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Richard Eugene HICKOCK

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 
 
 
Classification: Mass murderer
Characteristics: Robbery - Crime made famous by Truman Capote in his 1966 non-fiction novel In Cold Blood
Number of victims: 4
Date of murder: November 14, 1959
Date of arrest: December 30, 1959
Date of birth: June 6, 1931
Victims profile: Herbert W. Clutter, 48; his wife, Bonnie Clutter, and their daughter Nancy, 16, and son Kenyon, 15
Method of murder: Shooting / Cutting the throat
Location: Holcomb, Kansas, USA
Status: Executed by hanging in Lansing on April 14, 1965
 
 
 
 
 
 
photo gallery 1 photo gallery 2
 
 
 
 
 
 

Richard (Dick) Eugene Hickock (June 6, 1931 – April 14, 1965) was one of two ex-convicts who murdered the four members of the Clutter family in Holcomb, Kansas on 14 November 1959, a crime made famous by Truman Capote in his 1966 non-fiction novel In Cold Blood.

Together with Perry Smith, Hickock launched an invasion of the Clutter farmhouse, mistakenly believing that a large amount of money was kept in a safe.

Hickock is generally regarded as the more hardened criminal of the pair, a sociopath who took sadistic pleasure in killing dogs and harbored (and frequently acted upon) pedophilic desires for pre-pubescent girls.

According to Capote, who interviewed Hickock and Smith extensively from their initial imprisonment until their execution, Hickock enlisted Smith in the robbery because he did not want to leave witnesses, but thought himself incapable of killing; he was impressed by Smith's (fabricated) story of killing a black man on impulse, and thought he had found someone to do the dirty work for him.

While Smith admitted to cutting the throat of the father, Herbert Clutter, and to shooting both Herbert and Kenyon Clutter in the head with a shotgun at close range, it remains a matter of dispute which of the two shot the women, Bonnie and Nancy Clutter. Hickock insisted that Smith killed the whole family, while Smith first claimed Hickock killed the women, but later claimed to have shot them himself.

Hickock was captured in Las Vegas, Nevada in late December 1959, and executed by hanging on April 14, 1965, after several appeals.

Film portrayals

Hickock was portrayed by Scott Wilson in the 1967 film version of In Cold Blood, Anthony Edwards in the 1996 miniseries adaptation of the original film, and by Mark Pellegrino in 2005's Capote.

 
 

Richard "Dick" Eugene Hickock (June 6, 1931 – April 14, 1965) was one of two ex-convicts who murdered the four members of the Herbert Clutter family in Holcomb, Kansas on November 15, 1959, a crime made famous by Truman Capote in his 1966 non-fiction novel In Cold Blood. Along with Perry Smith, Hickock took part in the home invasion of the Clutter family farmhouse.

Early life

Richard Eugene Hickock was born in Kansas City, Kansas to farmworker parents. He was a popular student and athlete at Olathe High School before head injuries from a serious automobile accident in 1950 left him disfigured. Although he had wanted to attend college, his family lacked the means to provide this, so he went to work as a mechanic. He married, fathering three sons, then became involved in an extramarital affair, eventually ending his marriage to marry his paramour, which also ended in divorce. He turned to petty crimes, such as creating and using fraudulent checks, to help make ends meet, and eventually landed in prison, where he met Smith and hatched his plan for robbery and murder.

He was also allegedly an ephebophile; according to Truman Capote in his account of the Clutter murders, In Cold Blood, he was prevented by his partner in crime, Smith, from raping 16-year-old Nancy Clutter during the crime in the Clutter home.

Hickock later testified that he and Smith had gotten the idea to rob the Clutters after Hickock was told, by former cellmate Floyd Wells, that there was a safe in the family's house containing $10,000 ($75,000 in today's dollars). When they invaded the house, however, they discovered that there was no such safe. The pair then murdered all four members of the family, although they gave differing testimony as to who actually did the killing.

Along with Smith, Hickock was arrested in Las Vegas, Nevada on December 30, 1959 for the Clutter family murders, for which they were both tried and found guilty. They both talked extensively to Capote when he was researching In Cold Blood.

Execution

Perry Smith and Dick Hickock were executed by hanging on April 14, 1965. Warden Greg Seamon presided over the hanging of the convicted murderers in Lansing.

Film portrayals

Smith was portrayed by Robert Blake in the 1967 film version of In Cold Blood, Eric Roberts in the 1996 miniseries adaptation of the original film, Clifton Collins Jr. in 2005's Capote and Daniel Craig in 2006's Infamous.

Wikipedia.org

 
 

Richard Hickock and Perry Smith Biography

Biography.com

Convicted murderers. Richard Eugene Hickock was born on June 6, 1931, in Kansas City, Kansas. Perry Smith was born on October 27, 1928, in Huntington, Nevada. Richard Hickock and Perry Smith murdered four members of the Clutter family on their Kansas farm on November 15, 1959. The murderers, their victims, and the crime became the subject of the 1966 best-selling book, In Cold Blood, written by Truman Capote.

The two criminals met at the Kansas State Penitentiary in 1958. From their backgrounds, they seemed an unlikely pair. Hickock had grown up in a stable family on a farm near Kansas City. Athletic and popular, he graduated high school in 1949. But his family did not have the money for him to go on to college. This disappointment gave way to a greater tragedy in 1950. He suffered head injuries from a car crash that year, which left his face a bit lopsided and his eyes unleveled. Or as Capote once wrote, it looked like his head had been “halved like an apple and then put together a fraction off center.”

For Smith, his troubles started at an early age. His parents scraped together a living on the rodeo circuit, performing as Tex & Flo. His father was a redheaded man of Irish ancestry while his mother was a full-blooded Cherokee. His parents eventually broke up over his mother’s drinking and philandering. At the age of six, Smith moved to San Francisco with his mother and three other siblings. She eventually put him in an orphanage where he was abused by nuns for his frequent bedwetting. A wild child, he spent time in other institutions and was caught stealing for the first time when he was eight. Later reunited with his father, Smith spent some time in Nevada and Alaska.

At sixteen, Smith joined the merchant marines and later went into the U.S. Army. He served in Japan and Korea. In 1952, Smith had a serious motorcycle accident, which permanently damaged his legs and left him in chronic pain. He spent months recovering from his injuries and then moved to Alaska to be with his father. The two had a falling out in 1955, and Smith started his life of crime later that year. He and a partner stole some office equipment from a business in Phillipsburg, Kansas. Caught by a police officer with the goods after they were pulled over for a traffic stop, the pair ended up in the Phillipsburg jail. They escaped through an open window and stole a car.

After splitting up, Smith made his way to Worcester, Massachusetts, and down to New York City where he eventually apprehended by the F.B.I. He went back to Kansas where he was tried and convicted on a series of charges. Sentenced to five to ten years, Smith was sent to the Kansas State Penitentiary in Lansing.

Hickock also found his way to the Kansas State Penitentiary because of theft. Married at 19, he worked a series of regular jobs—as an ambulance driver, a car painter, and a mechanic. The young couple had three sons together and began living beyond their means, and Hickock soon started supplementing his income by writing bad checks. After he had an affair, the couple split up and Hickock married his mistress. She, however, divorced him while he was serving time at the penitentiary for check fraud and other crimes.

For a time, Hickock and Smith were cellmates. Hickock claimed to be “a normal,” a regular person, but he possessed a mean streak and was prone to terrible headaches. A schemer by nature, he was the more practical of the pair. Smith was more of a dreamer, hoping to strike rich through a series of unrealistic ventures. Terribly self-conscious of his lack of formal schooling, he liked to work on his vocabulary and use big words in his conversations.
 
After Smith’s release, Hickock ended up sharing with a cell with Floyd Wells. Wells had once worked for Herbert Clutter on his farm years earlier. Mentioning that Clutter sometimes paid $10,000 in a week in business expenses to Hickock, Wells soon fielded many questions on the Clutter family from his cellmate, including whether there was a safe in his office. Wells incorrectly said yes, leading Hickock to believe that there was a big score to be made at the Clutters’ River Valley Farm. From the start, Hickock talked of killing all of the family so that there would be no witnesses.  

Writing his former cellmate, Hickock asked Smith to join him in the robbery and murder of the Clutters. The two met up in Olathe, Kansas, on November 14, 1959. In Hickock’s car, he had assembled many of the tools they needed for the grisly crime: a shotgun, a flashlight, a fishing knife, and gloves. They picked up a few other items during their drive to the Clutters’ farm in Holcomb, Kansas.

Late that night, Hickock and Smith entered the Clutters’ house through an unlocked door. They woke up Herbert Clutter and asked him where his safe was, but he denied having a safe. If the two criminals had ever spent any time in Holcomb or nearby Garden City, they would have known that Herbert Clutter was famous for never having any cash on hand; he almost always paid by check. There was no safe and very little cash around. According to their confessions, Smith tied up Herbert Clutter, his wife Bonnie, their son Kenyon, and their daughter Nancy in different rooms of the house.

After searching the house, they learned that Hickock’s tip from Wells was no good. Hickock and Smith found about $40 to $50 in the house in total. Rather than just walk away from this botched robbery, the pair decided to kill the Clutters. Smith first cut Herbert Clutter’s throat and then shot him in the head. Oddly, he had placed a mattress box under Herbert earlier so that he would not be uncomfortable. Smith had also put a pillow under Kenyon’s head only to return later to shoot him in the face.

Both Nancy and Bonnie Clutter were also shot in the head, but who the actual shooter was unclear. Hickock claimed that Smith shot both women while Smith said that Hickock shot Nancy and Bonnie, but later tried to change his story. The two killers fled the scene in the early hours of November 15 and returned to Olathe for a time. A short time, they hit the road, ending up in Mexico and Florida before ending up in Las Vegas where they were apprehended by the authorities a few weeks later. Hickock, who always tried to be the tough guy, quickly cracked during questioning and made a full confession

In the meanwhile, friends of Nancy Clutter had discovered the gruesome remains of the well-respected family. Most everyone knew and liked the Clutters—their murders sent shockwaves through the communities of Holcomb and Garden City. Once a sleepy and trusting area, residents began locking their doors and staying awake at night in fear that they might be next. They were also concerned that one or more of their own may have committed this heinous act.  

Writers Truman Capote and Harper Lee were already in Garden City when Hickock and Smith were brought back from Las Vegas in January 1960. Working on a story for The New Yorker magazine, Capote, with Lee as a research assistant, had been interviewing local residents and following the investigation to write a piece on the impact of the murders on the quiet community. Sometime after their arraignment, Capote and Lee were able to talk with the confessed killers and began to build a rapport with them. They revealed much about themselves and the case to Capote, which Capote wrote about in the best-selling nonfiction book In Cold Blood.      

In March, Capote and Lee returned to Kansas to attend Hickock and Smith’s trial. The criminal duo were convicted and sentenced to death. For years, they were jailed at the Kansas State Penitentiary while they appealed their case. Their lawyers were able to put off the killers’ execution several times, but ultimately their appeals failed.

At their request, Capote returned to Kansas in April 1965. They wanted their literary friend to witness their executions. Just after midnight on April 14, Hickock was the first of the condemned pair to hang. Smith met the same fate about a half hour later. The following year, In Cold Blood was published—first in four issues of The New Yorker and later a book. The nonfiction work became a huge success, forever capturing the odd lives and brutal deeds of this pair of disturbed criminals.

 
 

Richard Hickock and Perry Smith Trial: 1960

Law.jrank.org

Defendants: Richard E. Hickock and Perry E. Smith
Crime Charged: Murder
Chief Defense Lawyers: Arthur Fleming and Harrison Smith
Chief Prosecutors: Logan Greene and Duane West
Judge: Roland H. Tate
Place: Garden City, Kansas
Dates of Trial: March 22-29, 1960
Verdict: Guilty
Sentence: Death by hanging

SIGNIFICANCE: The case provided a classic example of the limitations of the M'Naghten Test by which defendants are judged mentally fit to stand trial. Truman Capote's book about the case, In Cold Blood, further cemented the author's literary reputation and brought the debate over capital punishment into focus for millions of readers worldwide.

The people of Holcomb, Kansas, had not forgotten them, but the trial and punishment of Richard Hickock and Perry Smith came and went unnoticed by most Americans. Within months of their execution, however, Smith and Hickock became two of the most famous murderers in history.

