In Cold Blood, Part Two?


Harper LeeOn November 15, 1959, two men, Perry Smith and Richard Hickock, entered the Clutter home in Holcomb, Kansas, and murdered the entire family. After the men’s arrest the writer Truman Capote accepted a magazine assignment to travel to Kansas and write an article about the murders. Smith and Hickock were eventually hung for the crimes. Capote’s assignment eventually led to his famous book, In Cold Blood. His account became a national bestseller, was made into at least four movies, a dozen related books, and gave birth to the genre of fictional crime novel.

 Capote and Harper Lee, the subject of a recent biography published by Morgan Reynolds entitled Real Courage: The Story of Harper Lee, were longtime friends. They had spent part of their childhoods as neighbors in Monroeville, Alabama, as children in the 1930s and reconnected as friends in the late 1950s. Lee traveled to Kansas with Capote and helped research the book as well as interview neighbors and friends of the Clutter family. Capote dedicated In Cold Blood to Lee and another friend but never gave her credit for her help in the writing of the book. Lee was disappointed in her friend, but the two remained in contact until Capote’s death in 1986.

Now Perry Smith and Richard Hickock are suspected of the murder of another family, this time in Osprey, Florida, which took place a few days after the Clutter murders. It is known the two men fled to Florida from Kansas and were in the Osprey area. The gruesome murders resemble the Clutter murders. In both cases the entire family, including the young children, were killed. Most intriguing is that the Florida victims had a car for sale and there is some evidence Smith and Hickock came in contact with the family through the car.

Now the police detective in charge of investigating the Osprey murders has asked the Kansas authorities to exhume the bodies of Smith and Hickock so DNA samples can be taken and compared to evidence gathered in Florida. The two men are buried in a cemetery in Lansing, Kansas. If Kansas cooperates it may finally bring to rest a case that has haunted the town of Osprey for more than half a century.

 We don’t know if Capote or Lee ever suspected the two men they spent so much time investigating in Kansas may have been responsible for the murder of another family. We do know that from their diligent investigative work and Capote’s skill as a writer the murder of the Clutter family received a level of recognition that kept the Kansas case alive for anyone who has seen the movies or read the book, which remains in print. It will be further testament to the quality of their work if the authorities in Florida and Kansas are able to put to rest yet another unsolved crime.

John Riley


 To learn more about Harper Lee check out Morgan Reynolds’ biography of Lee, Real Courage: The Story of Harper Lee by Katherine Don (ISBN: 978-1-59935-348-7).

Published in: on December 17, 2012 at 11:35 am  Leave a Comment  
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