Skip to main content
Charles Whitman
Photo: Bettmann/Contributor

Charles Whitman

  • Publish date:
Charles Whitman was a former Marine sharpshooter who, in 1966, targeted and killed random civilians at the University of Texas before being stopped by police.

Who Was Charles Whitman?

Charles Whitman served as a Marine before enrolling in the University of Texas, eventually studying architecture. Suffering from mental illness and acute fits of anger, Whitman killed his mother and wife and on August 1, 1966, went atop a 300-foot tower, targeting people in the vicinity. He ultimately murdered 16 people in total and injured many others before he was killed by police, who stormed the tower.

Background and Military Career

Mass murderer Charles Joseph Whitman was born on June 24, 1941, in Lake Worth, Florida. Taught at an early age to handle guns, Whitman was a good student and Eagle Scout who left home to join the Marines immediately after his eighteenth birthday in 1959. He had grown up with a perfectionist, demanding father who had a violent temper and thus needed an escape. 

Whitman underwent boot camp in South Carolina, earning a sharpshooter ranking, and served at Cuba's Guantanamo Navy Base for more than a year. Via a special military program, he later entered the University of Texas, where he met his future wife, Kathryn Leissner. (They married in 1962.)

Concerns About Health

After being called back to active service because of poor academic performance, Whitman returned to the Marine Corps in 1963. By mid-decade, he was honorably discharged. Whitman went back to the University of Texas at Austin in the spring of 1965. He originally took up mechanical engineering but later switched to architecture. 

By 1966, Whitman was suffering from severe headaches and consulted a therapist at the university to discuss concerns he had over his mental health. The doctor recommended Whitman attend another session the following week, but he never returned.

Scroll to Continue


Representative Deb Haaland, a Democrat from New Mexico, speaks during a House Natural Resources Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Monday, June 29, 2020. The hearing is titled "U.S. Park Police Attack on Peaceful Protesters at Lafayette Square Park." Photographer: Bonnie Cash/The Hill/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Deb Haaland

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - NOVEMBER 09: John Major attends the annual Remembrance Sunday Service at the Cenotaph on Whitehall on November 9, 2014 in London, United Kingdom. People across the UK gather to pay tribute to service personnel who have died in the two World Wars and subsequent conflicts, with this year taking on added significance as it is the centenary of the outbreak of World War One. (Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

John Major

Mass Murder 

In 1966, Whitman's mother finally left his father after suffering years of abuse. She got an apartment in Austin, not far from her son. This move would prove fatal for her. Sometime on the evening of July 31, Whitman went to his mother's home and stabbed and shot her. In a note left with her body, Whitman explained that he was "truly sorry that this was the only way I could see to relieve her sufferings but I think it was best."

After killing his mother, Whitman went home. Sometime after his wife went to sleep, he stabbed her to death. He typed a note before her death, stating that he was going to kill her. He said that "I love her dearly. . . . I cannot rationally pinpoint any specific reason for doing this." He thought it might have been his own selfishness or his desire to spare her from facing embarrassment over his actions.

On August 1, 1966, Whitman, along with an assortment of weapons and supplies stored in a trunk, entered the University of Texas tower, wearing overalls. He headed up to the observation deck, fatally injuring a receptionist and killing two others along the way. Once he reached the deck, he began shooting at the people below. The rampage lasted less than two hours, with most of the deaths and injuries occurring in the first 15 to 20 minutes.

Death and Autopsy 

Whitman shot most of his victims near or in the heart. In total, he murdered 14 people and wounded 30 more on the campus before being shot and killed by two police officers, with a wide range of civilians assisting authorities during the crisis.

In one of his writings, Whitman stated that he wanted his brain examined after his death to check for signs of physical cause of mental illness. His request was granted in the form of a police autopsy, which showed that he had a brain tumor. But medical experts disagreed over whether it had any influence on Whitman's behavior.

With the tower observation deck also becoming the site of several suicides, the school closed the area in the mid-1970s. The deck was reopened in 1999 in a special ceremony. 

Fact Check

We strive for accuracy and fairness. If you see something that doesn't look right, contact us!