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The definitive story of Charles Starkweather, often considered to be the first mass killer in the modern age of America
On January 21, 1958, nineteen-year-old Charles Starkweather changed the course of crime in the United States when he murdered the parents and sister of his fourteen-year-old girlfriend (and possible accomplice), Caril Ann Fugate, in a house on the edge of Lincoln, Nebraska. They then drove to the nearby town of Bennet, where a farmer was robbed and killed. When Starkweather’s car broke down, the teenagers who stopped to help were murdered and jammed into a storm cellar. By the time the dust settled, ten innocent people were dead and the city of Lincoln was in a state of terror. Schools closed. Men with rifles perched on the roofs of their houses. The National Guard patrolled the street. If there is a cultural version of PTSD, the town suffered from it.
Starkweather and Fugate’s capture and arrest, and the resulting trials about the killing spree, received worldwide coverage. The event would serve as the inspiration for the movie Natural Born Killers and Springsteen’s iconic album Nebraska. Today, the story has dropped far from the national consciousness. With new material, new reporting, and new conclusions about the possible guilt or innocence of Fugate, the tale is ripe for an updated and definitive retelling. In Starkweather, bestselling author Harry N. MacLean tells the story of this shocking event and its lasting impact, a crime spree that struck deep into the heart of the heartland.
Edgar winner MacLean (In Broad Daylight) delivers a magisterial study of the infamous murders committed by 19-year-old Charles Starkweather across Nebraska and Wyoming in the 1950s. From November 1957 to January 1958, while accompanied by his 14-year-old girlfriend, Caril Ann Fugate, Starkweather killed 11 people (primarily in Lincoln, Nebr.) including Fugate's mother, stepfather, and two-year-old sister. The reverberations of those murders, MacLean asserts, helped create the concept of the serial killer and provided inspiration for Bruce Springsteen's song "Nebraska," Oliver Stone's film Natural Born Killers, and other works of pop culture. MacLean, who grew up in Nebraska and whose older brother had been Starkweather's classmate, remained haunted by the killings and fascinated by unanswered questions about Fugate's involvement for much of his life, poring over articles and trial transcripts for insights. Using that research—plus an in-person interview with Fugate that he conducted in 2022 after tracking her down in a Nebraska nursing home—MacLean pieces together a propulsive account that nails down concrete details from the "ten different versions" of events Starkweather provided in official documents, and presents crucial context about his and Fugate's early lives. The result is an instant true crime classic.