The Horrific Murder Of The Clutter Family - The Inspiration For Truman Capote's In Cold Blood

Holcomb, Kansas, was a quaint, American town of roughly 300 residents. It was the nearly languid type of place in the Midwest where no one’s a stranger, and everyone and their cousins are welcome to dinner. It was a time when milk was still delivered in glass quart bottles to the front porches of families; when most sports were listened to by people sitting around a radio; when no one ever locked their doors.

For four of the six members of the Clutter family - a father, a mother, and their two youngest children - this tradition of trust sealed their demise on the evening of November 15, 1959, when two men, Perry Smith and Richard Hickock, brutally murdered the entire family with the hopes of finding cash in the home. The criminal pair had it on good authority that the Clutters kept a large safe in their home with at least $10,000 in it. The Clutters had no such safe, and they lost their lives because of it.  

Here, we'll examine some Clutter family murder facts, what happened to the Clutter family, who killed them, and dive deeply into the true story behind Truman Capote's novel In Cold Blood.


  • Herb Clutter's Throat Was Slashed And The Killer Listened To His Victim Gurgling Into Death

    Killers Richard Hickock and Perry Smith walked in the front door of the family farmhouse armed with a Savage model 300-gauge shotgun and a sizable, sturdy knife. They located Herbert Clutter, the father of the family, woke him, and then an interrogation began. The two had been told that the Clutter family kept a lot of cash in the house, and they broke in with intentions to rob the family. It didn’t take long for them to realize that the safe holding a supposed $10,000 in cash was bad intel.

    “They asked Mr. Clutter where the safe was and of course, Mr. Clutter had no idea what they were talking about, because there was no safe,” said Finney County Sheriff Kevin Bascue. “I don’t think they wanted to take that answer at that time; I think that they still felt there was a safe there and they didn’t drive all the way across Kansas for nothing."

    During a later police interrogation, Hickock confessed to hearing a “gurgling noise” when Smith slashed Mr. Cutter’s throat before shooting him in the head. “He cut the hell out of him,” Hickock told police.

    Don Cullivan was an Army buddy of Smith’s who visited him in prison. Cullivan was treated to a graphic description of Mr. Clutter’s final moment: “He said, ‘As I pulled the trigger there was a flash of blue light. I could see his head split apart.’”

  • A Shotgun, A Knife, Some Rope, And Some Tape Is All They Needed To End The Lives Of The Clutter Family

    The killers could have fled the scene once they realized there was no cash in the home and hoped never to be recognized for breaking and entering. Instead, they chose death for their victims. With their dreams of loot completely dashed, the murderers took out the anger at their own folly on the family.

    They tied the captive Clutters with intricate, inescapable knots at the wrists and ankles. Once the family members were secured, the pair commenced to placing a bullet through the head of Mrs. Bonnie Clutter, 16-year-old Nancy Clutter, and 15-year-old Kenyon Clutter.

  • The Murders All Took Place In Different Rooms, So Everyone Died Alone

    One would think it would be easier to keep a slaughter nice and neat by having everyone who's set to die in one place. Instead, Herb Clutter was killed in the basement. His wife was killed in her room upstairs.

    His daughter, 16-year-old Nancy, was killed in her own bedroom. His son, 15-year-old Kenyon (pictured), was tied to a piece of furniture.

    Each one of them died. Alone.

  • The Bound Corpses Were Discovered The Morning After Their Execution

    Mitchell Geisler, the chief of Garden City Police Department, arrived with Assistant Chief Rich Rohleder. They were the first on the scene and what they discovered was the grisliest slaying the town had ever seen.

    Mr. Clutter (pictured) was splayed across a blood-soaked mattress in the basement. Tape covered his mouth; a shotgun blast undid his head; a slash exposed the innards of his throat. In the next room was 15-year-old Kenyon, who was tied and bound to a piece of furniture, a head split via shotgun lolled upon his shoulders.

    Upstairs, in separate rooms, were Mrs. Clutter and 16-year-old Nancy. Mrs. Clutter was bound, gagged, and dead of a shotgun blast to the head, also.

    Nancy was only bound, not gagged, meaning she mostly likely begged for her life freely, but was given the same treatment as the rest of the family - death by a shotgun blast to the face.

  • The Items For Which The Clutters Were Killed Make Their Deaths Even Sadder

    After ransacking the home, killers Perry Smith and Richard Hickock made off with practically nothing.

    They ended up with no more than fifty dollars, a pair of binoculars, and a transistor radio. It turns out that there was no safe full of money, like they'd been told by a fellow inmate while the pair were in jail.

    "Most farmers could probably write you a check for whatever they wanted," said family friend Paul Irsik. "But to carry cash - that wasn't going to happen."

  • A Photograph Of A Bloody Bootprint Brought Justice To The Clutter Family

    Assistant Chief Rohleder was a keen photographer who made sure to document the scene in the early days of forensic photography. The images he captured, namely one of a bloody boot print belonging to Smith, were key in helping prosecutors put the nail in the proverbial coffin for Smith and Hitchcock.

    Other items that assisted in their eventual conviction were a bloody rope and tire tracks that belonged to a car in their possession. Once the pair were located, the shotgun and bloody knife used in the murders were found right alongside them. The overwhelming evidence damned them on the spot.