LINCOLN — Her name still evokes heated emotions more than 55 years after she accompanied her boyfriend on a killing spree that terrorized Nebraska.
Caril Ann Fugate Clair has lived in relative obscurity since she was paroled in 1976. She apparently last visited Nebraska almost 20 years ago, asking for a hearing before the State Board of Pardons, a request that was denied.
Fugate Clair, 70, was reported in critical condition Tuesday by Michigan authorities after a single-vehicle crash that killed her husband, Frederick A. Clair, 81.
She was being treated at a hospital in Kalamazoo, said Calhoun County Sheriff Matthew Saxton.
She remained in critical but stable condition Wednesday, according to the sheriff's office.
A Michigan TV station, which earlier Tuesday evening had reported that Fugate Clair had died of her injuries, later retracted that report.
Linda Battisti, a Cleveland attorney and friend of Fugate Clair's, said Tuesday afternoon she had just learned of the accident and was in shock about the turn of events.
“I don't know how much more she can take,” she said. “I'm flabbergasted.”
Battisti is working with Lincoln attorney John Stevens Berry Sr. on “The 12th Victim,” a book that portrays Fugate Clair as Charles Starkweather's victim rather than his accomplice.
The book, expected out soon, is one of two recent works that has revived the debate about her role in the murders, whose victims included her parents and 2-year-old sister.
The murders, which occurred over multiple days, threw Lincoln residents into a panic and have provided fodder for numerous books, movies and even a Bruce Springsteen song, “Nebraska.”
Del Harding, who covered the murder spree and the subsequent trials for the Lincoln Star, remains convinced of her guilt. The news of her accident did not change his feelings.
“Even after all these years, I still have a hard time feeling sympathy for Caril,” he said.
He said he was recently interviewed by a national TV news crew working on a story about Fugate Clair.
He said the producer working on the story said Fugate Clair had suffered a stroke and was unable to give an interview for the piece, Harding said.
An online article last year, quoting an unnamed stepson, said she had suffered a series of strokes and was partially paralyzed. Battisti had refused to confirm or deny the report, except to say she was physically OK.
Battisti said Tuesday she had last seen Fugate Clair in June and she was fine. Berry said he last saw her a couple of years ago and she seemed at peace.
“There are other people who will hate her forever,” he said. “The truth is she was a child. She was abducted. She was threatened.”
Berry said Fugate Clair's story — of surviving Starkweather, being convicted of murder, becoming a model prisoner and going on to live quietly in the community — represents a “triumph of the human spirit.”
Starkweather embarked on the killing rampage on Jan. 21, 1958, beginning at the home of Caril Ann Fugate, then 14. The two then fled, and the trail of bodies stretched from Lincoln to Wyoming.
Authorities later learned that he had also killed Lincoln gas station attendant Robert Colvert, after a robbery and abduction in late 1957.
In all, 11 people died.
Starkweather was executed in the electric chair while Fugate was found guilty of first-degree murder and spent 18 years in prison.
She was paroled in 1976 and moved to Lansing, Mich., where she got a job as a hospital orderly. She guarded her privacy over the next four decades, granting interviews only rarely.
In 1996, she sought a pardon from the State of Nebraska but was denied. She said she was unlikely to try again.
“When have I ever had a fair shake from Nebraska?” she said at the time. “I just thought that this time, someone would say, 'Hey, wait a minute.' ''
Fugate Clair married about six years ago and moved to Stryker, Ohio. Battisti said Fugate Clair and her husband met at a casino when they found themselves at adjacent slot machines.
Saxton said Fugate Clair was a passenger in the 1997 Ford Explorer driven by her husband. The accident occurred at 11:53 p.m. Monday on Interstate 69 in Tekonsha Township in Michigan.
Authorities said the vehicle appeared to have gone off the road, then back across two lanes of traffic and rolled over several times in the median.
Attempts to reach Fugate Clair's stepchildren were unsuccessful.
Caril Ann Fugate
July 30, 1943: Born in Lincoln
1956: At age 13, she is introduced to Charles Starkweather, who visits her every day after her classes at Whittier Junior High School in Lincoln.
Dec. 1, 1957: Starkweather kills Lincoln gas station attendant Robert Colvert. He tells Fugate he had only robbed the man.
Jan. 21, 1958: Starkweather kills Fugate’s mother and stepfather, Velda and Marion Bartlett, and their 2-year-old daughter, Betty Jean. The bodies are hidden in an outhouse and chicken shed on the family’s property.
Jan. 27, 1958: Just before police arrive at the Fugate home to investigate, Starkweather and Fugate flee to Bennet, Neb. A Starkweather family friend, August Meyer, 70, is shot and killed. So is the farmer’s dog.
Starkweather and Fugate flee again, only to get their car stuck on a muddy rural road. Two local teenagers, Robert Jensen and Carol King, stop to help.
Starkweather forces them into an abandoned storm cellar. Jensen, 17, is shot and 16-year-old King is shot and stabbed. Starkweather later claims that Fugate shot King.
Jan. 28, 1958: After sleeping overnight in their car, the pair drive to Lincoln, where they invade the Country Club area home of businessman C. Lauer Ward and his wife, Clara, seeking money for their getaway. Clara Ward and maid Lillian Fencl are stabbed to death. Ward's husband is shot to death when he arrives later.
Jan. 29, 1958: Starkweather and Fugate flee to Wyoming as panic envelops Nebraska.
Alongside a highway outside Douglas, Wyo., they wake a traveling salesman, Merle Collison, who was sleeping in his parked car. He is shot and killed.
But Starkweather stalls the salesman's car. When a passing motorist stops to help, a struggle ensues. A deputy sheriff arrives, and Fugate runs to the deputy. Starkweather flees in a high-speed chase that exceeds 100 mph. But after a sheriff's bullet shattered his windshield and cut his face, he abruptly stops and surrenders.
May 23, 1958: Starkweather is found guilty and sentenced to death.
Nov. 21, 1958: Fugate, then the youngest female to be tried for first-degree murder, is sentenced to life in prison for being an accessory to first-degree murder. Starkweather testifies at the trial that she was a willing participant, changing his initial story that she had nothing to do with the slayings.
June 25, 1959: Starkweather is executed in the electric chair.
Oct. 31, 1973: The State Pardons Board commutes Fugate's sentence to 30 to 50 years in prison, making her eligible for parole in 1976.
June 1976: The State Board of Parole votes to parole Fugate. She settles in Lansing, Mich., where she works as a hospital orderly and nanny.
1981: She is discharged from parole, making her free of the prison system.
1993: Fugate visits a school classroom, telling students to avoid dumb choices. Hers at age 13 was believing Starkweather. “I thought I was really hot stuff,” she says. “It was the biggest mistake I made in my life.” Fugate says she unsuccessfully tried to kill herself by taking pills.
August 1996: The Nebraska Board of Pardons rejects Fugate's request for a pardon hearing. Fugate reacts with anger, saying she should not have been surprised by the board's action. She says she was wrongly convicted in what she calls a Watergate-style cover-up.
“When have I ever had a fair shake from Nebraska?” Fugate asks. “I just thought that this time, someone would say, 'Hey, wait a minute.' ”
2007: Fugate is married.
2012: An online news site, citing an unnamed stepson, says Fugate has suffered a series of strokes and is partially paralyzed. A friend says, however, that she is OK and that she is not in a wheelchair or in a hospital.
Monday: Fugate is critically injured in a car accident in Michigan with her husband, Frederick A. Clair, 81, who is killed.
The Michigan TV report about Caril Ann Fugate Clair's car accident and the 1950s killing spree.