On Sunday morning, November 15, 1959, a successful, respected, and well-liked Kansas farmer named Herbert Clutter was found in the basement of his home with his throat cut and his head blown open by a shotgun blast. His wife Bonnie and their teenaged children, Kenyon and Nancy, were found bound, gagged, and shot to death elsewhere in the house. There were no clues nor any apparent motive. "This is apparently the work of a psychopathic killer," declared the local sheriff.

The bloody slayings might have remained unsolved without the help of a convicted thief, who had once shared a cell with a small-time check kiter named Richard Hickock. The thief had worked on the Clutter farm and described it to Hickock, who asked if the Clutters had a safe. The thief thought they did. Hickock declared that he would find the farm, rob the Clutters, and kill all witnesses, adding that his former cellmate Perry Smith would be just the man to help. Herb Clutter's former hired hand dismissed Hickock's plan as a fantasy, but he came forward when he heard of the murders.

Hickock and Smith were soon arrested in Las Vegas, Nevada, for parole violation and passing bad checks. The Kansas Bureau of Investigation dispatched agents to Nevada, where they questioned the suspects separately. Hickock denied any knowledge of the slayings, but a clever interrogation led Smith to confess to having shot the Clutters. Hickock confessed his part in the slayings the next day and the two men were returned to Kansas for trial.

The gruesome confessions and physical evidence made it clear that the accused men were responsible for the killings. Arguing for the death penalty, prosecutor Logan Greene said, "some of our most enormous crimes only happen because once upon a time a pack of chicken-hearted jurors refused to do their duty." The jury deliberated for only 40 minutes before returning a guilty verdict, ironically about a minute for each dollar Smith and Hickock had found in the Clutter home—there was no safe. "No chicken-hearted jurors, they," Smith joked as he and Hickock were led laughing from the courtroom. Judge Roland Tate sentenced the defendants to death by hanging.

Trial Leaves Questions Over Sanity

Yet the way the trial was conducted left lingering questions. A defense motion to have Smith and Hickock undergo comprehensive psychological testing before the trial had been denied by Judge Tate, who appointed three local general practitioners, not psychiatrists, to make the required examination. After a brief interview, the doctors judged the defendants sane.

Defense lawyers had sought the opinion of a more experienced psychiatrist from the state mental hospital, who diagnosed definite signs of mental illness in Smith and felt that Hickock's head injuries in a past auto mishap might possibly have affected his behavior. Yet the diagnosis was never heard in the Finney County courthouse.

Under the M'Naghten Test a defendant is ruled to be sane if he has sufficient mental capacity to know and understand what he is doing at the time he commits a crime, that it is wrong, and that it violates the victim's rights. The M'Naghten Test was applied strictly in the Hickock-Smith trial. By Kansas law, the psychiatrist was allowed only to give his opinion about the defendants' sanity or lack thereof at the time they were in the Clutter house. Under this constraint, the psychiatrist could only answer "yes" when asked if he thought Hickock was sane by the M'Naghten definition and "no" when asked if he could surmise what Smith's state of mind was at the time of the killings. No comment was allowed on the question of whether Perry Smith was mentally able to control his actions, regardless of his knowledge that, they were unlawful.

Appeals Fail To Overturn Conviction

Richard Hickock's complaints to the Kansas Bar Association about the fairness of the trial prompted an investigation. The arguable mishandling of the case by the defense lawyers, failure to move the trial venue outside of Finney County, and the acceptance of a juror who had made questionable statements about the suitability of capital punishment in the case opened the way for four appeals and postponements of the death sentence. Court-appointed federal lawyers tried three times to have the Hickock-Smith case heard by the U.S. Supreme Court, but each time the court declined without comment. Hickock and Smith were hanged at the Kansas State Penitentiary on April 14, 1965, five years after their conviction.

The hangings provided an ending for a book Truman Capote had been working on since the weeks when the Clutter murders were still unsolved. A brief notice of the crime in the New York Times had inspired Capote to choose it as the subject for what he called a "nonfiction novel," a factually correct work written with techniques usually employed in writing fiction.

Capote interviewed everyone connected with the case, from the Clutters' neighbors to Hickock and Smith themselves. After the killers were captured, he followed their trials and became their confidant. When his book, In Cold Blood, appeared at the end of 1965, the lives and deaths of the Clutters and their killers became intimately known to millions of Americans. In Cold Blood was an international best-seller and the basis for a 1967 film.

Capote's experience left him opposed to capital punishment. Instead, he favored the federal imposition of mandatory life sentences for murder. By the time the Supreme Court issued the famous "Miranda Ruling" (see separate entry) in 1966, the writer's celebrity as an authority on criminal matters was such that he was called upon by a U.S. Senate subcommittee examining the court's decision. Capote criticized the high court's opinion that arrested suspects were to be advised of their rights to silence, legal counsel, and the presence of an attorney during police questioning.

Hickock and Smith would have gone "scot-free" under such circumstances because of the lack of clues in the Clutter murders, Capote said. "Any lawyer worth his salt would have advised the boys to say nothing. Had they said nothing, they would not have been brought to trial, much less convicted." Special Agent Alvin Dewey, who had elicited Perry Smith's confession, agreed. Dewey told the subcommittee that investigators abiding by the Miranda rule would be "talking the defendant out of telling us anything."

 
 

THE CLUTTER FAMILY KILLINGS: COLD BLOOD

By Joseph Geringer


Preface

Unlike the other articles I've written for The Crime Library that garnered information from multiple narratives, this one is based almost exclusively on a novel, the only full-length account of the Clutter murders, Truman Capote's classic, In Cold Blood. But, it is a factual telling of the case done in novel format, a medium Capote created with the publication of this story in 1965.

Because it is a novel, most of the facts are related in dialogue between two or more characters. The histrionics of the case aren't always chronological, but told through a number of approaches: the scene-setting, the first-person, the second person, the flashback. From that blend of this dynamic art form, I strove to reshape the story into a chronological tension line, underscoring the main points and letting the high drama of the story speak for itself. Thus it has been rewoven for The Crime Library.

To that end, I rewrote and/or condensed much of the dialogue to drive forward only the central elements of the story, much as a screenwriter would do to keep the action moving. But, keep in mind, none of the facts are altered nor any fantasy inserted. The story that follows is a true account of the murders, the murderers, and the people who were involved, from both sides of the fence. The nuances of Mr. Capote's original tone and texture have remained intact.

Where In Cold Blood, or any other source for that matter, is quoted word for word, I, of course, indicate such.

Special attention should be paid to two other sources that I have quoted. A final chapter, called "Analysis," borrows heavily from an article written by J.J. Maloney, brilliant editor of Crime Magazine. This chapter suggests a motive for the Clutter murders beyond what Capote indicates.

As well, I had the opportunity to obtain a rare issue of a special 25-year retrospect of the crime, written for the Garden City Telegram newspaper by Alvin "Al" Dewey, the detective who helped "crack" the case. This gem of an issue is quoted throughout the following chapters.


Harmony

"Measure not the work until the day's out and the labor's done."
—Elizabeth Barrett Browning

"The village of Holcomb stands on the high wheat plains of western Kansas, a lonesome area that other Kansans call 'out there,'" writes author Truman Capote in his novel-like documentary, In Cold Blood. "Some seventy miles east of the Colorado border, the countryside, with its hard blue skies and desert-clean air, has an atmosphere that is more Far West than Middle West. The local accent is barbed with a prairie twang...and the views are awesomely extensive (with) grain elevators rising as gracefully as Greek temples."

Relating one of the most heinous true-life crimes committed in the peaceful era of America's 1950s, the book stunned a country that was not yet used to Charles Mansons and Sons of Sam. The above opening lines set the physical landscape of the crime, a rural God-fearing and placid quilt-work of Americana where the most violent act should have been nothing more than a bronco busting exhibit at a rodeo. Villains like Adolph Hitler and Benito Mussolini had been crushed and were gone as if they never existed; after all, they were foreigners, damn'em, and should have known better than to interfere with American ideals. Joe McCarthy said so. The Land of the Free prevailed — again — and the most loathsome transgressors existed on the new focal wonder box, television, the worst of the lot winding up dead on the studio-sound-set streets of Gunsmoke and Bonanza.

In November, 1959, the town of Holcomb was, according to Capote, a "haphazard hamlet" of houses and storefronts plunked on the prairie between the Arkansas River and the limitless stretches of U.S. Highway 50. The burgh was a checkerboard of streets and lanes, trees carved by nature as stoic souls, hopscotched by travelers en route to Las Vegas and California, commerced by lumbering Santa Fe rail cars bringing wheat and barley to the rest of the country. Its inhabitants farmed mostly; they tended to God's work on God's soil; on weekends they attended choir practice, 4-H Club meetings and family picnics. Largely, they were psalm-conscious Methodists. Neither they nor the rest of the country expected what was to pass under the midnight sounds of whimpering coyote, brushing tumbleweed and dreamy train whistle on the outskirts of town.

The closest "big town" to Holcomb is Garden City, the county seat, less than ten miles distant. In 1959, most of anything that happened within seventy-five miles was happening at Garden City. There were dances at one of several night spots, some with a small orchestra, hotels, restaurants open late, bowling alleys, movie houses, a radio station, a newspaper and a round-the-clock constabulary.

Local growers produced a variety of grains; some raised horses and livestock. One of the more prosperous families in Finney County was that of Herbert Clutter. His shining white River Valley Farm, a mile and a half in from the main road, was comprised of a fine two-story private residence that Clutter built himself in 1948, and several huge barns and Quonset huts storing a harvest of Westland sorghum, milo grain and certified grass seed worth, according to late-1959 prices, a hundred thousand dollars. The harvest was an accumulation worthy of Mr. Clutter's background, for he had graduated Kansas State University with a degree in agriculture and had served as an advisor on President Dwight D. Eishenhower's hand-picked Agriculture Board. Adjacent to his silos was an open corral where several hundred Hereford cattle bore the Clutter brand.

At 48 years old, square-jawed, soft-spoken, Christian-solid Herbert William Clutter was a wealthy man. Wealthy in more than money, his neighbors said. He was a happily married Spartan whose family looked up to him and regarded him as the American role model of everything to strive for in life, and that meant the garnering of respect. His wife Bonnie adored him. Oldest daughter Eveanna had emulated her parent's marital bliss; married and living in Illinois, she and her husband visited regularly. Another daughter, Beverly, was studying nursing in Kansas City and was engaged to be married to a boy of whom her mother and father highly approved. The youngest of the brood, Kenyon and Nancy -- 15 and 16 years old, respectively - still lived at home and were doing well at Holcomb School.

The only worry in Clutter's life was, however, not a trivial one: the condition of his wife Bonnie's health. A bout of depression had forced her to leave her marital bed to another in a separate bedroom from where she could quarter her need for silence and solitude, and to where her husband and children nevertheless loyally visited, attending to her needs and wants. Doctors at Wesley Medical Center in Wichita had recently brought positive news. They believed her affliction was physical, not psychological - due to a deformation of the spine that created a tension to the system. An operation, they said, would revive the buoyant woman that was.

With Bonnie flat on her back this November, 1959, it was up to Mr. Clutter, Kenyon and Nancy to help Mrs. Helm, their housekeeper, prepare for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday the coming Thursday. The house was large and therefore, with company coming, required more than a casual meeting with the dust cloth and wicker broom that Mrs. Helm, at her age, could proffer. Even though they had a housekeeper, Herbert and Bonnie refused to allow their children to become pampered and indolent; they were expected to pitch in. Their charge this weekend was to make the house "spic and span," and the offspring knew what that meant. It meant spotless and sparkling and scented, from the back porch pantry to the basement to the attic; it meant gleaming surfaces from the tiled bathroom walls to the Formica kitchen counters to the living room coffee tables of blue and white plastic (the most modern of looks in 1959).

Mrs. Clutter collected miniatures - animals, mostly - which she displayed on shelves throughout the house. These had to shine as did the shelves they sat on. These tasks impending, coupled with the usual farm and dairy chores, as well as a number of social obligations, turned the weekend of November 14-15, 1959, into one hectic itinerary.

On Friday evening, November 13, Nancy had participated in Holcomb School's Fall play. This year's offering was Tom Sawyer, in which she had played a leading role as Becky Thatcher. Teachers regarded the Clutter girl as one of the brightest. She was often asked to represent the school in scholastic meets; she had won several blue ribbons through 4-H, to which her and Kenyon both belonged since age six; and she was a talented pianist and clarinetist who performed in occasional variety shows for civic clubs.

