Protecting a Family From Teenaged Terrorism

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

I just learned the movie Natural Born Killers was inspired by two teenagers on a murder spree in 1950s Nebraska. This reader remembers it all too well:

My earliest memory of guns was in the late 1950s, when Charles Starkweather and his girlfriend, Caril Fugate, were terrorizing Nebraska. In my memory, Fugate’s parents, two of the early victims, lived within walking distance of my grade school.  

At the time, my father drove a late ‘40s car, and all children walked to and from school (about a mile, in our case). One day, my dad arrived to pick up my sister and me in the middle of the afternoon, which was highly unusual. As I crawled up the running board and onto the bench front seat, I saw a pistol in a holster strapped to his right thigh.  

My father had grown up on a farm in rural Oklahoma and was comfortable with guns, but he had by that point finished a Ph.D. at the University of Nebraska and was about to join the faculty. We never spoke of that day, and Starkweather was quickly caught.