Family Shares Private Memories of Kathy Leissner Whitman

SAN ANTONIO — One California author is helping keep the memory of Kathleen Leissner Whitman alive. 

Kathy was married to Charles Whitman, the man who terrorized downtown Austin from UT’s landmark tower. In a Skype interview, writer and English professor, Jo Scott-Coe, shares her experience researching Kathy's life. Scott-Coe came across her story while writing a book on the religious and cultural context of the UT tower tragedy.

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"She's not just a footnote in another story. She had her own life. She had a story, and her life was cut short," said Jo Scott-Coe, author of Listening to Kathy.

Scott-Coe spent more than a year piecing together the 23 year-old’s personal life. A story not shared or told until now. She is the first and only writer who has interviewed the Leissner family. She was granted access to hundreds of letters, a scrapbook, and never before seen photos.

"Kathy was an incredible attender to detail. Her voice changes; she has not just a sense of humor, but, a sense of inclusion and compassion for a lot of other people. She was really determined to keep that lifeline opened with her family, and it’s a remarkable treasure," said Scott-Coe.

Personal letters between Kathy and her mother, Frances Leissner, and husband, Charles Whitman, indicated something was wrong early in the couple’s marriage.

"And what you can see, is Kathy’s mother, Frances Leissner. You can really feel her in this letter trying to navigate; wanting to protect her child, but also communicating with two adults, and saying, 'You know, you’re both not happy. You need to get counseling. You need to see someone who can help you.' It’s very wise. It's very measured. It gives me chills thinking about it honestly," said Schott-Coe.​

Counseling never happened. In 1966, Kathy was killed in her sleep by her husband before he climbed the tower. The Leissner family remained protective of their only daughter even after her death. Through family letters, the story of a bright, talented woman will never be a footnote.