Doc Quigg's Report on Texas Tower Shooting

Here's the legendary H.D. "Doc" Quigg's report on the 1966 Texas Tower shooting (with reporting assistance from Kyle Thompson, Charles Richards, James T. Young, David Weissler and John Drollinger:

'It was a very hot noon, that fatal noon' -- Thornton Wilder, The Bridge of San Luis Rey


AUSTIN, Texas (UPI) -- At high noon in Austin a man's shadow in early August on the University of Texas campus stands out only a foot and a half to the northwest, a little rounded thing that would shade a passing grasshopper but little else.

The sun comes down just about straight. The Weather Bureau figures it's at least 110 degrees out in the sun on a day like last Monday, when the temperature stood at 98 degrees in the shade.

A man taking sight with a gun does well to wear a stretch-type sweatband around his head to keep the salt sweat from his forehead out of his eyes. Charles Joseph Whitman wore one, and at high noon, he was a busy man.

When the wind at noon comes out of the south at 8 miles an hour, the 10-by-15-foot American and Lone Star flags on the south mall -- which on Monday were at half staff because of a university biochemist's death -- finger themselves toward the university tower at lazy ripple.

Squinting along that mall against the pointing fingers of the flags, Whitman from his observation-deck height of 231 feet above campus clearly saw the 12-story apartment building 10 blocks south were, on the fifth floor, his mother lay dead by his hand. Now he had new business.

The noon chimes in the bell-clock tower rising above him to the building's 307-foot pinnacle sounded: pom-pom-pom-pom . . . 16 notes, high and sweet. Some say the chimes say a poem:

"Lord, through this hour "Be Thou my guide, "For in Thy power "I do confide."

After the chimes, there is a long pause -- 23 seconds if you hold a wristwatch on it -- time enough for a practiced man to reload three rifles and a shotgun.

Then the hammer gathers itself and bongs 12 times against the 3 1/2-ton bell in stately cadence -- measured tones, but soft and mellow. A practiced man could aim down campus and fire numerous times during its swell of sound.

If you are a tower receptionist named Edna Elizabeth Townsley, it is your day off. But you are there in a twist of fate -- a co-worker is on vacation and you are filling in. And you are lying, barely breathing, behind a couch near your observation-deck desk dying -- your head bashed in by a madman's gun butt and then pierced by a bullet.

If you are 17-year-old Alec Hernandez, you are working as a vacation replacement for the delivery boy who bicycles newspapers to the university area -- and you are pedaling northward toward a bullet in the hip because your newspaper came out 10 minutes early on Monday.

* * *

A date with a beautiful girl . . . a yen to leave business and teach . . . a sudden electrical power failure to be fixed . . . class letting out early -- many things brought 46 victims within range of Whitman's guns in the tower area at high noon -- 13 of them to be killed on Aug. 1, 1966. Gov. John B. Connally said that in a 20-minute period around that deadly hour 99 percent of the "damage was done."

Probably the first to be killed after Mrs. Townsley was clubbed was a 15-year-old boy who came to Austin on a round-about way to see a high school football chum play defensive right halfback in an all-star high school football game in Houston the following Thursday.

He was Mark Gabour, a high school junior in Texarkana, Texas. He and his mother, Mary, 41, his father, M.J., a service station owner, and his brother, Mike, 19, an Air Force Academy cadet, had left Texarkana the day before on a week's vacation during which they would see the North-South Texas high school game.

They decided to drive here first to visit Mrs. Gabour's sister, Marguerite Lamport, 56, and her husband, William. The Lamports chose Monday noon (maybe for the noon chimes?) to go sightseeing at the tower. The six took the tower elevator to floor 27, and the boys led the way up the three flights of stairs to the 29th (observation deck) floor.

Mark must have run up first; he was the one who got the shotgun blast in the face at the head of the stairs. That's the way Chief A.R. Hamilton of the University Police Force reconstructs it.

* * *

Twelve steps . . . landing . . . 11 steps . . . landing . . . turn . . . two more steps . . . turn . . . 10 steps . . . Mark was at stair-head in the reception room, where there is a sign advising "You are standing 231 feet from the ground." And to its left was a pleasant, blond, 25-year-old man in khaki-colored coveralls over a pair of blue jeans, drab-green flight jacket over a white dress shirt with brass buttons, sweatband on his head ($96 in his billfold) -- leveling a sawed-off shotgun.

