Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood” is sometimes called the first “non-fiction novel.” The book documents the 1959 murders of four members of the Clutter family in Holcomb in southwest Kansas. The two men ultimately captured and executed for the crimes play a major role in the book and in the 1967 film adaptation. Although these brutal crimes took place over 350 miles away from the area, one man’s connection to Edgerton thrust Johnson County into the spotlight.
Richard Eugene “Dick” Hickock was born in Kansas City, Kansas in 1931. His parents relocated their family to rural Edgerton in 1945 to get away from city life. Edgerton’s residents learned early on that young Dick Hickock was a charming con man who was not to be trusted. Although he was a popular athlete at Edgerton Rural High School, Hickock had a reputation for stealing money and goods from local residents and businesses. After graduating from high school, Hickock worked as a mechanic in a local shop with his father.
Hickock had run-ins with the law throughout the 1950s until he was sent to the state penitentiary in Lansing in 1958 for theft. There he befriended a fellow petty thief named Perry Smith. Both men were released from prison only months before they committed the murders that made them household names. Hickock and Smith were arrested in Las Vegas on December 30, 1959, six weeks after the murders in Holcomb. The men were tried, found guilty, and executed at Lansing in 1965. Truman Capote’s book detailing the case was a huge hit, and plans for a film version of “In Cold Blood” developed quickly.
Director Richard Brooks wanted “In Cold Blood” to be accurate, and he filmed at the actual locations when possible. When parts of the film were shot in Johnson County in March 1967, Brooks was initially turned away by the Humphrey family, who owned the Hickock’s land near 207th Street and Spoon Creek Road near Edgerton. They changed their minds after Brooks offered them money to shoot on the property. The Hickock family home and Dick’s 1949 Chevy appear in the film. Some residents were not happy with the Hollywood presence, and the Humphreys received hateful letters in the mail. Ray Braun’s gas station in Edgerton was also used for filming. Braun was paid $50 per day. When the production moved southwest to Holcomb, Brooks filmed in the actual house where the Clutter murders occurred.
The film version of “In Cold Blood” debuted in December 1967 to rave reviews. The film is regarded as a classic, and the story of the Dick Hickock, Perry Smith and the Clutter family murders continues to garner interest locally and nationally.
– Matt Gilligan, Johnson County Museum