The UT Tower

One of the most frustrating parts of maintaining the locations section of the Lone Star Spirits web site is that there are so many locations that are likely to be haunted – by the nature of their very history. The locations section is one of our most popular sections – everyone wants to know where the ghosts are, and it often leads to questions like, “Why don’t you have _______ listed?” There are lots of places all over the state with emotional and violent histories – some old and some recent. There is a long list of places that I suspect are haunted myself, but no one has ever come forward to confirm this. Finally, I got confirmation on one of those locations – and I bet it’s one that you probably thought had a high likelihood of being haunted, too.

The UT Tower – Austin, TX
On August 1, 1966 Charles Whitman, a former US Marine, went on a shooting rampage from the observation deck of the Bell Tower on the Austin campus of the University of Texas. Whitman had done two stints in the US Marine Corps, and his military record is riddled with court martials and demotions. He got as high as Lance Corporal, but was a Private at the time of his discharge (he was honorably discharged). His father admitted to beating Whitman’s mother and their children, saying that he loved them, but he had a temper. When Whitman was 18, he arrived home drunk after a night with his friends, at which point his father beat him severely and pushed him into the family’s pool. Whitman nearly drowned, and he joined the Corps shortly after that incident. In between his stints in the military, he attended classes at UT, where he may have met his wife, Kathy. Returning to the strict discipline of the military after the relaxed atmosphere of college life was apparently too difficult for Whitman. He was discharged early. After his second discharge, he and his wife returned to Austin, where she took a job as a school teacher and he took a lower-paying job. Frustrated with his own failures, compounded by the fact that his wife was the bread-winner and mixed with the fact that his mother had finally fled from his father and filed for a divorce, he snapped. During the only counciling session he had, he indicated that he fantasized about climbing to the observation deck of the Bell Tower and killing people. Due to the fact that the councilor was given no other proof that Whitman was a threat, the councilor was exonerated of any responsibility for the massacre that followed.

On July 31, 1966 Whitman purchased some supplies – a hunting knife and canned meat and other odds and ends. That evening, after his wife had gone to bed, he visited his mother’s apartment. He strangled his mother from behind and stabbed her. He placed her body in her bed and wrote a note to the doorman. He signed her name to the note, which left instructions not to disturb her. Around 3 am on the morning of August 1, 1966 he returned home. He stabbed his wife four times (once for every year that they had been together).

At 11:30, Whitman purchased a loading area permit, which allowed him to unload his equipment in the area of the tower. At approximately 11:35 he entered the Bell Tower structure. He was dressed as a maintenance person and his equipment was on a dolly, so it attracted no attention. By noon, he was on the observation deck and alone. Two families attempted to get up to the observation deck, but he gunned them down. He focused much of his attention on the South Mall and a section of Guadalupe that ran past it – called The Drag. Another victim was fatally shot outside of the Computation Center to the east of the Tower.

As the rampage went on, some thought it was a prank, others who were on Guadalupe thought they were out of range. Before it was over, private citizens had grabbed firearms in their personal possession and begun to return fire along side Austin Police. Some time around 1 pm, officers from the Austin PD and DPS made their way up to the observation deck. Dodging the friendly fire coming from other officers and private citizens, officers McCoy and Martinez of APD fired on Whitman. Whitman died of two shotgun blasts to the head at 1:24 pm, ending the massacre. The final death toll was 17, including his wife, mother and an unborn child.

Autopsy reports on Whitman indicated he may have had a tumor in his brain that could have contributed to his violent behavior. Notes left with his mother and wife indicate that he was actually trying to spare them any more suffering in this world. In the years that followed, there were so many suicide jumps from the observation deck that it was shut down for 24 years. The observation deck was reopened in September of 1999 with high fencing to prevent jumpers, and metal detectors (hopefully to prevent any copycat crimes).

We have received word from someone at UT that Whitman may still be there. When the lights are turned off in the offices at night and the building is vacant, the lights are known to come back on by themselves. Sometimes, there would be a bit of going round-and-round with the lights – shutting them off, locking up, turning around (they’re on again!), unlock the building, shut the lights off, lock up, turn around… Finally one guard said, “Charlie, let’s get along,” and the lights turned themselves off. Sometimes during commencement the lights will turn on and off when the tower is lit in a special way. Is it Charlie? Who can say for sure. There have been approximately 20 deaths inside the building itself – including Whitman and the 4 people he killed on their way up to the observation deck, the earliest having occurred during the Tower’s construction in 1937 when a worker fell 12 stories.

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