“In Cold Blood” got closer to “Cold Case” Tuesday as officials from the Kansas Bureau of Investigation and a sheriff’s office in Florida exhumed the bodies of two murderers buried in Lansing’s Mount Muncie Cemetery.
Richard Hickock and Perry Smith were convicted in the 1959 murder of Herb, Bonnie, Nancy and Kenyon Clutter in Holcomb, Kan., a case that became the basis of Truman Capote’s 1966 book “In Cold Blood.” They have been buried next to each other in an inconspicuous plot in Section 34 of Mount Muncie since they were hanged to death in 1965 at Lansing Correctional Facility.
Gene Kirby, Mount Muncie’s manager, said the graves have attracted their share of attention over the years.
“We’ve had a lot of people ask where they are,” he said, increasingly at times when “In Cold Blood” reenters the public consciousness.
Since December, those modest markers been attracting new attention. According to KBI Deputy Director Kyle Smith, his department served a search warrant that exhumed the two bodies following conversations with officials at the Sarasota County, Fla., Sheriff’s Office, who are looking at the possibility Hickock and Smith were also responsible for the murder of the Walker family Dec. 19, 1959, on the family’s ranch in Osprey, near Sarasota.
Accounts of the Walker murder indicate Christine was first raped, then beaten and shot. Her husband Cliff was murdered next, followed by the couple’s children and their two children, ages 3 and 2.
Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office records indicate Hickock and Smith had been considered suspects in the murder since 1960, having been seen in Florida about a dozen times around the time of the killings and having purchased items at a Sarasota department store the same day the Walker family was murdered.
Smith said the reason for Tuesday’s exhumation was to use technology not available at the time to take DNA samples from the bones of the two men to be analyzed and possibly matched to traces of hair, semen, blood or skin found on the victims’ bodies.
“We’re not sure how effective it’s going to be,” Smith said.
It’s not just the age that makes the prospects of finding a match less than a certainty, he said — viable DNA samples have been taken from Egyptian mummies, giving investigators some hope.
“It can be there, it just depends on whether they’ve been properly preserved,” Smith said.
Kirby said investigators were cooperative and that the exhumation caused little disruption for the cemetery, mostly because there were no funerals scheduled for the day. But he said officials did have to close the cemetery gates for about four hours during the exhumation and as a result turned several visitors away.
“We’re very sorry about that,” he said. “But we really didn’t have any choice in the matter since this was being treated as a criminal investigation. Once we got treated with a search warrant, we were no longer in charge.”
Page 2 of 2 - Leavenworth County Attorney Todd Thompson said his office had helped process the warrant, getting it to Judge Gunnar Sundby’s desk for approval. He said he was at the exhumation as a representative of Leavenworth County in addition to someone interested in getting a first-hand look at a less-than-common practice of the justice system.
“It’s history,” he said of watching the process surrounding the duo made infamous by “In Cold Blood.” “The book had made it a world-famous murder case and it would be great to be able to bring some closure to the family in Sarasota.”
Smith said when and if that closure comes remains to be seen. He hesitated to give a timeline for when the results of the KBI’s analysis would be ready.
“In an ideal situation, it would take a couple of weeks, but we’re far from ideal,” he said. “We have a lot of demands on our forensic laboratory, particularly in cases where we have live defendants and court settings and speedy trial issues. This is not going to be our highest priority, but we’re going to try to get to it just so we can help the family.”