August 1, 1966. Austin, Texas.
It’s hot today, brutally so, but despite that, you’re wearing coveralls over your street clothes and lugging a dolly loaded with a Marine Corps footlocker up three short flights of steps. At least you were able to take an elevator up the first twenty-seven floors.
You reach the twenty-eighth, the observation deck of the Tower. There’s a receptionist sitting at her desk in the lobby. She notices you, but you look like a janitor, so she dismisses you. Keeps her back to you while you open your footlocker and take out one of the rifles you packed earlier that morning. Maybe it’s the .35-caliber Remington. Or the 6mm Remington with the scope. Or the .30-caliber M1 carbine.
Whichever one it is, you use the butt of it to bash in the back of her head. Twice. She’s still alive when you drag her behind of the lobby’s couches. You stand up, Edna Townsley’s blood flowing around your feet, and spot two people walking through the lobby, having taken in the view from the observation deck.
You’re holding two guns by this time, wanting to arm yourself before stepping out onto the deck, but they don’t seem to notice them. They greet you, nothing much, just passing politeness. You smile (everyone always said you had a great smile) and watch them enter the elevator. Had they noticed the guns? Had they decided to ignore them, and walked into that elevator with stiff spines, certain that soon they would feel bullets tear into their bodies?
It doesn’t matter. You need to get moving. It’s 11:50 in the morning.
You barricade the lobby door with a desk and begin to lug the footlocker toward the deck. But then two young men shove the door open, wondering what the hell is going on. You grab the sawed-off Sears 12-gauge shotgun and rush them, knowing that the shotgun isn’t a long-distance, or even medium distance, weapon. It’s close range. You fire. One of the guys goes down, killed instantly. But there are more people behind him. Tourists. Five all total. You fire three more times. Hit two women, the other young guy who’d opened the door less than a minute earlier. You think you’ve killed one of the women. Not sure about the other one or the guy. The other two get away, but that’s okay. Well, not okay, but you have work to do. More important work than chasing them down.
You wedge the door shut with the dolly this time and lug the footlocker onto the deck. Killing the receptionist, the others, it’s delayed you. You had wanted to make it out here in time for the change of classes, when there would have been more targets. You were an architectural engineering major here. You know everything about the University of Texas campus. You were also a Marine Corps sniper. You know kill shots. Most of your victims will be hit in the chest.
You lay siege to the campus, to its outlying areas. It doesn’t take long for you to take rifle fire. This is Texas, after all. Most of the shots come from citizens. The cops give a few, but there is no S.W.A.T. team at this time. They have to get their rifles from sporting goods stores. Until then, they make do with their .38s.
None of the shooters below you are able to hit you. They hit the Tower, all right, but not you. You are well-fortified, able to fire from through the rainspouts on the Tower. You switch weapons from time to time. You’re bathed in sweat, and your head pounds, but it’s pounded for a while.
You choose a target. Squeeze the trigger. Choose another. You’ve been on autopilot since you killed your mother and your wife the night before. You don’t know why you wanted to do this. You told your psychiatrists the same thing. One prescribed you Valium. Another listened and nodded and scheduled you for future appointments. Apparently, wanting to climb a high place and shoot people is a common dark fantasy. No one took you seriously.
The rifle fire has deafened you. You don’t hear the lobby door forced open by four Austin cops, who had to brave friendly fire to make it to the Tower. Two of the cops guard the deck door while the other two sneak around the Tower, hunkered down low to avoid more friendly fire. One of the cops by the door, he sees you change position. He fires his gun. Misses you. You get away, to the northwest corner. Sit with your back to the Tower’s ramparts, your carbine aimed to the south, where the shot came from. Breached. Your defenses have been breached. You knew this would happen eventually.
There’s a cop coming on your side, from the northeast corner of the Tower. He’s firing his .38 at you. You start to swing your weapon around at him, but there’s another cop behind him, armed with a shotgun. He fires twice, hits you in the head. You fall back, twitching. The other cop grabs his partner’s shotgun and pumps one last shell into you. It’s 1:24 in the afternoon.
Charles Whitman killed fourteen people from the Tower and wounded dozens more. The bodies of his wife, Kathy Whitman, and his mother, Margaret Whitman, were found a few hours after his rampage. He killed his mother in her apartment. His wife was found in their bed in their Jewell Street house, along with a letter expressing Charles Whitman’s wish that an autopsy be done, as he was certain there was something wrong with his head. An autopsy did find a tumor in the hypothalamus, but experts agree that it is doubtful that it caused his violent acts.
A Sniper in the Tower: The Charles Whitman Murders, by Gary M. Lavergne