On November 15th, 1959, wealthy farmer 48-year-old Herbert Clutter, his wife 45-year-old Bonnie, and their two youngest children Nancy, 16, and Kenyon, 15, were found shot to death at their ranch that covered almost 1,000 acres in one of the richest wheat areas in Holcomb, Kansas.
The Clutter Family (their two oldest daughters were no longer living at home)
The Clutter family ranch
Herb Clutter was found bound and gagged in the basement alongside his son, whereas his wife and daughter were in their beds. The cause of death was a shotgun blast at close range – Herb’s throat had also been slit. The bodies were discovered by Nancy’s classmates, Susan Kidwell and Nancy Ewalt.
Murder of 15-year-old Kenyon
Bedroom where 16-year-old Nancy was murdered
This was not an easy case to solve – the Clutter family had no enemies, there were no signs of a struggle, nothing appeared stolen yet the telephone wires had been cut. After witnessing the crime scene, Sheriff Earl Robinson said, “This is apparently the case of a psychopathic killer.”
Richard Eugene Hickock (left) and Perry Edward Smith (right)
Herb employed more farmhands than the average farmer, an ex-employee Floyd Wells told Richard Eugene Hickock and Perry Edward Smith there was a safe full of cash in the family home of his former boss. After their release, Hickock and Smith both met to hatch their plan which they believed to be “the perfect score.”
During the early hours of that morning, the paroled ex-convicts broke into the Clutter family home on a tip-off from an ex-inmate. Herb was woken by the killers and they led him down to the basement. After threatening Herb and his family, the convicts soon found there was no safe and no cash.
Capote later wrote that Smith said, “I didn’t want to harm the man. I thought he was a very nice gentleman. Soft spoken. I thought so right up to the moment I cut his throat.”
A bloody bootprint left behind at the crime scene, a stolen car and a tip from an inmate, led police to Las Vegas where Hickcock and Smith were arrested. A jury took 45 minutes of deliberations before they found them guilty of murder and both were sentenced to death.
After five years on death row at the Kansas State Penitentiary (now known as Lansing Correctional Facility), Smith and Hickock were hanged just after midnight on April 14th, 1965. The gallows used in their executions are now part of the collections of the Kansas State Historical Society.
On November 18th, 1959, 1000 people lined the streets near the Garden City Methodist Church to pay their final respects to the Clutter family
Truman Capote’s book titled “In Cold Blood”, which reveals the complete story about the murders, is the second-best selling true crime story in publishing history.