Wichita Eagle (newspaper)
November 25, 1996
Thirty-seven years after the murders of a family of four in a quiet Kansas town,
fascination with the case continues.
'In Cold Blood'
Miniseries renews focus on Holcomb
A family of four was killed at this house in Holcomb in 1959. People still
travel to the site of the murders, which Truman Capote wrote about in the book
"In Cold Blood."
By L. Kelly, Jennifer Comes Roy and Michele Chan Santos
Jane LiaKos, a computer operator and the woman who answers the phone
"all the time" in the Holcomb City Building, was hardly surprised to get a call
from a Wichita reporter Friday morning.
She has answered calls from a lot of reporters recently, "mostly from
newspapers questioning how people feel about 'The Movie'."
"The Movie," of course, is "In Cold Blood," the new CBS miniseries that retells
the story of the Clutter murders in 1959. Part one of the movie aired last
night; it concludes Tuesday night.
In the early hours of Nov. 15, 1959, Herbert and Bonnie Clutter and two of their
teenage children were shot to death in their farmhouse on the edge of Holcomb.
Their killers -- Perry Smith and Dick Hickock -- had hoped to find a safe
stuffed with cash in the home. It didn't exist; they ended up taking $43, a pair
of binoculars and a radio.
Thirty-seven years later, Holcomb, a few miles west of Garden City on
Highway U.S. 50, is still best known for the tragedy.
The town -- especially the Clutter home on Oak Avenue -- has been a
tourist attraction for the curious for years. In the past few weeks, as the
miniseries has been advertised by CBS, LiaKos and others have taken a lot of
calls from people asking where the house is.
The residents of Holcomb are more concerned about whether the miniseries "will
be far-fetched or true to life," LiaKos said.
"Interest hasn't died because it happened in such a small town . . . and they
were such a well-liked, common-folk family," she said. In addition to their
daughter Nancy, 16, and son Kenyon, 15, who were killed, the Clutters had two
grown daughters who no longer live in the Holcomb area.
Around town, talk about the case "goes in spells," LiaKos said. Even
without media attention, "about this time of year, it is in the back of peoples'
The remake "bothers some people," she said. "Especially those who lived here at
the time. It brings the memories back.
"To me, it's not a big deal," LiaKos said. "Of course, I didn't know the
Actually, LiaKos said, she hadn't even heard of the murders before
moving from Nebraska to Holcomb about a dozen years ago.
Reading stories about the murders on the 25th anniversary was disturbing, but
not enough to prevent her from staying.
The murders were a long time ago, and are a part of the town's history
that residents have grown to accept.
"Holcomb is small enough, everybody lives near Oak Street . . . within
six or seven blocks, anyway," LiaKos said.
"The trees are still there," she said, referring to a famous scene at
the farm in the 1967 black-and-white film. "Driving down the road at the end of
the lane is just like the movie. It's kind of creepy."
Although Holcomb's population has grown from about 300 in 1959 to nearly 2,000
now, the Clutter house is still isolated, still surrounded by fields.
Back in 1990, the new owners of the Clutter house, Leonard and Donna
Mader, were pestered so frequently by strangers wanting to see the house that
they decided to open it up for $5 tours on weekends.
People came from across the country -- and from several other countries as well.
When news stories started popping up about the tours, the Maders were
criticized for trying to capitalize on a tragedy.
They stopped giving tours shortly after that. And though "a lot of
people come," Leonard Mader said, "We don't let them in the house anymore."
They've gotten used to people pulling into the driveway for a quick peek at the
outside of their house, despite the "No Trespassing" sign.
Mader expects to see a surge in visits from the curious in the wake of
In advance of the remake's television debut, the Maders have been
besieged by calls from reporters.
"CBS called. People magazine called. Everybody in the country called,"
Leonard Mader said. "I've done so many interviews I can't even talk."
Mader said he's gotten used to the attention the house attracts. But
it's still his home. "It's a pretty house, a big house," Mader said. "Everybody
likes the way it's laid out."
Mader also met actor Sam Neill, who plays KBI investigator Alvin Dewey
in the miniseries. Although the miniseries was filmed in Canada, Neill came to
Holcomb for a day and toured the house.
"He was a real nice guy," Mader said.
The real-life Dewey, who died in 1987, was never comfortable with the
attention he received after Truman Capote's book and the 1967 movie highlighted
his role in the killers' capture.
Lanny Grosland, special agent in charge of the Kansas Bureau of
Investigation's Wichita region, took over as head of the KBI's Garden City
office about two years before Dewey retired in 1975.
"The first time I met him was in new agent's school and I couldn't wait to meet
Al Dewey in person," Grosland said. "I was a little disappointed because he was
a little shorter than the guy in the movie."
Dewey's picture and some of the evidence collected by KBI agents in the
Clutter investigation are still prominently displayed at KBI headquarters in
Topeka, he said. Dewey knew the Clutter case was the most notorious he'd worked
on, but he didn't consider it the most difficult, Grosland said.
"He was just kind of an average guy; he always impressed me as being
just a real gentleman, slow-spoken," Grosland said. " . . . He was just an old
Dewey always pointed out that he was just one of four KBI agents
investigating the Clutter murders, and that other law enforcement agencies
played an active part in the investigation.
But as he wrote the book, Capote's focus on Dewey tightened -- probably because
he was in charge of the KBI's Garden City office; probably also because Dewey
knew Herb Clutter.
Capote, who lived in Kansas for six years researching his book, "was a
little strange, even for Wichita, and it goes without saying he was strange for
Garden City," Grosland said. Dewey "took Truman Capote in and treated him nice,
and Capote probably just liked him for that."
Robert Clester, a retired special agent in charge of investigations for the KBI,
worked with Dewey for several years. He agreed that the limelight was not
something that Dewey sought out while involved in the Clutter investigation.
"Mostly, he was wanting just to solve the case, not wanting publicity
for himself," he said. "He had known the Clutters and it became something he
just had to solve."