ABOVE: Beverly Clutter poses with Pi Sigma Gamma science club (1959) (Scanned image).
November 15, 2019 marks the 60th anniversary of when the Clutter Family was murdered in Holcomb, Kansas. What many do not know is how Southwestern and Winfield have an extensive tie to the murders.
The Clutter family was a family of six: Herbert, Bonnie, Nancy, and Kenyon. Eveanna and Beverly had already moved out by the time of the murders. The family was murdered by two ex-convicts, Richard Eugene “Dick” Hickock and Perry Edward Smith.
Hickock and Smith heard from a cell mate that the family stored large amounts of cash in a safe which they planned to steal.
On the night of November 14th, 1959, the two men entered the home to find that there was not a safe. They bound and gagged the family, not finding much more than $50 and a radio in the house. On the morning of the 15th, Hickock murdered all four of the Clutters “In cold blood.”
Carl Martin, former president of Southwestern College and class of 1962, and his family were very good friends of the Clutters. Carl’s father, Ora Marting, was very close to Herbert Clutter, “Lifetime acquittances,” recalls Carl.
Martin and Beverly were very close as well, staying in touch to this day. Beverly graduated in the Class of 1961, so they were only a year apart.
Southwestern’s 1959 fall homecoming was the week of the murders; many families were in town, including Martins Parents. Martin can remember the time when Beverly found out about her family.
It was the morning of the 15th, they were attending service at the Grace United Methodist Church. A phone rang, which was unusual at the time, “who would think of calling in the middle of church,” said Martin. He saw an usher take the phone call, then his parents followed, then Beverly.
His mother, father, and sister proceeded to take Beverly home to Holcomb that day while he stayed.
When the Garden City Police found out about the murders and were gathering information, one of their goals was to find out where the other two children were. They found out that Beverly was in Winfield for homecoming because of her boyfriend and future husband Veer English. They got in touch with Winfield Police so they could find her.
The pastor who conducted the funeral at Garden City Methodist Church, Leonard Cowan, was also a graduate of Southwestern College in the class of 1937
Years later Beverly and Veer’s two daughters, Joline and Darla, both attended and graduated in the classes of 1987 and 1990.
In Cold Blood, written by Truman Capote, was based off the Clutter Murders and the two men that killed them.
“Capote exploited the situation, and in many cases misrepresented the whole story,” said Martin.
Holcomb was a quiet town before the murders. At that time there was only a school, a grocery store, a gas station; it was a very small town. Capote’s book had a very large impact on the town which then was followed by the movie.
There was a sense of vulnerability, people went from having an easy-going rural life to suddenly being reminded how vulnerable they were. That feeling was intensified by the craziness of Smith and Hickock.
Michelle Boucher, associate professor of English, has used In Cold Blood in her classes for many years.
One of the reasons Boucher used the book in her class was to give students a realization that it can happen to you. “One of the most famous murders happened right in our backyard,” said Boucher.
Boucher was hired in 1992 by Carl Martin; it was his 4th year as president.
While teaching the book she had Martin come in and speak to her students about his stories. She also had her classes compare the book to real life articles at the time. One realization that her students came to was that Capote, while telling the truth, took out things to make it a narrative.
Capote exploited the situation to create a story, a story that many people found to be bent.
These are just a few ties of many that connected the Clutter murders to Southwestern. There still are many connections that stand to be uncovered.