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Biographies of Key Figures

Perry Smith

Perry Smith Perry Edward Smith (October 27, 1928 - April 14, 1965) was one of two ex-convicts who murdered four members of the Clutter family in murders Holcomb, Kansas, United States on November 15, 1959, a crime made infamous by Truman Capote in his 1966 non-fiction novel In Cold Blood.

Perry Smith was born in Huntington, Nevada, a now-abandoned community in Elko County.  His parents, Florence Julia "Flo" Buckskin and John "Tex" Smith, were rodeo performers.  Smith was of mixed Irish and Cherokee ancestry (from his father's and mother's side, respectively).

The family moved to Juneau, Alaska, in 1929, where the elder Smith distilled bootleg whisky for a living.  Smith's father abused his wife and four children, and in 1935 his wife left him, taking the children with her to San Francisco.  Smith and his siblings were raised initially with their alcoholic mother.  After Smith's mother died when he was thirteen, he and his siblings were placed in a Catholic orphanage, where nuns allegedly abused him physically and emotionally for his lifelong problem of chronic bed wetting.  He was also placed in a Salvation Army orphanage, where one of the caretakers allegedly tried to drown him.

In his adolescence, Smith reunited and lived an itinerant existence with his father.  He also spent time in different juvenile detention homes after joining a street gang and becoming involved in petty crime.

Perry's father, Tex, moved to Cold Springs, Nevada, circa 1964-1967 where he lived to the age of 92 before committing suicide, distraught over poor health.  Two of Smith's siblings committed suicide as young adults, and the remaining sister eliminated any contact with him.

At age 16, Smith joined the United States Merchant Marine.  He joined the army in 1948, where he served in the Korean War.  During his stint in the army, Smith spent weeks at a time in the stockade for public carousing and fighting with Korean civilians and other soldiers.  In spite of his record, in 1952, Smith received an honorable discharge and was last stationed at Fort Lewis in Washington.  He stayed with an Army friend for a time in the Tacoma area, where he was employed as a car painter.  With one of his first pay checks, Smith bought a motor bike.  While riding, he lost control of the bike due to adverse weather conditions.  Smith nearly died in the accident and spent six months in a Bellingham hospital.  Because of the severe injuries to both legs, Smith's legs were permanently disabled and he suffered chronic leg pains for the rest of his life.  To help control the pain, he was known to consume a copious amount of aspirin.

Perry Smith and Richard Hickock first met in the Kansas State Prison, at Lansing, Kansas, resuming their acquaintance after Hickock's release in November 1959.  Hickock and Smith later testified that they had gotten the idea to rob the Clutters after Hickock was told by former cellmate Floyd Wells, who had worked as a farmhand for the Clutters, that there was a safe in the family's house containing,000.  When they invaded the house, however, they discovered that there was no such safe.

Smith and Hickock were captured in Las Vegas, Nevada, on December 30, 1959, following an extensive manhunt which extended into Mexico.

Smith admitted to cutting the throat of the father, Herbert Clutter, as well as shooting both Herbert and Kenyon Clutter in the head with a shotgun at close range.  The trial record shows a dispute as to which of the two shot the women, Bonnie and Nancy Clutter.  Alvin Dewey, chief investigator of the Clutter family murders, testified at the trial that Hickock insisted in his confession that Smith performed all the killings; walker family murders crime scene photos Smith, however, first claimed Hickock killed the women but later claimed to have shot them himself.  Although Smith's revised confession coincided with Hickock's initial statement, Smith refused to testify in court, as did Hickock, leading to a lack of an official record detailing who killed the women, aside from Kansas Bureau of Investigation (KBI) Special Agent Dewey's testimony outlining Hickock's confession, along with Smith's confession and the latter's subsequent revision.

While Smith had only a grade-school education, he maintained a strong interest in art, literature and music.  He read extensively, and during his time on death row, wrote poems and painted pictures for other inmates from photos of their family members.

