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KansasMemory.org

15 Details from the In Cold Blood Killers’ Case Files

KansasMemory.org
KansasMemory.org

On November 15, 1959, the Clutter family—Herb and Bonnie, their daughter Nancy, and son Kenyon—were brutally murdered in their Holcomb, Kansas, home. Convicted of the crime were Perry Edward Smith and Richard Eugene Hickock, who were sent to the Kansas State Penitentiary. Soon after, the killers became the subjects of Truman Capote’s non-fiction novel, In Cold Blood. Capote conducted a number of interviews with the inmates before they were executed by hanging on April 14, 1965.

The Kansas Historical Society recently released Smith and Hickock’s inmate case files—593 pages and 727 pages, respectively—which include their criminal histories, warrants, legal correspondence, and notes to and from Capote. Here are a just few details from the files that shed light on their lives behind bars.

1. During his first stay in prison, Smith was busted for contraband.

A search of Cell 228 on March 6, 1957, when Smith was behind bars for burglary, revealed:

1 Box in the making, with drawer.
Some sandpaper.
1 New 12 inch ruler.
1 Pair pliers.
1 piece of band saw blade.
1 Piece of file.
1 Jar of glue.
2 pieces of rubber innertube.
1 roulette game.
1 stinger.

Smith pleaded guilty to having the items, but told officer E. Golden that he was “of a creative nature and likes to build things … The roulette wheel was for his own amusement in order to figure out percentages.” Though it was the first report for Smith in the year that he had been in prison, the document filed by the custodial officer continued, “[he] appears to be an unstable individual who follows his own impulsive nature without weighing the consequences.” Smith was sentenced to indefinite isolation, followed by 30 days restriction.

2. During his first stint in prison, Hickock worked at the tag factory.

His duties included “taking paint off the machine and placing it on the conveyor, also is an extra operator when one is needed,” reported E.G. Peters, supervisor of the tag factory, on May 27, 1959. “This man requires little supervision. His quality of work, dependability and attitude is above average.” His work was good enough that earlier that year, Hickock had been given a raise, and made 20 cents a day.

3. Smith went on a hunger strike in the first year of his second sentence.

Kansas Memory

After going on a “self-induced starvation diet for five (5) months” that left him weighing just 108 pounds, Smith’s doctors recommended he be sent to Larned State Hospital for psychiatric evaluation. In a Special Progress Report dated October 13, 1960, that request was denied: “It would be difficult to transfer the patient that distance due to deterioration caused by self-starvation and due to maximum security measure involved in commitment to a medical institution.” (Later records in the file show that Smith was taken to a hospital.)

4. During his second sentence, Hickock took courses on the Bible.

Because he was on Death Row, Hickock couldn’t go to church—so instead, he participated in Bible Correspondence courses, according to a Special Progress Report from October 7, 1960.

5. Hickock was a college football fan.

Kansas University, specifically. In a letter to Warden Tracy Hand dated August 15, 1960, Hickock wrote, “It is that time of year when football season is just around the corner. I am quite an ardent fan of the University Kansas … The first game of the season is the 17th of September. Would it be possible for the game of the University of Kansas to be put on the speaker on top of the jail, Saturday afternoon?” Hickock’s request was granted.

6. When Capote interviewed Hickock and Smith in 1962, he also got a tour of the institution.

Kansas Memory

Capote’s requests for an interview were initially denied; though the inmates had given interviews to reporters before, the prison decided “interviews with condemned inmates serve no constructive purpose.” Eventually, though, Capote got his interview—and a tour.

The author visited and interviewed the inmates many times. In a September 1964 letter included in both Smith and Hickok's files, Capote wrote Warden Sherman Crouse informing him that he planned to visit Smith and Hickock once again. “Please do not bother to answer this request by letter,” Capote wrote, “as I will telephone you well in advance.”

Kansas Memory

Crouse forwarded the letter to Stucker, acting Director of Penal Institutions, describing Capote as “a rather well known author who is writing a book on the Clutter murder case. … Perhaps I should alert you to the fact if a man about 5 feet tall, approximately 50 years of age, and with a walk and voice such as you have seen and heard many times during your prison career, comes to your office it almost undoubtedly is Mr. Capote.”

Crouse went on to explain that Capote attended the trial and kept in touch with the two inmates since that time. “I have been informed Hickock will request that Mr. Capote attend his execution, if and when it takes place,” he wrote. “It is understood Mr. Capote is holding up the completion of his book until the fate of Hickok and Smith is finally settled.”

