Criminal Justice

Did convicted 'Cold Blood' murderers in Capote novel also kill a Florida family?

When four members of a Kansas farm family were found dead in their home in 1959, the detective in charge of the investigation thought the culprit must be a local man with a grudge against the head of the family.

Authorities hesitated for several days before pursuing a lead from an imprisoned man who had worked for the slain farmer, reports the Wall Street Journal (sub. req.) in a recent story about newly available investigative material.

When investigators did pick up the trail, it soon led them to Richard Hickock and Perry Smith, who had heard of the family and the cash they supposedly kept at home from an incarcerated former worker at the farm. Their crime, conviction and execution were memorably portrayed in Truman Capote’s famous nonfiction crime novel, In Cold Blood.

A similar slaying of two parents and their young children occurred in their home in a Florida ranching community less than a week before Christmas 1959, a month after the Kansas farm murders. But again, investigators thought that a local man must be responsible, and for decades, suspicion has fallen on a number of individuals with a link to the unsolved killings.

Now it appears that DNA evidence could link Hickock and Perry to those slayings, too, the Tampa Bay Times reports in a lengthy article.

The convicted murderers, who fled to Florida after killing Herb and Bonnie Clutter and their two children, had claimed they were never in the Sarasota-area community where Cliff and Christine Walker and their two children were slain. But the evidence now suggests otherwise, the newspaper says, and a detective with the Sarasota County sheriff’s office last year convinced a Kansas judge to exhume the bodies of Hickock and Perry for DNA testing.

Results are expected any day.

Among those eager for news of a possible link to Hickock and Perry is Donald McLeod. Now 83, he was the first to find the bodies of the Walker family in 1959 and made the call that brought authorities to the scene. A co-worker and friend of Cliff Walker, he had come to his home early on Sunday morning for a day of hunting. As the crime remained unsolved, McLeod and others with ties to the family have been targets of suspicion, the Times reports.

“People still think I did it,” McLeod told a reporter for the newspaper, adding: “If they could just solve it, I could go ahead and die.”

See also

Associated Press: “KBI expects results soon in ‘Cold Blood’ tests”

Topeka Capital-Journal: “‘In Cold Blood’ DNA ties to Florida case due out soon”

Sarasota Herald-Tribune: “The man who first saw the cold blood”

The New Yorker: “Capote’s Co-conspirators”

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