During research for his novel In Cold Blood, Truman Capote extensively interviewed Smith and eventually befriended him.  There have long been rumors and conjecture as to the exact nature of their relationship.  While Capote never wrote anything to suggest that there was anything more than a platonic friendship, some accounts have suggested perhaps a stronger association had developed.

Smith and Hickock were executed by hanging on April 14, 1965.  After hanging for twenty minutes, Hickock died at 12:41 am, with Smith following, at 1:19 am.  Warden Greg Seamon presided over the execution in Lansing.

The bodies of the killers were exhumed December 18, 2012 from Mount Muncie Cemetery in Lansing, as authorities hope to solve a 53-year-old cold case using DNA.  The two were questioned about the December 19, 1959 shooting murder in Osprey, Florida of Cliff and Christine Walker and their two young children.  Smith and Hickock had fled to Florida after the Clutter murders.  A polygraph administered at the time of their arrest in the Clutter case cleared them of the murder, but by modern polygraph standards, their test results are no longer considered valid.  On December 19, 2012, officials in Kansas exhumed the bodies of Smith and Hickock and retrieved bone fragments in order to attempt to compare their DNA to semen found in the pants of Christine Walker. 

Smith was portrayed in the 1968 film version of In Cold Blood by Robert Blake, who had an uncanny resemblance to Smith; by Eric Roberts in the 1996 miniseries adaptation of the original film, by Clifton Collins, Jr. in 2005's Capote and by Daniel Craig in 2006's Infamous.

Richard Hickock

Richard Hickock Richard Eugene "Dick" Hickock (June 6, 1931 - April 14, 1965) was one of two ex-convicts who murdered 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.

Richard 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 mistress, which also ended in divorce.  He turned to petty crimes, such as cheating 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, having been 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, who had earlier worked as a farmhand for the Clutters, that there was a safe in the family's house containing,000 (,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.  Alvin Dewey, chief investigator in the case, testified at the trial that Hickock insisted in his confession that Smith performed all the killings; Smith, however, first claimed Hickock killed the women, but later claimed to have shot them himself.  Both refused to testify.

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.

Hickock and Smith were executed by hanging on April 14, 1965.

The bodies of the killers were exhumed December 18, 2012 from Mount Muncie Cemetery in Lansing, as authorities hope to solve a 53-year-old cold case using DNA.  The two were questioned about the December 19, 1959 shooting murder in Osprey, Florida of Cliff and Christine Walker and their two young children.  Smith and Hickock had fled to Florida after the Clutter murders.  A polygraph administered at the time of their arrest in the Clutter case cleared them of the murder, but by modern polygraph standards, their test results are no longer considered valid.  On December 19, 2012, officials in Kansas exhumed the bodies of Smith and Hickock and retrieved bone fragments in order to attempt to compare their DNA to semen found in the pants of Christine Walker. 

Hickock was portrayed by Scott Wilson in the 1967 film adaptation of In Cold Blood, by Anthony Edwards in the 1996 TV miniseries adaptation, Mark Pellegrino in the 2005 film Capote, and by Lee Pace in the 2006 film Infamous.

Herbert Clutter

Herbert Clutter Herbert William Clutter was born on May 24, 1911.  He was a graduate of Kansas State University.  A long-time member of and active fundraiser for the First United Methodist Church of Garden City, he had also been a county extension agent, chairman of the Kansas Conference of Farm Organizations and a member of the Federal Farm Credit Board.

Herbert Clutter was well-known and respected in the community of Holcomb, where he lived with his family.  His four children -- three girls and a boy -- were also widely respected in the community.  The elder daughters, Eveanna and Beverly, had moved out of their parents' home and started their adult lives.  The two younger children, Nancy, 16, and Kenyon, 15, were high school students living at home.

From modest beginnings, Clutter had established River Valley Farm, a successful and very prosperous enterprise.  He specialized in growing wheat, and also maintained a beloved orchard of fruit trees.  He employed as many as 18 farm hands, and former employees reportedly admired and respected him for his fair treatment and good wages.