"Nancy was a pretty girl, lean and boyishly agile," pens Capote, "and the prettiest things about her were her short-bobbed, shining chestnut hair and her soap-polished complexion, still faintly freckled and rose-brown from last summer's sun. But, it was her eyes, wide apart, darkly translucent...that made her immediately likable."

Saturday was Mrs. Helm's day off and this morning Nancy was put on kitchen duty. Early afternoon, she tutored little Jolene Katz, whose parents lived down the road, on a pleasant domestic chore. Because Nancy had recently won a baking contest at the State Fair, Mrs. Katz asked Nancy if she wouldn't mind showing Jolene a thing or two about the art of pie making. Always willing to help, Nancy found the time to do so.

While the aroma of yeast and fresh cherries drifted through other parts of the Clutter house, the downstairs work den reeked of a less palatable smell, varnish. Kenyon was putting the finishing touches to a hope chest he had built all by himself as a wedding present for older sister Beverly. Good with his hands, he had cut, sanded, glued and nailed together this beautiful mahogany piece and, as his brush swiped over the woodwork, he was glad to have his prize completed in time for Thanksgiving when he planned to give it to her.

Kenyon's "crewcut hair was hemp colored, and he was six feet tall and lanky, though hefty enough to have once rescued a pair of full-grown sheep by carrying them two miles through a blizzard," says Capote. The boy's favorite pastime was hunting, and he sometimes earned money at it, bringing in as many as a half-hundred rabbits to a processing factory that sent the animals to mink growers. When not tending to his expected household chores, or studying for an upcoming exam, he and his friend Bob Jones worked on an old Model T Ford his parents let him buy from money that he earned.

That same afternoon, Mr. Clutter served as guest speaker at the monthly meeting of the 4-H Club that met in Garden City. "As an educated man successful in his profession, as an eminent Republican and church leader, Mr. Clutter was entitled to rank among the local patricians (but) he had never sought to associate with the reigning coterie...he had no use for card games, golf, cocktails, or buffet suppers served at ten," Capote tells us. His purpose at 4-H that day was to help plan the upcoming Achievements Banquet.

As the day wore on, Nancy and Kenyon partnered on some yard work expected to be done before Herbert's arrival home. Autumn was in the air and the yard teased of a pumpkin pie breeze and wet hay. Tempted by the carefree aura of the perfect Indian Summer afternoon, they found time to frolic with their pet collie Teddy and visit with Babe, their favorite calf. Tracing the sudden smell of burning leaves, they encountered Alfred Stoecklein, rake in hand. He was their father's sole resident employee who lived with his wife and three children in a caretaker's abode a hundred yards from the main house. The trio exchanged pleasantries and high wishes for the holiday.

Sunset came early as it does in November, and the Clutters sat down to dinner, except for Bonnie who decided to sleep through it, not feeling her best this day. About 7 p.m., Nancy's boyfriend Bobby Rupp stopped by to see if the girl would like to drive to McKinney Lake to enjoy the beautiful full moon. Herb Clutter, who didn't approve of teenage rendezvous by moonlight, forbade it; instead, he invited Bobby in to watch TV with the rest of the family in the main sitting room. The boyfriend accepted.

According to Rupp less than forty-eight hours later, "We sat around like any other night - Nancy and I on the couch and Mr. Clutter in his chair, that stuffed rocker. He wasn't watching television so much as he was reading a book...(Kenyon) didn't want to watch TV, he wanted to practice his horn, and when Nancy wouldn't let him, I remember Mr. Clutter told him why didn't he go down to the basement, the recreation room, where nobody could hear him. But, he didn't want to do that...After the sports ended, that was 10:30, and I got up to go. Nancy walked me out. We talked a while and made a date to go to the movies Sunday night...Then she ran back in the house and I drove away. It was as clear as day - the moon was so bright - and cold and kind of windy; a lot of tumbleweed blowing about. But that's all I saw. Only now when I think back, I think somebody must have been hiding there. Maybe down among the trees."

Nancy was the last family member to retire that evening. In her upstairs bedroom, she put her girlish self through a midnight ritual of beauty cleansing and creaming, then laying out the clothes she intended to wear to church the next morning: They included a red velveteen dress, which she had made. "It was," explains Truman Capote, "the dress in which she was buried."

Outside, a black 1949 Chevrolet rolled up quietly into the shadows of the Clutter house.

* * * * *

Many hours later, another automobile, that belonging to the Ewalts, followed the banks of the Arkansas River and the white rail fence of River Valley Farm, the Clutter property. It passed through the avenue of fruit trees - peach, pear, cherry and apple - whose branches momentarily shaded the windshield from the bright morning sun. At the wheel was Clarence Ewalt who, as every Sunday, was dropping his daughter off at the Clutters so that she could go along with them to church services. She and the Clutter girl - both named Nancy - were the best of friends.

As customary, at 9 a.m., Nancy Ewalt rang the Clutter doorbell. She waited. No answer. She rang again. And once more. This was strange because one of the family usually answered the door promptly. Mr. Clutter was known, in fact, for his punctuality. Nancy Ewalt could see that the garage door was open with both of the Clutter sedans parked within, so she knew they hadn't left without her. She turned round toward her father and shrugged at the unexpectancy; in turn, he motioned with his hand to try the side door. Perhaps Mr. Clutter was working in his private office - perhaps on the phone there - and didn't hear her ringing.

Good idea! The teenager scurried to where she knew his office was and rapped several times at that door. When she did, the door opened ajar. Calling in with at first a shy hello, she pursued that with a more brazen, Nancy, you awake? Placing one foot inside the warm, familiar den - she'd been there many times - she hallooed this time, but again no response. Not even a footstep could be heard from the silent echo of the adjoining rooms. This wasn't like the family to oversleep - not the industrious Clutters.

Mr. Ewalt decided that he and his daughter drive on some to the Kidwell house, down the road. Susan Kidwell was a mutual girlfriend and might know what's going on. There, Susan telephoned the Clutters. No one answered. Yes, indeed, how unlike the Clutters.

Ewalt decided that maybe the two girls might return to River Valley Farm and try once more to rouse the obviously oversleeping brood. After a staccato of knocks failed to awaken anyone, the girls, feeling less intimidated as a pair, entered the house through the kitchen, which they knew was usually open to visitors night and day.

Susan Kidwell recalls, "We saw right away that the Clutters hadn't eaten breakfast; there were no dishes, nothing on the stove. Then I noticed something funny: Nancy's purse. It was lying on the floor, sort of open. We passed on through the dining room (then) started up the stairs. The sound of our footsteps frightened me more than anything, they were so loud and everything else was so silent. Nancy's door was open. The curtains hadn't been drawn, and the room was full of sunlight. I don't remember screaming. Nancy Ewalt says I did - screamed and screamed. I only remember Nancy's teddy bear staring at me. And Nancy. And running..."


Slaughterhouse

"Scarcely anything awakens attention like a tale of cruelty..."
— Samuel Johnson

Sheriff Robinson and Undersheriff Meier from Garden City arrived at the Clutter house a little before ten that morning. They met outside the house with Larry Hendricks, a 29-year-old English teacher who lived with the Kidwells, from whose house the policemen were summoned. Hendricks explained what the two girls had seen in Nancy's room - although their descriptions had been mostly vague. He also said he was Kenyon Clutter's teacher, and asked for permission to accompany the lawmen into the Clutter residence; he knew the Clutters and could possibly be of some assistance in the event of bad trouble, God forbid. The policemen agreed. Together, the trio went inside through the kitchen, Robinson and Hendricks straight upstairs to where the girls found Nancy Clutter, Meier onward into the lower floors. The teacher noticed that both lawmen gripped the butts of their service revolvers in their holsters, ready to draw. This unnerved him.

What they found inside was something that would haunt their dreams for years.

Upstairs, Robinson and Larry Hendricks found Nancy Clutter's room, its walls and furniture splattered with blood. Nancy lay on her bed, her face to the wall, the back of her head blown away. It looked like a shotgun blast at extremely close range. Her wrists were tied behind her and her ankles bound with what looked like cord from a Venetian blind. She was in a bathrobe, pajamas and slippers, appearing to have been killed before going to bed. Because she was fully dressed, there seemed to be no sign of sexual molestation.

Nauseated, heading back into the corridor, the men dreaded what probably awaited them in other rooms. They had the whole house before them and the devil knew what he held in store. The sheriff's hand trembled, his revolver in it now for reassurance.

The next room they came across was Kenyon's. His room was empty and in order, but there was no sign of Kenyon — only his eyeglasses resting on the covers, which were rumpled and semi-drawn as if he had slept in the bed at least a portion of the night.

At the end of the hall, the men found a door closed, but unlocked. Cautiously, they stepped in. On the bed across from the door was the corpse of Bonnie Clutter in white nightgown drenched with red. "She'd been tied, too," Hendricks explains. "But differently - with her hands in front of her, so that she looked as if she was praying...The cord around her wrists ran down to her ankles, which were bound together, then ran on down to the bottom of the bed, where it was tied to the footboard - a very complicated, artful piece of work...She'd been shot point-blank in the side of the head. Her eyes were open, wide open, as if she was still looking at the killer. Because she must have had to watch him do it - aim the gun."

Meanwhile the undersheriff had found the bodies of Kenyon and Mr. Clutter in the basement. Kenyon, in blue jeans and T-shirt, had been tied in the same intricate pattern as was his mother, then roped like a captive steer to a davenport on which he lay. His face had been erased by a shotgun.

But, Herb Clutter, discovered dead in his pajamas in the furnace room, seemed to have suffered the most. By appearances, it looked like he had been tortured. Says Hendricks, "I took one look at Mr. Clutter and it was hard to look again. I knew plain shooting couldn't account for that much blood...He'd been shot all right, the same as Kenyon - with the gun held right in front of his face (but) his throat had been cut, too. His mouth was taped; the tape was wound plumb around his head...He was sprawled in front of the furnace. On a big cardboard box that looked like it had been laid there specifically...A thing I can't get out of my mind. There was a steampipe overhead, and knotted to it, dangling from it, was a piece of cord. Obviously, at some point, Mr. Cutter had been tied there, strung up by his hands..."

The sheriff radioed in an APB and soon the house filled with more police, ambulances, doctors, the local minister, newspaper reporters and photographers. To one side, the police had drawn Mr. Stoecklein, the groundskeeper, who related how he had talked to the Clutter kids only yesterday afternoon, how he had seen no strangers on the premises, and how he had heard nothing out of the ordinary overnight. The filled silos that stand between his house and the Clutters soak up a lot of noise, he explained, although he himself was surprised that he nor any member of his family had not heard four roars of a shotgun. A radio broadcaster from station KIUL, airing live through a Garden City transmitter, was calling the event "a tragedy unbelievable and shocking beyond words...and without apparent motive."

* * * * *

To one man in particular there were no words strong enough to describe what happened to the Herbert William Clutter family. Officially, for want of a better description, Alvin Adams Dewey of the Kansas City Bureau of Investigation (KBI) said, "I've seen some bad things, I sure as hell have. But nothing so vicious as this."

Dewey at 47 years old was tall, good looking and more brilliant than he had ever been; his years as a law enforcer, which included terms as Finney County's sheriff and as a special agent for the Federal Bureau of Investigation in New Orleans, San Antonio, Denver, Miami and San Francisco, sharpened his skills. The place he loved best was Kansas. The KBI, headquartered in Topeka, had made him head of operations in the southwestern sector of the state, where he worked out of Garden City. Housed in the second story of the old courthouse building, he wasn't one to hide behind a mahogany desk and reams of authoritarian paperwork. He made it his business to know the people around him, to familiarize himself with the personalities of the people in the state. And one of the ones he truly appreciated - in fact, he had become one of his best friends - was Herbert Clutter.

"But," he made it a point to stress, "even if I hadn't known the family, I wouldn't feel any different about this crime. However long it takes, it may be the rest of my life, I'm going to know what happened in that house: the why and the who."

Dewey had been working on a case in Wichita when he received the news about the Clutters. At first he didn't believe it, as he tells us in a special edition of The Garden City Telegram, published 25 years later. "(After an all-night stakeout) I was asleep at the Commodore Hotel when the phone woke me a little after 10 a.m. (November 15). It was my wife, Marie. A policeman called her out of Sunday school to find out where I was, she said. He told her that the Clutter family had been shot to death (and) wanted me at the scene of the crime immediately...Bonnie and Herb Clutter? They were right there in Sunday school, weren't they? Hadn't she seen the Clutter children when she left ours in the classrooms? 'Alvin,' Marie said shakily, 'they are all dead. Shot.' That did it. I was awake."

