In 1958, 18-year-old Charles Starkweather was dating 14-year-old

 
In 1958, 18-year-old Charles Starkweather was dating 14-year-old

In 1958, 18-year-old Charles Starkweather was dating 14-year-old

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In 1958, 18-year-old Charles Starkweather was dating 14-year-old Caril Ann Fugate when she reportedly broke up with him, starting a murder spree that would become one of the most infamous in history. Framed as a modern Bonnie and Clyde, the violence that unfolded became the foundation for not just legal controversy but incredible pop culture influence. The story of Fugate and Starkweather is most notably embedded in Terrence Malick’s “Badlands” and Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska, but echoes of it can be found in “Natural Born Killers,” “Kalifornia,” and any tale of a couple taking lives across the American heartland. But the narrative has been wrong from the very beginning. Go back and look at that first sentence again. Fugate was fourteen. Today, it would be clear she was a victim of Starkweather’s as well, and she has insisted from the beginning that she didn’t participate in any of his crimes. Showtime’s four-part “The 12th Victim” seeks to reclaim this story and correct the record. It does so admirably, even as it succumbs to the most common problem in modern docuseries in that it would have worked better as a tighter, focused feature. At four episodes, it repeats itself a lot and has a habit of wandering off into the lives of the people who wrote the book on which it is based in unrewarding ways, but there’s value to be had in challenging a story that has never been told in the right way before.

On January 21, 1958, Charles Starkweather shot and killed Fugate’s stepfather and mother and then stabbed her half-sister. Fugate has always claimed—and been affirmed via lie detector test—that Starkweather told her that they were someplace else and held the threat of their safety over her for the next several weeks as their crime spree unfolded. This is an essential part of the Fugate story because the narrative sold by cops and prosecutors later was that she knew about the deaths of her family. If she did not and believed that escaping Starkweather could put them in jeopardy, it changes everything.

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