Little Bits of History

Clutter Family

Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 15, 2013
Clutter Family

Clutter Family

November 15, 1959: Herb and Bonnie Clutter, along with their two youngest children are murdered. Herb was a wheat farmer who had begun small and through hard work had grown his enterprise into a successful farm. He and his wife had four children. The two oldest daughters had already moved on to their adult lives. Nancy (16) and Kenyon (15) still lived at home. The Clutters employed eighteen farmhands and were said to be fair employers. Bonnie suffered from clinical depression. The family was relatively well off and were reported to have a safe full of money on the property. The rumor was inaccurate.

Floyd Wells had once worked for the Clutters. He was in the Kansas State Penitentiary when he met Richard Hickock and Perry Smith. He told the two felons about the rumored safe. Hickock and Smith were paroled. They needed money and so planned to rob the Clutter farm, take the money from the safe, and then flee to Mexico to start new lives. They intended to leave no witnesses to mess up this perfect plan. But there was no safe and no money. Clutter used checks for better bookkeeping. The two ex-cons had driven all night across Kansas only to meet with utter failure.

Smith thought highly of Herb Cutter but slit his throat anyway. Bonnie and the children who had been tied and gagged were each murdered by a shotgun blast to the head. Hickock at first said he killed the two women and then maintained Smith killed all four Clutters. A small 335-word article about the murders in the New York Times on November 16 interested Truman Capote. The 35-year-old author began a journey into researching the senseless crime. He amassed 8,000 pages of notes. The criminals were found and sent back to prison. Capote interviewed them both. He was especially taken with Smith and there lingers some speculation about a romantic (possibly even sexual) relationship between them.

Capote’s In Cold Blood was not completed until after Hickock and Smith were executed by hanging on April 14, 1965. In Cold Blood was published first as a four-part serial in The New Yorker. It came out in book form from Random House in January 1966. The 343-page book is a fictional work although based entirely on the facts of the case. The plot is revealed via assigned dialog between the two criminals. The portrayal of the psychological relationship between the two protagonists was a new technique. While in fact a true crime, the work itself is fiction.

“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.” – Perry Smith

“Holcomb, Kan., Nov. 15 [1959] (UPI) – A wealthy wheat farmer, his wife and their two young children were found shot to death today in their home. They had been killed by shotgun blasts at close range after being bound and gagged … There were no signs of a struggle, and nothing had been stolen. The telephone lines had been cut.” – The New York Times

“The book is neither a who-done-it nor a will-they-be-caught, since the answers to both questions are known from the outset … Instead, the book’s suspense is based largely on a totally new idea in detective stories: the promise of gory details, and the withholding of them until the end.” – Tom Wolfe

“The quietness of his tone italicized the malice of his reply.” – Truman Capote

This article first appeared at examiner.com in 2009. Editor’s update: Truman Capote was born in New Orleans in 1924 and had a troubled childhood. While still a child, he found his calling and began writing at age 11. He wrote short stories with the 1945 “Miriam” bringing him enough notice that Random House’s publisher Bennett Cerf offered a contract for longer works. Another of his famous works was Breakfast at Tiffany’s written in 1958. His most famous work is In Cold Blood. At least twenty films and television shows have been produced from his books and screenplays. In Cold Blood was his last complete novel but not the end of his fame. He was openly homosexual although never completely embraced the Gay Rights Movement. His lifelong partner was another writer, Jack Dunphy. In his later years, Capote became famous for being famous and was known for throwing lavish parties. He became addicted to drugs and alcohol and spent years in and out of rehab. He died in Bel Air, Los Angeles in 1984 at the age of 59. The cause of death was liver disease exacerbated by drug toxicity.

Also on this day: The King – In 1956, Love Me Tender, Elvis Presley’s first movie, was released.
Where’s the Beef? – In 1969, Dave Thomas founded Wendy’s.
Remember – In 1939, the cornerstone for the Jefferson Memorial was laid.

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