At a press conference on Monday, November 16, Dewey announced that the county sheriff's department had asked the KBI to intervene and that he himself was heading up the case. Eighteen men under him would work night and day until the killers were brought to justice. The facts to date were that the killers slew the family between 11 p.m. Saturday and 2 a.m. Sunday. These times were the coroner's estimation.

"We don't know which of the four (victims) was the main target, the primary victim," he told reporters. "It could have been Nancy or Kenyon, or either of the parents. Some people say, "Well it must have been Mr. Clutter. Because his throat was cut, he was the most abused. But that's theory, not fact. It would help if we knew in what order the family died, but the coroner can't determine that."

Dewey alluded to a "second-killer concept". His friend Herb Clutter had been no shrinking violet; he said, but had been the kind of guy who fought for his rights and would have fought like a Hottentot for his family. He had been in top physical condition and would have given hell to anyone attempting to physically subdue him. The fellow he knew never would have allowed himself to be manhandled and bound - unless he had no choice, unless the manhandler and the binder had an accomplice who pointed a shotgun to his temple.

But, one question remained. He admitted: "How could two individuals reach the same amount of rage at the same time, the kind of psychopathic rage it took to commit such a crime?" The concept was frightening.

Unanswered questions aside, Dewey closed the conference with a harsh statement. "All I know is that somebody better watch out." The threat sounded personal. He meant it to sound that way.

Dewey's team of investigators covered the countryside to talk to anyone who might know anything, who might provide a clue, a motive. They talked to Herb Clutter's business associates, even to the tradesmen who had worked for the family - plumbers, painters, carpenters, landscapers. They spoke with Nancy's and Kenyon's friends at Holcomb High School, with teachers, with janitors, with tutors. They addressed Bonnie's doctors, civic leaders who knew the Clutters, fellow 4-H associates, neighbors. And they asked the two remaining Clutter daughters if they might have even a far-fetched notion of a cause of crime. Like all the others interviewed, Eveanna nor Beverly could see absolutely no reason in heaven or hell why anyone would want to hurt any member of the brood on River Valley Farm.

When his associates assembled in Dewey's office to discuss their findings to date, one of them, Harold Nye, summed up what the others had discovered: "Of all the people in the world, the Clutters were the least likely to be murdered."

The detectives paused their search long enough to attend services, which were held mid-week for the Clutters at Phillips' Funeral Home in Garden City. Truman Capote calls the event "disquieting." Within their coffins, the heads of each victim, because of the severity of facial damage, were encased in a kind of cocoon-like cotton shading the physical appearances of each face. Susan Kidwell couldn't stand it; she raced to the parking lot and wept. That red velveteen dress on her friend Nancy Clutter - there it had been, on that still, lifeless form without a face. She had helped Nancy pick out the material for that dress a few weeks ago. It seemed like yesterday.

Six hundred people, including the children's classmates, turned out at Valley View Cemetery the day of the interment. Reverend Leonard Cowan of the First Methodist Church asked the crowd to swallow their bitterness: "God offers us courage, love and hope even though we walk through the shadows of the valley of death..."

* * * * *

Developments in the case were slow in coming, but they were coming. Under ultraviolet light, Dewey noticed two surprising - rather, alarming — objects of evidence in the crime scene photo negatives. There was a pair of boot prints left behind on the cardboard box that had served as Mr. Clutter's slab. Unseen by the naked eye, the impressions were there in and around the bloodstains nonetheless. Men's boots. One heel bore a diamond-shaped pattern, the other the familiar Cat's Paw insignia. Since both Herb and Kenyon were bare-footed at the time of their deaths, it seemed credible that these prints belonged to the killers.

Dewey hid this information from the press; he didn't want the murderers changing their boots. He figured, they may be literally walking about on their own ultimate undoing. In the meantime, he studied the police photos for other evidence, asking himself, "How many animals can I find in these photos?"

Unless and until this footwear could be matched to some nasty Cinderellas with a shotgun, the prints were not a lot to go on. Nevertheless, Dewey was delighted to encounter them, considering the killers had been very careful in cleaning up after themselves, even to the point of gathering all four ejected cartridge shells from their weapon.

Now, what of a motive? A neighbor's jealousy? A business associate's disgruntlement over a deal? There was evidence of none of that. Of robbery, the most practical, even that seemed hard to establish. The Clutter homestead hadn't appeared ransacked. The only hints of theft were in the facts that Nancy's purse lay opened in the kitchen, seemingly rummaged through, and, as the police had recorded that day, the contents of Mr. Clutter's billfold were found scattered in his bedroom. But, nothing of any value seemed to be missing from the house. Bonnie Clutter, when found dead, still wore an expensive bracelet. Nancy's jewelry was intact.

Mrs. Helm, escorted by a detective, had gone from room to room, but observed nothing missing - not chinaware, no silverware, none of the furniture, no linens, no knick-knacks, nothing — except, oddly, a small gray Zenith transistor radio from Kenyon's room. "The boy loved that thing," she told the plainclothesman beside her. "He wouldn't go anywhere without it, and always put it back there, on his desk, at the end of each night."

Still, like the boot prints, an absent transistor radio was no neon signpost leading the way in any direction. Had drugs been taken, the police might look for a drug addict; had vast amounts of cash been gone, the police might watch for a suspect who suddenly drove a brand-new auto; had jewelry or even household items disappeared, the police could smother every pawnshop broker from here to hell. But...a transistor radio?

Alvin Dewey spun, bewildered. The Clutter case had become his obsession, to the extent that it was interfering with his being a husband to Marie and a dad to his two sons. With Christmas around the corner, he had been the absolute Scrooge and the farthest thing from a Father Christmas. He smoked three packs of Lucky Strikes a day, gulped meals without a thought and hadn't stopped to consider the time and effort invested in him by his wife, whom he had been probably pulling through his own wringer of emotions. He festered with discontentment, like a spoiled little boy who didn't get what he really wanted under the Christmas tree.

Every time the phone jingled, he leaped off the sofa, out of bed, out of the tub, away from the backyard basketball game with his kids. He clambered for it, hoping to hear Santa's voice at the other end, "Hi, little Alvin, it's me! I forgot to drop off a very wonderful present for you, something I know you've wanted. Well, it's on its way, special delivery, just for you! It's gift wrapped, too — the names of the killers."

Then...as the carolers sang outside his door one night, and he wasn't in a particularly joyous frame of mind, the phone jingled. And this time it was Santa - well, close enough - it was Logan Sanford, the KBI's director in Topeka.

"Merry Christmas, Alv, we have us a witness. An inmate from Lansing Prison. He believes he knows who the killers are, two of'em, ex-cellmates. I'm sending the info so you'll have it first thing in the morning - special delivery.

"For the time being, write these names down: Richard Hickock and Perry Smith."


Oddballs

"Listen: there's a hell of a good universe next door; let's go."
— E.E. Cummings

Richard Hickock and Perry Smith were on a joyride. Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum, two misshapen vagabonds, grinning, nary a care in the world, ahead of them Christmas in Miami, open road, sunlight, the sea breeze and thrills. Behind them was a dirty windshield, many, many tire marks and Holcomb, Kansas. They had left no trace of their being there, except for the Clutters which - haha! - they left cluttered around the place! Haha! They laughed at that one! Poor Nancy, that young girl...she would have made some guy awfully happy someday! Haha! Another joke!

Richard - he preferred Dick - was blonde, muscular and sunburned; he smoked like a fiend and loved to display, open-shirted, the skull-and-cross-bones tattoo on his chest. In fact, across his body, Dick had more tattoos etched into his hide than a sideshow freak. Names of ex-wives and girlfriends in hearts aflame, and nudes in compromising positions. He bore a cocky smile that never seemed to fade, even when angry. Maybe because of that wayward smile, or maybe because of the car accident that had displaced a jaw at one time, his face seemed forever at odds with itself, the right unmatched with the left. But, no matter, for Perry said he had a beautiful smile.

Perry, half Indian, was the undulating shadow of the other; five-feet-four, dark; and he scowled constantly, even when happy. A motorcycle wreck had left him stunted and dwarfish, his legs remained twisted and he appeared to be always caught between a sitting and standing posture, Gumbyish maybe, maybe even undone. He, too, had his tattoos, many to cover the scars. His favorite was a tiger, twisted like himself, ready to pounce. Because of the motorcycle mishap, the bones in his legs never quite healed. He dropped aspirins as much as Hickock lit cigarettes - and that was incessantly.

The affair in Holcomb was but a small one, and the murders weren't really planned. They just happened, combustive like, a rush of madcap adrenaline, then kaput to Farmer Clutter and his happy little hayseeds. There was no money there, not the safe —full of cash that Dick had heard about from his former cell buddy at Lansing Prison. So they grabbed what they could, including a transistor radio that caught their eyes, and that was, as they say, that. At any rate, Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum, blood on their paws, had vamoosed out of Kansas. In search of Oz.

Geez, the world was funny!

Throughout late November and most of December they scrambled like hellions, through Mexico and Acapulco (where they took up with a German named Otto who introduced them to the seediest parts of town), and back again to Mexico City where they dabbled in the language, and Perry learned a few new songs in Spanish (he loved to play a guitar; he brought his Gibson with him wherever they went). With the venture of a new year just around the bend, and the prospect of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation having lost their trail for good, maybe even their interest, the prodigals re-crossed the border, still in their 1949 Chevy. From Texas, they eventually headed east to Florida. They were going to spend the Yuletide where the sun shines, Miami Beach.

As oak trees turned into cypress and then into palms, Perry sat beside the driving Dick Hickock and strummed his guitar, singing in his best Hank Williams vibrato,

Your cheatin' heart will tell on you,

I cry and cry the whole night through....."

* * * * *

Floyd Wells, a convict, stared across the room, out the bars at the fading twilight. Almost dark now, the sky, no longer purple. But, veins of gray - the color purple and black make when mixed - still scratched the flatland horizon. At the large, steady, gray desk sat Warden Hand of Lansing Prison; in the guest chair afront the desk sat Alvin Dewey, taking notes. Both men listened as Wells told his story.

In 1948, he was yet a boy of 19, had left home and had wound up in Kansas, riding boxcars, hitching, anything it took to escape an unhappy home. Needing work, he heard that a man named Herbert Clutter hired out seasonally for harvesting. Clutter was rich and paid out nigh $10,000 a year to keep his place running smoothly. So, he sought out this fellow, was hired as a picker, and was treated very nicely. His entire family was nice to him. Clutter boarded him, fed him, and gave him a wallet with a bonus $50 at Christmas. He never forgot that kindness. Well, spring came and Wells was off again, on the road to elsewhere. He married, divorced, served in the Army, then in June of this year, 1959, got into trouble, drawing three-to-five at Lansing for breaking and entry, B&E for short.

His first cellmate, one Richard Eugene Hickock, smoked incessantly, was tattooed everywhere, played the guitar. They had got to talking one night and began pondering what they'd do when they got out of the place. Hickock's time was nearly up - scheduled to be paroled the following month, August. Hickock talked of maybe getting together with his buddy, somebody named Perry Smith, who had just been released from the same hole just a couple weeks earlier.

"I don't exactly recall how Mr. Clutter first got mentioned," said Wells. "It must've been when we were discussing jobs. Anyway, I told him how I worked at a considerable wheat spread in western Kansas. Dick wanted to know if Mr. Clutter was a wealthy man. Yes, I said, he was. From that point on, Dick never stopped asking me about the family. How many was they? What ages would the kids be now? Exactly how do you get to the house? How was it laid out? Did Mr. Clutter keep a safe? I won't deny it, I told him he did...right behind the desk in the room that he used as an office. Next thing I knew Dick was talking about killing Mr. Clutter."

From the side, Dewey's and the warden's eyes met; the former nodded. Dewey put down his pen now and listened. Forget the notes. "Go on, Floyd," his voice nudged.

"Well...he said he and his friend Perry was gonna go out there and rob the place," continued the inmate, "and was gonna kill all witnesses - the Clutters and anybody else that happened to be around. He described to me a dozen times how he was gonna do it, how him and Perry was gonna tie them people up and gun them down. I never believed for a minute he meant to carry it out. I thought it was just talk, like you hear plenty of here in Lansing. Nobody takes it serious. That's why when I heard the broadcast on the radio in my sell - you know, how those Clutters were butchered — well, I didn't hardly believe it. Still and all, it happened. Just like Dick said it would. Just like Dick said it would."

