One of the most puzzling true crime stories has to be the horrifying tale of the Clutter family murders in Holcomb, Kansas in 1959. On Nov. 18 and 19 at 9 p.m. ET, SundanceTV will premiere a two-night, four-hour limited series based on the famous case called, Cold Blooded: The Clutter Family Murders. This particular case, along with Truman Capote's controversial account of it for his book In Cold Blood, has been credited (like in this Newsweek article) with starting the true crime genre and fascination. So, viewers will want to tune in for SundanceTV's take on the events.
True crime has certainly had somewhat of a resurgence recently, with docuseries' popping up everywhere you turn about every infamous case you could imagine. But, initially, the true crime medium of choice wasn't documentaries and television series and podcasts, it was in print. True crime books are where it all began, with some authors even taking the steps to interview those closest to the case. This genre brought interested readers into the thick of it, suddenly becoming privy to interviews with the victim(s), witnesses, and even hearing from the perpetrators in some instances. And, it was the Clutter family murder case that really had people taking a deep dive into the world of the horrifically unthinkable.
As this particularly infamous 1959 case goes, per New York Daily News, two recently released prisoners Richard “Dick” Hickock and Perry Smith broke into Bonnie and Herbert Clutter's home one night. Herbert was a highly-respected farmer in Holcomb, and Hickock and Smith had reportedly been informed by a fellow inmate, who had worked for the Clutters' successful farm at one point, that the family allegedly kept a safe that contained a lot of money in their home. Hickock and Smith searched the Clutter home for cash and turned up only roughly $50 on the premises, per an IndieWire article about the docuseries.
As Cold Blooded reveals, Hickock and Smith then turned on the family. Bonnie, along with her children Nancy and Kenyon, were bound and gagged before each being executed with a shotgun. Herbert, also bound and gagged, was brought down to the basement by his killers, where his throat was slit and he was shot in the head. Per the Los Angeles Times, Hickock and Smith were convicted for the crimes and were sentenced to be executed by hanging. They sat on death row for five years before their sentence was carried out at Kansas State Penitentiary.
Per Newsweek, Capote ended up visiting the town with his friend, novelist Harper Lee, and spent the next six years writing In Cold Blood, which remains the second best-selling true crime novel in history and was published shortly after Smith's and Hickock's executions.
As Cold Blooded: The Clutter Family Murders explores, the crime shocked the town of Holcomb, where, by all accounts, the Clutters were a well-respected and beloved part of the community. What likely scared people the most, and what probably draws true crime fans to this case even today, is the fact that it could have happened to anyone, anywhere. After all, the idea of strangers breaking into your home in the middle of the night is one of most nightmarish scenarios to imagine.
With director Joe Berlinger at the helm, Cold Blooded: The Clutter Family Murders takes fans deep into the case. True crime enthusiasts will know Berlinger as one of behind the Paradise Lost trilogy of documentaries. Berlinger has a way of getting the story from the point of view of those closest to the case and Cold Blooded is no different. Beginning with a background of the Clutter family and crescendoing with a search for a motive, this series features interviews with family, members of the community, and law enforcement officials that were first on the scene that tragic day in 1959.
In 2017, with a new true crime series popping up every week, it'll be interesting to take a new look at the case that really started it all. Tune in to Cold Blooded: The Clutter Family Murders on SundanceTV Nov. 18 and 19 at 9 p.m. ET to follow this decades-old case that is no less interesting now.