The first time I met Houston McCoy I knew I was in the presence of a hero. Houston doesn’t like that word. I think it makes him uncomfortable. None of the tower heroes like that word. But they are heroes. Houston is a very special man: quiet, humble, obviously kind and sensitive. On August 1, 1966 he and his hero colleagues (Officers Billy Speed, Phillip Conner, Milton Shoquist, Jerry Day, Harold Moe, George Shepard and Ramiro Martinez) were called upon to come face to face with one of the worst mass murderers in U.S history - Charles Whitman.
Houston told me about that day. “I was just doing my job,” he said. No Houston, you are wrong. You and the other officers with you on the tower that day were not just doing your jobs. You saved lives, inspired others and calmed a terrified city. You changed how other officers - 40 years later - would respond to similar cases: Columbine, Virginia Tech and Red Lake, Minnesota.
I met Houston in the summer of 2008. I was in Austin to research the Whitman shooting. I was an FBI Agent working in the Behavioral Analysis Unit at the FBI Academy. Our Unit was the basis for the movie The Silence of the Lambs, and the hit TV Program, Criminal Minds. I had authored the FBI’s monograph on school and campus violence and threat assessment and had been studying these types of cases for years. The Whitman case was hugely significant in the area of school and campus violence, mass murder and psychopathy. When I realized I was going to be able to meet the officers who were on the tower that day, I was overwhelmed and humbled. In my mind I thought these officers and Houston McCoy were bigger than life. They are. We sat around a dinner table overlooking a beautiful lake in downtown Austin. This is where I also met Forrest Preece, a student at UT in 1966 who was almost killed by Whitman that day, and Toby Hamilton, who had been a scout in Whitman’s Austin Boy Scout troop. Even as a young scout, Toby intuitively knew something was not right about Whitman. They talked and remembered and shared their thoughts. I listened. From the moment I met them they became “my Austin boys.” That night the tears flowed and our friendships were sealed.
America had not seen a school or campus massacre of this magnitude since 1927 when Andrew Kehoe blew up the school in Bath, Michigan, killing 45 people, most of them school children. People were shocked and many said they believed Kehoe must have just “snapped.” Thirty-nine years later, people said Whitman, the 26 year old, former Marine and UT Architecture Student, an all American Boy, committed his murders because of a brain tumor on the base of his skull. As an FBI Agent for 28 years, and someone who has studied violent crime for many years, I know that often it is just easier for people to make sense out of this type of violence, by saying it is unexplainable, unpredictable, and unpreventable. But that conclusion is wrong. Neither Kehoe nor Whitman snapped. Their violence was not the result of some abnormality in the brain. Their behavior, in my opinion, was the result of a natural drive. These two people knew exactly what they were doing, they knew right from wrong, and they were not out of touch with reality.
Charles Whitman, after much consideration, extensive planning and preparation climbed the Texas tower and methodically, skillfully and intentionally used his marksman expertise to hunt and kill people. These were people he did not know, people who had never harmed him or his family, or posed a threat to them. These were people who would never realize the joys the rest of their lives might bring them. Whitman took that away from them. He had no remorse. He had no empathy for them. Whitman never intended to come down from the tower that day. His goal was maximum lethality – kill as many people as possible and become infamous. He would continue to kill until Houston and the others reached the top of the tower.
Houston will tell you his story about that hot August day in l966 and I hope you will listen very carefully. From one of the most humble men I have ever met come words of leadership, courage, compassion, commitment, bravery and selflessness. Whatever it took - Houston and his colleagues were going to stop Whitman – there was never any question about that. If it took dying themselves, they were prepared to do that. Without vests, police radios, communication with their Headquarters, and completely outgunned by Whitman, they climbed to the top of that tower, knowing they might never come down. But they were police officers. They had taken an oath, raised their right hand and swore they would serve and protect the city and the people of their beloved Austin. Houston and his colleagues were men of honor and this oath meant something to them. It still does all these years later.
Houston’s chronology of that day more than 40 years ago will make a chill go up your spine, just like it did for me. He is very matter of fact, very detailed, and very thorough. Through his eyes you will come face to face with Charles Whitman and realize the courage it took for Houston and all of the tower heroes to end that horrible siege that day. They took an oath to honor and protect – whatever the price to them personally.