In an ironic twist of fate, Herbert Clutter's success and good reputation ultimately led to his death.  Floyd Wells, who once worked on Clutter's River Valley Farm in Holcomb, was Dick Hickock's cellmate in the Kansas State Penitentiary.  Wells told Hickock about a safe at the farmhouse where Herb Clutter kept large amounts of cash.  Hickock soon hatched the idea to commit the robbery, leave no witnesses, and start a new life in Mexico with the cash.  According to Capote, Hickock described his plan as "a cinch, the perfect score."  Hickock later contacted Smith, his former cellmate, about committing the robbery with him.  The information from Wells proved to be false, since Herb Clutter did not keep cash on hand, had no safe, and did all his business by check, to keep better track of transactions.

On the night of November 15, 1959, Perry Smith and Richard Hickock entered the unlocked farm house, roused the Clutter family from sleep, and demanded to know the location of the safe.  When they found there was no safe, they slaughtered the Clutters and fled.

Perry Smith, notoriously unstable and prone to violent acts in fits of rage, admitted to cutting Herbert Clutter's throat, as well as shooting both Herbert and Kenyon Clutter in the head with a shotgun at close range.  In In Cold Blood, Capote writes that Smith recounted later, "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."

In a 2009 Guardian article, Holcomb resident Bob Rupp was quoted as saying, "He (Clutter) was a big influence in my life - when you know somebody like that it tends to kind of inspire you.  He could see above what most people could see, and visualise how things should be."

Herbert Clutter, 48 years old at the time of his death, is buried at Valley View Cemetery in Garden City, Kansas.

Bonnie Clutter

Bonne Clutter Bonnie Mae Fox Clutter was born on January 7, 1914.  She was the wife of Herbert Clutter, and would bear him four children: Eveanna, Beverly, Nancy and Kenyon.

Bonnie was a member of the local garden club, but had been incapacitated by clinical depression and physical ailments since the births of her children, although this characterization of her has been disputed by surviving family members.

On the night of November 15, 1959, Bonnie Clutter and her family were roused from sleep by Perry Smith and Richard Hickock, who had entered through an unlocked door.  After her husband and children were murdered, she was the last to die, bound and killed with a shotgun blast.

An account of the finding of her body was given on the now-defunct CrimeLibrary website:

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."

The trial record shows a dispute as to which of the two shot the women, Bonnie and Nancy Clutter.  Alvin Dewey, chief investigator of the Clutter family murders, testified at the trial that Hickock insisted in his confession that Smith performed all the killings; Smith, however, first claimed Hickock killed the women but later claimed to have shot them himself.  Although Smith's revised confession coincided with Hickock's initial statement, Smith refused to testify in court, as did Hickock, leading to a lack of an official record detailing who killed the women, aside from Kansas Bureau of Investigation (KBI) Special Agent Dewey's testimony outlining Hickock's confession, along with Smith's confession and the latter's subsequent revision.

On the night of November 15, 1959, Bonnie Clutter was bound with rope and murdered in her bed by a shotgun blast to the head.  She is buried at Valley View Cemetery in Garden City, Kansas.

Nancy Clutter

Nancy Clutter Nancy Mae Clutter was born on January 2, 1943.  By all accounts, she was liked and respected in the community of Holcomb, and enjoyed baking, helping younger children learn new tasks, and riding her horse, Babe.

In an interview published April 3, 2005, Bob Rupp spoke about Nancy, who was his first love.  "You know," he says, slowly and quietly, "Nancy was really pretty."  The interviewer writes, "And she was.  Brown hair, curled at the ends, sparkling eyes, a wide, girlish smile.  She had an easy laugh, and there wasn't a mean bone in her body.  She was in 4-H, went to church every Sunday and made top grades.  Until her murder at age 16, Nancy Clutter was everyone's friend."

According to Truman Capote in his account of the Clutter murders, In Cold Blood, Richard Hickock was allegedly an ephebophile, and was prevented by his partner in crime, Perry Smith, from raping 16-year-old Nancy Clutter during the crime in the Clutter home.  The trial record shows a dispute as to which of the two shot the women, Bonnie and Nancy Clutter.

