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Sniper papers depict chaos

This story originally was published on July 27, 2006.

Christian Kurtz, a used-book buyer at Half Price Books in Austin, is used to finding all sorts of strange and unique things in the boxes people bring into his North Lamar store.

Nothing, however, could have prepared Kurtz for what he found in the files of Allen Hamilton, who was chief of security for the University of Texas in 1966, when Charles Whitman went on a shooting spree atop the UT Tower.

Whitman, a former Marine, used a high-powered rifle and other firearms to kill 14 people — not counting a victim who died from his wounds in 2001 — and injure dozens of others. Before ascending the tower, Whitman stabbed his wife and mother to death.

"It was all very creepy ... sent chills up my spine, " Kurtz said of the files, which included everything from crime scene drawings to a letter written by Whitman explaining why he killed his wife and mother prior to opening fire from the tower.

There were photos of corpses and papers from the investigation that included a copy of Whitman's confession about killing his mother, dated Aug. 1, 1966.

"I had to keep taking breaks from it," Kurtz said.

Bookstore officials would not name who sold the documents or say how much the store paid for the materials, which were brought in by one of Hamilton's relatives last year. They will be donated to UT's Center for American History on Tuesday, the 40th anniversary of the shootings.

"We get a lot of oddball items, but this was one of the stranger ones, " said Steve Leach, who oversees used merchandise buying at Half Price Books. "We though it was important that they end up in the right place and not just disseminated to individual buyers."

The company says many of the documents, including lists of the victims and handwritten statements and notes by UT security officers, are originals. But many of them— including letters and a diary in which Whitman detailed his spending habits — were photocopied. It's unclear, officials said, whether there is anything in the files that isn't already available publicly.

Don Carleton, director of the Center for American History, said he has not seen the materials and is not sure whether they will bring anything new to light. Many original documents related to the crime can be found at the Austin History Center. In addition, the UT center houses materials donated by Gary Lavergne, author of "A Sniper in the Tower."

"It appears as though there would be a lot of replication there, but I don't want to sound as if we don't think it could be important," Carleton said. "We certainly wouldn't turn anything down and would want anything that could be good resource material for studying that tragic event."

Kurtz, 37, said he learned about the Whitman shooting in school but came away from his examination of the files with new insight into the crime.

The notes, scribbled in haste, reveal the chaos of the day, Kurtz said.

Other information — including Whitman's psychiatric evaluation and parking tickets — gave Kurtz insight into the scope of the investigation. It was unclear whether other documents detailing surveillance operations conducted on underground campus organizations were directly related to the Whitman case, he said, but they gave insight into the tenor of the time.

"On the one hand, while much of what we found was shocking," Kurtz said, "some of it really gave a snapshot of what was going on."

Charles Whitman files

Among the original and copied documents to be donated by Half Price Books to the University of Texas:

Items thought to be originals

  • Letters and memos to Charles Whitman regarding UT traffic regulation violations.
  • Handwritten notes from officers about response to shootings.* Brackenridge Hospital's lists of victims.
  • Drawing of the 27th and 28th floor of the UT Tower with victims' bodies.
  • Photographs of the crime scene and victims.
  • Typed letter to UT Chief of Security Allen Hamilton from Hazelett Strip-Casting Corp. recommending changes to UT Tower parapet design; also drawings of the observation deck with notes.

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