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November 15, 1959, Four Members Of Herbert Clutter Family Murdered - Today In Crime History

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On this day, November 15, in the year 1959, ex-convicts Richard Hickock and Perry Smith brutally murdered Herbert Clutter, his wife, and two children in their rural Holcumb, Kansas, farmhouse.

Richard Eugene Hickock and Perry Edward Smith were in prison when they heard from another prisoner that Herb Clutter was a wealthy farmer and had thousands of dollars stashed in a safe in his farmhouse.  After being released from prison, Hickock and Smith soon drew up plans to get their hands on the stashed cash.

On November 15, 1959 Hickock and Smith arrived at the Clutter residence while the occupants were sleeping.  Once entering the home, they found that there was not a safe in the location they had been told it would be and they woke Herb Clutter.   Mr. Clutter gave them the few dollars he had and said there was no more.  Hickock and Smith aroused the remainder of the family and again searched the whole house, confirming that there was no safe.  They ransacked the entire house getting approximately fifty dollars, a pair of binoculars and a transistor radio. Once the two had all the cash they could find, they executed all four family members.

When law enforcement arrived Herb Clutter was found sprawled on a mattress in the basement, stabbed, his throat slashed and a shotgun charge fired to his head.  He wore pajamas.  His hands were bound and his mouth was taped shut.  On a couch in an adjoining room was Herb Cutter’s 14-year old son,  Kenyon Neal Clutter, bound, gagged and shot in the head.  In separate upstairs bedrooms were the bodies of Bonnie Mae Clutter and her daughter, Nancy Mae Clutter, 15.  Bonnie Clutter was bound and gagged.  Nancy only bound.  Each had been shot in the head.

It was not even immediately apparent to investigators that any property had been stolen, so robbery did not appear to be a motive.  With no motive or any trace of a weapon, law enforcement investigators had little to go on.  Local law enforcement agencies quickly requested assistance from state and federal criminal justice agencies.

The big break for investigators happened several weeks after the murders when the prisoner who had told Hickock and Smith about the Clutter residence contacted the warden of his prison and disclosed what had been discussed with the former inmates.  Hickock and Smith were soon identified as suspects and arrested in Las Vegas, about six weeks after the crime.  Upon being questioned by law enforcement, Smith and Hickock eventually made admissions about their involvement in the murder.  In their confessions Smith and Hickock claimed that the other had actually done the shootings of the helpless victims.

Initially, criminal defense attorneys for the accused men attempted to claim that Smith and Hickock were temporarily insane during the commission of the murders.  Psychiatrists that examined both men all concluded, however, they both were sane.  It took prosecutors three days  to put on their case, while criminal defense lawyers had nothing significant to submit to the jury.  Jury deliberations lasted a mere forty minutes before a verdict of guilty on all counts was returned.  

On March 29, 1960, both men were sentence to the death penalty.  They were executed by hanging on April 14, 1965.

Sources and more information:

In Cold Blood, Truman Capote, Random House, 1966

Clutter Family Murders, Garden City Police Department

Clutter Family Slayings Shock, Mystify Area [front page] Garden City Telegram, November 16, 1959

Wikipedia: In Cold Blood

Wikipedia: Richard Hickock

Wikipedia: Perry Smith

Tagged in: murder shooting

Michael Buchanan is a practicing criminal defense attorney in Gainesville, Florida, with more than 25 years experience defending people accused of criminal misconduct. He is a former president of the Eighth Judicial Circuit chapter of the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. He is a member of the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. Read detailed professional biography here.