Woman seeks pardon for role in string of killings in 1950s

Posted at 10:40 AM, January 30, 2020 and last updated 3:04 PM, May 17, 2023

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — A woman who accompanied her older boyfriend during a string of killings recounted in the Bruce Springsteen song “Nebraska” is seeking an official pardon, saying she was 14 years old at the time and that he had threatened to kill her family if she didn’t obey.

Caril Ann Fugate, who is now 76 and goes by her married name of Caril Ann Clair, said in her application for a Nebraska pardon that she’s seeking peace of mind as she ages, the Omaha World-Herald reported. She was 14 when she accompanied her 19-year-old boyfriend, Charlie Starkweather, on a bloody journey that left 11 people dead, including her mother, stepfather and baby half sister, before the pair was arrested in Wyoming.

Starkweather was charged with 11 counts of murder but went to trial for only one. He was convicted and executed by electric chair on June 25, 1959.

Clair was charged in only one of the killings, and was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. Her sentence was later reduced and she was paroled in 1976.

In her pardon request, Clair, who now lives in Hillsdale, Michigan, said the Nebraska Board of Pardons has a chance to right a historical wrong.

“The idea that posterity has been made to believe that I knew about and/or witnessed the death of my beloved family and left with Starkweather willingly on a murder spree is too much for me to bear anymore,” Clair wrote in her 2017 application, which the board is scheduled to consider on Feb. 18. “Receiving a pardon may somehow alleviate this terrible burden.”

The infamous saga, which inspired the 1982 Springsteen song “Nebraska” and the 1973 film “Badlands” starring Sissy Spacek and Martin Sheen, began in November 1957 when Starkweather robbed and killed a 21-year-old gas station attendant in Lincoln. On Jan. 21, 1958, authorities say he went to his girlfriend’s house and killed her three family members after her mother and stepfather told him to stay away.

Starkweather said Clair was home the entire time, but she said she wasn’t and that when she got home, he met her with a gun and told her that her family was being held hostage and wouldn’t be killed if she obeyed him. The two then set off and weren’t captured until eight days later near Douglas, Wyoming, which is nearly 470 miles (756 kilometers) west of Lincoln.

In her request, Clair said a pardon would represent only a formal forgiveness of her crime, which she says she committed in mortal fear.

“When I was 14 years old, I was abducted and held captive by Charlie Starkweather. I was terrified and did whatever he wanted me to,” wrote Clair, who acknowledged that she was present when one of the victims was shot and that she did hold the money taken from him.

“I lived in constant fear for my family’s safety. Because I loved them with all my heart,” Clair wrote.

Among those who submitted letters in support of her pardon request were a granddaughter of two of Starkweather’s victims, two of Clair’s stepsons, a former prison warden and a Michigan woman who hired Clair as a nanny.

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