Bringing victims of domestic violence back to life

A new book by author Joe Scott Coe explores the murders that preceded the first modern-day mass shooting.

Charles Whitman - Domestic Violence - Kathy Leisner
Charles J. Whitman and his wife Kathleen Lissner Whitman in family album photographs published by Whitman’s father, Charles A. Whitman Jr. Police shot the younger Whitman after he shot his wife, mother and 13 other people. Shooting in Austin, Texas.
(Bettman Archive/Getty Images)

For many, the history of mass shootings in the United States begins with Columbine in 1999. In the 24 years that followed, hundreds of such shootings have occurred, from concerts to houses of worship, from workplaces to supermarkets. . But the first mass shooting in the modern era occurred in Austin, Texas, on August 1, 1966.

It was lunchtime on Monday when the 25-year-old former marine and architectural engineering student made his way to the tower observation deck on the University of Texas campus. Armed with a safe full of guns, Charles Whitman began shooting people, both on campus and in the surrounding streets. Before police killed him, Whitman was responsible for the deaths of 17 people and the wounding of 31 others. But the Tower Murders were not the beginning of the carnage.

The night before, while his mother and wife were asleep, he had stabbed them to death. Coverage of the campus massacre virtually overshadowed the women’s stories. but Inaudible Witness: The Life and Death of Kathy Leisner Whitman, written by Joe Scott Coe, aims to change that. Published in October, this sensitive portrait of the killer’s wife brings together the pieces of her life as a brilliant young woman who grew up with big dreams in rural Texas. They also represent hundreds of thousands of abused women whose lives have ended, and whose stories are rarely told.

finally, Watch inaudible It is the story of an epidemic that was then unnamed: domestic violence.

Charles Whitman - Domestic Violence - Kathy Leisner
Inaudible Witness: The Life and Death of Kathy Leisner Whitman By Joe Scott Coe.

In the nearly six decades since the Texas Tower mass shooting, despite countless accounts, it has rarely been seen for what it is: an early warning of an endless wave of mass shootings that have plagued us, and that have taken up residence. Permanent in the United States. American Psycho.

In the 1960s, domestic violence was an invisible crime. The violations committed, primarily against women, were hidden behind closed doors in city apartments, rural farms, and suburban homes. Neither the police nor the clergy intervened.

As a student and wife at the University of Texas at Austin, Cathy Leissner oscillated between her blossoming consciousness as an independent woman, and the crushing constraints of financial dependence on her husband. She was trapped, not wanting to be a product of the times, even though most men and women agreed that husbands were the kings of their castles.

Although she realized she was in an unhealthy relationship, she received little support, and certainly none of the services offered to women in abusive relationships today. Her younger brother Nelson kept Cathy’s diaries and journals. He was always there for her. So did her parents, who saw the warning signs of her husband, Charles Whitman’s controlling behavior, but did not intervene.

When Cathy said to her father, “I love Charlie. ‘But I wish I had never met him,'” her father asked if Charlie had ever hurt her. Cathy blinked. “No, but he can be violent,” she said.

“Get rid of him before he kills you,” Nelson heard their father say.

“Oh, Dad,” Kathy replied. “Why would I tell you something like that?”

These were the times.

Because Nelson gives Scott Coe full access to his sister’s voluminous writings, including hundreds of letters she wrote to her husband, readers are able to see up close, stripped down, Kathy’s struggle for empowerment.

Charles Whitman - Domestic Violence - Kathy Leisner
Ms. Magazine cover, August 1976. Gloria Steinem said: “Violence begins at home, and it must end there.”

It is estimated that more than 65,000 women are killed by men every year, according to writer and activist Rebecca Solnit. This ultimate erasure, femicide, often comes “years or decades after they have been silenced or erased at home, and in everyday life, through threats and violence,” Solnit said.

While some women are erased a little at a time, some all at once, thankfully, others resurface: Cathy “appears” again because her brother, Nelson, has been fiercely protective of the primary documents that preserved his sister’s voice.

More than just bringing Kathy Lesnar back to life, Watch inaudible It reminds us that for all the progress that has been made since her murder in 1966 — from shelters for abuse survivors and self-defense classes, to police training and intervention groups that hold men accountable — domestic violence remains a deadly poison that women cannot tolerate. Serum. By bringing Kathy Lesnar back to life, Joe Scott may now help Coe develop one.

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