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A monster or a monster in his brain - Charles Whitman

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Around noon on Aug 1st, 1966, Charles Whitman entered the University of Texas where he was formerly a student.

But he was not going to school to learn. Or to teach. He carried with him 9 different guns and over 700 rounds of ammunition. He headed up to the observation deck at the top of the university tower. Along the way, he killed the receptionist and 2 other unfortunate passers-by.

Once he reached the deck, he started shooting. Round after round, he shot. It didn’t matter who, he simply opened fire. He would go on a rampage for 96 minutes. Finally, with the assistance of many civilians, 2 police officers managed to gun him down. During that time, Whitman would kill 14 people and severely wounded 31 others.

Sounds like a real psychopath.

But that’s only half the tragedy. Before he went on his killing spree, Whitman had also murdered his mom, killing her in her sleep. Then he went home and killed his wife, stabbing her thrice through her heart, also in her sleep.

Monster. Thankfully they gunned him down. Who knows how many others he would harm? That can be the only conclusion.

But let’s give Whitman*(if you're interested, there's a short biography of Whitman at the end of this page) a tiny benefit of 2 minutes before we condemn him to eternity.

Whitman assiduously kept a diary – the Daily Record of C. J. Whitman. He wrote regularly, on a range of issues. 

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  • Just before killing his mom, he wrote (pre-emptively):

“I do not quite understand what it is that compels me to type this letter. Perhaps it is to leave some vague reason for the actions I have recently performed. I do not really understand myself these days. I am supposed to be an average, reasonable, and intelligent young man. However, lately (I cannot recall when it started) I have been a victim of many unusual and irrational thoughts. These thoughts constantly recur, and it requires a tremendous mental effort to concentrate on useful and progressive tasks.


  • When he killed his mom, Whitman wrote:

“To Whom It May Concern: I have just taken my mother's life. I am very upset over having done it. However, I feel that if there is a heaven, she is definitely there now [...] I am truly sorry [...] Let there be no doubt in your mind that I loved this woman with all my heart.”

  • After killing his wife, he added to this note:

“3:00 A.M. BOTH DEAD.”

  • Whitman finished the note saying:

“I imagine it appears that I brutally killed both of my loved ones. I was only trying to do a quick thorough job… If my life insurance policy is valid please pay off my debts [...] donate the rest anonymously to a mental health foundation. Maybe research can prevent further tragedies of this type [...] Give our dog to my in-laws. Tell them Kathy loved "Schocie" very much [...] If you can find in yourselves to grant my last wish, cremate me after the autopsy.

He stored these notes into an envelope: on which he wrote “I could never quite make it. These thoughts are too much for me.”

As he described in his final note, Whitman had left a sum of money asking for an autopsy before he was cremated.

What did the autopsy find?


There was a pecan-sized brain tumour pressing down on his amygdala, which regulates fear, anger, anxiety, and aggression. Did this tumour cause him to act the way he did? Scientists can't completely be sure, but the dominant view is that it was not just the tumour. 

Whitman had a life of





What's interesting was that Whitman saw a therapist for headaches; the therapist had encouraged him to come back for subsequent sessions, but he never did. 


But it brings forth a very interesting question – when you have an injured arm, you no longer have full control over the arm. When you have a damaged brain, naturally you also do not have full control over your brain. The difference is that while your arm deals solely with physical tasks, every thought, every emotion, every idea, every bit of your personality comes through your brain. And with a damaged brain, is it really surprising we appear to be damaged humans? This becomes more obvious as we examine other examples:

Phineas Gage - the guy with a hole blown through his brain

H.M. - everyday is a new day

S.M. - the lady without fear

Epilepsy - they must be possessed

The Amazing Human Brain

The Amygdala - fear, anger, aggression, and anxiety




*A little more info about Charles Whitman

As a boy, Whitman was described as a polite child who rarely lost his temper. This was an interesting point because he had grown up in a family marred by domestic violence. His father was an admitted authoritarian who demanded perfection from the other family members. When they failed, Whitman's father and his violent temper would blow up, emotionally and physically abusing his and children. Whitman was intelligent—an examination at the age of six revealed his IQ to be 139, and his grades were good. He was also an Eagle Scout who left home to join the Marines immediately after turning 18. Whitman often wrote about his desire to be independent of his father. 


He was a good soldier, quickly earning sharpshooter ranking, and was placed under the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps scholarship program, which sent him for studies at the University of Texas, where he met his future wife, Kathryn Leissner, whom he married in 1962.

It was planned that upon completion of his studies, Whitman would have been commissioned as an officer. However, he struggled in university and was called back to active service because of poor academic performance, Whitman returned to the Marine Corps in 1963. By mid-decade, he was honourably discharged. Whitman went back to the University of Texas at Austin in the spring of 1965. He originally took up mechanical engineering but later switched to architecture. 

By 1966, Whitman was suffering from severe headaches and consulted a therapist at the university to discuss concerns he had over his mental health. The doctor recommended Whitman attend another session the following week, but he never returned.


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