If you commit murder for insurance money, or for mere pleasure, make it wholesale. Never stop at one.... It is the wholesale poisoner, or the shockingly cruel and unusual murderer, who attracts the sob sisters and sob brothers of the yellow press; causes quack alienists to rally to his defense like buzzards around a carcass; invites the windiest oratory and the most unmitigated flapdoodle from his attorneys; and finally, if he be convicted at all, makes thousands of persons move heaven and earth, slander the living and vilify the dead, in order to save his precious body alive.
--Edmund L. Pearson, Rules for Murderesses
Caril Ann Fugate was convicted of murder and sent to prison for her part in a week-long murder rampage through Nebraska and Wyoming in 1958 that left nearly a dozen people, including her parents and little sister, dead. Fugate, in reliance on her age of fourteen, always maintained that she was the innocent victim of her boyfriend Charles Starkweather. After eighteen years of penal service, Caril had been taxed enough, it was adjudged. Evidencing its reluctance to treat young girls who kill with anything approaching severity, the state of Nebraska paroled her in the mid-'70s.
Photo: Fugate in 1976
After her parole, Fugate moved to St. Johns, Michigan, a small farming community between Lansing and Mt. Pleasant, in the center of Michigan's lower peninsula. What drew her there was the solace of a couple who befriended her after seeing a documentary about the murders.
And where Fugate went, the tabloids followed. But they couldn't get interviews with the convicted murderess without written permission from the Nebraska Parole Board. So they pestered everyone else around her.
When newspapermen came inquiring in St. Johns in 1976, nobody wanted to talk about her. "Why don't you boys just leave her alone?" one man asked. "She's paid her dues." A woman from St. Johns told a reporter: "As long as she keeps her nose clean, it's okay with us."
In 1983, Fugate was again the focus of national attention when she appeared on a program called Lie Detector. The nationally televised show purported to put Fugate's claims of innocence to the test. According to the producers of the show, she passed. Afterward, Fugate held a press conference at a motel in Lansing in which she said she felt vindicated by the program, claimed that she was a victim of mass hysteria, and further represented that she did not realize that Starkweather had killed her family until long after the fact.
Photo: Fugate in 1983
The prosecutor reiterated that she was guilty as charged, and that the test was too superficial to find the truth.
But then one could expect that of a prosecutor -- someone taken with a system involving weeks and weeks spent in a courthouse, the tedious interrogations of dozens of witnesses under threat of perjury, and the painstaking examination of mountains of documentary and forensic evidence. Had the state of Nebraska held more faith in lie detectors, maybe they could have avoided all that fuss to begin with.
In the many years that have passed since she last appeared on the national stage, Caril Fugate has led a quiet life, judging by the fact that anything less than that would be common knowledge by now. It is said that she works as a nurse's aide in the Lansing area. (I verified that she holds no license from the state, at least not under her maiden name, and thus, if she's working in the medical field, it can be as no more than an aide.)
At this point, though, she nears the end of her allotted threescore and ten, and we may well hear of her again soon. And whether that occasion will result in reunification with the murderous psychopath whom she once called Love--only she can really say.
"Michigan town taciturn about Fugate," Lincoln Star, Nov. 11, 1976.
"TV 'Lie Detector' test 'vindicates' murderess," Arlington Heights Daily Herald, Feb. 23, 1983.
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