About the Notebooks
Presented here are images and partial transcriptions of the most compelling pages of KBI Special Agent Harold Nye's notebooks, including commentary where helpful or needed to give clarity and relevance to the investigator's shorthand. Adjacent photos or passages from other sources also help shed light on events noted, or those that were occurring elsewhere at the time.
In the late 1950s, Herbert W. Clutter was a highly respected farmer and pillar of his community in Garden City, a small town in western Kansas. His three-thousand-acre River Valley Farm produced wheat, alfalfa, barley, and grass for pasture, which fed his 800 head of cattle. By any measure he was among the largest and most successful ranchers in Kansas at a time when many others were losing their farms.
Clutter's wife, Bonnie, was a nervous woman who suffered from depression and slept in her own bedroom, where she also spent much of her time. The Clutters had four children, two of whom lived at home: 16-year-old daughter Nancy, a bright and popular high school student; and their 15-year-old son Kenyon, a quiet introvert who, like his sister Nancy, was active in the 4-H club. The Clutter’s two remaining children, both older daughters, had left home; one was married, the other was about to be.
On November 14, 1959, two young ex-cons, Richard Hickock and Perry Smith, drove four hundred miles west from Kansas City with a plan to rob Mr. Clutter's office safe, based on a tip given to Hickock by his former cellmate at Kansas State Penitentiary (KSP) named Floyd Wells. Wells had worked for Clutter eleven years earlier and told Hickock, among other stories about the family and his time employed there, that Clutter kept a safe in his office containing $10,000, often more at harvest time.
Hickock, intrigued by the prospect of such a big score, had convinced Smith, also a former cellmate at KSP but since paroled, to help him do the job. The two men arrived at Clutter's farm around midnight, entered the house through an unlocked door and, using flashlights as their only illumination, began looking for the safe.
After a failed search, Hickock, his anger mounting, woke Mr. Clutter, demanding he show them the safe, but Clutter was mystified, claiming truthfully that he has no safe. Smith, skeptical of this "perfect" score ever since Hickock pitched it to him a month earlier, quickly realized they had been duped. Waking and rounding up the rest of the family, Smith and Hickock murdered the family one by one, starting by gruesomely slashing Mr. Clutter's throat, then delivering close-range shotgun blasts to the head of each victim. After just over an hour in the house, Smith and Hickock fled the scene and soon made their way to Mexico.
Word of the crimes had spread quickly. With a population shy of 12,000 citizens to protect and serve, Garden City's local authorities were ill-equipped to handle the demands of an investigation gaining national interest. Finney County Sheriff Earl Robinson turned to Alvin Dewey, Jr., an agent of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation who lived in Garden City, to coordinate the case. KBI Director Logan Sanford assigned another 17 investigators to the case, among them three of the bureau's most skilled men: Special Agents Harold Nye, Clarence Duntz, and Roy Church. Together, these three agents carried out most of the field work while Dewey coordinated the investigation from the Sheriff's office in Garden City.
Herb Clutter was no ordinary farmer. He had also been president of the Garden City Co-op, founder of the Kansas Association of Wheat Growers, and former president of the National Association of Wheat Growers. In 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower appointed Clutter to the nation's first Federal Farm Credit Board.
It was, in fact, Clutter's prominence in the agricultural industry, both nationally and locally, that raised early suspicions that his murder might have had something to do with his political involvements. From the beginning of the investigation, Agent Dewey believed the crime was not a robbery, but a grudge killing that had gotten out of hand. Other findings at the crime scene did suggest robbery might have been the motive: Mr. Clutter's empty wallet left on the bed, Nancy's purse lying open on the kitchen floor, Kenyon's missing portable radio and binoculars… But a gold wedding band and diamond ring, probably the most valuable items to be found, were still on Mrs. Clutter's left hand. Why hadn't those been taken?
Investigators weren't alone in suspecting motives other than robbery. Many townspeople who were interviewed reported stories of personal vendettas against Mr. Clutter, of widely known arguments and hostile feelings in the wake of business transactions, some even involving specific threats to the farmer's life.
