The crime was made famous by Truman Capote in his 1966 book In Cold Blood.
At the time of the murders, Hickock and Smith were on parole from the Kansas State Penitentiary. One of their former fellow prisoners was Floyd Wells, who had worked as a farmhand for Mr. Clutter. Wells told Hickock about a safe at the farmhouse where Herb Clutter kept large amounts of cash. Hickock soon hatched the idea to commit the robbery, leave no witnesses, and start a new life in Mexico with the cash. According to Capote, Hickock described his plan as "a cinch, the perfect score." Hickock later contacted Smith, his former cellmate, about committing the robbery with him. The information from Wells proved to be false, since Herb Clutter did not keep cash on hand, had no safe, and did all his business by check, to keep better track of transactions.
After driving across the state of Kansas on November 14, 1959, Hickock and Smith located the Clutter home and entered while the family slept. After they roused the family and discovered that there was no money to be found, Smith, notoriously unstable and prone to violent acts in fits of rage, slit Herb Clutter's throat, and then shot him in the head. Capote writes that Smith recounted later, "I didn't want to harm the man. I thought he was a very nice gentleman. Soft spoken. I thought so right up to the moment I cut his throat." Kenyon, then Nancy, and then Bonnie were murdered, each by a single shotgun blast to the head.
Herbert Clutter was 48 years old at the time of his death. His wife, Bonnie Mae, was 45. Their daughter, Nancy Mae, was 16, and her brother Kenyon Neal Clutter was 15.
Smith claimed in his oral confession that Hickock murdered the two women. When asked to sign his confession, however, Smith refused. According to Capote, he wanted to accept responsibility for all four killings because, he said, he was "sorry for Dick's mother." Smith added, "She's a real sweet person." Hickock always maintained that Smith committed all four killings.
On the basis of a tip from Wells, who contacted the prison warden after hearing of the murders, Hickock and Smith were identified as suspects and arrested in Las Vegas on December 30, 1959. They pleaded temporary insanity at the trial, but local GPs evaluated the accused and pronounced them sane.
After five years on death row, Smith and Hickock were executed by hanging just after midnight on April 14, 1965, in Lansing, Kansas, at the Kansas State Penitentiary (now known as Lansing Correctional Facility). The gallows from which they were hanged now forms part of the collections of the Kansas State Historical Society.
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