On the night of November 15, 1959, Nancy Clutter was bound with rope and murdered in her bed by a shotgun blast to the head.  She is buried at Valley View Cemetery in Garden City, Kansas.

Kenyon Clutter

Kenyon Clutter Kenyon Neal Clutter was born on August 28, 1944, the only son who would be born to Herbert and Bonnie Clutter.  He had three sisters: 16-year-old Nancy, and older sisters Eveanna and Beverly, who by the time of the murders had both moved on to start their adult lives and no longer lived in the Clutter home.

When investigators arrived at the crime scene, Kenyon's bedroom was empty and there was on sign of any disruption or struggle.  His eyeglasses were on the rumpled covers of his bed, which suggested to investigators that he had slept in the bed for some part of the night.

Ultimately, it would be learned that on the night of November 15, 1959, Kenyon Clutter had been bound with rope and put on a sofa with a pillow in the basement of the Clutter home.  Perry Smith then ended Kenyon's young life with a shotgun blast to the head.

Kenyon is buried at Valley View Cemetery in Garden City, Kansas.

Truman Capote

Truman Capote Truman Capote was born on September 30, 1924.  He is best remembered for his novella "Breakfast at Tiffany's" (1958) and for his nonfiction novel "In Cold Blood" (1966).  Both stories were later made into movies of the same name.

He was named Truman Streckfus Persons when he was born in New Orleans, Louisiana to Archulus "Arch" Persons, a salesman, and Lillie Mae Faulk, a 16-year-old beauty queen.  When he was four years old, his parents divorced, and he was raised by his maternal aunt in Monroeville, Alabama.  Quiet and serious, he learned to read early and by age 11, was showing signs of being a serious writer.

In 1933, he moved to New York City to live with his mother and her second husband, Joseph Capote, who adopted him and renamed him Truman Garcia Capote.  He attended the Trinity School and later, the Greenwich High School where he wrote for the school newspaper, "The Green Witch."  When he was 17, he ended his formal education and began a job with The New Yorker magazine.  He choose not to go to college, believing "that either one was or wasn't a writer, and no combination of professors could influence the outcome."

In 1945, at age 21, Mademoiselle magazine published his short story, "Miriam", which won the O. Henry Award for the best first-published story in 1946.  The award resulted in a contract with Random House to write a novel, which Capote used to write Other Voices, Other Rooms (1948).  The author's photo which Capote used for the back of the book caused a public uproar, in that he posed in a suggestive manner; the controversy brought Capote much media attention, and made him a "darling" of New York society.

Flamboyant and outspoken, Capote was openly gay at a time when most gay men were silent and unobtrusive; in 1948, he began a non-exclusive relationship with fellow author Jack Dunphy, who would become his lifelong companion.

After reading about the 1959 Clutter family murders in the New York Times, Capote became fascinated with the story and traveled to Holcomb, Kansas, to investigate the killings.  The resulting book, In Cold Blood, instantly became a best seller.

On November 28, 1966, Capote hosted a masked ball at the New York Plaza Hotel, in honor of publisher Katharine Graham and the success of his book In Cold Blood; the ball not only became the social event of the year, but also made him famous to New York high society; Deborah Davis even wrote a book about the event, Party of the Century (2006).

In his later years, Capote became reclusive, in part from rejection from his wealthy, famous, upper crust friends who he had managed to alienate over the years, and partly due to his alcoholism and drug addiction.  He was often hospitalized in his final years for drug abuse.  He died in 1984 at age 59 from an overdose of pills in the Los Angeles home of Joanne Carson, the ex-wife of TV host Johnny Carson.  He was cremated and buried in Westwood Memorial Park, Los Angeles, California, leaving behind his long-term companion, Jack Dunphy.  When Dunphy died in 1992, some of their ashes were mixed together and scattered at Crooked Pond, Long Island, New York, where they had maintained property together.  Another portion of his cremated remains were given to his friend, Joanne Carson.  (bio by: Kit and Morgan Benson)

The bulk of the information on this page was compiled by Wikipedia contributors





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