The warden's chamber hushed. Wells' last syllable hung in the air, haunting, until it dissolved under the whir of the ceiling fan. Dewey crouched in his chair, his elbows on his knees, his expression relieved. He thanked God for this stroke of luck, for he and his detectives had interviewed (what they thought to be) every man who had ever worked for the Clutters. Yeah, except this one man, Floyd Wells.

Finally, the detective cleared his throat. "What made you tell us all this, Floyd?"

Wells didn't need time to think about that. "It kinda tortured me, 'spector. It's more than the reward money you're offering. Nothing's worth taking the chance that others inside will know I tattled - convicts don't talk about each other, it's kinda a code — and, well...if somebody finds out, then my life won't be worth a dead coyote, will it? But, a friend o' mine, he's a Catholic, kinda religious-like, when I told him about what I knew, he convinced me to speak out to somebody. I was scared, still am, but I remember Mr. Clutter and that little wallet with $50 inside. That meant a lot to me."

* * * * *

Between what backgrounders the prison office supplied and what his men could gather from other sources, including relatives and law enforcement agencies, Dewey was able to compile brief biographical sketches of the two fugitives. The environment in which a man grows, say the social workers, often breeds a man's instincts. But, looking over their files - at least the facts that his men were able to surface from those who knew Richard Hickock and Perry Smith - the investigator could not understand nor forgive them. Nothing excused their deed.

Their histories read, as follows:

Perry Edward Smith

Plays the guitar, not badly; likes country and western music. Descr: 5'4," 156 lbs., high cheekbones, brown eyes/hair.

Born October 27, 1928, in Huntington, Elko County, Nevada. In 1929, the Smiths relocated to Juneau, Alaska. Both parents were alcoholic and, in Juneau, Mr. Smith brewed bootleg "hooch". Perry had one older brother, Tex, Jr. (James) and two older sisters, Barbara and Fern (who later changed her name to Joy). The parents argued constantly and over trivialities. The father was abusive, to his wife and children. By all reports, Perry's mother was caught with a sailor and her husband beat her almost to death. In 1935, she left him and took the children with her to San Francisco.

In Frisco, Perry spent most of his time out of doors away from his drunken mother. He dawdled with several neighborhood gangs and, in his teen years, spent more time in detention homes than away from them. Eventually, the boy wound up back in the custody of his father. Together, they roamed the west in their jalopy, prospecting, doing odd jobs wherever and whenever.

At this date, the father is believed to be deceased.

At age 16, Perry joined the Merchant Marines and at eighteen, the Army. He served overseas in the Korean War for 15 months. According to camp records, however, he spent weeks at a time in the brig for fighting with other soldiers as well as Korean civilians, and for carousing. But he received an honorable discharge and was serviced out at Ft. Lewis in Washington State.

After that, he acquired a job as a car painter outside Ft. Lewis and with one of his first paychecks bought a motorcycle, which he raced along the highway with other cyclists. The fast times ended when he smashed it into an oncoming auto at top speed, he winding up underneath what was left of the bike. Nearly died, but miraculously recovered. Spent six months in Washington Hospital and another half year on crutches. The accident left his legs gnarled like weathered tree limbs and, according to doctors, he would probably be in pain the rest of his life.

He was sentenced in March, 1956, to 5-10 years at Lansing Prison for robbing a Phillipsburg, Kansas store. Was paroled June 6, 1959.

His current address, on prison papers, was listed as one in Las Vegas, Nevada. But, according to probation officers, he has skipped town.

Richard Eugene Hickock

Chain smokes, usually Pall Malls; has worked as a car painter and apprentice mechanic. Loves to watch sports on TV. Frequents whorehouses. Descr: 5'10," 175 lbs., stout. Blond hair/blue eyes.

Born June 6, 1931, in Kansas City, Kansas. Parents still alive, living in Olathe.

His youth was, by indication, trouble free. Fair student; graduated from high school in 1949. First job with Santa Fe Railroad, earned $75 per week. At the age of 19-years-old, married a girl named Carol Bryan, who was only sixteen. The couple seems to have made a try for happiness, had three sons. Dick drove an ambulance nightly for extra income. Took a full-time job with Mark Buick Company as a mechanic.

Things went haywire when the couple overbought and found themselves in financial trouble. Simultaneously, Dick was in an auto accident that left his face slightly disfigured. Being out of a job during his recuperation period, the monetary problems worsened.

While married, he impregnated another girl named Margaret Edna. Left Carol to live with the other woman, forcing Carol to present divorce papers.

Took to writing bad checks - "hanging some paper" to use the idiom - and was arrested in January of 1956. Given a maximum of five years at Lansing Prison for "Cheating and Defrauding". While incarcerated, Margaret also divorced him.

Paroled August 13, 1959. No criminal actions since.

* * * * *

Now that the KBI had names, Dewey's agents began scouring the Midwest to determine the two men's activities from their dates of parole. Smith had returned to his home state of Nevada for a short spell, but soon appeared in Kansas where he passed several bad checks to certain emporiums. In early November, he showed up in Olathe, Kansas, where, it just so happened, former cellmate Hickock had returned to live with his parents.

Dewey's assistant, Agent Harold Nye, learned that the suspects had gone on a shopping spree rubberizing checks all over Kansas City on November 20, five days after the date of the Clutter killing. According to Truman Capote in his book, In Cold Blood, "Nye had called on all the reported victims - salesmen of cameras and of radio and television equipment, the proprietor of a jewelry store, a clerk in a clothing store - and when in each instance the witness was shown a photograph of Hickock and Perry Edward Smith, he had identified the former as the author of the spurious checks, the latter as his 'silent' accomplice." One cashier characterized Hickock as a "smooth talker," but said the short little fella remained mute throughout the transaction.

Fraud was fraud and checks bounced, but Dewey wanted big guns, he wanted the death penalty and, therefore, he yet needed to prove that, in the midst of their self-indulgent "paper hanging" efforts around the state of Kansas, the duo indeed had had enough time to visit Holcomb and kill the Clutters. This matter, a simple mathematical time-clock precision thing, was crucial to the whole case.

While interviewing Richard Hickock's parents in Olathe, Nye uncovered relevant information, concerning their son's schedule over the now-infamous weekend of November 14-15. Nye found the Hickocks, Eunice and her husband, a down-home, very congenial couple who despaired over their boy's waywardness. Without divulging his suspicions, he inquired about their son's movements during mid-November. They told him that he had been visited by an oily-haired, leather-jacketed friend named Perry something-or-other from Las Vegas — they didn't like his manner nor his looks - on Thursday, November 12. They wouldn't allow him to lodge in their house, so he stayed in the Hotel Olathe.

On the morning of Saturday, November14, both Dick and his friend from Vegas went on, what the Hickocks called, "a weekend trip," leaving before noon on Saturday (the 14th) and returning the next day, Sunday (the 15th), about noon. Their destination, as Dick confided, had been Ft. Scott where that Perry's sister owed him some money. When they came back to Olathe, Dick to his parents', Perry to the hotel, Dick announced that the trip had been fruitless — Perry's sister had left Ft. Scott before they could reach her. Shame, too; they wanted to use that money to buy a boat.

Nye calculated, even before the couple finished their narration: Olathe was four hundred miles from Holcomb. The pair could have easily made the two-way trip, some 800 miles, in a span of 24 hours, with time in between to change their clothes, eat and effect occasional rest stops.

Before he left, he asked to see their boy's room. He found it a modest, comfortable little cove, well-dusted, with a bed, bookshelves and a desk. In the corner, propped against the wall was a .12-guage Savage shotgun, Model 300.

"You do much hunting?" asked Nye of the older man.

"Me? No, that's his gun, Dick's. He hunts rabbits."

* * * * *

The inspector was sure that gun had been the murder weapon, but not wanting to arouse the parents at that time left it behind.

"You did right," his boss Alvin Dewey congratulated, and his eyes poured over Nye's tablet of notes. "One thing remains to be seen, Hal. And if my hunch is correct, we have our men. Find Perry's sisters, see if any of them were ever in Ft. Scott or owed Perry any money. If they had, then it's back to square one. But, I will wager our oddballs never went to Ft. Scott, but instead went to visit my friend, Herb Clutter."

He completed that sentence through clenched teeth as he dropped into his chair, staring at a mileage chart of Kansas on the wall behind him.


Arrest

"Be sure your sin will find you out."
— The Bible

Las Vegas was its usual Eden-like self, tropic breezes even on December 30 and the setting desert sun massaging the skin with a toasty irridescence. Dick Hickock waited outside the city post office in the two-toned black-and-white 1956 Chevy they had recently stolen on their way back west. Inside the building, at General Delivery, Perry was claiming a large cardboard box they had shipped insured to the States before leaving Mexico - it contained clothes and an assortment of personal belongings that they didn't want to contend with while shuffling from one stolen car to another.

Inside the box, among the potpourri, were two pairs of boots - one with heels bearing a diamond-shaped pattern, the other whose heels were made by Cat's Paw.

Having driven from Miami Beach in five days, the two boys were planning to roost a while here in Vegas in a traveler's motel that Dick knew about, where he had slept off many a binge, a cheap line of cabins set back behind the Strip of casinos and eateries.

Parked a few spaces from the Chevy was a police squad. Officers Ocie Pigford and Francis Macauley had spotted the auto with the out of state license - number Jo 16212 — and, as was customary when a cruiser behaved suspiciously at dusk, checked the plates with Headquarters Central. The number matched with a printout of cars stolen in Johnson County, Kansas. Now, the two cops waited, watched, holding back until the squat, dark-haired little man limped forth from the post office with his package.

When he did so, the prowl car swung into action, drawing alongside the black-and-white Chevy. Perry and Dick had not seen the policemen until the barrels of their revolvers poked their cheekbones through the rolled-down windows.

* * * * *

Alvin Dewey was bathing before dinner at his home in Garden City when his wife summoned him to the phone. "It's headquarters," she told him. "Say it's urgent." He reached for the nearest towel, wrapped himself into it, and sprinted to the phone stand. Wife Marie nonchalantly returned to her task of setting the dinner table, but jolted when she heard her husband yelp out behind her. She wheeled around to see him dancing, phone in hand, yodeling a chorus louder than the Mormon Tabernacle Choir's rendition of Handel's "Messiah" last week on TV.

Hugging her, yanking her into a confounded dance around the front room, looking every bit the fool in a slipping wet towel but not giving a damn who might see him through the opened bay window, he repeated over and over in singing refrain, "They got'em in Vegas! They got'em in Vegas!"

It took Marie only seconds to realize that her husband had not gone crazy. In fact, he was back to normal.

* * * * *

Hickock and Smith were interrogated separately, but at the same time, at 2 p.m. on January 2, 1960, at the Detective Bureau of Las Vegas. Both interrogation rooms, down the hall from each other, were sterile white, celotex lined and fluorescent lit, containing a metal table without drawers, a few metal fold-out chairs, a hidden microphone and tape recorder, and a one-way mirror/window that allowed inspectors to view the actions and visages of the prisoner from the adjoining hallway.

Interrogations were conducted by members of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation. Agents Harold Nye and Roy Church interviewed Hickock, Chief Dewey and agent Clarence Duntz grilled Perry Smith. It was Dewey's strategy that the respective probings open with questions simply about the passing of bad-checks, a concentration that, he believed, the pair of culprits were expecting. In fact, they had probably schooled themselves in advance to match their answers. Dewey figured that Smith and Hickock were at ease about their suspicion in the Holcomb, Kansas murders. But, he told his agents, when you have them relaxed, when you have them thinking that they could easily do a five-year forgery stretch on their hands, drop the name Clutter - and take note of their expressions.

It was the oldest trick in the book, Dewey admitted. And it worked every time.

* * * * *

Hickock seemed at ease, bearing his jaunty smile, when he sat down to face Church and Nye, the latter who was most verbal and who commenced the interview. "We want to ask you, Dick, about your activities since your parole. We understand you've been doing some shopping in Kansas City."

The suspect didn't flinch. He named the stores they deceived, listing them in order, and maintained that he was sorry about having done what he'd one. His attitude was one of repentance and his tone one of you've-got-me-over-a-barrel. But, he expressed, he wouldn't have had been in this situation now if Perry Smith's sister, the one who owed him money, would have come through with her obligation.

"Ya' see," he told the policemen, "all Perry and I wanted to do with that money was to buy a fishing boat and hire it out for deep-sea fishing off the coast of Mexico; woulda made a lot of money doing that...woulda paid them stores back every cent. Listen to me now, hear what I'm telling ya' — that's the truth. That was our plan."

