EHS class gets ‘In Cold Blood’ lowdown
Before the movie, before Truman Capote and before the grisly murder of the Clutter family, Holcomb was just a small town.
In the years following the deaths of the Clutter family and the publication of Capote's "In Cold Blood," which detailed the people and events surrounding the crime, it remained just a small town.
Eudora resident Janet Campbell, who is the director of the Audio-Reader Program and Kansas Public Radio at Kansas University, shared the same interest in the story as two of her Audio-Reader volunteers.
John Drees, a former resident of Holcomb, Don Frey, a former social worker for the Menninger Clinic mental health facility in Topeka, and Campbell visited Jennifer Perez's second-hour sophomore honors English class at Eudora High School Feb. 8 to present their experiences relating to the places and people of the western Kansas town and infamous crime.
Their presentation was part of a unit Perez prepared on "In Cold Blood." The three speakers each talked about their experience with the town and shared yearbook pictures and news articles relating to the event.
"I think it was great because they actually knew the people," student Mariah Webb said.
In 1960, Perry Smith and Richard Hickock were convicted of slaying Hubert and Bonnie Clutter and their two youngest children Kenyon and Nancy.
"They were the world's least likely victims of a horrible crime," Drees said. "Many times tourists would come in and ask us 'Where's the Clutter house?'
"The fact is we really didn't talk about it. This is not talked about."
Drees spent his childhood in Holcomb. He began his presentation by reading how Capote described the setting of the small town. Capote had it right, he said.
"It's really semi-arid. It's almost like a desert," he said after putting the book down.
He agreed with Capote's description of Holcomb as being more Far West than Midwest, he said.
"They have a different kind of concept there," he said. "They talk at the back of their throats a little bit."
Although Drees moved to Holcomb at the end of the 1960s, he saw how the crime affected the small town.
"All the houses were retro-fitted with locks," he said. "It changed the town overnight."
He remembered his family seeing director Richard Brooks' 1967 film version of "In Cold Blood" at a local theater, he said.
"They were scared to death," Drees said.
The film had a similar effect on Campbell.
"I slept on the couch for a month probably," Campbell said.
Frey worked with a group who consulted on the film. He said he attended the premier.
"What impressed me most about the movie was the realness of it," Frey said.
Brooks tried to make the movie as accurate as possible, Frey said. Brooks shot on location in Holcomb using the Clutters' home and, often, their furnishings.
"I think the movie is as true of a picture as we'll ever get of what happened," Frey said.
Frey became involved in the story of crime and punishment as a social worker on a research team led by criminal psychologist Joseph Satten.
Before he knew much about the crime, Frey had a chance to meet Smith and Hickock at Lansing State Prison.
"The name Clutter meant nothing to me," Frey said.
Frey had the opportunity to ask Hickock one question. Looking back, he saw the event as a lost opportunity, Frey said.
"I asked him 'have your parents visited you lately?'" Frey said. "He said 'yes.'"
The eventual execution of Smith and Hickock provided Capote an end for his novel, but for Frey, Campbell and Drees the fascination with "In Cold Blood" continued.
"You can see what a big deal it was when four people were murdered," Campbell said.