and treated like garbage. So, he took action and justified it as he was going to be treated like everyone else for a change. He brought up being abused by peers a great deal. The things he and his girlfriend did are beyond comprehension. Eleven lives lost at his hands. Oh he failed society and was eventually sent to the electric chair. He got his just deserts as nothing excuses the death of another human being. However, I also believe society failed him too. Why was the abuse allowed to continue? Why didn’t the schools step in and try and stop the problem? Were these bullies ever held accountable for their actions? If you ask me, Starkweather had the mind of a modern day school shooter. School shooters go on rampages. The only difference is that school shooters usually do these things at school. Starkweather did it in two different states. Why didn’t anyone try and reach this young man during his formative years?
Again, I am not defending these crimes. He was punished accordingly and held accountable for his actions. I am not blaming it on James Dean either. Thousands of American teens loved Dean but did not go on rampages. What I do see is the bullying ringing loud and clear. Starkweather started to believe he was the garbage everyone made him out to be. As an adult, he got angry and got revenge. I do believe society failed him though as nobody put a stop to this abuse. If this young man had not been bullied, I wonder if those eleven people would have been alive today? Would this tragedy have even happened? Certainly something to think about.