Houston Matters

Book restores the voice of an ‘Unheard Witness’ — the wife of a notorious mass shooter

Jo Scott-Coe talks about her book, “Unheard Witness,” which tells the story of the life and death of Kathy Leissner Whitman, who was the wife of the man who carried out the 1966 mass shooting from the tower at the University of Texas.

The book “Unheard Witness” tells the story of Kathy Leissner Whitman, the wife of the man who carried out the 1966 mass shooting from the tower at the University of Texas.

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When there's a mass shooting in this country, we eventually learn about the victims. But, often, there are victims before the mass shooting that are frequently forgotten – family members who were victimized before the shooter targets the public.

And research suggests recognizing their plight earlier could help intercept mass shooters before they act on the public.

Kathy Leissner and Charles Whitman on their wedding day in 1962.

Such might have been the case for Charles Whitman, who, in 1966, shot and killed 16 people – and injured many more – from the tower at the University of Texas at Austin.

Hours beforehand, he murdered his mother and his wife, Kathy Leissner Whitman, who grew up outside of Houston in Needville.

A new book tells her story through the large volume of letters she wrote over the years, which her brother gave to writer Jo Scott-Coe more than 50 years after her death. It's called Unheard Witness: The Life and Death of Kathy Leissner Whitman.

A cloud of smoke seen as a sniper fired from the tower of the University of Texas in Austin on Aug. 1, 1966, killing 16 people and injuring 31.
AP/File
A cloud of smoke seen as a sniper fired from the tower of the University of Texas in Austin on Aug. 1, 1966, killing 16 people and injuring 31.

In the audio above, Scott-Coe tells Houston Matters producer Michael Hagerty what Leissner Whitman's letters reveal about her and about victims of domestic violence. She says the perpetrators of mass shootings are usually notorious while many of their victims are forgotten. And many of their own loved ones were the shooters’ first victims — often for years before the rest of world learned their name.

Jo Scott-Coe will discuss Unheard Witness at an event at Houston's Brazos Bookstore on Nov. 8.

If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic abuse, the National Domestic Violence Hotline is available 24-7 with assistance in more than 200 languages at 800-799-SAFE.

Writer Jo Scott-Coe is the author of “Unheard Witness: The Life and Death of Kathy Leissner Whitman.”