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Herbert Clutter ( 1911 - 1959 )  Category ( Historical_Figures ) [suggest a correction]

In his own world -- the small Kansas community of Holcomb -- Herbert Clutter was well-known and respected. But it took his tragic death and a best-selling book, to make him a national figure.

Clutter, his wife and two of their children were murdered in their Holcomb farmhouse on Nov. 15, 1959. Two ex-convicts on parole, Richard Hickok and Perry Smith, were convicted of the crime and executed in 1965.

Ironically, it was Clutter's reputation in his community that ultimately led to his death.

Floyd Wells, who once worked on Clutter's River Valley Farm in Holcomb, was Dick Hickok's cellmate in the Kansas State Penitentiary.

"I don't exactly recall how Mr. Clutter first got mentioned," Wells later told lead investigator Alvin Dewey. "It must've been when we were discussing jobs. Anyway, I told him how I worked at a considerable wheat spread in western Kansas. Dick wanted to know if Mr. Clutter was a wealthy man. Yes, I said, he was. From that point on, Dick never stopped asking me about the family. How many was they? What ages would the kids be now? Exactly how do you get to the house? How was it laid out? Did Mr. Clutter keep a safe? I won't deny it, I told him he did...right behind the desk in the room that he used as an office. Next thing I knew Dick was talking about killing Mr. Clutter."

A graduare of Kansas State University, Clutter -- 48 years old at the time of his death -- had been a county extension agent, chairman of the Kansas Conference of Farm Organizations and a member of the Federal Farm Credit Board. He was also a long-time member of and active fundraiser for the First United Methodist Church of Garden City.

In an article for the Guardian on the 50th anniversary of the Clutter murders, Ed Pikington quoted present Holcomb resident Bob Rupp: "He (Clutter) was a big influence in my life – when you know somebody like that it tends to kind of inspire you. He could see above what most people could see, and visualise how things should be."

Clutter brought a host of modern farming methods -- and a few of his own -- to bear on the River Valley Farm, specialized in wheat, and did quite well with it. That success is what brought Smith and Hickok to Holcomb in search of what Hickok called "an easy score."

They entered the unlocked farm house where Clutter, wife Bonnie, son Kenyon and daughter Nancy were asleep, roused the family, and demanded to know the location of the safe. When they found out they had been misled -- Herb Clutter actually conducted all of his business by check -- they slaughtered the Clutters and fled.

Kenyon, Nancy and Bonnie had been bound and killed with a shotgun blast. Herb Clutter had also been shot, but only after his throat was cut. The killers were eventually caught in Las Vegas (thanks in large part to testimony from a guilt-stricken Floyd Wells), tried in Holcomb and executed.

As horrific as they were, the killing would never have made much of an impact outside western Kansas were it not for Truman Capote and his iconic, ground-breaking true crime book, In Cold Blood.

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