"Tell us about Perry's sister," Nye advised.

"I'm getting to that," responded Hickock. "Ya' see, Perry wrote me a letter telling me has a sister in Ft. Scott, and she was holding some heavy change for him. Several thousand bucks. Money his dad owed from the sale of some property in Alaska. He said he was coming to Kansas to get the dough."

"And?"

"Perry came to Olathe a month later, and I met him at the bus station. Then—"

"What date was that? The day of the week." Nye interrupted.

"Thursday."

"And when did you leave for Ft. Scott?" Nye's questions were rapid fire.

"Saturday."

"November 14?"

Hickock thought a minute. "Er...yes."

"So you arrived late Saturday afternoon?"

"Er...yes."

"All right, now you're in Ft. Scott going to Perry's sister's house. Then what?"

"Perry lost his sister's address, see?"

"I see. Then what? You tried to phone her?"

"Er...no. She doesn't have a phone."

"Then how did you expect to find her?"

"By asking at the post office."

"Did you do that? Did you go to the post office?"

"Perry did." Hickock was aggravated by this gunfire questioning. "The people at the post office checked and said she moved outta town. Oregon, I think."

"And she left no forwarding address?"

"No, sir."

"So you went on a check spree then for money?"

"Yes, sir."

Nye than asked him where else he and Smith had been over the six weeks between the disappointing trip to Ft. Scott and the time he was arrested. "'Wow!' he said, and then summoning his talent, for something like total recall, he began an account of the long ride — the approximately ten-thousand miles he and Smith had covered — (naming) a chorus of entwining names," writes author Truman Capote. "Apache, El Paso, Corpus Christ, Santillo, San Luis Potosi, Acapulco, San Diego, Dallas, Omaha, Sweetwater, Stillman, Tenville Junction, Tallahassee...And when he finished he sat with folded arms and a pleased smile, as though waiting to be commended for the humor, the clarity, and the candor of his traveler's tail."

But, the detectives remained dry.

"Have you ever heard of the Clutter murders?" asked agent Church directly and out of the blue. The spontaneity changed Hickock's face (as the interrogators expected) a sullen gray, and, for the first time (as the interrogators again expected), wiped that smile off the suspect's face.

"Whoa, Nellie Bell! I'm no damn murderer!" Hickock squealed.

"You left a witness, Dick," Nye added, "a living witness who'll testify in court and tell a jury how you and Perry slaughtered four helpless people the night of November14."

"Wait a minute, I-"

"You say you drove to Ft. Scott?"

"Yes."

"And when you got there you say you went to the post office?"

"Yes!"

"To obtain the address of Perry Smith's sister?"

"YES! Damnit, how many times do I hafta-"

"Dick, listen!" Nye stopped him short. He leaned closer to him, meeting his eyeballs, his suddenly frightened eyeballs, with his own. "Perry Smith's sister never lived in Ft. Scott. And on Saturday, the post office closes at noon."

* * * *

Alvin Dewey, down the hall, flipped through the notes he had been taking from Perry Smith's dialogue. Above him, bluish cigarette smoke swirled around the bare light bulb that generated a cold, unpleasant series of shadows across each of their faces.

"After your parole from Lansing, you were forbidden by the courts to return to Kansas. Again, tell me why you returned?"

Smith had grown weary with the gab gab gab, hour after hour, and wanted out. The clock crawled. He was hungry, his legs ached, and he needed an aspirin. "Again, as I told you how many damn times, to see my sister, get that money she was keeping."

At the long end of the table, agent Duntz was voiceless, letting his boss, Dewey, hammer away at the boy. He admired the stealth; Perry was cracking; the chips, rather the chunks, were falling; and he measured the barometer of emotion building; he mentally paced, ready to step in at the precise moment. He would know when that moment came by the look in Alvin Dewey's eyes.

"Perry, how far is Ft. Scott from Olathe?" Dewey continued.

"I have no idea, no idea whatsoever," Smith answered laconically.

" One hour? Four hours? More hours?"

"I don't 'member."

"Of course you don't remember because you were never in Ft. Scott."

Duntz saw that go-get-em-Clarence look in his boss' eyes and lunged, vocally. A new voice, a new blame, a new spark to stun their prey. "Perry, admit it, you were in Holcomb, Kansas, not Ft. Scott. You weren't waiting for your sister. You were killing the Clutters."

Perry's elbows, which had been resting on the desktop, wobbled from under him. "I never..."

...But he couldn't continue his sentence, choking on his own breath. When he finally caught the air he needed to breathe again, he didn't bother to resume. Only sat there and stared at his throbbing kneecaps. Really hurting now.

"Never what, Perry?"

"I need an aspirin - please."

* * * * *

Daylight rolled around and the detectives let the boys rest. Only a while. Then the heat began again with no degree cooler than where it had paused. It was January 3, 1960, and Dewey wanted to break this case today. How poignant it would be. Today would have been Nancy Clutter's seventeenth birthday.

But, it soon became apparent to him that Hickock, not his charge Perry, would snap first. Perry Smith, that midget-sized barrel-keg of hate, was holding. The flame wouldn't penetrate deep enough to ignite the gunpowder. Its surface had petrified. Dewey had never encountered any fiber like Perry's.

At best, he admitted that the Ft. Scott fiasco was a fairy-tale, but only to cover their real escapade of staying out and drinking all night. Mr. and Mrs. Hickock, the Christians they were, would not have approved. But, the rock would roll no further than that. Drinking, not killing. Drinking and, all right if ya' must know, laying a couple prostitutes whose names he couldn't remember. At what motel he couldn't remember. On what highway he couldn't remember. In what town he couldn't remember. But, he killed no one. He only drank. And whored.

And lived in pain till he numbed. The pain he had endured those many months after that motorcycle accident and the humiliation he suffered shuffling around on crooked stubs had toughened him. And he created an invisible crutch under him that a hurricane couldn't loosen. Nothing could loosen. Even Mr. Clutter's best friend, Alvin Dewey.

* * * * *

Hickock's hide wasn't nearly as thick. Three hours of repetitive banter, responding to the same questions he had answered yesterday over and over again, rambling while for some reason the dicks kept letting him ramble, had given him the queen mother of headaches. He hinted for an aspirin, but Nye wouldn't budge."Dick, I can see it in your face, we're right and you know we're right. Don't do this to yourself."

Nye wasn't sure, but it looked like tears began to swell in Hickock's eyes.

"Dick, the killers of the Clutter family committed an almost perfect murder, but like I said yesterday, they left behind a witness. Actually, there are three witnesses. One who will speak in court and two that, by their mute presence, will do equal if not more damage. Foot prints, Dick. Foot prints."

Capote pens, "Rising, (Nye) retrieved from a corner a box and a briefcase, both of which he brought into the room at the start of the interview. Out of the briefcase came a large photograph. 'This,' he said, leaving it on the table, 'is a one-to-one reproduction of certain footprints found near Mr. Clutter's body. And here-' he opened the box - 'are the boots that made them. Your boots, Dick.' Hickock looked, and looked away. He rested his elbows on his knees and cradled his head in his hands. 'Smith,' said Nye, 'was even more careless. We have his boots, too, and they exactly fit another set of prints. Bloody ones.'"

Agent Church started up with further accusations, but Dick held up a hand to beg, "Please!" He inhaled deeply, then gurgled out what he couldn't keep in any longer; it was useless. "Perry Smith did all the killing, I swear. I was there, but I couldn't stop him. He killed all the Clutters, all four."

Nye turned to Church. "Get Dick an aspirin for his headache, and then he can tell us the rest."


Confession

"There is nothing so powerful as truth — and often nothing as strange."
— Daniel Webster

At first Perry Smith didn't believe Alvin Dewey when he told him his friend Hickock had just confessed. When the detective offered to play him the recorded conversation as proof, the other cooly responded with a shrug of the shoulders and asked for a cigarette. "I suppose ya' wanna hear it from me now?" he asked.

"Tell us on the way home," Dewey said. "We're taking you guys in separate vehicles back to the Garden City lockup." He paused, then added, "Perry, Hickock's confession implicates you directly to the murder, you realize that?"

Smith nodded. "Yeah, I suppose so. And I suppose it'll mean The Corner for us both."

Leading him out, Dewey agreed, but didn't say so. "The Corner" was the convicts'
slang for the hangman's scaffold.

In the government car, on the road back through the open plain and tumbleweed of Kansas, Dewey goaded Smith into talking. Offering him one of his Lucky Strikes - he had to light it for him, since the prisoner was manacled — he replied, "Did you know your buddy's claimed you killed all of the Clutters? He's thrown the whole pan of hot stew on you, pal."

The ploy worked, and Smith started babbling.

"Well, then I think ya' should hear my version of it, Dewey." And he talked about how it began, this mess. Of how he was in Buhl, Idaho when he got Dick Hickock's letter urging him to join him on a "sure fire cinch". How he came to Olathe and Dick met him at the Greyhound bus depot; of how Dick's parents didn't like him ("I'm sensitive that way, I can usually tell what people are thinking"); of how he boarded in the town hotel; of how Dick visited him there and drew him a diagram of the Clutter house, recited from memory. "He knew where the doors were, the halls, where the stairs were going up and going down. He knew where Herb Clutter's office was, and where a safe was supposed to be."

He talked about their leaving Olathe and Dick storing his personal shotgun — a .12-guage Savage, Model 300 — in the trunk of his '49 Chevy. Of how they stopped in Emporia to buy rubber gloves (so they wouldn't leave fingerprints) and cord (to bind the victims). Then stopped again in Great Bend to buy duct tape.

"There we had dinner, a big dinner, and I fell asleep. When I woke, we were just entering Garden City. We stopped for gas at a filling station-"

"Which one?" asked Dewey. He was occasionally stopping his narrative to ask such questions.

"I think it was a Phillips 66."

"What time?"

"'Bout midnight. The attendant told us it was seven miles more to Holcomb. We followed the road about that distance and he was right - it was such a small town, Holcomb, if ya' blinked ya'd miss the consarned place. The car rattled over a railroad track and then Dick says suddenly, 'This hasta be it!' It was then I noticed he was turning the Chevy off onto a private road, lined with trees. We killed the lights. Besides, we didn't need'em to see anyway, the moon was that full and lalapalooza bright. And as we drove further up the path, we could see the barns and the silos and house against the moon. The yard keeper's house too. It was some layout! Dick whispered, 'Now don't tell me this guy Clutter ain't loaded!' And, not wanting to be seen, we stopped the car under the shadow of trees and turned off the engine."

They sat in the car a bit until they saw a light in farmhand Stoecklein's house diminish. After enjoying a mouthful each of liquor, Smith and Hickock donned the rubber gloves. They slid from the car, careful not to make any noise; they didn't slam the car doors. Smith carried the shotgun, Hickock a flashlight and a bowie knife.

From Hickock's diagram, they knew the location of the office entrance. Darting across the open yard, bathed in moonlight, they reached the appointed door, took a breath of fresh air to revive their nerve, then started picking at the lock. To their surprise, the door nudged inward, unclasped. They stepped over the threshold into the office and edged the door shut behind them.

"The one window in the room was curtained with Venetian blinds, but moonlight was peeping through. I closed the blinds and Dick opened his flashlight. We saw Mr. Clutter's desk, but sure as hell there was no safe behind it like there was supposed to be, just a paneled wall with bookcases and framed maps and pictures, stuff like that on the walls."

Unable to find the presupposed safe, Hickock decided to rouse the owner of the house and force him to lead them to it, open it, and relinquish what cash there was inside. "Hell, he didn't want to accept he'd driven four hundred miles for nothin'! We moved in darkness across the living room; our damned footsteps clumping so loud, the floorboards creaking with every movement we made. Dick hushed me, but I couldn't help it! Somehow we found the hallway we were looking for and, Dick leading the way, we came to what he figured was Mr. Clutter's bedroom. Dick shined his flashlight and turned the doorknob. We heard the squeak of bedsprings as Clutter sat up. We heard him through the beam of light saying, 'That you, honey?' Ya' see, he thought we were his wife. Haha! It was clear he'd been asleep 'cause he blinked in the beam of our flashlight. He was in pajamas and naturally seemed a little startled to see two strangers in his house around 12:30 in the morning. We forced him to his feet and made him move to his office. He stayed in his bare feet, Clutter did, Dick not even giving him time to put his slippers on."

