On a cold mid-November night in 1959, this unassuming farmhouse in rural Kansas was the location of the brutal murders of 4 members of the Clutter family.
The case – and the house – became infamous after flamboyant American writer Truman Capote took an interest in the homicides and decided to visit the small town where the crime took place in Holcomb, Kansas.
Capote was so taken with the murders that he embarked on a 6 year-long journey of chronicling the story and the capture, prosecution, & execution of the perpetrators Richard “Dick” Hickock and Perry Edward Smith.
Capote’s odyssey resulted in his opus magnum: In Cold Blood, which later became a major motion picture in 1967.
The house at the center of it all sits at the end of Oak Avenue on 7 acres of pastoral farmland.
The original farmstead was called “River Valley Farm” and locals still refer to the property as such. The current 2-story farmhouse was built in 1948 for $40,000 by Herb Clutter in order to house his family of six.
If you haven’t read the book or seen the original movie about the Clutter murders (or the more recent 2005 Hollywood film Capote), let me fill you in on the crime.
Two criminally-minded drifters heard rumors that Herb Clutter was a wealthy farmer who kept $10,000 hidden inside his house outside rural Holcomb. On the night of November 14, 1959, they broke into the family home with the intent of robbing the family.
When they did not find the money, the pair became enraged and ended up shooting/slashing Herb Clutter, his wife Bonnie, and their 2 youngest children Nancy, 16, and Kenyon, 15. (Two older daughters were already grown and out of the house.)
The Clutter family victims:
1959 crime scene photo:
Six weeks after the heinous murders of the Clutter family, Dick Hickock and Perry Smith were arrested – thanks to a jailhouse snitch. After five years of trials and appeals, they were both hanged on April 14, 1965.
Once Truman Capote’s book was released the following January, the town of Holcomb – and particularly the Clutter farm – became the focal point of widespread fascination with the crime. The 1967 film adaptation In Cold Blood was actually filmed on location in Holcomb and inside the actual house on Oak Avenue where the murders took place.
The house was sold in 1964 to a divorced cattle rancher named Bob Byrd. Byrd, however, traveled frequently to tend to his ranches and was hardly ever at the Clutter house. He was the one who rented out the house to the film crew for the 1967 movie. Tragically, Bob Byrd committed suicide after 20 years of owning the property – though not inside the house.
In 1990, Leonard and Donna Mader purchased the house from two of Bob Byrd’s relatives who lived there for a time after his suicide. The Maders were long-time Holcomb residents already familiar with the Clutter house, having visited there numerous times.
In 2006 the house went up for sale – actually, it went up for auction. But it failed to get an adequate minimum bid and was subsequently taken off the market. Presumably it is still owned by the Mader family.
Here are some interior photos from when the house was listed in 2006:
Above is the kitchen with original cabinets designed by Herb Clutter himself.
Below: the ominous steps to the basement where Mr. Clutter was shot and killed:
1959 crime scene photo of the basement:
(Don’t worry – I didn’t use any dead body pictures in this post.)
The upstairs hallway:
The master bedroom where Mrs. Clutter was found dead:
That same bedroom in 1959 after her body had been removed:
Another upstairs bedroom:
Truman Capote posed here for a magazine article promoting his book in 1967:
The current owners of the Clutter murder scene house have been pestered by morbid lookiloos since they first bought the house over 2 decades ago.
At one point in the early 1990’s they were so frustrated with all the unwanted visitors, that they decided to open the house up for tours and charge people a $5 fee so that they could have some monetary compensation for their troubles. The house tours, however, were short-lived because the Mader family grew weary of having to keep their home in show-ready “museum” condition. (Ugh, I know the feeling!) Plus, relatives of the deceased accused the Maders of trying to profit from the tragedy.
Rumors persist that the house is haunted by the ghost of Nancy Clutter – the pretty teenage daughter of Herb Clutter – whose apparition is said to walk the house at night. But this claim is probably more of an internet fabrication than a true tale since the current owners claim no paranormal activity takes place there.
Today, the entrance to the property on Oak Avenue is guarded by large “No Trespassing” and “Private Drive” signs.
But people still show up at the end of the lane to take pictures and gawk at the house where 4 members of the Clutter family were killed in cold blood.
Truman Capote’s non-fiction book In Cold Blood, went on the become one of the best-selling true crime novels of all time.
Sadly, Capote became so obsessed with the case that he descended into severe depression and alcoholism and never again published another full-length book. He died in 1984 from liver cancer.
No happy endings in this one folks.
***Please note that the former Clutter house on Oak Avenue is a privately owned residence. Please respect the right to privacy of the current occupants of the house.
[A special thank you to Deanne for requesting this post!]