On this day in 1959, Herbert Clutter, his wife and two of his four children were shot to death in their farmhouse in Holcomb, Kansas. The murders were the basis of Truman Capote’s pioneering novel, “In Cold Blood.”
Clutter was a wealthy wheat farmer who conducted every single business transaction by check to keep record of it. Somehow Floyd Wells, an inmate in the Kansas State Penitentiary and former Clutter farmhand, convinced fellow inmates Richard “Dick” Hickock and Perry Smith that Clutter kept large sums of cash on his property. After Hickock and Smith were released, the two descended on Clutter’s home. They didn’t find any money, but killed Clutter, his wife Bonnie, his 16-year-old daughter Nancy and 15-year-old son Kenyon. Clutter’s two older children had already moved out of the house.
When Capote learned of the murders, he traveled to Holcomb to investigate with friend Harper Lee, the author of “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Capote was there from the beginning of the investigation and for Hickock and Smith’s capture six weeks later, taking thousands of pages of notes in the process.
Smith and Hickock were executed in 1965. “In Cold Blood” published the next year and launched the true-crime novel genre.