7. Harper Lee wanted to correspond with Smith.

Nelle Harper Lee—yes, the author of To Kill A Mockingbird—helped Capote with his research for In Cold Blood. She also visited Hickock and Smith in jail with Capote, and tried to correspond with Smith. In a March 20, 1962 letter to Colonel Guy C. Rexroad, Director of Penal Institutions, lawyer Clifford Hope wrote that Lee “was advised that Perry Smith would like to correspond with her. I trust that this privilege could not be granted unless Smith himself would make a request for it. I understand Miss Lee’s letters have been returned undelivered.”

In his reply, Rexroad made clear that “it is not possible to grant this request.” The rules of the institution mandated that inmates were only allowed to correspond and visit with members of their immediate families. “Inmates without immediate relatives, [sic] may request permission to have a friend or more distant relative approved as a correspondent. This exception cannot be applied in [Smith’s] case, since he has a father. … I am sure that the need for uniformity in the administration of the Penitentiary rules will be clear to Miss Lee and hope that she will understand the reasons that make it impossible for this office to grant her request.” (According to another document, Smith was permitted to have a 5x7 photo of Lee.)

8. Hickock told his life story to someone other than Capote.

That person was Mack Nations, who wrote an article, "From the Death House A Condemned Killer Tells How He Committed American's Worst Crime in 20,” that was published in the December 1961 issue of Male magazine. When he discovered that Hickock was also speaking to Capote, Nations was incensed—and sent letters to that effect. "Richard Eugene Hickock granted to Mack Nations exclusive rights to any and all of [his life story] forever," he wrote to Warden Hand on January 23, 1962, just a few days before Capote conducted one of his interviews. "In the event that Richard Eugene Hickock violates that contract, verbally or otherwise, with or by giving interviews concerning his life to Truman Capote or any other person, then Richard Eugene Hickock automatically forfeits forever the one-half interest the contract calls for him to receive of any and all moneys from the sale of the story by Mack Nations." Nations, who asked the warden to pass this information along to Hickock, also threatened to sue the inmate.

9. They really, really wanted radios.

Kansas Memory

Smith and Hickock repeatedly requested radios for the five men on death row at Kansas State Penitentiary. “Music is soothing to anyone’s nerves,” Hickock wrote in a 9-page letter to Robert J. Kaiser, Director of Penal Institutions, on September 12, 1963. “It keeps the mind off one’s troubles—family, financial, death, etc. A radio is the answer to our mental depression.” Smith even sent clippings of advertisements hawking radios to warden Crouse. Their requests were denied, both because of Death Row’s proximity to a segregation area, where inmates weren’t permitted to listen to radios, and because there weren’t funds to purchase radios with headphones.

10. Capote sent Smith magazines.

In a September 20, 1964 letter, Smith wrote to Capote “I finally got around to making a perusal of Bogdanovich’s article in the Sept. issue of Esquire which you sent recently. … Thank you for sending along the two outdoor mags … they are much appreciated. But please don’t send me any more … We get many of them here sometimes and it’s a waste of $$—and the outdoor, automobile and sports don’t interest me in the least anymore. … Instead of some of the magazines you have been sending, you may, if you would, send a TIME; U.S. News & World Report; or Newsweek.”

11. Smith wanted to paint a portrait of the warden.

In a bizarre letter to Crouse dated October 13, 1964, Smith asked how the warden and the Christmas spirit were "making out," and went on to say, “(smile) I thought that I would like to paint a portrait or two of you if permitted to, and finish some others too, should the art material privileges be returned :(it has been five (5) months now). … Funny thing how the Christmas spirit grabs hold of ya sometimes—but when it does, it usually puts on in a benevolent frame of mind, especially around this time of year.” (Enclosed with this letter were the aforementioned ad clippings of radios.)

Crouse passed the letter and clippings on to Nova Stucker, acting Director of Penal Institutions, and noted, “I am sending these to you ... to let you know there is still some humor left on death row; also to relay part of the attitude of a man who has been on death row for over four years and is about at the last stage of legal help. In my opinion, he would kill anyone without a thought if he saw an opportunity to make a break.”

Smith’s request for art supplies was denied.

12. They read … a lot.

Smith’s reading list included Freud Dictionary of Psychoanalysis, You and Your Handwriting, Man’s Presumtuous Brain, Life Pictorial Atlas of the World, Born Under Saturn, The Clouds, The Brain, Thimm’s Spanish, and more. Hickock, meanwhile, read Gents and Motor Trend magazines, and books like One Hundred Million Dollar Misunderstanding, Never Love a Stranger, Stiletto, Where Love Has Gone, and The Origin of Species, among others.

