14 April 1965 – Richard Hickock and Perry Smith
And had it not been for a fellow felon, they may even have got away with their crimes.
Nobody likes a grass, unless, of course, you have crucial info that can solve a murder mystery case.
That’s the position Floyd Wells found himself in. His evidence was make or break for a fellow criminal, so it should have been a tough decision. Until you realise that crim was Richard Hickock (pictured on the right) – one half of the deadly duo who went on to inspire Truman Capote.
The other was Perry Smith (pictured on the left for those of you lacking in the power of deduction), and together they murdered an entire family of four, all for around $10 dollars per head.
You see Hickock shared a cell with Wells and it was there that he gleaned all the information about the Clutter family – their victim. Wells had worked for them and misled Hickock into thinking they had a safe on the premises, which housed thousands of dollars.
Of course the lure of a hefty wad of cash was too much for the criminal to pass up. He roped in fellow prisoner Smith and together they concocted their murderous plans.
Smith had also done time and no wonder. His was a sad life. Having been born to two rodeo riders, his dad bashed his alcoholic mum about, as well as Smith and his siblings. The parents soon split and Smith’s mum died of her drink problem leaving him to the mercy of a Catholic orphanage. Needless to say the young Smith was mercilessly beaten after he started bed-wetting.
And it was during this time that Perry’s first dice with death took place when a caretaker apparently tried to drown him. His next encounter was later in life. Following a stint in the army, he was discharged only to have a life-threatening crash on his motorbike that left his legs permanently crippled.
Yet, that didn’t stop him committing crimes and he didn’t take much persuading to raid the Clutters home, especially when he heard there were bags of cash to be had.
The two men planned the robbery while inside down to the minutiae and when they were freed their meticulous methodology kicked in.
But there was one thing they hadn’t betted on – there being no safe. So what was there left to do but senselessly slaughter the entire family. Herbert Clutter was found with his head blown open and his throat cut. His wife and two kids were similarly found gagged and shot.
There were no clues for the police to go on though and Hickock and Smith may even have got away with it had it not been for Wells. And you’re probably wondering why Wells decided to break the criminal code and grass up his fellow inmates. Well, a nice little sweetener in the shape of $1,000 may have had something to do with it.
Once they were on death row, Truman Capote came on the scene in search of fodder for his novel. Smith’s story was prime material and there is even a small group out there who reckons Capote and Smith had something deeper going.
We’ll never know for sure though as all the key players are dead. As Smith and Hickock were sentenced to death, the duo just laughed ‘No chicken-hearted jurors, they’, quipped Smith.
They were hanged on 14 April 1965, Smith aged 36 and Hickock aged 33, and Capote died in 1984 (of a liver disease). But their legacy lives on in the part-fiction novel ‘In Cold Blood’ which is largely based on the infamous pair’s story. This was put to film several times, with the first in 1967, followed by 1996 and most recently in 2006 with ‘Infamous’, starring Daniel Craig as Smith.