Investigators Exhume 'In Cold Blood' Killers For DNA Link

Originally published on December 26, 2012 11:40 am
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Richard Hickock and Perry Smith were executed for the killing of four members of the Clutter family in Holcomb, Kansas, in 1959. The murder of this Kansas farm family by a couple of drifters who were after a few dollars, was the basis of Truman Capote's best-selling 1966 nonfiction literary work, "In Cold Blood."

This week the bodies of Richard Hickock and Perry Smith were exhumed to collect DNA evidence. Evidence that might also link them to the Walker family murder near Sarasota, Florida that occurred just a month after the Kansas killings. We're joined now from member station KANU in Lawrence, Kansas, by Kyle Smith, who's deputy director of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation.

Mr. Smith, thanks for being with us.

KYLE SMITH: Thank you, sir.

SIMON: Why is it thought Richard Hickock and Perry Smith might be involved in this Florida case?

SMITH: Interestingly enough, there was concern that they might be connected even back in 1960. I've seen a newspaper article where the sheriff in Sarasota was going to contact the KBI, but a polygraph in those early days had cleared them, so they went on to other suspects.

A detective down in Sarasota has been working at what's obviously a very, very cold case. And they think there are enough comparisons that we have a connection here. And with technology allowing us to do DNA, we're going to see if that might solve that last little link to connect the cases.

SIMON: Are there surviving members of the Walker family who would be especially interested in this?

SMITH: There are. And that's obviously the main goal here is to provide some closure to that family. This happened six days before Christmas, and I'm told that it's affected that whole family's view of Christmas and they just don't even celebrate it.

SIMON: Why do you think this case continues to interest people?

SMITH: I think it's because of Capote's book. It obviously was a horrific crime. And multiple homicides in 1959 were fairly rare. But the detail that Capote put into it, the approach where he looked at what the murderers were like, what they were thinking and why they were the way they were. And so I think it really caught the imagination. And it's been part of the United States culture, but absolutely here in Kansas.

SIMON: So years after they were executed for a grisly crime, Richard Hickock and Perry Smith, I guess you don't convict them all over again, but this will add to the biographical knowledge perhaps that we have of their lives and their actions.

SMITH: There is the historical and, I guess, literary interest. But bottom line is that we had four people killed in Florida, Les and Christine, Jimmy and Debbie Walker, and their families have never had closure. And it's been 53 years, but at the same time, if we can finally resolve this matter - and if it's not Hickock and Smith, the authorities can keep looking for other suspects.

SIMON: Kyle Smith is deputy director of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation. Thanks so much for speaking with us, sir.

SMITH: My pleasure, sir. Thank you.

SIMON: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.