Richard Hickok & Perry Smith – 1959

By | November 12, 2016

“I never believed for a minute he meant to carry it out. I thought it was just talk”


Richard Hickok (left) and Perry Edward Smith are taken to the court


The murder of the Clutter family was the inspiration for Truman Capote’s bestselling 1966 book In Cold Blood.

1.62 in (5 ft 4 in) tall Perry Edward Smith (born in Huntington, Nevada on 27 October 1928) and 1.78 m (5 ft 10 in) tall, blond, muscular, chain-smoker Richard Hickok (born in Kansas City on 6 June 1931) had met in prison. On 15 November 1959 they visited River Valley Farm, Holcomb in Kansas, which belonged to Herbert Clutter. While in prison Hickok had been told by his cellmate Floyd Wells, a former employee at the farm, that Mr Clutter kept a safe at the farm that was said to contain $10,000. Later Wells told the authorities, “He said he and his friend Perry was gonna go out there and rob the place and was gonna kill all witnesses — the Clutters and anybody else that happened to be around. He described to me a dozen times how he was gonna do it, how him and Perry was gonna tie them people up and gun them down. I never believed for a minute he meant to carry it out. I thought it was just talk.”

Perry was paroled on 6 June 1959 and Hickok on 13 August. Unfortunately, it wasn’t “just talk” and the duo broke into the farmhouse but discovered that there was no safe and no $10,000, just a meagre “40 or 50 bucks”. They tortured Mr Clutter to make him tell them where his money was, but he insisted that he did not have any. Hickok and Perry murdered the four members of the Clutter family — Herbert, Bonnie, Nancy and Kenyon — with a shotgun from close range. They took the precaution of removing the spent cartridge shells from the murder scene. On 30 December 1959 Smith and Hickok were arrested in Las Vegas, Nevada.


River Valley Farm, Holcomb, Kansas, USA


Sunday 15 November 1959


At the trial which began on 23 March 1960 after jury selection the previous day, Smith admitted the shooting of Herbert and Kenyon Clutter in the head with a shotgun at close range and cutting Herbert Clutter’s throat. Hickok at first said that Smith had ommitted all the murders while Smith said that Hickok had murdered Bonnie and Nancy Clutter and then said that he had. Both men refused to testify in their own defence. Found guilty on 28 March after the jury deliberated for 40 minutes, they were sentenced to death. Truman Capote interviewed Smith on Death Row and the two men became firm friends. Smith and Hickock were hanged on 14 April 1965 at Lansing Prison (officially Kansas State Penitentiary), Kansas.


Awaiting trial Smith kept a diary in which he doodled while Hickok read novels by Irving Wallace and Harold Robbins. During a previous stint in jail, Smith had drawn such a terrific picture of Jesus that the prison chaplain had kept in the chapel for 22 years.

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