The pellets that didn't find Mark's face formed a small pattern defacing the green paint of the metal wall.

The gunman advanced to the stair-head and fired twice through the steel meshing of the rain onto the second stair flight.

"Mike screamed," his father said later. "That's the only voice I remember. They all four came rolling down the stairs."

Mark and Mrs. Lamport were dead, Mike and Mrs. Gabour wounded. The two men, last on the stairs, were unhit. They ran up and down the hall vainly for help and stayed an hour and a half with their dead and wounded until Whitman was killed by police.

"We couldn't do anything," Gabour said. "We were on vacation. We went to see the view from the tower. I looked out the window and saw people falling in the yard."

* * *

Mrs. Townsley, the observation-deck receptionist, was a divorcee, 47, whose "whole life was her two boys," Danny, 16, and Terry, 12. She got to work at 8 a.m. on the day she normally would have had off. She wore a simple white dress with a little blue-flower design.

She had greeted thousands of visitors, students and tourists, from her desk during the past eight years. The young man with the guns and the food-and-ammunition-stuffed foot locker was different.

Two visitors preceded Whitman to the deck. Cheryl Botts, 18, of Rockdale, Texas, and Don Walden, 22, a university student from San Antonio, said they got to the top about 11 a.m. and left about 11:40, passing through Mrs. Townsley's little room on the way to the stair.

The receptionist who had greeted them was not at her desk. A blond man was bending over a couch near a wall. Cheryl saw a "dark stain" on the floor near the desk and warned Don not to step in the spilled "stuff." He stepped across it. The blond man picked up two rifles and the couple said hello to him. He smiled.

Mrs. Townsley was found behind the couch by policemen at 1:25 p.m., her skull split down to the brain. Her glasses were on the desk beside her nameplate. She died on the operating table at 3:18 p.m.

* * *

Billy Paul Speed, 22, a traffic policeman, sped in answer to an 11:31 a.m. police call to investigate an accident east of the university. On the way, he heard a report that a sniper was firing at everyone from the tower. On his own, he diverted his mission. He was among 50 policemen closing in on the tower.

He crouched on the south mall behind a balustrade below a statue of Jefferson Davis. Fat stone pillars support the balustrade. Whitman stood at 6 o'clock on his firing desk -- just under the big Roman numeral VI on the 12-foot-diameter clock face in the bell tower. Looking at the Davis statue, he could see seven slits of openings between the pillars on its left, three on its right. He put a bullet through one slit.

Speed was hit. Leland Ammons, a law student crouching beside him, said Speed couldn't communicate, grew glassy-eyed. He died.

Straight on south beyond the Davis statue, an electrical service truck was parked. Roy Dell Schmidt, 29, was one of two city electrical servicemen who had been called out by a power failure in a house north of the university.

But a police blockade near the university stopped them three blocks south of the tower, straight down the lush green open mall in clear view of the mad sniper of the bell-clock tower. Schmidt and his co-worker strolled over to another parked service truck and were told a sniper with a high-powered rifle was shooting at everybody and they'd better leave.

They started, but too late. Schmidt fell dead. It was Whitman's longest fatal shot.

* * *

Paul Sonntag, 18, picked up his paycheck. It was $92.40 gross -- $75.12 take-home -- for a two-week period as a lifeguard at the Reed Municipal Pool in West Austin. Now he had some money for shopping at the record shops along "The Drag," the student name for the college-catering district of Guadalupe Street, two blocks west of the tower.

The shops were a favorite haunt of Sonntag and his sweetheart, Claudia Rutt, also 18 and a recent high school graduate. On any other day, he would have been at the pool -- and she usually was with him there. It closes on Monday.

Paul was the grandson of Austin radio-television news executive Paul Bolton of stations KTBC, once owned by the Lyndon Johnson family. He and Claudia strolled along the intercampus walk on the west mall, holding hands. A shot rang. Claudia wavered and fell. "Help me!Somebody help me!" she called.

Paul bent over her. Another shot. He fell across her body. They died together there. On her finger was Paul's senior ring.

* * *

The university newsstand is a little recessed place across "The Drag," and Harry Walchuk sought it out during a break in his studying at the library. Walchuk was 38, an instructor in government at Alpena College, Alpena, Mich., where he lived with his wife, Marilyn, and six children. He had been in Austin only six weeks, working toward his doctorate by taking two courses.

