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COLUMN ONE : Massacre and Myth in Texas : One man ended Charles Whitman's coldblooded Austin slaughter. Was it the hero of legend, or a second officer in the tower, who says that he fired the crucial shots?

July 29, 1994|RICHARD A. SERRANO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

And there is a statement from Austin's ex-Police Chief Miles, made shortly before his death, attesting to the fact that the media hoopla that rose so quickly around Martinez never gave authorities a chance to honor the right man, McCoy, a man too modest to assert his own heroism.

"When it came right down to it," the chief said, "it was Houston McCoy who killed him. Houston got the short end of the stick on publicity, if anyone wants to take credit for killing somebody."

The chief's words were carried in a few of the state's papers shortly after his death. But it never resurrected McCoy's reputation, nor dampened Martinez's. So now McCoy wants to say what he remembers what happened 30 stories above the University of Texas.

But first let Martinez tell it.

It was his day off when he heard the news on the radio at home. He said he dressed quickly, drove to the school, and immediately headed for the tower. "Nobody had to tell me what to do," he said.

He was met at the top by other Austin police officers. While some of them helped several seriously wounded members of a Texarkana family who had been sightseeing when Whitman shot them, he and McCoy cautiously stepped out on the lookout deck.

Martinez was carrying his six-shot revolver and he crept forward along the outdoor tier. He said McCoy, armed with a shotgun, followed closely behind. Martinez turned a corner of the observation deck and spotted Whitman, crouched down at the end of the other tier.

Martinez: "I fired. All six times. Boom. Boom. You have to keep firing and you don't hesitate. And I hit him. He jerked up and he stood up and kept firing and he was firing as he was being hit. But if I hadn't hit him first, he damn sure would have shot and killed me."

Now McCoy.

He was on duty, but was bored and he said he was looking for a place to hide and take a nap when the first police calls of the sniper shook him awake. He too sped straight to the scene, and made it to the top of the tower, and did indeed follow slowly behind Martinez out onto the deck.

But he said that when he turned the corner, it was clear that his partner had missed all six times because Whitman was calmly rising up. Rising up not in pain, but in anger. And he was clearly still alive.

McCoy: "I shot him once and his whole head went right back and I knew he was dead. Then I jacked another shell into my shotgun and I hit him again in the head and then I was through with him. I knew he was dead then."

But suddenly, McCoy said, Martinez was yelling for him to shoot Whitman again, and Martinez threw down his revolver and grabbed McCoy's shotgun and then, breaking into a loud war whoop, he ran up to within inches of Whitman and blew away almost the entire top of his body.

Then Martinez continued running around the top of the tower, McCoy said, shouting to those below, " 'I got him! I got him!'

"But he was wrong," McCoy insisted. "I killed Whitman. All Martinez did was kill a dead man."

Martinez admitted he did let out a cry and ran up and shot Whitman with McCoy's shotgun. But he does not remember bragging from the tower. And he said he only grabbed McCoy's weapon because McCoy "is a slow person, and he was slow in reacting."

And about the police chief recanting the official version of his heroism, Martinez said simply: "That bothers me. But I can't talk about the chief now that he's dead."

*

So there it is. Two men climbed up into the sky that afternoon and met danger and risked their own lives to save others. Two men were brave that day. Their names are Ramiro Martinez and Houston McCoy. And one of them killed Charles Whitman.

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