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Sunday Favorites: What Really Happened to the Walkers?

The Walker family. Photo courtesy Sarasota County Sheriff's Office.

The Walker family had grown by one, a beautiful baby girl named Debbie who was 23 months old when they traveled to Altman Chevrolet in December, 1959, to inquire about a new vehicle.

The family of four needed more room, so they chatted with salesmen at the Sarasota dealership about a 1956 two-tone Chevy 210 sedan. The Walkers would be dead by December 19.

All members of the family met their end when they were shot to death in their rural Osprey home. Debbie, the baby, was found drowned in the bathtub.

On Christmas Day when investigators where still trying to identify a suspect in the murders, the salesmen at the dealership told authorities the family had been shopping at the dealership a few days earlier. 

The details of how Perry Smith and Dick Hickock allegedly met the Walker family are sparse; the evidence following the murder that ties them to the crime is stronger than any concrete understanding of how the two parties finally came into contact with each other.

Another family, the Clutters of Holcomb, Kansas, had been the unfortunate targets of Smith and Hickock prior to the killers' discharge from prison. When they were released, they had gone to the farm in order to rob Herb Clutter, but ended up murdering all four occupants in the home, shooting them to death and slitting Herb’s throat.

But the Walkers were a different story. If Hickock and Smith did kill them, they would’ve had to come in contact with them coincidentally.

Sarasota County Sheriff's Office investigators say that when Smith and Hickock were arrested in Las Vegas on December 30, just 11 days after the entire dead Walker family was discovered in their Osprey home, they were driving a two tone Chevy that was similar to the vehicle looked at by the Walkers.

Perry Smith (above) and Dick Hickock (below) are still the most viable suspects in the unsolved Walker case. 

Could the Walkers and the killers eyed the same vehicle at the Altman dealership on the same day? Did Cliff Walker and Perry Smith compare notes on the Chevy’s horsepower, mileage and suspension? As experienced mechanics, Smith and Hickock may have had an "in" with an unknown source.

Following the murders, a witness told detectives that the men had showed up unexpectedly at his Sarasota home on either December 17 or 18 offering to fix a dent in his car’s fender. The resident said he had no idea how the men knew how to find his home or how they knew he was in the process of trading his vehicle.

This connection is unfounded to some degree, but other pieces of evidence discovered within the killers' vehicle strongly suggests they had come into contact with the Walker family.

According to the SCSO, a pocketknife bearing a fruit tree design, children's socks and a greasy toddler's undershirt were found in the car.

Items taken from the Walker home after their murders included children's clothing, Christmas presents and a pocketknife with a fruit tree design that belonged to Cliff Walker, a report states.

After Hickock and Smith were arrested and charged with the Clutter murders, other eyewitness accounts began to trickle in. Employees at Grant's Department store in Sarasota, which was just a few miles from the Walker home, told investigators that Hickock was spotted in the store with a "scratched up face." The St. Petersburg Times reported on December 22 that one of the suspected murders "may be marked by cuts from a woman's high heel shoe."

Another man reported Hickock and Smith were inquiring about automobile paint shops in the area on December 17, although other accounts place them in a Tallahassee diner the same day.

Capote, for the most part, dismissed the connection to the Walker family in the book, providing them with an alibi at the Miami Beach motel, where Smith lamented their actions in Kansas and Hickock lusted over women at the hotel pool.

But records show that the duo actually checked out of that motel on December 19, the same day as the Walkers were murdered. Miami Beach was roughly four hours by car from Osprey, even during the pre-interstate days of automobile travel.

Other connections included witnesses in Nocatee, about 36 miles from the Walker home, who reported two men matching their descriptions were asking around for directions on the morning of December 20.

Investigators later found some of the Walker's stolen clothing in a field a mile from their home, a detail similar to the Clutter murders where investigators found personal items buried in a Kansas field. Hickock later admitted to authorities he sold two baby dolls wrapped in Christmas paper to a preacher in Louisiana.

The investigation stalled a couple years later when a serial killer named Emmett Monroe Spencer admitted to the Walker murders, but the confession was discredited by the then-Sarasota County Sheriff Ross Boyer, who thought Spencer was a pathological liar, basing his account on a true crime novel. 

Yet details on Spencer indicate he and his girlfriend went on a crime and killing spree throughout the country and along the East Coast and into Florida, which one court record referred to as an “orgy of drunkenness, robbery and murder.” 

With what was believed to be a faulty confession and advancements in technology, modern investigators re-opened the Walker case in the new millennium, hoping to finally connect Smith and Hickock to the slayings. 

Sarasota County Sheriff’s detectives submitted Christine Walker’s underwear, which was found with semen on it, to the Florida Department of Investigation in 2004; four years later a complete DNA profile was obtained from the underwear, while a second partial DNA profile was also discovered.

Feeling confident they had the evidence tying them to the murders, the bodies of Smith and Hickock were exhumed from their Kansas graves on December 18, 2012, a day shy of the fifty-third anniversary of the killings. 

Investigators, family members and historians all waited for what they hoped was closure in the case, but in the end, DNA profiles obtained from the killers were not definitive and did not, without a doubt, connect them to the Walkers. One of the more famous Florida murder cases remains unsolved with neither justice nor peace unearthed for the Walkers. 




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