Caril Ann Fugate lived in Lincoln, Nebraska, with her mother and stepfather. In 1956, at age 13, she formed a relationship with Charles Starkweather, a high school dropout five years her senior, whom she met through her sister Barbara, who was dating Starkweather's friend, Bob von Busch. Starkweather worked as a truck unloader at the Western Newspaper Union warehouse. On January 21, 1958, Fugate later claimed, she came home to find that Starkweather had shot and killed her stepfather, Marion Bartlett, and her mother, Velda. Starkweather then hit her baby half-sister causing blunt-force trauma, and stabbed her in the neck. During the next six days the pair lived in the house and turned away all visitors, which made Fugate's relatives suspicious. The bodies were found later in outbuildings on the property.
Starkweather and Fugate then fled, driving across Nebraska and into Wyoming on a spree of murders that claimed six more lives before they were arrested. She admitted holding a .410 shotgun on a young high school couple in a car while robbing them of $4; the couple were shot and killed later that evening. The girl was found partially nude and was stabbed multiple times in the abdomen after being shot. Starkweather and Fugate accused each other of the girl's murder, while Starkweather openly admitted to killing the boy.
Starkweather was sentenced to death and executed by electric chair on June 25, 1959. He insisted that although he had personally killed most of the victims, Fugate had murdered several as well. Although she continued to maintain her innocence, she was tried and convicted for her role in the murder spree. Based on evidence presented that Fugate had opportunities to leave her captivity, the jury found her testimony that she was Starkweather's hostage to be incredible. She was sentenced to life imprisonment at the Nebraska Correctional Center for Women in York, Nebraska.
Considered to be a model prisoner, Fugate was paroled in 1976 after serving 17 years. She lived for a time in the Lansing, Michigan area after being paroled. Following her release, Fugate worked as a janitorial assistant and a medical technician, and has since retired.
In 2007, Fugate married Fredrick Clair, a machinist who also worked as a weather observer for the National Weather Service. Their most recent city of residence has been Stryker, Ohio. She now resides in Hillsdale, Michigan. Fugate's stepson states she suffered a series of strokes in her late 60s.
Fugate was seriously injured on August 5, 2013, in a single vehicle accident near Tekonsha, Michigan. Her husband, who was driving their sport utility vehicle when it went off the road and overturned, died at the scene of the accident.
The Starkweather–Fugate case inspired the films The Sadist (1963), Badlands (1973), Kalifornia (1993), Natural Born Killers (1994) and Starkweather (2004). The made-for-TV movie Murder in the Heartland (1993) is a biographical depiction of Fugate and Starkweather, starring Fairuza Balk and Tim Roth in the starring roles. Stark Raving Mad (1983), a film starring Russell Fast and Marcie Severson, provides a fictionalized account of the Starkweather–Fugate murder spree.
The 1996 Peter Jackson film The Frighteners features central plot elements with characters almost identical to Starkweather and Fugate, who resume a murder spree. The fourth episode, "Dangerous Liaisons", of season three from the ID series Deadly Women (aired September 2, 2010) was about the Starkweather–Fugate murders. The first episode, "Teenage Wasteland", of season four from the ID series A Crime to Remember (aired December 6, 2016) portrays the murders and subsequent trial. "The Thirteenth Step", the January 11, 201, episode of Criminal Minds, depicts newlyweds on a North Dakota-Montana killing spree similar to the Starkweather–Fugate case.
The 1974 book Caril is an unauthorized biography of Caril Ann Fugate written by Ninette Beaver. Liza Ward, the granddaughter of victims C. Lauer and Clara Ward, wrote the 2004 novel Outside Valentine, based on the events of the Starkweather–Fugate murder-spree. The 1997 novel Not Comin' Home to You by Lawrence Block fictionally parallels the Starkweather and Fugate crimes. The book 'Pro Bono: The 18-Year Defense of Caril Ann Fugate' by Jeff McArthur is a book about the defense team who defended Caril Fugate through the trials and the appeals process.
In 2011, art photographer Christian Patterson released Redheaded Peckerwood, a collection of photos taken each January from 2005 to 2010 along the 500 mile route traversed by Starkweather and Fugate. The book includes reproductions of documents and photographs of objects that belonged to Starkweather, Fugate and their victims, several of which Patterson discovered while making his photographs and have never been seen publicly before.
Bruce Springsteen's 1982 song "Nebraska" is a first-person narrative based on the Starkweather-Fugate case; likewise "Badlands" is full of themes regarding alienation and resentment by the protagonist.
The song "Badlands" by Church of Misery on their album Houses of the Unholy centers on the murders and is told from a first-person perspective.