Richard Rohleder, assistant chief of police for Garden City and the principal crime scene investigator, had perceptively discovered the only clues authorities had to go on: two boot prints found in the dried blood on the dusty cardboard box laid beneath Mr. Clutter's body—one having a diamond pattern, the other bearing the distinctive Cat's Paw brand—indicating there were at least two perpetrators.
Two days after the murders, Floyd Wells, Hickock's old cellmate still serving time at Kansas State Penitentiary, heard about the Clutter murders on the radio, and word soon reached the warden that Wells believed he knew who committed the crimes. The KBI, now in possession of the names of two suspects, expanded its investigation into the backgrounds of Richard Eugene Hickock, 28, and Perry Edward Smith, 31.
KBI Special Agent Harold Nye, who had taken on the bulk of investigative field work, tracked down the growing number of leads authorities had accumulated on the suspects: interviewing Smith's sister in San Francisco and his father in Alaska; Hickock's parents in Olathe, Kansas; the owner of the body repair shop where Dick worked; hotels where they had spent the night; and the many pawn shops where they had fenced stolen merchandise bought on check-kiting sprees. Nye visited most of these people and places himself, carefully noting details gleaned from each interview in the spiral-bound reporter's notebooks he always carried. Overall the investigation required hundreds of interviews, produced some 700 leads, and involved countless witness reports. Nye's own notebooks on the Clutter case comprised some 400 pages, front and back, packed with investigative minutiae.
On December 9, 1959, Nye and his team, armed with a search warrant, descended on the Hickock farm and took into evidence the hunting knife and Savage 12-gauge pump-action shotgun believed to have been used in the Clutter murders.
On December 30, 1950—after traveling six weeks throughout the U.S, and Mexico—Hickock and Smith were arrested in Las Vegas by two observant police patrolmen who recognized the stolen vehicle from an all-points bulletin. The next day, Agent Nye flew to Las Vegas to recover what evidence he could find, while Agent Dewey and other KBI investigators drove from Kansas to Nevada to assist Nye in interrogating the prisoners.
Both men eventually confessed to participating in the crimes. Hickock adamantly claimed that Smith had killed all four Clutters by his own hand. Smith said each killed two: he shot both father and son in the basement, while his partner shot the mother and daughter in their beds upstairs. After conferring with Hickock the next day, however, Smith changed his statement to accept blame for all four murders, purportedly to save Hickock's family from further grief.
The Garden City Sheriff's office was situated on the fourth floor of the Finney County courthouse. Since proximity and convenience benefited both the town and its sheriff, one perk of Sheriff Earl Robinson's job was a small furnished residence, which the sheriff chose to offer to the undersheriff and his wife, Wendle and Josephine Meier. The residence was adjacent to the jail, a secure block of cells equipped to handle some 30 prisoners. One of the cells—separated from the others by a solid steel door and dubbed the "ladies' cell”—was situated just off Mrs. Meier's kitchen.
The trial was set for March 2, 1960. Until then, the KBI wanted Smith and Hickock separated and unable to speak to each other, so Perry Smith was confined to the ladies' cell. From there, he could talk with the undersheriff's wife, Mrs. Meier, as she prepared meals for her husband and any prisoners in residence.
Over the two months before the trial began, Perry developed a fondness for his jailers, especially "Josie" Meier—as she did for him, despite her husband's caution to keep her distance, to remember what those boys had done. Regardless of Perry's terrible actions, Josie found in him a sort of lost boy, one who'd had a rough go in life. She often made his favorite meal, Spanish rice, and—as Perry later wrote in his journals—they became convivial, or at least as friendly as two people could be in that situation.
The weeklong trial began, the Honorable Roland H. Tate presiding. The evidence presented against Hickock and Smith was overwhelming. Neither defendant testified on his own behalf.
The State's star witness, the last to take the stand, was Floyd Wells, Hickock's former cellmate at KSP. Up to that moment the identity of this "mystery man”—the tipster who broke the case by fingering Hickock and Smith as prime suspects—had been kept secret, mainly for his own protection as an informer, lest some harm come to him in prison.