Houston, I know that until the day you die, you and all of the Tower heroes will say that on August 1, 1966, you were “just doing your job.” If that is how you want to characterize the courage, bravery and selflessness you all showed that day, and the patience you have all demonstrated for more than four decades while you worked quietly to make sure people knew what happened when you ended that nightmare, you deserve that right. So to all who read Houston McCoy’s story – the story of the tower heroes, may we all be inspired and motivated to strive everyday to “just do our jobs.” I guess that is another way of saying, “do our best.”
My love to you all – “My
1940, in a three room farm house, a mile down river from Menard, Texas,
Edith Louise Davis and Bill Chadwick welcomed to the world – Houston Roy
Chadwick. Days later, across the Atlantic in Oberschlesien, Prussian Germany,
Klara Myrtek and Josef Gebhart christened their new daughter, Ruth Rosemarie.
As a German soldier, Ruth’s father lost his life on the Russian front in
July 1942. Fleeing the advancing Russian Army in the winter of 1944 (one
of the coldest winters in Europe), Ruth, her older brother Josef and her
mother made it safely to Bavaria (Southern Germany) where she grew up.
Growing up, Houston was active in Boy Scouts and was a member of the Episcopal Church serving as Altar Boy and Lay Reader. In 1958, he graduated from Menard High School where he was an honor student, star athlete, named Best All Around Boy and voted Class Favorite. He was also offered a partial scholarship for basketball at Lamar Tech in Beaumont, Texas. After attending college at Lamar Tech for six months, he decided to join the United States Army.
In 1959, he was stationed near Stuttgart, Germany and was a member of a non-English speaking German Glider Flying Club, where he successfully soloed after only five hours of training. It was during this time that Houston met his beautiful future wife. Houston and Ruth became engaged in November 1961, before he rotated back to the States for an honorable discharge in March 1962. With two dollars in his pocket, he hitch hiked from Menard to Austin, Texas where in May 1963 he gained employment as a city policeman for the Austin Police Department. Making $400.00 a month as a cadet in training, Houston was able to send for his fiancée sixteen months after having left Germany. They were married the day after the police commissioning ceremony in July 1963. That same month, Houston also acquired Cloma Allan Roberts as a stepfather and in 1964 welcomed his new sister Dawn Davee Roberts.
In 1967, Houston received the Austin Police Medal of Valor for his part
in subduing sniper Charles Whitman, thereby ending the University of Texas
Tower tragedy. While still on the police force, Houston used his military
G.I. Bill to obtain his flight instructor’s license. In Aug 1968, he reluctantly
resigned from the Austin Police Department (where he was earning $500.00
per month) to accept a higher paying job of $750.00 per month to support
his growing family. By now, Houston and Ruth were blessed with three healthy
boys, Kristofer, Stefan, and Philip. He was employed as a civilian flight
instructor for the United States Air Force in Del Rio, Texas where he taught
military students from various nations to fly T-41 primary trainer airplanes.
In 1973, the flight school was re-located to Hondo near San Antonio, Texas
and Houston decided to move his still growing family (now blessed with
a baby girl, Monika) back to Menard to provide them with a simple and peaceful
small town environment.
In January 1975 he gratefully accepted the position of Camp Ranger at Boy Scout Camp Sol Mayer near Ft. McKavett, Texas where he remained until 1987. During this time period, Houston continued his involvement with flying by crop dusting, participating in air shows, giving flight lessons in a 7AC Champ and J5 Cub. While employed at the camp, Houston accomplished his hope of raising his children in a peaceful setting. Although they had no television (until 1980), they were provided with wide open country and luxuries such as (but not limited to) fishing, swimming, canoeing, kayaking, hunting, dirt biking, camping, and horseback riding. Houston’s home was always open to those in need and he would lend a helping hand at every opportunity. Now that his children are raised, he enjoys spending time with his grandchildren, Joshua, Chelsea, Megan, Robert, Justin and Syrlena.
