The tiniest victim of Charles Whitman’s rampage at the University of Texas was delivered by Caesarean section.
“The unborn child was dead on delivery,” the police report says. Under the “weapon, instrument or means of attack” box on the form it says: “gun shot wounds to skull.”
In just another month, the baby — a boy — would have seen daylight. But Whitman, an ex-Marine sharpshooter perched high atop the UT Tower on Aug. 1, 1966, aimed directly at 18-year-old Claire Wilson James’ pregnant belly. She and more than 30 people were wounded. Her baby became one of 17 people killed.
After the boy was taken away, nobody at the hospital mentioned him.
“I guess they knew it was obvious there was no baby there anymore,” she said in a recent interview.
James spent nearly five decades not knowing where he’d been laid to rest.
A relative told her there was a proper burial in an unmarked grave, but she had difficulty dealing with the idea of going there. Her baby was gone. What was there left for her to do?
She spent several months in the hospital recovering from her injuries. A year went by, then another, then decades. James became a teacher, went through a lot of therapy, married twice, adopted a boy from Ethiopia, moved around a lot. Raised an atheist, she eventually found God. And she wondered, “Where was that little boy?”
There was an answer.
In 1997, she read a book called “A Sniper in the Tower: The Charles Whitman Murders.” The author, Gary Lavergne, had tried to find James for an interview, but couldn’t. Instead, after it was published, she found him.
They struck up an email correspondence, then a friendship. A few years ago, Lavergne, who also works in admissions at UT, was packing up research materials for another true crime book he had just finished. One item was a database of grave sites at Austin Memorial Park.
Scrolling through it one last time, Lavergne stumbled on an entry for “Baby Boy Wilson,” buried on Aug. 2 1966. That was one day after Whitman’s massacre.
“It’s gotta be him,” Lavergne said.
But before telling James, he wanted to be sure. He went to the cemetery and looked through old documents, trying to find who purchased the plot. He found a name: Lyman Jones. Lavergne asked James whether she knew him. She did. It was her stepfather.
“Well, then I knew,” Lavergne said.
On November 18, 2013 — 47 years, three months, and 17 days after Whitman fired that shot — Lavergne sent James an email.
“Attached is a picture I took of the gravesite,” he wrote. “Your son is buried beneath the flowers I placed there so that you can see the exact spot.”
James imagined a little baby skeleton somewhere below the surface. It was comforting, she said, to know what she had “was real.”
Lavergne and his family, deeply moved the by the whole experience, purchased a headstone. James had a name in mind the day she was shot but didn’t want to share it with anyone, especially on the headstone. They agreed it was best that Baby Boy Wilson be etched into the stone.
James visited for the first time one afternoon in 2014. Baby Boy Wilson was shaded by trees, almost like a shelter, in an area mostly occupied by infants and stillborn babies.
“There was something symbolic about that,” she said. “I just laid down by the grave and talked to God about it.”