Despite protests from his intruders, Clutter kept denying that he owned a safe. He offered whatever cash he might have in the house, but told them it wasn't very much. He was not in the habit of keeping loose change around since he did business by check only.

"And while Dick was shouting at him and telling him he was a liar and calling him a sonofabitch, all names 'neath the blue, I fixed the telephone in the room. I pulled the wires straight out. Later, I did the same to the kitchen one, too.

"It was 'round then I heard a creaking overhead. I crept from the office where Dick continued to knock Clutter around and peered up the stairs to the second floor. I could tell there was someone there, at the top landing I mean, silhouetted against a window. Then it moved away. In the meantime, Dick had collared Clutter and had paraded him back to his bedroom where I found the poor guy looking really nervous. Dick was going through his billfold; helped himself to some greenbacks from it, stuck them in his pocket, and flung the wallet and all the stuff from inside it to the carpet. Ya' could see Dick was real sore in not having found that safe.

"Grumbling, he asked Clutter if his wife had any money on her, but Mr. Clutter asked us please not to disturb her, saying that she was an invalid, been sick a very long time. Dick would hear none of that and insisted on going upstairs anyway. He made Clutter lead the way."

No one was in the hall when the three men reached it. All doors along it were closed and Herbert Clutter bypassed them all to open the door at the far-most end; Smith and Hickock followed him in. Lighting the lamp beside the bed, he stirred his wife awake. She saw the aliens, the rifle stick under Perry's arm, and gasped. "Don't worry, honey," he told her, "these men just want to know if we have any spare money. I told them they're welcome to anything we have in the house. They won't hurt us." The woman began to weep, but her husband patted her hand to calm her down. "No, sweetheart, it will be all right," he assured.

"We checked Mrs. Clutter's purse that was next to the nightstand; there was a little money in it, I think, cigarette dough, and again Dick grabbed it. Now it was time to check the other rooms, to see if the kids had some coinage, ya' know what I mean? But, we couldn't rightly leave the mom and dad alone to climb down the window or something, so we contrived the idea of locking them in the bathroom, which was down the hall between the other rooms. Noticing the lady was shaking like a leaf, I grabbed a chair from the hallway and brought it into the bathroom for her - the john was a pretty big one - and she sat in the chair, all the while sobbing away and entreating, and all the while Clutter reminding her we were there just for their money, that we wouldn't hurt them. And he was right - ya' see, up to that point we still had no intention of harming no one.

"Next, we fetched the boy - I think his name was Kenyon - from his room. We woke him up and he seemed too damn scared to move. Dick yanked him outta bed kinda rough. He was wearing only a T-shirt, so I threw his pants at him and ordered him to put'em on quick-like.

"As he did so, I spotted a little gray radio on his desk - a nice little job from Zenith that I really took a shine to. We searched his room for cash, couldn't find a red penny, but I liked that radio. So I took it. At least I wasn't empty-handed so far.

"While we were hustling the scared guy toward his folks locked in the bathroom, out from her own bedroom walks the girl, his sister, Nancy. All dressed, like she hadn't been to bed yet; she wore a kimono kind of thing thrown over her top and jeans; her hair was wet and drying under a towel. She said something kind wiseacre-like like, 'Good grief, what is this - some kinda joke?' Guess she thought we'd laugh, but I think she got the message, though, when she saw my gun and Dick shoved her into the bathroom with the rest of her family. Her face paled fast.

"Well, there they were, all the Clutters, pulled from their beds, trembling like leaves, packed into the can. Haha! The family we'd come so far to see. But, damnit, no safe! The problem now was: What the hell to do with'em!"

Buying time to think, the trespassers contrived to separate the three, tie them up, gag them, scare them into telling where the family treasure might be hidden. This agreed upon, they decided to usher the respective clan each to his or her own corner and play mental gymnastics with them, toss the knife around, wiggle the gun barrel in their faces, threaten them until patriarch Clutter relented with the concealed cash.

"In the bathroom we tied their wrists so they couldn't fight back, ya' see."

Smith had volunteered to be the lasso man ("I was always handy with a rope") while Hickock covered them with the shotgun. After they were defenseless, he brought Mr. Clutter down to the basement at the point of the knife. (Dick remained upstairs, continuing to guard the other three.) In the furnace room, Smith directed Clutter to stretch out on the concrete floor after kicking over a large empty mattress box that had been leaning on the wall. ("I couldn't have him lying on the dirty, cold floor.") The stumpy little abductor then proceeded to truss the man's feet and hands together ("His hands were already tied, literally, and with my knife at his Adam's apple there wasn't much he could do but relent.") The bridle Smith wound restricted the man's movements; the more he might struggle the more he would choke.

"Next thing, I brought the boy down. At first, I put him in the room with his dad; tied his hands overhead to a steam pipe. But, I reconsidered. If he broke loose, it would be too easy for him to free the old man, so I cut him loose and hurried him to the playroom beyond where there was this big, comfortable couch. I roped his feet to the couch, and his hands, too. As I was leaving to go back upstairs, he took a violent coughing jag; out of nervousness, I'm sure. And 'sides, the whole place gagged of varnish for some reason. I felt sorry for him and propped his head upon a pillow. 'Member, I still didn't wanna hurt nobody."

Returning to the second floor, Smith now marched Mrs. Clutter to her own bed and taped her mouth shut with duct tape (to prevent her possible cries from awakening her next door neighbors, the Stoeckleins). "She was still crying as I tied her up; wouldn't believe that I meant no harm. But, she seemed more concerned about her daughter than herself, pleading with me not let my partner touch Nancy. I said I wouldn't let that happen in a million years, but, frankly, I was worried about that myself. Earlier in the day, ya' see, Dick was boasting about how he just might have his way with that teenager if she was pretty enough, and Nancy was a pretty girl. Well, at this point, things got a little heated and ugly."

Smith found that Hickock had already taken the girl back to her room, had ordered her onto the bed, and now sat on the edge of it talking to her in a calming, fraternizing voice. At Smith's appearance, Hickock cooled. Together, they tied the girl's ankles together and told her to lie still. Smith bumped Hickock into the hallway.

"Then Dick says to me out there, 'I'm gonna bust that little girl.' And I said, 'The hell ya are!' Ya' see, I hate that kinda behavior, no one who can't control themselves sexually. That irks me. We got into a little tiff out there in the corridor outside her room, but I figured it was no time for us to have our own personal quarrel. Time'd come to settle that later."

Here, Smith paused and quipped, "That stuff about Nancy, what he'd have liked to have done with her, I can bet in his version he didn't tell ya' that, did he?"

Dewey only motioned him to proceed. Smith chuckled, winked, and went on.

Accordingly, after the flare-up, the boy's relationship became strained, coupled with the tensions of their crime. There seemed no alternative at this point but to let the Clutters be and get the hell out of there. But, Hickock had a one-track mind: He kept balking about Smith's interference in Nancy Clutter's bedroom. "It made my stomach turn to think that he was still considering banging the girl. And that I had admired this guy. I had lapped up all his brag about how tough he was gonna get with the Clutters, but when the time came, I had to do most of the work and all he wanted to do was screw that teenager."

They decided to leave the Clutter house. ("We couldn't find any money and the whole scene had gone sour anyway.") Before they left, they checked once more on the Clutter men. Kenyon was securely tied, and so was his father.

But, Dick wanted to make sure the old man wouldn't break free to call the cops before they had a chance to clear the county. He started to wrap Clutter's head in duct tape, his intention to leave only a space for his nose but slow him down should he unloosen the binds (after all, he was a large man and no lightweight). Peeling the tape off to see and talk would hurt like the dickens. While he worked, Hickock threw epithets and bragged how Clutter was lucky to live — that if it was up to him he and all his family would be wiped away. Smith, nearby, reddened.

"This, on top of everything else, made me fume. 'Go ahead!' I stretched my palm toward Dick, the knife in it. 'You're so damned hard, you kill him!' Well, he hesitated, he chickened. He didn't know what to do 'cause I called his damned bluff...Then...

"I guess my mind snapped. I didn't realize what I'd done 'till I done it. Shoved it in and sliced Clutter's throat - God, the sound, like somebody screaming under water! At this point, Dick panicked and wanted to run, but I knew I couldn't leave Clutter like that; I hadda put him outta his misery. I aimed the gun and shot - hell, he would've died anyway. Everything kinda exploded after that."

The barrel of the shotgun roared three more times that night. Kenyon. Nancy. Bonnie. "I made Hickock do the shooting on Nancy and her mother; I told him I'd had enough." They retrieved all the discharged shells so the gun couldn't be traced, then hastened out the same door they came in, through Mr. Clutter's office. And they didn't speak for another dozen miles, not until their Chevrolet cleared Garden City.

"You never found your safe," Dewey shook his head. It had been the most disgusting tale he'd ever heard. More stark, more dark, than Hickock had told it. "Perry, just how much money did you and Dick get that night?"

Smith thought a moment. "About forty or fifty bucks."


Payback

"In violence, we forget who we are."
— Mary McCarthy

The prisoners were retained at the old-fashioned but fail-safe Finney County Courthouse calaboose in Garden City; they were kept separated by wings. Each cell contained a cot, a toilet, a shower stall, a chair and a table on which they could eat their meals. Smith kept a diary from a loose leaf notebook the sheriff's wife provided. As well, somewhat of an artist, he doodled and caricatured. (During a previous prison term he had painted a portrait of Jesus that was so beautiful Chaplain Post hung it in the prison chapel, where it hung for 22 years.) Hickock, a reader, occupied his time by reading; he preferred Harold Robbins and Irving Wallace novels. While Smith had little company — his family seemed to have disowned him— Hickock, on the other hand, entertained family constantly.

A few days behind bars, Smith summoned Alvin Dewey, saying he wanted to sign his confession statement - but that it needed amending before he took pen to paper. He confessed that Dick Hickock had told the truth originally - that he, Perry - did indeed do all the killing. "I know I laid the murders of Nancy and Mrs. Clutter on him, but I wanted to fix him for being such a coward behind his brag, dropping his guts all over the floor." When asked why he was changing his mind now, Smith replied, "I thought about it, about how Mrs. Hickock'd feel a lot better knowing her son never pulled the trigger. That's why I'm setting the record straight."

Dewey later admitted that he never quite accepted the amended confession, but that, "We were not dependent on a formal confession from Smith to prove any part of our case. With or without it, we had enough to hang them ten times over." With directions given by Smith, the police had unearthed the discharged cartridge shells, the nylon cord and duct tape used on the Clutters - they had been buried on a country road — as well as Hickock's shotgun and hunting knife recovered from his bedroom at his parent's Olathe home.

Trial was slated to commence March 22, 1960. Because the defendants were without funds to hire a private lawyer, Judge Roland H. Tate, who would preside, coaxed two local attorneys, Arthur Fleming and Harrison Smith to accept the no-thanks assignments. Neither man had wanted anything to do with defending the two repellent characters, but realized, to use Harrison Smith's words, "Somebody has to do it." After which he coyly added, "But we won't be very popular around here."

Feelings against Hickock and Smith were aflame throughout Kansas. The closer they lived to Holcomb, where the murders took place, and Garden City, where the trial was to be conducted, the more determined was the population to see the killers hang. County Attorney Duane West, filing for prosecution, felt comfortable in making a somewhat-liable statement on Friday, January 15: "If the case goes before a jury, I will request the jury, upon finding them guilty, to sentence them to the death penalty. If the defendants waive right to jury trial and enter pleas of guilty before the judge, I will request the judge to set the death penalty."

Eight days before the court session was to open, the defense team made an effort to postpone the trial. Author Truman Capote explains. "During the past week a boldly lettered notice had begun to appear in the town's shop windows, and in banks, restaurants, and the railroad station, and it read: H.W. CLUTTER ESTATE AUCTION SALE * 21 MARCH, 1960 * AT THE CLUTTER HOMESTEAD. 'Now,' said Harrison Smith, addressing the bench, 'I realize it is almost impossible to prove prejudice. But this sale, an auction of the victim's estate, occurs one week from today - in other words, the very day before the trial begins...These signs, coupled with newspaper advertisements, and advertisements on the radio, will be a constant reminder to every citizen in the community, among whom one hundred and fifty have been called as prospective jurors.' Judge Tate was not impressed. He denied the motion without comment."

Tate was, by no means, an unfair man. He conceded that, as the law dictates, the accused be fairly judged in advance for their mental capacity to stand civil trial. City doctors were ordered to conduct a psychological interview. After consideration, they pronounced both men sane and not prone to suffer mental disorders.

