CLOSE
KansasMemory.org
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.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Keystone/Getty Images
arrow
crime
The Terrible Crime at Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin 
Frank Lloyd Wright
Frank Lloyd Wright
Keystone/Getty Images

Some of the most horrific murders in Wisconsin history involved none other than famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

Wright was in the middle of building a home, which he named Taliesin, for himself and his mistress in Spring Green, Wisconsin. He had recently left his wife and six children for Martha "Mamah" Borthwick, whose husband Edwin Cheney had commissioned Wright to build a house in Oak Park, Illinois. Cheney may have a gained a Frank Lloyd Wright house, but he lost his wife—Mamah and Wright became close, even traveling to Europe together, sans spouses, in 1909. The Cheneys divorced in 1911; Wright’s divorce would take more than another decade to be finalized.

On August 15, 1914, Wright was away attending to the construction of Midway Gardens in Chicago when he got a terrible message. “Taliesin destroyed by fire,” it read, and that was all. For the time being, at least, Wright was spared the details: Their servant, Julian Carlton, had attacked Mamah, her children, and Taliesin workmen, pouring gasoline under the door and setting the home ablaze. When some of the victims broke windows and tried to escape, Carlton hacked at them from outside of the house with a hatchet.

The Ogden Standard, September 5, 1914
A news account of the tragedy, September 5, 1914
Library of Congress // Public Domain

While precise accounts of the crime vary, according to biographer William Drennan, Carlton first killed Mamah and her two children, 8-year-old Martha and 12-year-old John, while they were eating lunch on a porch, bludgeoning them with a hatchet. Once Carlton had taken care of them, he went to a dining room where the workmen were eating, locked them in, and set fire to the place.

In the end, eight people died—seven victims and the murderer himself. The victims included Mamah and her children, draftsman Emil Brodelle, gardener David Lindblom, handyman Tom Brunker, and Ernest Weston, the son of carpenter William Weston.

The murderer didn’t die right away, though. He swallowed hydrochloric acid soon after the attack, and died of starvation about seven weeks later. Despite being questioned, Carlton never did give a motive for his killing spree. There’s some evidence to suggest a series of disputes with the workers, however, and that Carlton had recently been told he was being terminated.

Taliesin
Taliesin as it looks today
edward stojakovic, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

As for the absolutely devastated Frank Lloyd Wright, he rebuilt Taliesin in Mamah’s honor. The land may have been cursed, however, because this second reincarnation of the house was also destroyed by fire. In 1925, a lightning storm apparently ignited the wiring, sparking a conflagration that eventually burned the house down. Not one to be deterred, Wright built Taliesin III on the same spot. Today, the home is open for tours and events.

A version of this story originally ran in 2011.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
Animals
8 Animals That Have Been Imprisoned or Arrested
iStock
iStock

It might seem like a case of animals just being animals, but when eight donkeys in northern India recently ate nearly $1000 worth of greenery in their small town, they did four days in the big house. (Perhaps part of the problem? They ate expensive saplings that were planted right near the jail. Rookie mistake.) But whether they harmed property or people, were in cahoots with human outlaws, or were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, these eight other critters are proof that "crime" can sometimes be cuddly.

1. THE PIGEON THAT WAS ARRESTED ON SUSPICION OF ESPIONAGE.

In 2015, officials in India arrested a pigeon they suspected was a spy. The bird’s body was stamped with a message written partly in Urdu—Pakistan’s official language—and what appeared to be a Pakistani phone number. It had landed in a village close to the country’s shared border with Pakistan, near the Kashmir region that’s claimed by both countries and has been the subject of multiple wars between India and Pakistan beginning in 1947. Though there was a ceasefire in 1972 (the current situation is that India controls 45 percent of Kashmir, Pakistan 35 percent, and China 20 percent), because both countries believe they have rights to the area, it's frequently the site of military clashes and infiltration.

