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The Leavenworth Times - Leavenworth, KS
  • Portraits of the Past: Local connections exist throughout 'In Cold Blood'

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  • Richard Hickcock was a good looking kid who grew up on the north side of Kansas City, Kan., in the Quindaro neighborhood.
    About the time he started high school, his folks moved him to a 44-acre farm just southwest of Olathe, where he attended Rural Edgerton High School.
    While Richard had his problems, he was a popular student. He had above average intelligence and was a tremendous athlete. He was class vice president and one of six students in his graduating class of 1946.
    However, the little problem he had was sticky fingers, like stealing things such as the principal's hand bag and lifting wallets. He showed the boys down at the local pool hall what a pool shark was.
    He got the preacher’s 16-year-old daughter pregnant shortly after graduation and much against the wishes of her father, they got married and moved back to Kansas City, Kan., where they went on to have three little ones.
    Hickock worked for various car dealerships as a mechanic and body man, even opening his own body shop at one point. However, they lived beyond their means and were always hurting for money. It was at that point Richard developed the art of writing bad checks, which landed him in the Kansas State Penitentiary at Lansing.
    His cellmate was Perry Smith, who had a troubled childhood and was in the pen for bank robbery. Perry’s mom and dad rode the rodeo circuit and made moonshine on the side.
    Smith and Hickock became pretty good friends during their time together. However, Smith was paroled and Richard got a new cellmate, Floyd Wells.
    Floyd was an itinerant farm worker and talked non-stop about a fabulously wealthy farmer he once worked for near Holcomb, Kan., Herbert Clutter. Wells claimed the farmer had a safe in his office where he kept lots of cash on hand to pay the hired farmhands.
    Once Hickcock was paroled, he returned to his folks' farm in Johnson County because his wife had divorced him by this time. He wrote letters to his first cellmate, Perry Smith, who was living in Oregon.
    Richard convinced him he knew where they could make a big score and would become fabulously wealthy.
    Smith climbed on a bus and Richard met him at the depot in Olathe and they got a room at the Olathe Hotel, just down the road from the courthouse.
    They made their plans, and just before Thanksgiving 1959, they headed for the Clutter farm near Holcomb in Finney County, Kan., in the sparsely settled windswept plains. They took along a hunting knife and a 12-gauge shotgun.
    A half a day and 400 miles later, their 1949 Chevrolet rolled up to the farmhouse with the headlights off under a bright midnight moon, and the two men entered through an unlocked side door directly into the office where there was supposed to be the safe.
    Page 2 of 2 - They found no safe, but they did find Clutter and his wife in the bedroom, who they forced into the other room along with their two teenage children. They were all four tied up, and when they all denied there ever was a safe with lots of money, Hickock went ballistic.
    In the mindless rampage, Perry Smith casually walked over and slit Herbert Clutter's throat, then finished him off with a blast from the shotgun.
    One by one, they also shot his wife and two kids. The two climbed back into their Chevy and drove back to Johnson County. Thank goodness they were eventually caught and hung by the neck until dead at Lansing.
    This gruesome true story was written into the famous book, “In Cold Blood,” by Truman Capote and later made into a movie.
     
    Information from “In Cold Blood,” by Truman Capote, was used in this column.
    Ted W. Stillwell is available to speak before any club, church, civic, senior, or school group. He can be reached at teddy.stillwell@yahoo.com or (816) 252-9909.

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