Two convicted — and executed — killers are now back on the suspect list for the December 9, 1959, murders of the Walker family of Sarasota, Florida. The two men, Perry Smith and Richard Hickock, were convicted of the notorious November 15, 1959, Kansas Clutter family killings, the inspiration for Truman Capote’s best seller In Cold Blood. Recently released cons Hickock and Smith, who had heard in prison that the well-off Clutter family had a secret cache of money in the house, broke in while the family slept, with a plan to steal the money. When there was no money to be found, the men killed Herb Clutter, his wife Bonnie and their two youngest children, Nancy, 16, and Kenyon, 15, who still lived at home. Herb Clutter’s throat was cut and he was shot in the head, the others were shot, all were bound. Perhaps the killers were venting their frustration and rage on the family, punishing them in their disappointment, or maybe they wanted to silence any witnesses. In any case, they left Kansas and were spotted multiple times in Florida in the two days before the Walker murders. The Walker’s deaths were more violent than the Clutters: Christine Walker was beaten, raped and shot twice in the head, Cliff Walker was shot in the head as he entered the home with the children. Jimmie, 3, was shot three times in the head and Debbie, 2, was shot once and drowned in the bathtub.
At the time Smith and Hickock were both suspects in the Walker murders, but were eliminated after they both passed polygraph tests. Smith and Hickock were arrested for the Clutter murders in Las Vegas on December 30, 1959. A 1959 confession to the Walker murders by California prisoner Emmett Monroe Spencer was discredited in 1962, and Smith and Hickock’s polygraph test results are no longer considered valid by modern standards.
Now Florida law enforcement is preparing to ask a judge to exhume the bodies of Smith and Hickock for DNA testing and comparison to samples of hair and semen found at the scene of the Walker murders. The bodies, however, buried almost 50 years now, may not yield a usable DNA sample. Detective Kim McGath, the lead investigator on the Walker case, told reporters that it is entirely possible to get a usable sample, adding that “It depends on all kind of circumstances. The soil conditions, the weather, what type of casket it is in. We will have no idea until we get out there.”