The fall holidays are a wonderful time for families, especially big families. They’re a time when extended relatives from different states can come together for the first time in years and catch up, talk about old times, and of course, dine together.
It was a week or so before Thanksgiving and one young lady from Kansas was preparing for what would be the biggest event for her family in recent memory. Before it could happen though, before the family were able to have their joyful reunion, tragedy struck and gave them a different reason to come together…
Diana Edwards and her family were making plans for Thanksgiving. She and her parents were going to be having dinner at the home of the Clutter family, her extended relatives. It was to serve as a dual holiday/reunion and would include: gabbing, games of all kinds, hunting, horseback riding, after-dinner naps, and of course, copious amounts of eating.
The Clutter family included Herbert and Bonnie Rae and their four children: Kenyon and Nancy, who lived at home and Eveanna and Beverly, who were both living away from the family home. The Clutters were salt-of-the-earth people. Friends and relatives described Bonnie Rae as a “true lady” and her husband Herbert as a hard-working family man. As for their kids…
Kenyon was a handsome farm boy who loved tinkering with machinery and enjoyed hunting and fishing in the outdoors. Teenage Nancy was a determined young woman with a mind of her own who enjoyed dancing. Meanwhile Beverly and Eveanna were like their mother, well-read, respectable young ladies.
Avid churchgoers and respected members of their Holcomb, Kansas community, the Clutters were well-known and well-liked. It therefore came as much more of a shock when, on one dark November morning, mere weeks before the scheduled family reunion, something terrible happened at the Clutter house: something no one would have ever expected…
The terrible crime that took place on November 15, 1959, was one that would haunt Diana Edwards’ family forever. It occurred at the farmhouse of Herbert Clutter and his wife, Bonnie Mae. Frankly, the night itself was uneventful, as far as the rest of Kansas was concerned anyway. It wasn’t until the next morning that the terror truly emerged.
Neighbors came over to see what had become of the Clutters, whom they hadn’t seen leave the property all day. When they arrived, they discovered the family: Herbert, Bonnie Rae, 15-year-old Kenyon, and 16-year-old Nancy all dead in the family home. Each one had been shot in the head…
The Kansas Bureau of Investigation was brought in to suss out what had happened. Bobby Rupp, Nancy’s boyfriend, was presumed to be the last person to see the Clutters alive and was therefore the most likely suspect. He was questioned, but the authorities quickly ruled him out. He wasn’t the killer and whoever was, had showed up at the Clutter farmhouse in the dead of the night.
The crime was one of the grisliest that the small, rural community had seen in years and the victims, so genuinely nice and unassuming, that even the idea of someone wanting to murder them strained credulity. Diana’s family arranged for an immense funeral, one which saw over 1,000 mourners attend in solidarity with the Clutters’ remaining daughter. Meanwhile, a statewide manhunt began…
Though the authorities weren’t able to dig anything up on their own, they soon received a tip that someone in the local prison system might know what happened to the poor Clutters. Floyd Wells, a former farmhand of Mr Clutter’s, was serving time in the state penitentiary when he was placed with a man named Dick Hickrock. In the course of their daily conversations, Wells let slip that he knew for a fact that Herb Clutter kept thousands of dollars in cash on the property…
Hickock became obsessed with the idea of such easy pickings. He began to talk at length about finding the farm and robbing it once he got out. Wells didn’t really pay him too much heed, after all, the guy was all bluster. Of course, once he read about the killings and what had become of his former employer’s poor family, he decided he should probably tell someone…
Lead Them There
It wasn’t until much later that police found out what had really happened that terrible November night. Hickock, who was friends with another ex-con, Perry Smith, had pitched the scheme he’d contrived in Wells’ cell and was planning to go ahead with it. They formulated a plan and found the Clutter farmhouse.
Fleeing the Scene
The Clutters weren’t the type of family to lock their door at night, which meant that Hickock and Smith could just walk right in. They demanded to know where the safe was. Herbert told them that there was no safe, that there was barely any money. When he didn’t cooperate, they shot the whole family. Once they were dead, they found Herb’s “nest egg”: $50 cash. They grabbed it, a radio, and a pair of binoculars and fled…
Apparently these few trinkets were enough to kill for…or they believed so at the time anyway. In fact, things had gone so far south at the farmhouse that the stress of the murder and subsequent getaway only escalated after that. Hickock had apparently wanted to rape young Nancy and Smith hadn’t allowed it and this rankled the “mastermind” so that he’d decided to just murder them all and be done with it.
Hickock and Smith left Kansas and proceeded to fritter away not only the $50 but every scrap of cash they had on them. They cashed a series of bad checks as they drove through the US and into Mexico but were eventually caught. On December 30, 1959, the authorities finally arrested them in Las Vegas. But their story was far from over…
Smith and Hickock’s hastily concocted alibi on the night of the murders was quickly dismissed by the jury when Wells came forward and admitted what he’d told Hickock. After that, the rift between the partners in crime began to widen. They accused each other of the murders and eventually, both were convicted and hanged at Kansas State Penitentiary on April 14, 1965.
After that, America began a love affair with the killers, born mostly from world famous writer, Truman Capote’s arguably romantic depiction of them in his book, “In Cold Blood”. The murder was thrust into the public’s face in a very big way. Capote had done his research and created a tale that humanized the killers in a way that hadn’t been explored before…
The story had caught his eye in a New York newspaper and Truman Capote traveled to Rural Kansas with his friend and fellow writer, Nell Harper Lee, to talk with Beverly and Eveanna about their family, the murders, and to explore the crime in more detail. Many in Holcomb, including Diana and her family, felt that the flamboyant New Yorker had no business being there.
Somehow though, Capote eventually gained extensive access to the sources involved and even access to the men convicted of the terrible crime. Because of his prodigious skill as a writer, Capote was able to immortalize the act of senseless violence in such a way that it gripped the nation for decades. They even made a movie about it…
For decades after, Beverly, Eveanna, Diana and her family, kept mostly silent about the victims and about the crime. The world had gotten enough from them by way of “In Cold Blood” and they didn’t feel the need to retell a terrible tale that had already been told. Recently though, the family was contacted by filmmaker, Joe Berlinger, who had also become obsessed as a teenager.
“In Cold Blood”, was the first school reading assignment that really captured his imagination and he wanted to tell the story. He was able to get through to the family by focusing more on the human suffering of those left behind rather than in trying to humanize the killers in more detail. It was the closure they needed and it reinvented a now classic tale for a new generation.