Wells's testimony was well-rehearsed. He laid out the bones of the story he told the KBI when first interviewed, about the time he worked for Mr. Clutter in 1948; about how generous the man was and how good the family was to him. He then talked about his time in prison with Dick Hickock, whom he claimed showed keen interest when Wells revealed that Clutter was a wealthy man who kept as much as $10,000 in cash in a safe behind his desk.
When prosecuting attorney Duane West asked him about the safe, Wells responded, "It has been so long since I worked out there. I thought there was a safe. I knew there was a cabinet of some kind." When asked if Hickock told him how he was going to rob Mr. Clutter, Wells said Hickock was not going to leave any witnesses, going into further detail about Hickock's plan. Wells's graphic description told the jury all it needed to know to reach a verdict.
Defense attorneys had sought and obtained psychiatric evaluations of both Hickock and Smith. The evaluations revealed serious incidents in the earlier lives of each man, and the presence of psychoses that may have sufficiently influenced their actions to warrant the jury's considering a penalty other than death.
But the twelve men on the jury were never allowed to consider psychosis as a contributing factor to the defendants' mental capacity. Kansas law permitted only "Yes" or "No" responses to specific questions. Dr. W. Mitchell Jones, the psychiatrist from Larned State Hospital who had volunteered to examine the men, offered to elaborate on the defendants' mental state, but the judge allowed only a determination as to whether each defendant knew the difference between right and wrong. Dr. Jones had spent only one hour with each man; regardless, he could offer no response other than "Yes."
It took the jury just forty minutes to render a verdict: Guilty on all counts, sentenced to death by hanging.
Over the next five years both Hickock and Smith filled a series of appeals that eventually reached the U.S. Supreme Court. None of the appeals offered sufficiently reasonable grounds to overturn the original convictions and sentence. Their options exhausted, the final execution date was set for April 14, 1965.
"The Corner" at the Lansing state prison was a grim, shadowy building, a windowless brick-walled warehouse where stacks of lumber and other out-of-the way surplus was kept. It was an all but neglected setting with just one important though rarely used function, carried out upon a tall wooden structure erected in one corner of the building. At the base of the structure, the first of thirteen steps rose to a ceiling high scaffold, over which a thick spar of timber was suspended from opposite corners by two sturdy posts. Casual observers might have found little noteworthy about the structure, hidden in the shadows as it was, but for two pale nooses hanging from its crossbeam. On the scaffold stood a thin, leathery executioner wearing a capacious knee-length coat, a sweat stained cowboy hat perched on his head.
Around midnight, a somber group of men gathered at the base of the gallows, waiting expectantly: a few prison officials; a handful of reporters; KBI agents Harold Nye, Roy Church, Clarence Duntz, and Alvin Dewey; the Finney County sheriff, and the psychiatrist, Dr. W. Mitchell Jones. Also present was one individual whom both condemned men had invited as their personal witness, someone each had befriended in his own way over the years leading up to that moment—Truman Capote.
A sudden cloudburst pounded the roof of the wooden building as a vehicle approached the entrance, its headlights piercing the heavy rain. Richard Hickock, handcuffed and trussed in a leather harness embracing his torso, emerged from the vehicle surrounded by several guards.
The warden recited the death warrant and Hickock mounted the scaffold. The executioner placed a hood over his head while the chaplain intoned a prayer. Then, as another heavy shower of rain pummeled the wooden roof, the hangman sprang the trap door. All eyes below followed Hickock's body as it plunged down through the opening. He was dead in twenty minutes.
A hearse removed Hickock's body as a second car pulled up behind it. Shackled and harnessed as his partner was, Perry Smith exited the car, his jaws working a spent stick of chewing gum. His expressionless eyes peered first around the dark warehouse, then up at the waiting noose and the gaunt man who would place it around his neck, and finally down to the assembled group.
The warden repeated the reading of the warrant, and before the executioner placed the hood over his head, Smith spat out the gum into the chaplain's outstretched hand. The noose was fastened around his neck and he took his last breath. [Excerpted from And Every Word Is True.]
The Events and Circumstances Underlying Truman Capote’s "In Cold Blood"
On November 16, 1959, a young writer in Brooklyn named Truman Capote was reading The New York Times when the headline of a brief article on page 39 caught his eye: "WEALTHY FARMER, 3 OF FAMILY SLAIN: H. W. Clutter, Wife and 2 Children Are Found Shot in Kansas Home."