He had no classes till 7 p.m. Monday and had all day to study at the library in the tower building. A 6-foot, 200-pounder, he had been out of education once for six years, working for a business machines firm. But he wanted to teach. This was his second summer on the Austin campus, and he planned to return to teaching at Alpena this winter and then register fulltime at the university in 1967. His judicial processing professor here described him as exceptional and dedicated.

He went to the back of the newsstand and then returned to the front and told the proprietor, Arthur H. Merchant: "The magazine I wanted wasn't back there." Merchant had heard a girl scream as Walchuk walked up to him. He opened his mouth to say that more magazines would be in Tuesday -- but Walchuk fell, shot. He lay by the comic-book section for half an hour before they could get him out. He died at 3 p.m.

* * *

Claire Wilson, 18, was eight months pregnant when she was shot as she walked across the concrete part of the south mall between the Davis-Wilson statues on the tower. The bullet shattered the skull of her unborn boy. The child was stillborn and became one of the 13 fatalities. The mother is still in serious condition in the hospital.

She was walking from a freshman cultural anthropology class that had let out at 11:20 a.m. -- 10 minutes early -- with Thomas Frederick Eckman, 18, who also was enrolled in the course, according to her friend and housemate, Julie Cadenhead of Luling, Texas.

Both Eckman and Claire were spending their first summer on the campus. Miss Cadenhead said he had graduated from high school in Toledo, Ohio, and Claire had attended high school in Dallas but had not graduated and was in the university on special approval.

The anthropology class met in Benedict Hall on the south side of the campus. Miss Cadenhead said she was in an English class facing the south mall and that at 11:55 a.m. she looked out a window and saw three persons lying on the concrete. The two more were shot. The horrified class watched Whitman on the tower.

Eckman was hit as he walked. He was dead on arrival at the hospital.

* * *

Thomas Aquinas Ashton, 22, of Redlands, Calif., was on his way to meet a beautiful brunette, a Peace Corps trainee colleague. He had entered the Peace Corps this summer just after graduating from the University of Southern California, where he studied politics, economics and geology.

A "real easy-going guy" with close-cropped hair and black horn-rim glasses, he had attended a class that morning in the techniques of teaching English to young students in Iran. It ended at 11:50 a.m., six minutes after Whitman began firing from the tower.

Most of the others in his class headed north along "The Drag" for lunch at the Student Union, then saw the danger and got behind buildings. Ashton did not. He had an appointment. His last words to the group were: "I'm going to meet someone."

He headed east. No one knows where he was when hit. The ambulance driver couldn't recall where he was found. Doctors said death was instantaneous. The bullet struck his heart.

* * *

The boy on the bicycle was a vacation replacement for Gordon Knight, "permanent fixture on the campus" as newspaper deliverer. The substituting Alec Hernandez had bad luck born of efficiency that got the American-Statesman out 10 minutes early. The sales department said that "if it had been out when it normally is, Alec would not have been shot."

Passers-by dragged the seriously wounded boy to safety. The bicycle from which he had been picked off by Whitman was a bullet hole through the seat.

Sharing an unwanted spotlight in oddity with him was Mrs. Charlotte Darehshory, a secretary in the graduate dean's office. She looked out, saw three students fall, rushed out, made her way to one body -- and then the intensity of fire made her realize that somebody at the top of the tower was murdering anything that moved.

A few feet from her was the south mall flagpole with the U.S. flag. She darted and crouched behind its concrete base, which was just large enough to shield her body. The sniper nicked the concrete but she was safe -- and isolated. For an hour and a half she crouched there until he was dead.

* * *

After considering 40 colleges, Oscar Royuela of La Paz, Bolivia, chose the University of Texas because "it was economical and it has a good engineering team." He met his girl friend, Irma Garcia, 21, for lunch that day and after lunch they heard shots and started out to see.

Suddenly they were on a firing range.

"I grabbed Irma's hand and said. 'Let's start running.' At that time, she got him. Her flesh opened like a flower. Her back was torn open. I couldn't believe what I was seeing.

"So, I fell to the ground. I was asking people to help Irma. No one was coming. I stood up again. A blast hit me in the back. It just missed my lung, broke two ribs and went through my left arm. I started vomiting blood. I thought I was going to die. Then this boy with a beard dragged us back.''

Both he and his girl friend are in fair condition.

* * *

And when it was all over, the dead around the tower totalled a fatal number -- 13.


Copyright: United Press International; used with permission)