Column: Worthington's tie to a pair of infamous killersWORTHINGTON — Newspaper histories typically turn a light on events of 75 years gone by, 50 years gone by, 25 years gone by.
By: Ray Crippen, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — Newspaper histories typically turn a light on events of 75 years gone by, 50 years gone by, 25 years gone by.
We are going to do some of this today, too. First, we need to go back 51 years, to Nov. 9, 1957. Nov. 9 was a Saturday. Veterans Day was on Monday.
Frank and Bill Schmidt — the twins — were at work at their shoe store on 10th Street, now the site of Brown’s Shoe Fit. The Schmidt brothers followed in their father’s steps; this was where they spent their working lives.
A man the Schmidts never had seen — Merle Collison of Great Falls, Mont. — came through the front door. He introduced himself. He was 37 years old. Collison said a dream was unfolding for him. He was a shoe salesman. He just had been appointed to a new, seven-state territory. The Schmidt store was a part of this.
Collison was a pleasant fellow, “just a real fine fellow,” Frank Schmidt said. Bill said, “He planned to move from Great Falls to somewhere in this region. He thought maybe Minneapolis.”
Move Merle Collison aside. Fast-forward 80 days to Jan. 28, 50 years ago. News from Lincoln, Neb, made all of us a bit unsettled. There was an unfolding story of a kind we had not often heard in that era.
Charlie Starkweather, 18, bow-legged, red-haired, a garbage collector, a high school dropout, had found himself a girlfriend — Caril Ann Fugate, 14. A problem developed. Caril’s mother and father did not like Charlie. When he stopped by the Fugate house on the evening of Jan. 21, Caril’s mother told Charlie to get out, don’t come back.
Everywhere Charlie drove, he had a .22 rifle in his car. He went for his weapon, came back and killed both of Caril’s parents. He knocked over Caril’s younger sister and slammed the butt of his rifle into her throat. After only several minutes, there were three bodies in the house.
For a week, until Jan. 28, Charlie and Caril stayed in that house. They taped a sign on the front door: “Go A way. Every Body Sick With The Flu.”
This could not go on forever, of course, and not long after the young lovers rolled away in Charlie’s car, the bodies were found. This was when many people shuddered slightly at Worthington, Sibley, Luverne. Officials everywhere warned Charlie and Caril were dangerous; there was no telling where they might turn up. Lock your doors.
Charlie never told Caril that in December it was he who had shot gas station attendant Robert Colver — drove Colver to a lonely country road at night and shot him at close range. Caril was there, however, when Charlie’s car broke down later on the day they fled. They walked to the farm house of August Meyer. Meyer challenged Charlie. Charlie shot Meyer in the head.
The lovers then walked hand in hand back to the highway and began hitchhiking. High schooler Robert Jensen rolled up with his girlfriend, Carol King. Charlie forced the couple to drive the four of them to the site of an abandoned school — Charlie knew the territory.
Robert was shot in the head six times. Charlie attempted to rape Carol King. He was embarrassed. He shot Carol; Caril mutilated her.
Well — maybe this is enough of the story. Everyone in the region was getting day-by-day accounts.
Starkweather and Fugate returned to Lincoln and went to the home of a businessman Charlie knew. They killed the man’s wife and her cleaning woman. Caril was trying to tune in the Milton Berle show on television. Charlie waited on the porch. As the businessman came through the door, Charlie killed him, too.
Back to Merle Collison, the shoe salesman who left his card at Schmidts’ Shoe Store in November. Collison pulled to the side of Hwy. 28 at Douglas, Wyo., for a short nap. Charlie rolled up with a thought of trading cars. He shot Collison nine times.
Charlie Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate were captured that day. Nebraska executed Charlie. Caril, still 14, went to prison until 1976.
We forgot many of the details, but we never forgot those names or the horror.
Ray Crippen is a former editor of the Daily Globe. His column appears on Saturdays.