The daily Nebraskan. ([Lincoln, Neb.) 1901-current, November 15, 1972, Image 1

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Wednesday, november 15, 1972
lincoln, nebraska vol. 96, no. 42
'In Cold Blood Kansas town still remembers
Editor's Note: Thirteen years ago today, the
bodies of four slain members of a Kansas farm family
were discovered in Hoi comb, Kan. When the killings
were described by Truman Capote in his book "In
Cold Blood," Hocomb became a center of national
attention. (The movie version of the story will be
shown Thursday at 8 p.m. on channels 6 and 10.)
What happens to a Kansas village that is the scene of
perhaps the most-publicized murders of the 20th
century? A University of Nebraska-Lincoln School of
Journalism senior visited Hocomb recently to find
out. The author is from Ames, Iowa.
By Jim Pratt
UNL School of Journalism
Holcomb, Kan. -A harsh north wind whips dust
through Holcomb, battering a few worndown stucco
dwellings before losing itself in the western Kansas
plains. Ponies tied to fence posts shake their manes in
the wind and a dog lopes down a deserted dirt street.
Holcomb is a quiet town. Discounting the Mobil
Curiosity-seekers still stop to
view the house near town where
the Clutters were slain.
gas station (3.2 beer, soda pop, a few groceries) the
only gathering place with refreshments is El Rancho
Cafe, and in an adjacent room, a bar named
Something Else.
Holcomb's few streets, mostly unpaved, often are
Thirteen years ago today, however, the streets
were jammed with cars belonging to law enforcement
people, ambulance attendants and the curious. For
Holcomb had just been stunned by four murders.
Subsequent reverberations would make the town
known to millions.
It was early Sunday morning, Nov. 15, 1959, when
Herb Clutter, 48, his wife, Bonnie, 45, and their two
youngest children, Nancy, 16, and Kenyon, 15, were
blasted point-blank with a shotgun by two
ex-convicts with no previous records of violence. The
motive was robbery.
The murders shocked the town. Herb Clutter was a
prominent farmer, and he and his family were
well-liked. But the' murders probably would have
been forgotten had author Truman Capote not read a
New York Times story about the killings and decided
to use them as a vehicle for his book In Cold Blood.
Capote vent to Holcomb shortly-after the
slayings. He spent nearly a year and a half in the area
doing research. He followed the hunt, capture, trial
and imprisonment of the two killers, Richard
Hickock and Perry Smith, until they were executed
April 14, 1965.
The book inspired a movie, also named In Cold
Blood which was filmed in the town.
For a while after the killings, Holcomb was
gripped by fear, gossip and controversy. But 13 years
has allowed the town to relax and to grow, relatively
unscarred by the experience. The population is up 25
per cent, from about 270 at the time of the slayings
to 340 today. The school has a new addition. There
are new homes, a new water tower, a new post office.
Curiosity seekers still stop to view the house near
town where the Clutters were slain. Once a showcase,
the house now seems weatherbeaten.
Townspeople no longer discuss the murders or the
aftermath. They would like to forget.
"It was such a long time ago that it almost seems
like it never happened," one woman said.
Wilma Kidwell, a vocal music teacher at the
Holcomb school, is one who would like to forget. She
knew the Clutters well, and her daughter, Susan, was
Nancy Clutter's best friend. Susan and another girl
discovered the bodies.
"I don't think there was anyone closer to them
than my daughter and I," Kidwell said. "My daughter
practically lived out there."
Kidwell said her daughter spent the weekend
before the slayings at the Clutter farm.
"I've always been very grateful that it wasn't that
In 1960, Kidwell moved from Holcomb, where she
lived at the time of the slayings, to nearby Garden
"There were just too many memories there' she
said, "It was easier just to go to school and not live
with the whole situation."
'They thought it was too bad that
people were morbid enough to make
money over such a situation, and
that's what this film was for, to make
money, as was the book."
But the memories linger.
She still gets letters-some addressed to her
daughter-from all over the country asking questions
about the book and their experiences. She said she
does not send them on to her daughter, who is
married and a commercial artist in New York,
because "she wants to forget." Nor does she answer
Memories come in other ways.
'The other day," she said, "a girl in junior high
came to me and said, 'Mrs. Kidwell, are you the
person mentioned in that book?' And I said yes.
'Well,' she said, 'I'm just now reading the book, and I
couldn't believe it.'
"So this is a whole new generation practically
coming in now, you see, and they're just reading the
Many townspeople objected to the
movie because Herb Clutter had
been widely respected and they felt
there was something unpleasant
about making a film of the tragedy.
book to get the particulars because we just don't talk
about it much anymore."
Kidwell said she doesn't think all the publicity
after.the murders has affected Holcomb much.
"I think people just took it in stride, and they're
all so busy with their own problems and making a
living," she said, "there isn't much spoken anymore."
For a time, though, many townspeople were
unhappy about Capote's book, she said. "They didn't
like it at all because they thought it should be
allowed to quiet down."
"People were very indignant out there," Kidwell
remembers. "You didn't discuss it much. If you did,
you got into an argument. So I just kept still. And my
daughter didn't talk about it, period, because it was
just too close to her."
Kidwell has a hard-cover copy of In Cold Blood
with a short statement of affection written in small,
unassuming letters and signed "Truman."
"He was so nice to Susan and me," she said. "He's
a very fine gentleman, very, very intelligent."
"I'll never forget vhen he came into school the
first time. He's a funny looking creature. He had on a
Russian-type fur hat and a long coat with a V-shaped
fur collar-it was very cold-and he's short and his
voice is so nasal and high. I couldn't figure out at first
whether he was a man or a woman."
She said she found the book almost perfectly
accurate. Except for one thing the ending.
"At one time when he was here," she said, "he was
just frantic. He couldn't get the ending."
Capote finally decided on a scene in which Susan
and the detective who investigated the murders talk
while visiting the Clutter graves.
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