The sniper shooting from the top of The University of Texas Tower ended when two Austin police officers cornered and shot Charles Whitman on the observation deck.
Independent actions brought Austin Police Department Officers Ramiro Martinez and Houston McCoy together into a deadly drama.
Martinez’s career in law enforcement was just beginning when he climbed the Tower in the early afternoon of Monday, Aug. 1. Four decades later, in the study of his New Braunfels home, he still remembers the days following the shooting.
“I tried to wash it out of my mind. If people asked me about it, I talked about it, you know, getting it out of your chest,” Martinez said.
About 160 miles northwest of New Braunfels, in a tiny apartment in the small West Texas town of Menard, McCoy also remembers that day up on the Tower. His law enforcement career lasted just a couple of more years after the shooting.
Martinez and McCoy’s lives took different paths since converging on the observation deck moments before ending the 96-minute reign of terror. As the two men heard of the sniper on their police radios, they made their way separately to the Tower.
Martinez was the first to head up one of the elevators.
“Of course you could see the little lights flicker [on the elevator’s panel] as the floors go by. I said an Act of Contrition, because as a Catholic I was taught that in case of imminent death, you know, you say an Act of Contrition,” he said.
When the door opened, he found, among others, a man with a rifle, whom he thought was a plain clothes officer. They climbed the stairs from the 27th floor leading up to the observation deck's reception area. On the way up, they found two people dead and two critically injured.
Even more determined to continue because of what they saw, they continued up. Then, the man accompanying Martinez asked a question.
“He said, ‘Are we playing for keeps?’ And I looked at him, and I said, as I saw dead people there, and you know all the dead people outside, I said, ‘You damn right we are.’ He said, ‘Well, you better deputize me.’ That’s when I found out that he was a civilian. And I said, ‘Consider yourself deputized,’ ” Martinez said.
That man was civilian Alan Crum, an assistant manager at the University Co-op. By then, McCoy had taken an elevator up to the 27th floor. He didn't know Martinez and Crum were in the lobby above until another officer with him mentioned it right before reaching the top of the stairs.
“If he'd have showed up at the top of that stairway with that rifle in his hand, he'd be gone. There's no doubt in my mind, he'd be gone,” McCoy said.
They all saw another victim, the receptionist Edna Townsley, dying in a pool of blood. Martinez decided to make a move. He began kicking the glass-paneled door leading to the observation deck. It was blocked on the outside by a dolly Whitman used to carry his footlocker full of weapons to the top. The dolly fell over, making a loud noise.
“And then it went over, clanging. And I braced myself. I figured that he, the sniper, could hear this. And there was no response, but you know, all that shooting, I’m pretty sure he didn’t hear it,” Martinez said.
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"And I didn't like that noise being made. We hadn't said a word to each other or anything, and probably weren't up there more than a minute when Martinez started kicking that door,” McCoy said.
Martinez, armed with a pistol and his legs crouched, led the way around the southeast corner. He soon sensed someone behind him; it was McCoy.
“That was a beautiful sight, to see that shotgun,” Martinez said.
At this point, Martinez and McCoy rounded the next corner, but couldn't see all the way because the clock tower protruded out and blocked their line of sight. Unlike the streamlined floodlights of today that bathe the Tower at night, the ones back then were bulky and in the way.
Inching closer, they finally spotted a man wearing a white bandana, his rifle in hand aimed toward the southwest corner.
"So, that's when I fired the first round, and I charged. I hit him -- left side somewhere -- and he came up with the rifle. He was trying to turn and to fire,” Martinez said.
McCoy moved to Martinez's right and fired twice at Whitman.
"I kept charging him and shooting, and McCoy was right behind me. [I] hollered at McCoy to shoot, and he did -- hit him with the shotgun,” Martinez said.
“All of sudden he just slowly slid down into a laying position. He was no more dangerous. Still to this day I didn't need that second shot," McCoy said.
At the time, McCoy felt there might be at least two other snipers, and he only had two shots left. Martinez then grabbed the shotgun, ran to Whitman, and fired one more blast.
"McCoy, at that time, started going through the sniper's pockets. I just said, 'I'm getting the heck out of here,' because the adrenaline stops pumping and my legs were real weak," Martinez said.
"I just said real fast, 'Go tell Jerry Day to call the Austin Police Department and tell them to call the radio stations and announce it's all over,' " McCoy said.
Who actually fired the fatal blow that ended Whitman's life doesn't seem to matter to either man decades later. But in the immediate aftermath, Martinez received more attention.
In his book A Sniper in the Tower, author Gary Lavergne believes the focus on Martinez was almost immediate, due in part to a news release put out by the police chief the day of the shooting. It mentioned Martinez, not McCoy. But Lavergne believes neither man could have killed Whitman without the other.
"Ultimately, Ramiro Martinez and Houston McCoy ambushed him while he was sitting in that corner," he said.
Martinez went on to become a Texas Ranger and later a Comal County justice of the peace before retiring. Not long ago, he wrote a book about his life called They Call Me Ranger Ray.
"When anniversaries come around, or somebody asks me, I don't mind talking to them because I feel that there's good therapy, you know, get it out. Not that I'm bragging about what happened, it’s good therapy to get it out of your system," Martinez said.
McCoy eventually left law enforcement and became a flight instructor. Now, the divorced father lives on his own in the small town where he grew up. He just completed a CD titled Voices from the Tower. A few years ago, there were reports McCoy was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
"I still have dreams. I can still wake up at night, and say, ‘Hell, that's the way it happened,’ you know," he said.