13. Smith sent a telegram to Capote the day before his execution.

Kansas Memory

"Am anticipating and awaiting your visit," the telegram, sent at 1:16 p.m. on April 13, 1965, read. "Please acknowledge by return wire when you expect to be here." But Capote never showed: According to an interview prison director Charles McAtee gave the Lawrence Journal-World in 2005, the author called at 2 p.m. that day to say he wouldn't be coming because "the emotional buildup to the execution would be too much to bear." (Capote's name, written in his own handwriting, was on the authorized witness list for Smith's execution, however.)

14. At least one letter sent to Smith arrived too late.

Smith corresponded with Donald E. Cullivan, whom he knew from his time in the military, for much of the time he was in prison. On April 11, 1965, Cullivan sent out another letter. “I appreciated your last letter very much,” he wrote. “I too have enjoyed your friendship and I hope I hear from you again.”

The response he got was not the one he wanted. “Dear Mr. Cullivan,” Warden Crouse wrote. “Your letter … arrived too late. The execution was carried out, as scheduled, early on the morning of April 14, 1965. Very truly yours, S.H. Crouse.”

15. They had the same last meal.

It included shrimp and strawberries.

We didn’t make it through every piece of information in these files. If you’d like to check them out yourself, head over to Kansas Memory.

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Jack Taylor, Getty Images
8 Arresting Facts About Scotland Yard
Jack Taylor, Getty Images
Jack Taylor, Getty Images

Depicted in fiction for well over a century as the world's premier police force, Scotland Yard might be the most famous banner for law enforcement in history. Though the name itself is officially a term for the location of the London Metropolitan Police headquarters, it’s taken on a colloquial use to describe the collective brain trust of that station’s patrolmen and detectives. Here’s what we’ve deduced about the past, present, and future of this historic—and sometimes controversial—institution.

1. IT GOT ITS NAME FROM A TRICKY BIT OF GEOGRAPHY.

London didn’t have a formal police force until 1829, when Home Secretary Sir Robert Peel arranged for a squad to replace the fractured system of watchmen, street patrols, and the River Police. Colonel Charles Rowan and Richard Mayne were tasked with organizing the force: Mayne’s house at 4 Whitehall Place opened to an adjacent courtyard that had once been a medieval palace that hosted Scottish royalty while they were in London. This “Great Scotland Yard,” which was also reportedly the name of the street behind the building, became synonymous with Rowan and Mayne’s efforts to create a new era in law enforcement.

2. CHARLES DICKENS TAGGED ALONG ON PATROLS.

Author Charles Dickens poses for a photo
London Stereoscopic Company/Getty Images

The renowned author of Great Expectations and other literary classics wasn’t a policeman, but he did perform the 19th-century equivalent of a ride-along. Dickens was friends with Charles Frederick Field, a Scotland Yard inspector, and their relationship led to Dickens occasionally accompanying patrolmen on their nightly rounds. He even based a character in his novel Bleak House on Fields.

3. THERE WERE DIRTY COPS AMONG THE RANKS IN THOSE EARLY DAYS.

For all of the public acceptance of Scotland Yard—Londoners were initially wary of the plainclothes cops walking among them—the squad suffered a sensational blow to its image in 1877. Known as the “Turf Fraud Scandal” or the “Trial of the Detectives,” the controversy erupted after a Parisian socialite named Madame de Goncourt was conned by two men named Harry Benson and William Kurr. Scotland Yard inspector Nathaniel Druscovich was dispatched to Amsterdam to capture a fleeing Benson while others pursued Kurr. The men proved surprisingly elusive, which prompted suspicion among Scotland Yard officials. When the two con men were finally arrested, they explained that an inspector named John Meiklejohn was taking bribes in exchange for tipping off Kurr to police activity. Two other policemen were implicated; the three each received two years in prison. The high-profile breach led to a reorganization, with the Yard inserting detectives into a new Criminal Investigation Department (CID) to help minimize misconduct.

4. THEY HELPED PIONEER FINGERPRINTING.

A Scotland Yard employee examines fingerprints
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

At one time, the science of fingerprinting was more of a theory than anything that could be put into practice. Most police forces instead relied on anthropometry, a system created by French police officer Alphonse Bertillon, which used 11 body measurements taken by calipers to provide a unique physical identity for an individual. While fingerprinting was beginning to take off in India in the late 1800s, the English-speaking world didn’t adopt the forensic technique of lifting and matching prints until 1901, when Sir Edward Henry, then the assistant commissioner of Scotland Yard, instituted the Metropolitan Police Fingerprint Bureau. In 1902, a billiard ball thief was convicted based on a fingerprint he left on a windowsill. In 1904, a Yard detective demonstrated the efficacy of fingerprinting at the St. Louis World’s Fair, helping spread the new science to American law enforcement officials.