Along with the good times, Houston has struggled with some hard times stemming from the aftermath of the UT Tower tragedy which led to periodic episodes of alcoholism and acute depression. He and Ruth divorced in 1994, but she, as well as their children, remains close. In 2006, Houston was reunited with his fellow officers and/or family members who were also involved in the tower tragedy. He is currently doing well and still has hopes and dreams of once again owning and flying a glider and J3 Cub as well as build a small home and workshop near the banks of the San Saba River, where he wants to build fishing boats, rebuild gliders and airplanes, and of course, fish and fly. The following is Houston’s account of events in relation to August 1, 1966.
Houston McCoy was called home December 27, 2012.
August 1, 1966—Houston McCoy’s Account
At 11:53 a.m., Monday, August 1, 1966, while on the 7:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. shift, the APD radio dispatcher assigned me a call of a shooting in progress from the top of the University of Texas Tower. After procuring ammunition for two Austin citizens with rifles, assisting a khaki clad police trainee trying to prevent a city bus driver from driving his route into the danger area, observing APD Officer Billy Paul Speed get shot, and conversing with two plainclothes officers as to any supervisory plans being made, I observed APD Officer Ramiro Martinez entering the West Mall (not the South Mall where there were victims) of the tower building complex. While I was in the process of parking my police car to join Martinez, the APD dispatcher issued an "any officers available" call to meet officers at U.T. Security Headquarters on San Jacinto Street. Thinking that an assault plan had been made, I acknowledged the call and met with APD officers Phillip Conner, Milton Shoquist, Harold Moe, George Shepard and U.T. Sergeant Barr at the location.
We hiked toward the tower building, halting at a large exposed area before one could enter the East Mall. To safely gain entrance, UT Maintenance Engineer William Wilcox guided us through underground maintenance tunnels into the building. Otis Elevator Company Technician, Mr. Frank Holder, then took us in the elevator to the 27th floor where we met with Officer Jerry Day and DPS plainclothes Agent W. A. Cowan. On the way up, I had asked Mr. Holder if we could obtain access into the clock area above the observation deck. He advised that by utilizing the elevator, he could get officers into that area which would put us protectively at an advantage above the unknown number of snipers.
Day advised us that there were two wounded and two fatalities in a hallway between the stairs leading up to the 28th floor reception room of the observation deck and we made plans to get the wounded to the 27th floor before attempting to bring the offense to a close. Armed with my APD 12 gauge pump shotgun loaded with four double aught buckshot rounds, and Day, armed with his APD .38 revolver provided cover at the foot of the stairs, while behind us, the other APD officers (Conner, Moe, Shepard, and Shoquist) and Agent Cowan were moving the wounded downstairs to be near the elevator doors on the 27th floor. Day, seeing me tense and tighten my finger on the shotgun trigger when hearing slight movement in the 28th floor reception room above, advised me that Officer Ramiro Martinez and a rifle armed private citizen (Allen Crum) were up there. (Forty years later, Day told me that they had been up there for awhile and I told him that I was glad that the armed civilian had not appeared at the top of the stairs.)
Neglecting to inform the other officers of the presence of Martinez and Crum, after ascending the stairs, Day and I entered the reception room and observed Martinez and Crum at a door that opened outward onto the south observation deck near the southeast corner. I took station at, and secured an east wall window near the door and Day proceeded to and secured a west wall window, both through which Martinez and Crum were vulnerable. Moments after our arrival and with no communication, Martinez loudly forced open and exited out the door which had been blocked by a hand truck dolly. I immediately followed Martinez out the door and with my back to Martinez and my eyes on the southwest corner, instructed Crum to maintain position near the doorway and to shoot anyone coming into view around the southwest corner. Meanwhile, Martinez had turned the corner onto the east side and waited on his knees a couple of feet north of the corner. As I rounded the corner in a standing position, Martinez looked up at me and motioned me to get lower as three bullets (“friendly fire” from shooters below the tower) splattered the wall above my head.
followed by Cowan, was entering the reception room as I was going out the
door with Day and Crum. There was no communication or coordination of intentions
or a plan of action. The officers with the wounded knew nothing of the
presence of Martinez and Crum and vice versa. Martinez crawled on all fours
to the northeast corner with me following in a crouched down, back to wall
stance, sliding my feet (left foot nearly touching Martinez’s feet) and
with my shotgun aimed above Martinez’s head towards the northeast corner.
