Fifty Years Later: … Brain Tumor Possible Cause

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Dr. C. de Chenar, Austin pathologist who performed the autopsy on a sniper-slayer Charles J. Whitman, uses a chart of the human brain to pinpoint the location of the brain tumor he discovered in Whitman, shown in Austin, Aug. 2, 1966. De Chenar said the tumor was about the size of a pecan and affected the sensory passages and could have caused intense pain.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

Editor's note: Five decades after the UT Tower Shooting, The Daily Texan remembers the most infamous tragedy in the University's history by republishing articles from past issues. 

—Sept. 13, 1966—

Gov. John Connally’s special study committee, consisting of a task force of medical and psychiatric experts, reported Thursday that Tower sniper Charles J. Whitman had a malignant brain tumor.

According to Dr. Kenneth M. Earle, chief neuropathologist at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, the tumor would have killed Whitman within a year unless he received treatment.

The Committee’s 16-page summary of their report to Gov. Connally stated that “the relationship between the brain tumor and Charles J. Whitman’s actions on the last day of his life cannot be established with clarity.” but that “... the highly malignant brain tumor conceivably could have contributed to his inability to control his emotions and actions.”

Although the lack of a recent psychiatric evaluation of Whitman made it impossible for the task force to make a formal psychiatric diagnosis, a review of behavioral data collected by the investigators led to several conclusions:

• Whitman “was living under conditions of increasing personal stress from which he felt he could not escape, and which he could not master. He experienced this stress essentially in increasing personal psychological isolation, and had done so for years.”

• He had “experienced profound personal dissatisfactions. His inner image of himself seems to have been poorly formulated, resulting in deep unrest.”

• Whitman “was prone to impulsive action and loss of control at times, not always adhering to the expectations of the groups to which he belonged.”

• Whitman, “despite reasonable good grades, had not chosen academic pursuits for which he was best equipped, and he experienced much difficulty in the abstraction of ideas and organization of his studies. He took stimulating drugs to assist him in keeping academic deadlines, the net effect of which was further loss of efficiency and a decrease in clarity of thinking at these times. However, there was no evidence of acute or chronic drug toxicity” on the day of the shooting, Aug. 1.

• He was “deeply concerned over the chronic marital discord and recent separation of his parents. He often had strong, variable, inconsistent feelings of hostility toward members of his family, particularly his father.”

Whitman, at the suggestion of his wife and friends, consulted a psychiatrist in March, 1966. He was requested to return for further evaluation but did not.

The committee also made recommendations “aimed at the detection and prevention of circumstances which might lead to similar incidents.”

Included in the list of suggestions was the formulation of a broad health program for students and faculty throughout the University system, including a mental health program and extension and strengthening of the student counseling service. Also suggested was a study of safety factors within the University system.

IN ADDITION, the committee recommended a “self-study” by news media to “review their own role and attitude in obtaining and disseminating information concerning acts of violence and conduct research, with appropriate educational agencies, to determine means to best serve the public welfare in regard to these matters.”

The committee stated that this suggestion stems from the current discussion concerning media presentation of acts of violence and the possible effects of this on behavior.  

A re-learning process for combat-trained military personnel was also suggested. The committee states that “it is believed possible for military personnel who have been trained to kill to re-learn in such a way as to de-emphasize in their minds those hostile acts taught as laudatory in time of war.”

In regard to aid to injured survivors of the Whitman tragedy, the Committee recommended that “they be aided as much as possible in recovery from the problems associated with the disaster through existing channels.”