So when a 14-year-old boy found the suspicious-looking pigeon so close to Kashmir, he turned it over to authorities. The officials took it to a veterinary hospital for x-rays, and though they couldn’t find any concrete evidence of foreign fowl play, they kept the bird in custody, recording it as a “suspected spy” in their police diary.

That said, not everyone took the news as seriously as the Indian police did: In the days following the bird’s arrest, Pakistani social media was flooded with memes depicting the feathered detainee as a slick 007 type, and amused internet users coined hashtags like #PigeonVsIndia and #IfIWereAPigeon.

2. THE BEAVER THAT WAS APPREHENDED FOR A DESTRUCTIVE CHRISTMAS SHOPPING SESSION.

In December 2016, a wild beaver must have decided that forest trees weren’t festive enough, because it wandered into a dollar store in St. Mary’s County, Maryland, to browse Christmas trees and decorations. Workers noticed the animal knocking items onto the floor, and called the St. Mary's County Sheriff's Office.

Captain Yingling of the sheriff's office arrived on scene to prevent the "shopping" beaver from ruining the store. “The suspect attempted to flee the area but was apprehended by Animal Control,” the sheriff's department joked on their Facebook page.

Instead of allowing the beaver to finish up its holiday shopping, the St. Mary's County Sheriff handed the critter over to a wildlife rehab center. As for the police, they said the quirky incident just marked another day on the job: “As a law enforcement officer, you just never know what your next call may be...” they mused on Facebook.

3. THE FOUL-MOUTHED PARROT IN INDIA THAT WAS ARRESTED FOR REPEATEDLY INSULTING HIS OWNER'S STEPMOTHER.

In 2015, police in the Indian state of Maharashtra taught a foul-mouthed parrot named Hariyal a lesson in politeness after they “arrested” it for swearing at an elderly woman named Janabai. According to locals, the pet bird had picked up the rude habit from Janabi’s stepson, Suresh Sakharkar. The two were embroiled in an ugly property dispute, and the latter had reportedly spent the prior two years training Hariyal to spout epithets whenever the estranged relation walked past his house.

The situation escalated, and Janabi, Suresh, and his bird were eventually called to the police station. “Police should investigate and seize the parrot,” the embittered stepmother told Indian news channel Zee News. That said, Hariyal must have known he was in hot water, because he kept his beak shut. “We watched the parrot carefully but it did not utter a word at the police station after being confronted by the complainant,” a police inspector told reporters.

Instead of locking Hariyal up, officials gave the parrot over to Maharashtra’s forestry department, where he can presumably fly—and curse—freely for the remainder of his life.

4. THE SQUIRREL THAT WAS ARRESTED FOR "STALKING" A GERMAN WOMAN.

While walking down the street in the West German city of Bottrop in 2015, a woman realized that she had attracted a furry stalker: a tiny red squirrel. The animal was chasing her and acting aggressively. Frightened and unable to flee the rodent, the woman called the police for help. Authorities captured the squirrel, “arrested” it, and brought it back to the station. There, they discovered that the critter was suffering from exhaustion.

Police helped nurse the squirrel back to health by feeding it honey, and a spokesman said the squirrel would be sent to a rescue center instead of languishing away in a cell for its stalkerish habits.

5. THE BAD MONKEYS IN INDIA THAT WERE IMPRISONED IN "MONKEY JAIL."

iStock

In 2004, a rogue monkey became infamous for terrorizing residents of the city of Patiala, in India’s northern Punjab region. The monkey was guilty of multiple crimes: It stole food from homes, ripped the buttons off people's shirts, threatened kids with bricks, and once even swiped someone’s math textbooks and calculator. To keep the marauding jungle creature off the streets, officials sentenced it to “monkey jail”—a now-defunct detainment center in Patiala that was reserved for ill-behaving primates.

The “monkey jail"—which appears to have operated from 1996 until the mid-2000s—was located in the corner of a local zoo. The 15-foot-wide barred cell was secured with chain-link fencing and wire mesh, and had a sign that read: "These monkeys have been caught from various cities of Punjab. They are notorious. Going near them is dangerous."

