Austin’s Day of Infamy

bullet.jpgA week from today marks the 40th anniversary of the infamous UT Tower shootings. On August 1, 1966, Charles Whitman climbed to the top of the UT tower and began firing at the people below. He ultimately killed 15 (including his wife and mother, whom he killed that morning before the shooting spree) and wounded 31.

Texas Monthly is running a feature which tells the story in the words of those who were there that day. It includes the stories of many of the victims and one of the men responsible for ending the ordeal, Ray Martinez. Until reading some of these accounts, I hadn’t realized that two men, Martinez and Houston McCoy, shot Whitman and that there was contention between the two about who actually killed him. McCoy brought a lawsuit filed a claim against the City of Austin in 2000 for PTSD from the incident and they counter-sued saying that he’d waited too long to file the claim. You can read more at this site run by John Moore who acted under power of attorney for McCoy.

The shootings were the catalyst for the formation of modern-day SWAT teams. At that time, Austin Police Department officers were only equipped with revolvers or shotguns, weapons that were useless at the distance needed to take down Whitman without storming the tower and getting to him at close range. EMT was also virtually non-existent.

The Whitman shooting has had a lasting effect on the culture of the city. Kinky Friedman, one of this fall’s gubernatorial candidates, had just graduated UT that May and he ended up writing a song called “The Ballad of Charles Whitman” which appeared on the 1973 album, Sold American. Richard Linklater’s Slacker includes a scene with deceased UT philosophy professor Louis Mackey’s character opining on Charles Whitman. I think it’s still there, but Emo’s used to have a painting on the wall that included images of Charles Whitman, Henry Lee Lucas and David Koresh. As one of the stories mentioned, 906 Jewell, the house in South Austin where Whitman lived at the time of the shootings is a source of morbid curiousity even today.

For those interested in more:

I’ll update this post throughout the week as more articles or posts appear. Do any of our readers have memories of that day?

Update (2006.07.27): The Statesman ran an article today about documents related to the shooting that were sold to the Half Price Books on North Lamar.

Check out Part 2 and Part 3.

2 Comments so far

  1. Eddie C. (unregistered) on July 25th, 2006 @ 12:25 pm

    Fox 7 is also running a news special this Saturday at 6:30pm entitled “Sniper: 66.”

  2. eliz. s. (unregistered) on July 28th, 2006 @ 11:59 am

    Great post, Tim! I included it in Austinist’s best of the blogs for this week.

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