1950’s Killing Spree Ended with High Speed Shootout in Douglas, Wyoming
Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate crossed the Wyoming border from Nebraska on the morning of January 29th, 1958. It was freezing, but the heat was on as the national media attention focused on the couple. By the end of this bloody rampage, they murdered 11 people, and it was a parking brake that stopped them.
Charles embodied the James Dean Rebel Without a Cause look. His hair was slicked with black shoe polish. He sported black jeans, a white shirt, wire-rimmed glasses, and a black leather jacket. Carli was a 14-year-old who looked like the typical schoolgirl of the late 50s.
Charles and Caril didn't know it at the time, but their murderous rampage was about to end, as written about on WyoHistory.org. It started in Nebraska after Charles murdered Caril's mother, stepfather, and 2-year-old stepsister. It wasn't Charles' first victim, but it launched the spree killing that became a media sensation.
Along a stretch of Wyoming highway, Charles was looking to ditch the 1956 Packard they had stolen from one of their victims in Nebraska. According to CrimeLibrary.com, they were near Ayres Natural Bridge when they came across Merle Colliso napping in his Buick alongside the road. The couple pulled over to commandeer the vehicle. Merle wasn't too keen on the idea, but Charles wasn't about to take no for an answer. He shot Merle with several shotgun blasts and left his lifeless body in the passenger seat.
Charles and Carli loaded into the Buick. He started the car but was not able to disengage the parking brake. Joe Sprinkle, a geologist from Casper, stopped to help what he thought was someone having car problems. It didn't take long until he saw Merle's body.
Joe struggled to get the gun away from Charles just as a Natrona County Deputy Sheriff, William Romer, drove up to the scene. When Deputy Romer got out of his car, Carli ran out for help saying Charles had killed a man. Charles in a panic got back into the Packard and raced towards Douglas.
The Deputy radioed in that he had encountered the fugitives. Douglas police set up roadblocks and the chase began. Charles crashed through the barricade and the police chased him at speeds up to 100 miles per hour. They exchanged gunfire, and an officer blew out the window in the Packard wounding Charles. Thinking his gunshot was fatal, he surrendered.
The media continued their firestorm coverage of one of the first serial killers on the loose since the popularization of television. Charles Starkweather was sentenced to death and was executed in Nebraska on June 25, 1959. Carli Fugate was in jail for 18 years and was released on parole in 1976. To this day she still protests her innocence in the spree killings saying she was a hostage.
In later years, they have been an inspiration for movies, television shows, songs, and comic books. The fictionalization shows Charles and Carli as Bonnie and Clyde characters madly in love and deadly as sin. The truth may not be as clear cut, but if it weren't for Charles not able to unlock the parking brake on that Wyoming highway, this story may have ended differently.