Punjab is filled with countless wild Rhesus macaque (Macaca mulatta) monkeys. Some of the animals have moved into cities and towns in search of food, as humans continue to destroy their natural jungle habitat. Others were once used as animal guards, or trained as performing monkeys, and were set loose by their owners once they turned violent. Particularly ill-treated or mischievous primates have been known to destroy property and pester—or even attack—humans. But since Hindus revere Hanuman, the monkey god, killing the creatures is verboten.

Wildlife officers in Punjab took matters into their own hands by opening the monkey jail. They responded to public complaints by capturing the creatures with trapping cages and tranquilizer guns. Once the monkeys were locked up, there was little to no chance of "parole."

As of 2004, there were 13 jailed monkeys, all imprisoned for harassing people or committing petty crimes. Patiala’s primate penitentiary was eventually closed, and authorities announced it was going to be replaced by “reform school" that's intended to train the monkeys to be less aggressive.

6. THE CAT WHO WAS DETAINED FOR HELPING OUT WITH A PRISON BREAK.

On New Year’s Day 2013, a cat took the heat for scheming Brazilian inmates who were likely either planning a jailbreak or attempting to communicate with outlaws on the outside. The white feline was slinking around the main gates of a medium-security prison in Arapiraca—a city in northeast Brazil—when guards noticed that its body was wrapped in tape. They apprehended the kitty, and discovered that it was carrying items including several saws and drills, an earphone, a memory card, batteries, and a phone charger.

Prison officer Luiz de Oliveira Souza told reporters that the cat had been seen entering and exiting the jail before. It had been raised by inmates, and was often in the custody of one of their families. However, officials couldn’t figure out which of the jail’s 263 prisoners had tried to use the feline for their own nefarious purposes: “It’s tough to find out who’s responsible for the action as the cat doesn’t speak,” a prison spokesperson told local newspaper Estado de S.Paulo.

Following the cat’s “arrest” and brief imprisonment, it was taken to a local animal shelter to receive medical treatment.

7. THE TOUGH PRISON PET THAT WAS ACTUALLY A VERY GOOD BOY.

Courtesy of Eastern State Penitentiary

Unlike some animals on this list, Pep the dog was a very good boy. But in 1924, Pennsylvania governor Gifford Pinchot allegedly sentenced the dark-haired Labrador to a life sentence without parole. Pep was taken to Philadelphia’s Eastern State Penitentiary, where officials jokingly gave him his own inmate number and mug shot. Reporters nicknamed the canine "Pep The Cat-Murdering Dog," as he was said to have killed the governor’s wife’s cat.

Thanks to all the media hype, Pep had quite the tough reputation. But a few years after the canine’s imprisonment, the governor’s wife, Cornelia Pinchot, set the story straight in an interview with The New York Times. Turns out, Pep had never murdered her pet feline; her family simply bred Labradors, and owned too many dogs. Pep, she said, was a gift to the prisoners to lift their spirits.

Today, researchers say that partisan journalists twisted the facts around, and that Pep was actually a beloved prison pet that freely wandered the hallways and was adored by all. As for the "life sentence without parole" part, the Lab was eventually moved to a newer prison; when he died, he was buried on its grounds.

8. THE FEISTY DONKEY IN MEXICO THAT WAS LOCKED UP TO SETTLE A SCORE.

iStock

In 2008, police in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas arrested a feisty donkey named Blacky after it bit a man in the chest, and kicked a second man trying to rescue him. Police apprehended the burro and locked it in the jail’s drunk tank. “Around here, if someone commits a crime they are jailed, no matter who they are,” said Officer Sinar Gomez.

Police said that the donkey would remain behind bars until its owner, Mauro Gutierrez, paid the injured parties’ medical bills and salary for the days they missed work. The boisterous burro served three days in jail, and Gutierrez settled the score by paying Blacky's victims.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios