Former guard recalls 'In Cold Blood' executions

It's been 50 years since Jerry Collins witnessed the executions of Richard Hickock and Perry Smith.

But the former correctional officer said seeing men hanged is not something he can forget.

"It's as clear in my mind as if it happened last week," Collins said.

Tuesday will mark the 50th anniversary of the executions of Hickock and Smith, the killers profiled in the Truman Capote book "In Cold Blood."

The men were hanged at the Lansing Correctional Facility, which at the time was called the Kansas State Penitentiary. They were executed for the quadruple murder of the Clutter family in 1959 in Holcomb.

The executions occurred shortly after midnight April 14, 1965.

Collins said he remembers the date because his birthday is April 13.

Collins said he wasn't supposed to have been a member of the execution squad that night, but someone called in sick.

"Everybody didn't think this was going to happen," he said of the executions.

He said many had protested the state's last execution because of the mental condition of the man who was put to death.

Collins recalled that Hickock was making jokes the night leading up to his execution, saying he didn't want to have a cigarette because it could cause cancer.

And when it was suggested that night must be the longest in Hickock's life, he quipped that it was the shortest night of his life.

"He just giggled," Collins said.

Hickock also joked that a coin toss to determine which of the two inmates would be executed first was the first thing he'd won in his life.

But at 11:15 p.m., when a harness was placed on Hickock in preparation of his hanging, his faced turned white and he stopped talking, Collins said.

The gallows were set up in a warehouse building at the prison.

Hickock asked a deputy warden if any relatives of the victims were present. He told Kansas Bureau of Investigation agents who were present for the execution that he had no hard feelings because he was being sent to a better place.

Before his execution, Smith said capital punishment is legally and morally wrong. He also said an apology would be meaningless.

Davis Moulden, owner of Davis Funeral Chapel, said he was working for the family-owned funeral home in 1965. He recalls picking up the bodies of Hickock and Smith the night of the executions.

Moulden did not witness the executions but he saw Hickock being transported in a vehicle to the warehouse building where the gallows were located.

At the time, Moulden was waiting in a hearse parked next to a wall on the south side of the prison.

A few minutes later, Moulden heard a loud noise which he believes was the trap door of the gallows.

The bodies of Hickock and Smith were buried at Mount Muncie in Lansing.

Collins said he'd known Hickock and Smith prior to executions because the inmates had been incarcerated at the Lansing prison while on death row. The former correctional officer said he'd had many conversations with the two men.

Collins described Smith as a smooth talker.

"He was always trying to con me," Collins said.

During Collins' conversations with them, Hickock and Smith never seemed remorseful for the killings.

The Capote book was adapted into the 1967 film "In Cold Blood." Some of the scenes were filmed at the prison.

Collins said the actors who portrayed Hickock and Smith looked a lot like the executed inmates. Scott Wilson portrayed Hickock and Robert Blake played Smith.

Collins worked at the prison from 1963 to 1998.

He said two other inmates, George York and James Latham, were executed about six weeks after the deaths of Hickock and Smith. These were the last two executions in Kansas.

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