Capote, who at the time was enjoying fame as a minor literary figure after publishing Breakfast at Tiffany's a year earlier, had been experimenting with a novelistic style of nonfiction for The New Yorker magazine, but had yet to find a subject of "sufficient proportions" that appealed to him. The murder of a Kansas farm family—its "ordinariness," and its impact on a local community frightened and bewildered by the crimes—provided the fresh perspective he sought in his writing, magnified by a completely foreign setting, for Capote had never set foot in the Midwest and knew little about it.
Thus began the work that would largely define Capote's life and, to some extent, his reputation after death 25 years later. Serialized in four consecutive issues of The New Yorker magazine beginning September 25, 1965, In Cold Blood was a huge sensation, selling out all copies published. By January 1966, the critical reviews were so strong that the initial print run of some 240,000 hardcover copies flew off the shelves. Since then, the book has never been out of print, having sold millions of copies. Even today it is required reading in countless high schools throughout the world and is used as case study material for college-level courses in fields such as law, criminology, and sociology. In Cold Blood is commonly ranked among the Top 100 best American books of all time in countless surveys (categorized as either fiction or nonfiction). As author Ralph Voss has noted, "In Cold Blood's ongoing relevance stems from its unmatched role as a touchstone for enduring issues of truth, exploitation, victimization, and the power of narrative."
American journalism at the time was in its nascent stage of becoming "mass media," nothing at all like today's ubiquitous news coverage. By 1960 only 40% of homes had a television, and those offered at most twelve channels whose broadcasts ended at midnight (to various renditions of "The Star-Spangled Banner," while an American flag fluttered on the screen). By and large, radio and newspapers were the primary ways Americans learned what was happening in the world. Mass murders were virtually unheard of. The only notorious modern crime preceding the Clutter atrocity was a two-state murder spree carried out in December 1957 and January 1958 by 19-year old Charlie Starkweather and his 14-year old girlfriend Caril Ann Fugate. The two teenagers drove through Nebraska and Wyoming, claiming eleven lives in their murderous rampage. For the first time in the early television era a serial killer was at large, and residents of surrounding states were terrified. Adding to the dread was the random nature of the victims, with no common denominator. Anyone could be next.
That same pervasive fear dominated much of the news following the brutal Clutter family killings, even in The New York Times, which is how Truman Capote learned of it. It is no exaggeration to say that the murder of the Clutters—an archetypal, God-fearing family in the Heartland—deeply affected millions of Americans who, before that dark moment in 1959, had no reason to lock their doors at night.
In view of the KBI's full-throated embrace and deference to In Cold Blood as conforming to the bureau's own official account, a critical examination of the errors and omissions in the KBI's investigation of the Clutter murders is, by necessity, a critique of Capote's work. Consequently, it seems important for the reader of this work to have, close at hand, a summary of the Clutter murders and the ensuing KBI investigation that is consistent with Capote's story.
As you read this summary, two things should be kept in mind. First, it does not come close to, nor attempt to replicate, the indelible images, haunting prose, and genre-defining heft of In Cold Blood, which should be read in its entirety, in Capote's own words. Secondly, aspects of Capote's account differ significantly with the new evidence and hypotheses to which you will be introduced later in this book. Indeed, we have seen these new disclosures take people's breath away simply at the mere possibility of them, especially since most readers of In Cold Blood have accepted its conclusions as fact. Accordingly, you are advised to read the following as a primer, suspending for now a reflexive acceptance of the enduring mythology that has formed around the KBI-sanctioned account.
[Excerpted from And Every Word Is True]
Nye receives a call from KBI Director Logan Sanford ("LHS) at 7:00 p.m., arriving at Garden City at 1:00 a.m. the next day. He finds four victims identified as:
Herb Clutter, White Male, Age 48 Bonnie Clutter, White Female, Age 45 Nancy Clutter, White Female, Age 16 Kenyon Clutter, White Male, Age 15
Others on the scene are the county coroner, Dr. Robert Fenton, and County Attorney Duane West.
