Dr. Harleen Frances Quinzel was young and filled with promise. Just out of school, Quinzel landed her dream job as a psychiatrist at Arkham Asylum, the home of the most insane criminals to ever walk the Earth, including the king of them all, Joker. Quinzel had a single goal – to gain Joker’s trust, get him him to open up about his past, a past that no one knows, and then write a book about it. Harleen Quinzel would be a millionaire, cashing in on the unknown origins of one of the greatest serial killers in history.
Joker opened up to Harleen fast – he was taken by her name and how, with just a little cutting, it could be turned into Harlequin. Joker called her Harley. His Harley. His Harley Quinn. He seemed excited to speak with her, to tell her things he never felt safe telling anyone. Joker talked, and Quinzel listened intently. Every story, every joke, every moment of reflection, was another golden paragraph for her book.
As Joker spoke, Harleen came to see something inside the Clown Prince of Crime that everyone else ignored – he was human. His father, a drunk, beat him constantly, putting a young Joker into the hospital more than once. Joker talked about how his father was never happy, how he never laughed except for that one time at the circus when the clowns came out. How those clowns made his dad so happy, and how all he wanted to do was bring that moment of happiness back, first with his dad, and now with Batman.
The surrogate father role that Batman played to Joker was clear to Quinzel. Batman never laughed. Batman never smiled. Batman was abusive, beating Joker time and again, when all Joker was looking for was someone who would love him. Quinzel knew, deep inside, that she was the one who could save Joker. She could love him.
Dr. Harleen Frances Quinzel, so smart, so hungry for fame and fortune, so taken by a madman, created a new identity with a nice new costume. She entered Arkham Asylum, taking out the guards, and broke Joker out. The legend of Harley Quinn was born.
No one expected Harley Quinn to become so popular. In her first appearance on BATMAN:THE ANIMATED SERIES, she was little more than a walk on role. Paul Dini had created her as a one time character, based on his college friend and actress Arleen Sorkin. He and the rest of the team working on the show had no plans to bring her back, but the character was a hit with fans. She was so popular that DC Comics added her to the canon of Batman, introducing her to the comics universe during the No Man’s Land storyline. Comic fans ate her up too, and before long, Harley was the star of her own book. Harley quit hanging out with Joker and spent more time with Poison Ivy, creating a partnership that had less domestic violence mixed in and allowing the character to be softened. Harley, still a killer, was more of a fun killer now. Like Marvel’s Deadpool, minus the whole breaking the fourth wall thing.
Clearly, this worked, since a whole lot of us will be sitting in a movie theater soon watching as Harley makes her live action debut in SUICIDE SQUAD. Sadly, most women who team up with murderers don’t become cultural icons who show up in children’s cartoons. Most of them end up like Caril Ann Fugate.
Caril Ann Fugate was thirteen years old when she met Charles Starkweather at her home in Lincoln, Nebraska in 1956. Starkweather, five years older than Caril, became obsessed with the girl. He dropped out of high school and got a job at the Western Union across the street from Caril’s school so he could see her every day. When they would meet after school, Starkweather would impress the young girl with his nihilistic outlook on the world.
A stuffed animal at a service station would be the trigger to the horrors that followed. Starkweather wanted to buy the toy for Fugate, but did not have the money. The attendant at the service station, Robert Colvert, wouldn’t give Starkweather the stuffed animal on credit, so Starkweather did what any insane person would do, he returned with a shotgun a few days later. Starkweather forced Colvert into his car and they drove to a remote area. After a brief struggle, Starkweather shot Colvert in the head. In that moment, Starkweather felt something he had never felt before, power. He would later claim that he transcended his former self, becoming something more than man.
Starkweather told Caril about the murder. She didn’t alert the authorities.
Two months later, when Starkweather went to the Fugate house to visit Caril, her mother and stepfather told Charles that they did not want him seeing their daughter anymore. Charles left the house, took the shotgun from his car, and killed them both. He then stabbed and killed their two year old daughter Betty Jean. Charles and Caril hid the bodies and lived in the house for six days before fleeing when Caril’s grandmother became suspicious.
