The Life and Death of Kathy Leissner Whitman
376 Pages, 5.50 x 8.50 x 1.40 in, 34 b&w photos
Sales Date: October 17, 2023
Unheard Witness foregrounds a young woman’s experience of domestic abuse, resistance, and survival before the mass shooting at the University of Texas at Austin in 1966.
In 1966, Kathy Leissner Whitman was a twenty-three-year-old teacher dreaming of a better future. She was an avid writer of letters, composing hundreds in the years before she was stabbed to death by her husband, Charles Whitman, who went on to commit a mass shooting from the tower at the University of Texas at Austin. Kathy’s writing provides a rare glimpse of how one woman described, and sought to change, her short life with a coercive, controlling, and violent partner.
Unheard Witness provides a portrait of Kathy’s life, doing so at a time when Americans are slowly grasping the link between domestic abuse and mass shootings. Public violence often follows violence in the home, yet such private crimes continue to be treated separately and even erased in the public imagination. Jo Scott-Coe shows how Kathy's letters go against the grain of the official history, which ignored Kathy’s perspective. With its nuanced understanding of abuse and survival, Unheard Witness is an intimate, real-time account of trust and vulnerability—in its own way, a prologue to our age of atrocities.
What Jo Scott-Coe has managed to do in Unheard Witness is utterly remarkable: she has restored a voice left silent for far too many decades. Kathy Leissner Whitman’s murder was eclipsed by her husband’s horrific act on a hot summer day in 1966 when he shot and killed fifteen people from the clock tower on the campus of UT Austin. To learn of Kathy’s life is to render her heartbreaking loss anew, her homicide a portent of things to come in America. May her life and death remind us of how far we have yet to go.~Rachel Louise Snyder, author of No Visible Bruises: What We Don't Know About Domestic Violence Can Kill Us
In Unheard Witness, Jo Scott-Coe takes a story you might think you know and turns it on its head. The life of Kathy Leissner Whitman, told with intimacy, empathy, and care, reveals how private cruelty and public violence are deeply entwined. Too often, stories about mass shooters inadvertently glorify the perpetrators while the victims remain an afterthought. This perceptive, beautifully written book shows how much there is to learn when we do the opposite.~Rachel Monroe, author of Savage Appetites: True Stories of Women, Crime, and Obsession
- Danger, 1961
- Country Life, Only Daughter
- Pulled Off-Course
- Trouble Starts at Home
- Mapping an Escape
- Separated and Almost Safe
- Barometer Dropping
- Between the Leaves
- Disturbed Horizons
- “Back to Normal Soon”
- Behind the Eyewall
- Epilogue: Recovery and Response
- Questions for Book Groups or Classroom Discussion