Scene of the Crime
From 11:00 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. the forensics team dusted for fingerprints, producing the following:
✥ A partial palm from the footboard of the bed where Mrs Clutter was found.
✥ A partial palm from the top of the work bench 6 feet east of the couch where Kenyon was found
✥ A partial 3 finger print on top of bench 20 feet east of couch where Kenyon was found.
✥ Another print from front lip of bench along west wall & about 6 feet north of couch.
Nye interviewed Mrs William P. Rapp not far from the Clutter farm. She reported seeing one car around 11:30 p.m. Saturday night… it went by slow, but she just heard it on the road, didn't see it.
About a week ago a semi-truck stopped ("man and large woman" inside) and asked for Herb Clutter in the daytime; had a load of seed from town.
Two weeks earlier a boy and girl drove onto the pasture, in a car with a Rice County plate, looking for the highway.
Herb had no trouble; "nothing heard on keeping money." He was well-liked and taught Sunday school.
Though never before revealed, this is believed to be the first observation of Perry Smith and Richard Hickock following the murders within mere hours after they were committed. Cimarron is just a 45-minute drive from Holcomb, and was a town the killers are believed to have passed through on their way back home in Olathe.
Having stopped by the Western Café while on duty, Night Marshal Fred Voelker seated himself at a booth and, as can be seen in Nye's notes, observed people with the kind of specific details only a seasoned lawman could make.
The three "subjects" were surely unusual enough for him to remember such thorough descriptions. By this time, of course, the Clutter family's bodies would not be found for another six hours or so.
Based on unpublished letters that were written by Hickock to Wichita Eagle reporter Starling Mack Nations while Hickock was on Death Row (for a book Nations would write on Hickock's life), the third person is believed to be a man by the name of "Roberts," with whom Hickok had apparently planned to meet after leaving the Clutter's home.
Excerpts of sections taken from various pages of Hickock's letters appear on the next page, with relevant handwritten portions highlighted. Note that Hickock boasts, “… I am going to kill a person. Maybe more than one…” His specificity here is both curious and telling. "I am going to kill a person" clearly demonstrates a premeditated act involving one individual—in his letters Hickock implies Herbert Clutter was that individual.
More significantly, note also that Hickock says it was almost 2:00 a.m. and their meeting with "Roberts" was about an hour away; that they "didn't want to miss that. Five thousand bucks is a lot of dough."
Was a third person involved? The evidence is compelling.
If it were not for Garden City Assistant Chief of Police Richard Rohleder and his practiced eye for detail, there would be scant evidence tying Smith and Hickock to the crimes. Rohleder was on the scene early, taking photographs of the house, the victims, and the awful spectacle in the basement where Herb Clutter's throat had been viciously slashed, leaving a wide pool of blood on the concrete floor—through which Perry Smith had walked wearing engineer's boots with the distinctive Cat's Paw sole.
The Bloody Bootprint
Notebook to View
On November 9, 1959, just a week before they were murdered, Nancy and Kenyon Clutter hosted a party in the family's basement recreation room for many of their high school friends; consequently, fingerprints were found everywhere.
To eliminate them from criminal evidence, fingerprint and palm print samples of everyone were sent to the FBI's lab for analysis, plus those of other civilians who had been in the home around that time, as well as all investigators who worked the crime scene.
Dusting for Fingerprints
Newfound evidence reveals
Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood"
is not the end of the story.
The information contained in this publication includes the historical record as originally documented by KBI Special Agent Harold R. Nye in his personal notebooks of 1959 and 1960, in addition to other written or photographic materials as they relate to the Clutter murder investigation.
Additional commentary provided herein reflects the views or opinions of the author and other individuals at time of publication. Every attempt has been made to substantiate the information in this book. However, the author makes no warranty about the accuracy of the information contained in this publication, and accepts no responsibility for errors or exclusions that may be contained herein.
Every effort has been made to determine legitimate ownership of all copyrighted material, including photographic images for which copyright protection has expired or was never registered. The author and publisher regret any inadvertent errors and offer to make corrections in future printings.
Kansas Lawmen Leading the Investigation
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