The Clutter family gathers in their living room.
Note: the two eldest daughters were not murdered
with the rest of the family as they had moved out
of the house by then.
The bodies of the Clutter family were so damaged, their coffins had to be nailed shut at their funerals. Truman Capote wrote in his book "In Cold Blood" that the head of each family member was "completely encased in cotton; a swollen cocoon twice the size of a balloon, each sprayed with a glossy substance" that made the cotton twinkle "like Christmas tree snow."
The Clutters had been murdered at the onset of the holiday season, November 14, 1959. They were unknowingly the target of a scheme thought up by two prisoners they had never met, Richard Eugene Hickock and Perry Edward Smith. The two inmates planned to burglarize the Clutter home prior to being released after they heard from another prisoner that Herb Clutter, 48, had $10,000 in a safe. They only gained about $50 from the burglary.
When officers arrived on November 15, it appeared all four members of the Clutter family had awakened from their sleep only to be bound and shot in the head. Herb Clutter, 48, lay sprawled on a mattress in the basement, stabbed, his throat slashed and a shotgun charge fired to his head. On a couch in an adjoining room was 14-year old Kenyon Neal Clutter, bound, gagged and shot in the head. In separate upstairs bedrooms were the bodies of Mrs. Bonnie Mae Clutter, 45, and Nancy Mae Clutter, 15. Each had been shot in the head.
The murders shocked the nation and Capote wrote, about Holcomb, “every window in every house was ablaze, because entire families had stayed up the whole night, in fear that it might happen again."
As the people of Holcomb, Ks., tried to decipher what the killings meant in the days that followed the discovery of the Clutter family, Smith and Hickock were on the run.
|Truman Capote stands in the Clutter family living room.|
They didn't have the law hot on their trail and there were no wanted posters with drawings of their faces covering convenience store bulletin boards; in fact, no one even knew who they were yet. But they were on the run, skipping across the country after the murders as the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, or the KBI, had just started to decipher the crime scene.
The details of their travels came out after their eventual capture in Las Vegas on Dec. 30, 1959, during interviews with investigators and other law enforcement. Smith would also form a relationship with Capote and tell him similar tales for what would eventually become the basis for much of the "In Cold Blood" text.
Hickcock, 29, would tell investigators that he and Smith, 31, traveled 10,000 miles over the course of six weeks after the Kansas murders, crisscrossing the country, heading to Mexico, getting into little adventures, just trying to stay alive.
Their travels brought them to Florida at least once and chronicling the days between the Clutter murder and their capture, Capote wrote, in part, that Smith's and Perry's interaction with the another family, the Walkers, happened "not far from Tallahassee", although the Osprey murders was more than 330 miles away.
Of course, the Walker family met an end similar to that of the Clutters, murdered in an unthinkably violent way. And while the book, nor law enforcement over the course of decades, has been able to definitively connect to the duo to their deaths, similarities abound between the two:
|Authorities believe the Walker family was also murdered by Smith and Hickock although they were never able to prove it.|
According to the book, Smith and Hickock had driven south from Kansas into Louisiana after the Clutter murder, fighting off a burned out generator on their Chevy before making it to the Alabama-Florida border.
Then, like all first time visitors to Florida, they hit all the tourist attractions of the time with visits to "an alligator farm and a rattle snake ranch, a ride in a glass bottomed boat over a silvery clear swamp lake", Capote wrote, although he described these attractions as being in Tallahassee, near the panhandle.
Capote's geographical knowledge of Florida was obviously flawed. It's also unknown why Capote, upon hearing of the Walker murders, did not investigate it as deeply and as succinctly as he did the Clutter murders, but investigators in Florida have worked to piece together information Capote failed to.
According to the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office, witnesses had spotted the duo all over the state, including Tallahassee, Nocatee, Osprey and Miami.
Similarities in the two crime scenes included both the Walkers and the Clutters being shot in the face and head; the bodies of Christine Walker and Bonnie Clutter both had semen on them; long blonde hair and dark hair was found at both homes and personal items were also taken and later discarded. Authorities later found many of the items in both murders.
While none of that detail is in Capote's book, he does write that Smith and Hickock were in Miami Beach days before the murder, poolside at the Somerset Hotel, 335 Ocean Drive, Miami, ogling women, shirtless, Smith feeling remorse for their crimes, Hickock doing exercises to impress the ladies.
The duo checked out of the hotel on Dec. 19, and headed west. Could they have stopped in on the family in rural Osprey on their way out of state? Investigators tend to think so.
At one point Capote has Smith reading a copy of the Miami Herald and commenting on the story of the Walker family murders, joking that he "wouldn't be surprised" if the individual behind that crime was the same "lunatic" tied to the crimes in Kansas.
|Perry Smith and Dick Hickock may have been serial killers.|
They would be arrested in Vegas 11 days after the Walker family murders occurred. Both men were hanged for their crimes in Kansas on April 14, 1965, perhaps giving closure to the people of Holcomb from knowing the butcherers of the Clutter family had taken their last breath.
Whatever contentment the deaths of Smith and Hickock brought for the rest of the country, did not reach the boundaries of Sarasota County where members of the community were left in limbo wondering if they too would get to see justice served in the Walker family case. Instead the deaths left a series of loose ends. Neither Smith nor Hickock had ever confessed to the killings, leaving investigators to piece together whatever evidence they could find in hopes of solving the cold case.
Tune in next week to see the story though the eyes of the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office.