Starkweather and Fugate left Lincoln and headed to the farmhouse of Augustus Meyer in Bennet. When they arrived, Charles shot Augustus in the head, then shot his dog. Fleeing Meyer’s farm, Starkweather drove their car into a ditch, getting it stuck in the mud. As luck wouldn’t have it, Starkweather and Fugate were picked up by Robert Jensen and Carol King, two local teens who were just being cool and helping some people out. Starkweather forced them to drive to an abandoned storm shelter in Bennet where he immediately shot Jensen in the back of the head, killing him.
Starkweather next tried to rape King, but was unable to so he shot her instead. Or maybe he didn’t. Starkweather, happy to take the credit for the other murders up to this point, claimed that Fugate shot King, then mutilated King’s body in a jealous rage. Either way, the two teens were horribly killed for no reason. Starkweather and Fugate took the car and drove off.
The teen lovers returned to Lincoln, where they walked into the home of C. Lauer Ward and his wife Clara. Clara and the Ward maid Lillian Fencl were stabbed multiple times. Starkweather snapped the neck of the family dog. Once again, there are two stories to the killings – Fugate claims she took no part in either killing, while Starkweather claimed that it was Caril who killed Clara.
When C. Lauer returned home that evening, he was met by Starkweather and Fugate. Starkweather shot him, killing C. Lauer instantly. The two then took all the jewelry in the house and drove off in the Ward family car. This would prove to be a real bad idea – the Ward family’s murders were discovered quickly, and the police were on the lookout for the car, a black 1956 Packard. It was a car that stood out, and the two killers needed to replace it quick.
Merle Collison would be the final victim of Starkweather and Fugate. Collison was sleeping in his car when the they woke him, then killed him. Starkweather claimed that Fugate killed Collison after his own gun jammed. According to Starkweather, Fugate was “the most trigger happy person” he’d ever met. I suppose Starkweather wasn’t counting himself in that thought.
Collison’s Buick proved to be too much for Starkweather, who had never driven a car with a push pedal emergency brake and couldn’t figure out why the automobile kept stalling. When another driver stopped to help, Starkweather pulled out his rifle, ready to kill. Lucky for that person, a deputy sheriff arrived on the scene. As soon as the officer showed up, Fugate ran to him, screaming “It’s Starkweather! He’s going to kill me!” Starkweather jumped into the car and sped off, leading police on a 100 MPH chase. When a bullet shattered the windshield of Starkweather’s car, a shard of glass cut him deep. Starkweather pulled over and surrendered to the police, believing that he was bleeding to death. He wasn’t, Starkweather was just a wimp. Sheriff Earl Heflin was quoted as saying, “He thought he was bleeding to death. That’s why he stopped. That’s the kind of yellow son of a bitch he is.”
Charles Starkweather was tried for the murder of Robert Jensen and was sentenced to death by electric chair, which was carried out on June 25th, 1959. An asshole to the end, when asked if he would donate his eyes to the Lions Club Eye Bank so that they could be used for corneal transplants, Starkweather replied “Hell no! No one ever did anything for me. Why in the hell should I do anything for anyone else?” Those were his last words.
Before being electrified into oblivion, Starkweather testified at the trial of Caril Fugate, claiming that she was a willing participant in their murder spree. Caril claimed that she was a hostage of Starkweather. Her claim was that Starkweather had said that he took her family and if she didn’t go with him, he would kill them all. The jury didn’t buy that story, but they weren’t so sure that Fugate actually killed anyone.
Sentenced to life in prison, Caril Fugate was granted parole seventeen years later. She moved to Michigan where she changed her name and got a job as a janitor at a hospital. She married Frederick Clair in 2007. Frederick died in an automobile accident in 2013. Caril was badly injured in the same crash, but is still with us today.
We’ll never know for sure just how much a part Caril played in the Starkweather murders. Was she a hostage like she claimed? Yes, she had chances to escape Starkweather during their time together, but she was thirteen. Is it hard to believe that a thirteen year old would be too scared to run? I can buy it.
At the same time, I can buy a thirteen year old murdering people with verve. Madness knows no age.
*Photo: DC Comics