Kansas

The Clutter Family Murders, the inspiration behind the novel In Cold Blood

November 15, 1959
Holcomb, Kansas
Richard “Dick” Hickock and Perry Smith break into the Clutter home and kill the family’s mother, father, and two teenaged children

Hickock and Smith had been serving time for unrelated offenses when they heard from a fellow inmate, former Clutter farmhand Floyd Wells, that Herb Clutter had a safe filled with cash in his home. Hickock and Smith began planning a burglary almost immediately and kept in contact after their releases to carry out the plan.

A little after midnight on November 15, Hickock (28) and Smith (31) broke into the Clutters’ home. When they could not find the fabled safe full of money, they woke Herb Clutter (48) and demanded the cash. He gave them what little he did have but the pair believed he was holding out. They woke Herb’s wife Bonnie (45) and their children Nancy Mae (16) and Kenyon (15). The pair then demanded the money again. Again, Herb stated he had no hidden money. Hickock and Smith then killed all four members of the family and left with what little valuables they could: roughly $50, a pair of binoculars, and a transistor radio.

All four victims had been shot with a shotgun; Bonnie was shot in the side of the head while her husband and children were shot in the face at point-blank range. Herb also had his throat cut and was stabbed. The two adult Clutter children, Beverly Clutter and Eveanna Jarchow, were not at the house at the time of the murders.

Friends of the family, whose daughters rode with the Clutters to church on Sunday, visited the home as was their routine. When no one answered, they tried calling the home. Still receiving no answer, the group returned to the Clutters’ home and entered through the unlocked front door. The girls went to Nancy Mae’s room to collect her for church only to find her bound, gagged, and bloody body in her bed. They fled the house to inform one girl’s father. He noticed the phone lines had been removed from the wall plugs and the group drove to a neighbor’s house to call police.

Police found all victims bound and gagged. Herb and Kenyon were in the basement; Herb’s body was on a mattress on the floor while Kenyon was found in an adjacent room on a couch. Nancy Mae and Bonnie were each on their own beds upstairs. Assistant Chief Ritch Rohleder photographed the scene including a boot print and a tire impression, both of which helped secure Hickock’s and Smith’s convictions.

Hickock and Smith were arrested in Las Vegas, Nevada on December 30, 1959 for parole violations and writing bad checks. In their possession was the bloody boot which left the footprint at the scene of the murders. After his arrest, Hickock admitted to the murders and named Smith as his accomplice.

The pair were convicted in March of 1960 and sentenced to death. They attempted to appeal for five years though they were ultimately unsuccessful. Both were hanged on April 14, 1965, with Hickock preceding his partner by 38 minutes.

The murders inspired the Truman Capote novel In Cold Blood.


Perry Smith


Dick Hickock

Sources:

  • “Clutter Family Murders.” Garden City, Kansas Police Department. Accessed: November 15, 2018. https://www.gcpolice.org/about-gcpd/history/famous-cases/clutter-family-murders
  • “Two Die on Gallows For Slaying of Four.” Philadelphia Daily News [Philadelphia, Pennsylvania]. April 14, 1965
  • “Admits Four Slayings.” Republican and Herald [Pottsville, Pennsylvania]. January 5, 1960
  • “Town Has Jitters Over Slaying of Farm Family.” The Times [Munster, Indiana]. January 5, 1960
  • “Wholesale Murder: 4 in Family Shot to Death.” The San Francisco Examiner [San Francisco, California]. November 16, 1959
  • “No Solution Found As Yet to Killings.” Garden City Telegram [Garden City, Kansas]. November 16, 1959

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