I was apprehensive of a perpetrator possibly being behind the north side
of the clock protuberance, at the northeast corner or the clock area above.
Meanwhile, Day, followed by Crum, was advancing to the southwest corner,
Conner and Cowan were covering windows in the reception room, and Moe,
Shoquist, and Shepard were finishing with the wounded and climbing the
stairs to the reception room.
With a ‘tunnel’ vision I aimed at a white headband around his forehead, fired a .00 buck round and observed his head bouncing back and forth. Because I did not like my hurried sight picture which I felt was low, I pumped in another round and fired into the left side of his still bouncing head. As the first shot would prove to be instantly fatal, I saw him alive for only a split second before he was dead and of no more danger. In my opinion, since their arrival into the reception room, as Whitman had not fired on Martinez and Crum through the east or west windows and as they had not seen him through the windows, he had probably ascertained their presence (possibly from the noise that was made from the throwing of a trash can by Crum prior to entering the reception room) and had kept himself to the northern portion of the observation deck out of sight from the windows. To not expose his position, he would have ceased firing. Had he been left-handed, he would have positioned himself with his back towards the west parapet wall so he could swing his weapon either to the northeast or the southwest corners. Because statistically, the majority of people are right handed, there is no doubt in my mind that he would have anticipated an attack from the northeast corner, from which a right handed shooter would be more comfortable and could maintain a partial concealment while shooting. As he could rapidly swing his weapon to either direction, he was prepared for a confrontation from either corner.
While pumping in a third round, I saw the sniper's skyward pointed rifle dropping from his hands as he slowly slid down into a prone lying-on-back position. Martinez had jumped to his feet and repeatedly began shouting, “Shoot him with the shotgun!” To my surprise, he forcefully threw his empty weapon onto the floor, jerked the shotgun from my hands, and while yelling, ran to the motionless body and fired point blank into its upper left arm causing a large gaping wound and breaking the bone. Martinez then forcefully threw my shotgun onto the floor, began jumping up and down and waving his arms, and repeatedly hollered, “I got him!”
at the northeast corner, I had drawn and cocked my .38 revolver, being
leery of another possible sniper. I holstered my revolver while running
to Martinez. Pulling him down below ground fire, I told him to go tell
Day to notify the APD that it was over. Passing by without retrieving his
.38 revolver from the floor, he ran back the same way he and I had come
from, continually shouting, “I got him!” APD radio dispatch recordings
evidence that in less than three minutes, Martinez, Crum, Day and I had
exited the reception room onto the observation deck, ten shots had been
fired, the sniper killed and Martinez had returned and disappeared, running
past the other officers shouting that he had gotten the sniper and Moe,
with a hand held transceiver had relayed Martinez’s "I got him!" information
to the dispatcher.
To signal ground fire to cease, on his way to the reception room to call in the identification, Day waved a towel that was lying on a foot locker midway on the west deck. (Thirteen to fourteen years later, after acquiring and reading my official typed report for the first time, I saw that I had mistakenly reported Martinez as having waved the towel instead of Day). After Day departed, I walked back to the northeast corner and picked up Martinez's revolver and ejected the shells, observing that all six had been fired. Placing Martinez's revolver next to the Lugar in my belt, I returned to the northwest corner.
After tending to a wounded lady found in the reception room, Conner came to the scene, soon followed by Crum who conversed for a few seconds and left waving a white handkerchief. Day returned and after a while, Lt. Merle Wells with other plainclothes and uniform officers began to arrive as well as all original officers. Day performed a more thorough search of the body, finding a loaded .357 Magnum revolver. I gave the German Lugar to Lt. Wells and Day gave him the sniper’s billfold and .357. Sitting on top of the west parapet near the on-scene investigation, I smoked cigarettes and watched the proceedings.
point in time a civilian came around the northeast corner, stopped, picked
up and pocketed my two shotgun shells and Martinez’s six .38 shells from
the floor. At another point in time, Lt. Wells gave instructions to go
ahead and remove the body. I reminded the lieutenant that by policy, pictures
were supposed to be made of violent deaths; whereupon, a camera was soon
brought to the scene. Other civilians and policemen continually arrived
and departed, some around the southwest corner and some around the northeast
corner. Martinez briefly returned to the observation deck and I watched
him search the northeast corner area for his weapon. When he came to the
northwest corner he asked if anyone had seen his revolver. Still sitting
on the parapet, I gave it to him and he quietly left the area.
