cover image Sniper in the Tower-C

Sniper in the Tower-C

Gary M. Lavergne, Author University of North Texas Press $29.95 (352p) ISBN 978-1-57441-021-1

Through painstaking research and exhaustive analysis, Lavergne recreates the tragic and gripping circumstances that led ""all-American"" 25-year-old Charles Whitman to gun down 45 people from the University of Texas Tower in 1966. Lavergne homes in on the workings of Whitman's mind, finding that despite his middle-class upbringing, piano lessons, his scouting accomplishments (Whitman was among the youngest Eagle Scouts in history) and his Marine training, Whitman was tormented by his competitive, dictatorial father. Drawing from news accounts, interviews and Whitman's own writings, Lavergne argues that Whitman didn't suddenly snap, as has been previously thought, but descended slowly into madness. He ""became a killer,"" Lavergne concludes, ""because he did not respect or admire himself."" At times, Lavergne gets bogged down in his quest to have the last word on Whitman, as when he dwells on such minutiae as whether Whitman's slayer, Officer Ramiro Martinez, enjoyed a pork steak or ""piece of meat,"" before being summoned to campus. But as the events of August 1, 1966, unfold, Lavergne's fastidious approach generates substantial tension. Lavergne doesn't claim, as others have, that authorities should have anticipated violence from Whitman, especially given his confession to a psychiatrist some weeks before his pillage that he had thoughts ""about going up on the Tower with a deer rifle and shooting people."" Instead, Lavergne argues that the failure to recognize the warning signs testifies to how, in a state of innocence, ""a nation discovered mass murder."" This is the first book-length study of Whitman, and given the thoroughness of Lavergne's work, it may well remain the only one. Photos and maps. (May)