It’s hard to argue that the late Truman Capote’s most famous work, In Cold Blood, his non-fiction novel about the vicious 1959 murders of a farming family in Kansas by two drifters, Richard Hickock and Perry Smith, was not comprehensive. Yet, was it?
This week the lonely cemetery in Lansing, Kansas, where executed criminals were buried was roped off to the public and to reporters as sextons dug up the bodies of Hickock and Smith.
The exhumation was done at the behest of a Florida prosecutor who believes that after the two men fled to Florida in the weeks after the murders of Herb and Bonnie Clutter and two of their children on 15 November 1959 in Holcomb, Kansas, they ran into and massacred another family of four in the town of Osprey, near Sarasota.
Fifty-three years later, the murders of Cliff and Christine Walker and their two children in Osprey on 19 December that year have never been solved. Some in the community have held on to suspicions that the Kansas men may have been responsible. Only now, however, is the DNA technology available to make it worth digging up their bodies to see if they can at last prove it.
The analysis work, officials warn, may take several weeks. First forensic scientists must attempt to extract DNA from the marrow of the bones retrieved on Tuesday and thereafter they will attempt to match it to semen found on the clothes of Mrs Walker who was raped before she was shot to death.
If a match is found, closure will finally be available to the survivors of the Walkers in Florida. It would also open new literary and cinematic horizons. The sequel to Capote’s book would doubtless be written by someone, and Hollywood would be poised to pounce.
“We can get more decayed samples, and still get matches,” said Kyle Smith, deputy director of the Kansas Bureau of Investigations who oversaw the exhumation. “They could have tried this 20 years ago and maybe used up what biological samples they had and gotten nothing from it.” The bodies are back in the ground and the waiting begins for the Florida prosecutor who hopes finally to close the Walker case, Kimberly McGrath, who also has hairs found at the murder scene.
Capote wrote about the moment his two protagonists saw a story about the Walker killings in a Florida newspaper. “Amazing!” Smith said to Hickock. “Know what? I wouldn’t be surprised if this wasn’t done by a lunatic. Some nut that read about what happened out in Kansas.”