Court convened Tuesday, March 22. First order of business was the selection of a jury. Not one of the summoned seemed particularly eager to serve. But, the process was completed in a surprisingly short period of four hours.

The trial proper began the following day. Public turnout was large outside the stately white walled Finney County courtroom on the third floor. The varnished benches running along the sides and in back of the room held a capacity of 160 people; they filled fast; many people were turned away. The latter lingered in the foyer for hot news. Up front were the members of the press, including a young novelist and reporter named Truman Capote, whose latest work, Breakfast at Tiffany's, had won national acclaim. He was there today on assignment from The New Yorker. His resulting articles, which first appeared in serialized form, would eventually be published under cover as the award-winning In Cold Blood.

Also in the spectator section were Richard Hickock's parents, looking very forlorn. Rumor had it that the two surviving Clutter daughters, Beverly and Eveanna, would make an appearance, but they did not attend the first nor any of the subsequent sessions. The event was just too brutal.

However, Arthur Clutter was there. He had driven one hundred miles to see "the animals" who had killed his brother Herbert, he told newsmen. "The way I feel I could tear them apart." It was reported in the next edition of the local paper that Perry Smith, who had been chewing gum and was affecting a disinterested aire, happened to turn around just when Clutter's brother was entering the courtroom. Herb Clutter's brother greatly resembled him and Smith, noticing him, stopped chewing and gawked as though he was seeing a ghost.

Over the next three days, witnesses were called for the prosecution. Among others were Nancy Ewalt and Susan Kidwell, who described their discovery of Nancy Clutter's body in her blood-stained bedroom; Sheriff Robinson, recalling his initial search of the Clutter house immediately after the murders; County Coroner Robert Fenton, reading the autopsy report; and Chief Investigator Richard G. Rohleder of the Garden City police, describing the photographs he took that ultimately showed the killers' footprints.

Hickock and Smith, in the dramatic lapse of time that brought them to this moment, had almost forgotten the "witness" that Alvin Dewey claimed led to their arrest. When his name was called both twisted in the in chairs as if electrocuted. Floyd Wells, Hickock's former cellmate, appeared from the back of the court.

"Wells' passage across the courtroom toward the witness stand was oddly stealthy - as though he expected to encounter an assassin along the way," Capote noted. "As he walked past Hickock, Hickock's lips writhed as he whispered a few atrocious words. Wells pretended not to notice; but like the horse that has heard the hum of a rattlesnake, he shied away from the betrayed man's venomous vicinity."

Wells repeated the story he had told Alvin Adams in the warden's office at Lansing, this time for the benefit of the jury. He iterated his season on the Clutter farm, his imprisonment, his meeting with Richard Hickock, his discussion about the safe that he thought Clutter had kept money in. The prosecution, in attempting to prove pre-meditated murder, found Wells a gold mine.

When asked by Assistant Prosecutor Logan Green about Hickock's determination to rob the Clutters, he replied, "Hickock said that if he did rob the place, he wouldn't leave no witnesses." And when pressed further, the witness answered, "He told me he would probably tie them up and rob them and then kill them."

After this "mystery witness" had concluded, the defense never rose again. They tried, hard, to discredit him, as he was a convict. But, the sign of the gaol loomed like the darkening shadows over the town outside. Their cross-examination fizzled.

The week ended with the presentation of testimony from a quartet of FBI agents, experts in ballistic and evidentiary interpretation. They had analyzed the blood samples, footprints, cartridge shells, weapon, cord and tape, and verified that these exhibits are valid evidences of the Clutter murder. Translated this meant that (according to Alvin Dewey), "The boots of Smith and Hickock matched he boot prints at the scene...Lab tests proved that the four shells were fired from the shotgun belonging to Hickock...The end on the roll of tape matched the end of one of the pieces used to gag Clutter...The blood particles found in crevices along the soles of Smith's boots and in the knife handle matched Herb Clutter's blood."

The prosecution rested.

At ten o'clock on Monday morning, March 28, the defense team began its rebuttal. By noon, the court had adjourned, their argument already concluded. Their case, simply, was pathetic. No reflection on the attorneys; they had nothing with which to fight back. They went through the motions, then called it quits with a half-hearted plea to the talesmen.

Deliberations lasted a mere forty minutes. That's all it took for the jury to decide the accused men's fates. On all accounts, it was GUILTY OF MURDER. Both men had plotted to kill and had killed each member of the Clutter family.

"And the punishment," said Judge Tate, "is death."

* * * * *

Convicted, Richard Eugene Hickock and Perry Edward Smith were ordered to Lansing Prison's Death Row. Situated in Leavenworth County, Lansing Prison (officially Kansas State Penitentiary) is a turreted stone Inferno dating back to the Civil War. It was here, on the top floor of the Segregation and Isolation Building that the two murderers were sentenced to be "hung by the neck until dead" six weeks after the trial on the unluckiest of days, Friday the thirteenth, in May.

But, their lawyers appealed the verdict on the ground that their clients were not offered counsel until after they confessed and that the physical evidence against them had been seized without a search warrant. The Appeals Court ordered an investigation into the matter. May 13, 1960, came and went.

Eventually, the defendants were assigned two top Kansas City lawyers, Joseph Jenkins and Robert Bingham, to represent the convicted men in their desperate fight for a new trial. Filing numerous petitions with the Federal court system, Bingham and Jenkins were able to fend off three other execution dates: October 25, 1962; August 8, 1963; and February, 18, 1965. Three times they carried their case to the Supreme Court, but each time the Court denied the right to further entitlement.

Finally, the Kansas Supreme Court, in March, 1965, ruled that Hickock and Smith must leave Death Row for good. But, not the way they had hoped. The final ruling called for them to be executed between midnight and 2 a.m. on April 14, 1965.

Alvin Dewey, the man who pursued them, the man who had been one of Herbert Clutter's dearest friends, was on hand that cold Wednesday morning. "My presence was not obligatory," said Dewey years later, "but I was more or less expected and, frankly, wanted to be there...As I stared at the gallows I wondered how I would react to what I was about to witness." For a brief moment, he admits he felt sorry for the condemned who knew they were going to die, and in such a way. "Then I thought of gentle Bonnie Clutter who lay tied to her bed listening to first one and then another and another shotgun blast before her turn came."

Hickock was the first to die. "I just want to say I hold no hard feelings," he told newsmen outside the execution room. "You people are sending me to a much better place than this has been." On his way to the gallows he noticed Dewey, and stopped to shake his hand. "Nice to see you," he said, then climbed the steps to the scaffold. The noose was tightened around his throat. To the chaplain's cue, "May the Lord have mercy on your soul," the hangman sprung the trap door.

A half-hour later, after Hickock's body was placed in a hearse, Perry Smith entered the same chamber. He was chewing gum, as he had done all through his trial - the trial seemed so long ago now - and he winked at Dewey. To the awaiting reporters, he said, "It would be meaningless to apologize now. But, I do apologize." And he went to his death.

By 1:19 a.m., it was all over.

* * * * *

Sunset brings an amber glow to the waves of Kansas wheat, and the waves blow rhythmically and carry that color on surge after surge of poetic dance until it melts into the horizon. Valley View Cemetery, not far from Holcomb, overlooks that cadence, and, one gets the feeling, when standing in its midst, that the spirits of the many resting there are beside you watching the opus, never tiring of the peace it brings.

Alvin Dewey, a week after the perpetrators were taken from this world, returned to visit once more with his old friends, the Clutters. All four were buried side by side under a single carved headstone. He whispered to them that he missed them, and that he had done all he could for their honor.

His hat was in his hand, and there was a tear in his eye. And for a moment he thought - he felt - that a hand had touched his shoulder. He turned around, but there was no one there. At least visibly. But, Herb Clutter stood beside him now, nevertheless, as did the others - Bonnie, Nancy and Kenyon - inhaling the peace of the dusky Kansas wheat field.

They were peaceful now, at rest. And so was their friend, the detective.


Analysis

"The natural man has only two
primal passions, to get and beget."
— William Osler

Writer J.J. Maloney, has drawn, through his research and knowledge of the criminal mind, some impressive conclusions about the killings in Holcomb, Kansas, on November 1959, and the two killers themselves. Not all of them agree with Capote's version.

Maloney spent 6-1/2 years in reform schools and prison for murder and armed robbery, but, according to his online biography, he "educated himself and became an artist, poet and book reviewer for the Kansas City Star." He was paroled in 1972, already a recognized journalist.

He is the author of four books and has edited an alternative paper out of Kansas City, The New Times. Of the countless journalism and writing awards he has received, among these are the American Bar Association Silver Gavel; the Herbert Bayard Swopes Award; the American Newspaper Publishers Association for Best Investigative Story; the Sigma Delta Chi Award, Society of Professional Journalists and Orange County Press Club; and the Thorpe Menn Award. As well, he has been nominated for five Pulitzer Prizes.

"The publication of In Cold Blood in 1966 launched Truman Capote firmly into the top rank of American writers," writes Maloney. "It was - and is - widely heralded as a masterpiece - not only a masterpiece of writing, but as a brilliant insight into the criminal mind.

"After publication of the book, Capote told George Plimpton, in an interview for the New York Times, published in January, 1966, that he had been watching for an event that would allow him to write a 'non-fiction' novel - in his definition, a factual book using the literary skills of an accomplished novelist. The murder of the Herbert Clutter family in Holcomb, Kansas, on November 15, 1959, caught Capote's eye.

"The New York Times said in Capote's obituary in 1984, '...the book that perhaps edified his claim to literary fame was In Cold Blood, his detailed, painstakingly researched and chilling account of the 1959 slaying of a Kansas farm family and the capture, trial and execution of the two killers."

But, Maloney raises some questions about Capote's (as he puts it) "basic honesty in writing the book" - that is, Capote's assumptions and interpretations of certain episodes related in the subject work (which has become, since its publication, the bottom-line reference account of the event).

Among his several contentions put forth in an article entitled, "In Cold Blood: A Dishonest Book," is Hickock and Smith's motive for the murders.

Following are excerpts from a letter that Maloney wrote in 1968 to Dr. Karl Menninger, author of The Crime of Punishment, while reviewing the latter's book for the Kansas City Star:

"...It seems that no one has surmised what I believe to be the true reason that Perry Smith killed those four people. Everyone seems willing to attribute it to the arcane workings of the criminal mind.

"Capote glossed over the motivation of this crime by depicting Smith as being in what one might call, for lack of a better definition, a moment of schizophrenic disassociation...

"In order to place the crime in proper perspective, we have to conjecture on the nature of Smith and Hickock's relationship - which I believe was the result of a prison homosexual relationship...

"If my conjecturing is correct, then I feel confident that Hickock and Smith had been sexually involved in prison - further, that in any such relationship that Smith would have taken the feminine role, and psychologically leaned on Hickock because of Hickock's facade of rough-hewn masculinity.

"After leaving prison, Smith and Hickock probably discontinued the physical aspect of their relationship, but the psychological relationship remained intact...

"When Smith and Hickock arrived at the Clutter home I don't believe that either of them really expected a mass murder to take place. Smith, I believe, took for granted that Hickock would find some face-saving reason not to kill the Clutters, and Hickock, of course, took it for granted that Smith wouldn't or couldn't do anything so supposedly masculine as cold-bloodedly blow someone's brains out with a shotgun...

"Then, Smith caught Hickock trying to make love to Nancy Clutter. He must have been furious! Here, beneath his very eyes, the man he had surrendered himself to so totally was spurning him in favor of Nancy Clutter...

"At this point, Smith was irked, jealous, and he wanted to humiliate Hickock. So he pressed Hickock on the issue of killing the Clutters. Hickock couldn't do it and, confronted in this manner, was prevented from saving face. As Shakespeare said, 'Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.'

"Smith, in his confusion, jealousy, anger, disappointment - and spite - reactively and instinctively thrust that hunting knife into Herbert Clutter's throat (Smith may also simultaneously have been displacing his anger onto the victim, thereby symbolically killing his feckless paramour).

"The other three murders were then both defensive - and, perhaps and probably unrecognized by Smith, an excuse to go upstairs and kill Nancy Clutter - an act which would be doubly traumatic to Hickock...

"But Smith could not completely escape the affection he felt for Hickock, and he relented toward the end, to the extent of admitting that he had personally killed all four of the Clutters."

CrimeLibrary.com

 

 

 
 
 
 
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