The next morning, without calling in an excuse, I decided not to go to work, but a secretary telephoned and asked if I would come in for media interviews. After the mass media interviews where I followed Chief R.A. Mile’s cautions of “the less said, the better at this time,” I completed my shift duties for the day.
On August 5, after attending Billy Speed’s funeral, I was instructed to accompany Chief R. A. Miles to appear before the Travis County Grand Jury where Whitman's demise was ruled to be “justifiable homicide.”
Neither Lt. Wells nor any other investigative officers ever asked me any questions; although, I was asked questions by my shift sergeant from time to time. My belief is that my answers were relayed to the investigative officers. As media were reporting the event inaccurately, my sergeant asked me if I wanted the department to set up an interview to correct their inaccuracies. I declined the offer, telling him that the only people I cared to talk to were my family and friends. I was never asked by any media for an interview until 1974.
In 1974, by telephone, I interviewed with Antonio Calderon of MGM for the movie "The Deadly Tower" aired by NBC TV in 1975. On learning the script would be fictitious, and in no way resembled the incident, I told the producers to not use my name or character. Even so, a character resembling an officer with my build and with a shotgun (I was the only officer on the tower with a shotgun) was cowardly portrayed, grossly misrepresenting the events as they factually transpired. The movie was eventually acquired by Turner Broadcasting System and advertised as a true and authentic story. In 1990, lawyers representing me filed an unsuccessful lawsuit against TBS for false advertisement. In 1998, I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder for mental anguish and depression related to the tower incident, the movie and untruths presented by different media. The diagnosis also included "unrelated stress factors" which would allow the City of Austin to nullify a $2160.00 award granted by a Texas Workman’s Compensation board in 2000.
In 1976, a Dallas newspaper reporter interviewed me by telephone and in his printed article, attributed to me his words of “reverse racial discrimination.” After those two telephone interviews, I endeavor to interview only face to face. Being interviewed by various media after 1976, my experience is that most seem to have an inability or desire to report accurately, recording their own preconceived story (using previously recorded misrepresentations and untruths instead of doing original research), twisting, eliminating, adding, or just not understanding my words. My experiences with the media have made me skeptical of what I read or hear about anything past or present.
Some of the more factually and memorable interviews with the least errors were with Judd Rose - ABC Network, Jamie Deans - ABC Network, Stone Phillips - Dateline NBC, Rex Henderson - San Angelo Standard Times, David McLemore - Dallas Morning News, Bob Banta - Austin American Statesman, and Dustin Brower - E! Entertainment. Although they did not interview me, Peter Jennings on "ABC World News Tonight" and Barbara Walters on "20/20" reported factually. Austin, Texas freelance journalist, Marci Faye, conducted a refreshing interview and wrote an exceptional story for “The Police Line” during the Austin Police Association’s 60th anniversary banquet. One of the more memorable interviews was with Gary Lavergne, author of "A Sniper in the Tower." I have always maintained that bringing an end to the sniper incident was not a one man show. In his book, he was the first to include many of the other police officers and civilians involved and did a good job of comprehensively weaving the many stories together. My most enjoyable interview was atop the tower in November 2006 with Ron Oliveira of KEYE News Austin. I was reunited with fellow officers who were present on the tower that day to talk together for the first time about the events that transpired August 1, 1966. Since we had never before discussed it amongst ourselves, it was enlightening to learn intricate details of things I had often wondered about for forty years. The most detailed and factual interview ever aired was by Noelle Newton of KVUE News Austin in July 2011. Finally, most special to my heart was the interview conducted by Dr. Mary Ellen O'Toole, PhD, FBI (retired) and Dr. Stuart Twemlow, MD, Baylor University, Houston, Texas.
material-August 1, 2010
We want to thank Monika McCoy, daughter of Houston McCoy, and Houston McCoy for providing us with this story. This story may not be reproduced in any form without permission from Monika McCoy.