The Story Of Caril Ann Fugate And Charles Starkweather’s Natural Born Killing Spree

Published November 16, 2021
Updated December 14, 2021

Caril Ann Fugate became the youngest female ever tried for first-degree murder when she accompanied Charles Starkweather on his cross-country killing spree.

When she was just 13 years old, Caril Ann Fugate met Charles Starkweather. Though he was five years older than her, Fugate was enamored by his charms and James Dean-like style. Before long, she was following him everywhere, in cars across town, then across the country, and on all of his delinquent escapades — even when they ended in murder.

Before she met her downfall, Fugate lived with her family in Lincoln, Nebraska. Her sister Barbara was dating Starkweather’s friend and introduced the two in 1956 during a night out. Shortly after meeting, Fugate returned home one night to find that Starkweather had shot and killed her stepfather and her mother.

Caril Ann Fugate

Carl Iwasaki/Getty ImagesCaril Ann Fugate in prison in 1958, after being arrested along with Charles Starkweather.

Whether she was driven by fear or homicidal tendencies of her own is unknown, but what Caril Ann Fugate did next turned her future on its head and put her on track to become the youngest female to be tried for first-degree murder in American history.

After Fugate came home and found her murdered parents, Starkweather killed her infant half-sister, hitting her over the head and stabbing her in the neck. For the next several days, Fugate and Starkweather holed up in the home, refusing visitors and raising suspicions amongst the extended Fugate family.

Six days later, the bodies of Marion and Velda Bartlett, Fugate’s parents, and their baby daughter were found in outbuildings on the Fugate property. Rather than come forward, as she was still innocent at the time, Fugate fled with Starkweather and drove from Nebraska to Wyoming.

Caril Fugate And Charles Starkweather

Bettmann/Getty ImagesCaril Fugate and Charles Starkweather before their killing spree.

Over the course of their joy ride, six people were murdered, bringing Starkweather’s body count up to nine. However, there has been much debate over how much Fugate participated in the murders. Fugate maintained during the ensuing investigation that she had no part in the murders and that the worst crime she had committed was holding a gun on a high school couple who Starkweather stole $4 from.

Charles Starkweather, alternatively, claimed that Fugate was as responsible as he was. He claimed that she had killed one of the high schoolers they had robbed. The bodies of the two teens turned up later that evening. While Starkweather openly admitted to killing the boy, the girl’s death was disputed. Fugate claimed Starkweather had pulled the trigger while Starkweather claimed the opposite.

Eventually in 1959, after being picked up after the teen couple’s death, the murderous duo turned on each other. Charles Starkweather was sentenced to death to be executed by the electric chair. To his death, he claimed that while he had killed most of their victims, Fugate had done her fair share of killing.

Caril Ann Fugate In Prison

Denver Post Archives/Getty ImagesCaril Fugate in prison in 1973, shortly before her release.

Caril Ann Fugate, the youngest female to be charged with first-degree murder at the time, claimed that she had been innocent and that all of the killings had been done by Starkweather. She also claimed she had been an innocent bystander, swept up by Starkweather’s charms.

Whether the jury believed that she was innocent or they were swayed by the fact that she was just a 14-year-old girl, Caril Ann Fugate escaped the death penalty and was instead sentenced to life in prison. Seventeen years into her sentence she was paroled after being considered a model prisoner for several years.

She worked as a medical technician and a janitorial assistant, but has since retired. She even remarried, though her husband, Fredrick Clair, died in 2013.

Over the years, several movies have been made that are inspired by the famous crime spree, including Badlands and Natural Born Killers. Her life with Charles Starkweather even inspired Bruce Springsteen to write the song Nebraska about it, forever immortalizing the pair as a Bonnie and Clyde-like duo.

To this day, however, Caril Ann Fugate still maintains her innocence.

After learning about Caril Ann Fugate, Charles Starkweather, and the murders that inspired Natural Born Killers, read about the gruesome deaths of Bonnie and Clyde. Then, learn about Pedro Rodriguez, the serial killer who killed other serial killers.

Katie Serena
A former staff writer at All That's Interesting, Katie Serena has also published work in Salon.