5. THEIR PATROL OFFICERS DIDN’T CARRY GUNS UNTIL 1994.

The uniformed police officers who wander London’s streets with an eye on keeping the peace were unarmed for most of the 20th century. It wasn’t until 1994 that select patrol officers were permitted to carry guns, a policy shift that stemmed from increased assaults on police. The addition of firearms was limited to armed response cars intended to be dispatched to high-risk calls; previously, officers were instructed to keep their weapons in a lockbox inside their vehicles. Today, 90 percent of Metropolitan police officers go on duty without a gun, a policy largely maintained in response to a relatively low number of guns carried by civilians. Less than four in 100 British citizens own a firearm.

6. THEY HAVE A SQUAD OF “SUPER RECOGNIZERS.”

A surveillance camera is posted in London
Leon Neal, AFP/Getty Images

With surveillance cameras dotting London, facial recognition for identifying criminal suspects is in high demand. But no software can outperform Scotland Yard’s team of “super recognizers,” who are recruited for their ability to match a face to a name based on their own memory. These officers are hired by administering a facial recognition test first implemented by Harvard in 2009. Those in the top percentile have an uncanny ability to retain facial feature details and are often dispatched to cull out known criminals like pickpockets at public gatherings. One such specialist, Constable Gary Collins, identified 180 people out of 4000 while examining footage of the 2011 London riots. Software was able to identify exactly one.

7. THEY KEEP A SECRET CRIME MUSEUM HIDDEN FROM THE PUBLIC.

Housed across two floors at the headquarters of the Metropolitan Police in London is the Black Museum, a macabre cavalcade of evidence from nearly 150 years of investigative work. Established in 1875, the collection houses body parts (gallstones that failed to dissolve in acid along with the rest of a murder victim) and seemingly innocuous items that take on sinister connotations: A set of pots and pans that once belonged to Scottish serial killer Dennis Nilsen and were used to boil human flesh. It’s closed to the public, though visiting law enforcement and sometimes celebrities can secure an invite: Laurel and Hardy and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle have toured its inventory. A sample of the collection went on display at the Museum of London in 2015.  

8. YOU COULD LIVE THERE ONE DAY.

The former New Scotland Yard building at 10 Broadway
Jack Taylor, AFP/Getty Images

The Metropolitan Police have changed locations several times over the years. It was situated at its original location of 4 Whitehall Place from 1829 to 1890, then housed in a large Victorian building on the Victoria Embankment from 1890 until 1967. That’s when the operation was moved to a 600,000 square-foot building at 10 Broadway in Westminster: a famous revolving sign announced a New Scotland Yard was taking up residence. In 2014, the building was sold to investors from Abu Dhabi for $580 million: London cited operating expenses and budget cuts as the reasons for the sale. The buyers plan to mount a residential housing project in the spot. Scotland Yard staff moved to a trimmed-down facility at the Curtis Green Building in Westminster and within walking distance of the Houses of Parliament.   

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iStock
Why an Ex-FBI Agent Recommends Wrapping Your Keys in Tinfoil Whenever You Leave Your Car
iStock
iStock

A car thief doesn't need to get their hands on your keys to break into your vehicle. If you use a wireless, keyless system, or fob, to unlock your car, all they need to do is steal the signal it emits. Luckily there's a tool you can use to protect your fob from hackers that you may already have in your kitchen at home: tinfoil.

Speaking with USA Today, retired FBI agent Holly Hubert said that wrapping car fobs in a layer of foil is the cheapest way to block their sensitive information from anyone who may be trying to access it. Hackers can easily infiltrate your car by using a device to amplify the fob signal or by copying the code it uses. And they don't even need to be in the same room as you to do it: They can hack the fob inside your pocket from the street outside your house or office.

Electronic car theft is a growing problem for automobile manufacturers. Ideally fobs made in the future will come with cyber protection built-in, but until then the best way to keep your car safe is to carry your fob in an electromagnetic field-blocking shield when you go out. Bags made specifically to protect your key fob work better than foil, but they can cost more than $50. If tinfoil is all you can afford, it's better than nothing.

At home, make sure to store your keys in a spot where they will continue to get protection. Dropping them in a metal coffee can is a lot smarter than leaving them out in the open on your kitchen counter.

[h/t USA Today]

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