Perry Smith (murderer)

Perry Smith (murderer)

subject_name = Perry Edward Smith

image_size = 180px
image_caption = Perry Smith in 1960 mugshot
date_of_birth = birth date|1928|10|28|mf=y
place_of_birth = Huntington, Elko County, Nevada
date_of_death = death date and age|1965|4|14|1928|10|28|mf=y
place_of_death = Lansing, Kansas
charge = Murder
penalty = Death by hanging
status = Deceased
occupation = Criminal, seaman, soldier, car painter
parents = Flo Buckskin and "Tex" John Smith
children =

Perry Edward Smith (October 27 1928April 14 1965) was one of two ex-convicts who murdered four members of the Clutter family in Holcomb, Kansas, United States on November 15, 1959. The crime was made famous by Truman Capote in his 1966 non-fiction novel "In Cold Blood". [,9171,899952,00.html Anatomy of a Murder, Time Magazine, Dec. 22, 1967] ] Capote, Truman. "In Cold Blood". New York: Random House, 1965.]

Family and early life

Perry Smith was born in Huntington, Nevada.Rocha, Guy. [ "In Cold Blood: The Nevada Connection"] . Nevada State Archives and Library. September 2007.] His parents, Flo Buckskin and "Tex" John Smith, were rodeo performers. Smith was of mixed Irish and Cherokee ancestry (from his father's and mother's side, respectively). The family moved to Juneau, Alaska the following year, where the elder Smith distilled bootleg whisky for a living. Smith's father abused his wife and four children; in 1935, his wife left him, taking the children with her, and moved to San Francisco. Smith initially lived with his alcoholic mother, who died before he reached adulthood. He afterward lived in a Catholic orphanage, where nuns allegedly abused him physically and emotionally for his life-long problem of chronic bed wetting. He then lived in a Salvation Army orphanage, where one of the caretakers allegedly tried to drown him. In his teens, Smith lived an itinerant existence with his father and briefly joined a street gang. He also spent time in a number of detention homes, until he was returned to his father.

Two of Smith's siblings committed suicide as young adults, and the remaining sister cut off contact with him. [ [ "In Cold Blood: A Legacy"] . Lawrence Journal World.]

Military service and a life-altering experience

At 16, Smith joined the United States Merchant Marine. He joined the Army in 1948, where he served in the Korean War.Keglovits, Sally J. [ "In Cold Blood Revisited: A Look Back at an American Crime"] . US June 2004. Accessed: 2008-02-02.] During his stint in the Army, Smith would spend weeks at a time in the stockade for public carousing and fighting with Korean civilians and other soldiers. In spite of his record, in 1952, Smith received an honorable discharge and mustered out at Fort Lewis, Washington. He stayed for a while in the Tacoma, Washington area, finding work as a car painter. With one of his first paychecks, Smith purchased a motorcycle for transportation and used it to race other cyclists. It was during one of these races that he lost control of the bike at top speed and collided head-on with an automobile. Smith nearly died in the accident and spent six months in a Washington hospital. Because of the crushing injuries to both legs, Smith's legs were permanently disabled and he suffered chronic pain for the rest of his life. To help control the pain he was known to consume a copious amount of aspirin.

The murders and life on death row

Perry Smith and Richard Hickock first met in prison, and resumed their acquaintance after Hickock's release in November 1959. Both Hickock and Smith later testified that the former had gotten the idea to rob the Clutters after hearing from his cellmate that there was a safe in the family's house containing $10,000. When they broke into the house, however, they found that there was no such safe.

Smith and Hickock were captured in Las Vegas, Nevada in January 1960.

Smith admitted to cutting the throat of the father, Herbert Clutter, and to shooting both Herbert and Kenyon Clutter in the head with a shotgun at close range. The trial record shows a dispute as to which of the two shot the women, Bonnie Clutter and Nancy Clutter. Alvin Dewey, the chief investigator of the Clutter family massacre, testified in court that Hickock insisted in his confession that Smith performed all the killings, while Smith first claimed Hickock killed the women, but later claimed to have shot them himself. Although Smith's revised confession coincided with Hickock's initial statement, Smith refused to testify in court (Hickock did the same) leading to a lack of an official record of who killed the women aside from Kansas Bureau of Investigation (KBI) Special Agent Alvin Dewey's testimony outlining Hickock's confession and Smith's confession and its subsequent revision.

While Smith had only a grade-school education, he maintained a strong interest in art, literature and music. He read extensively, and during his time on death row, wrote poems and painted pictures for other inmates from photos of their family members. [Bruntz, Michael. [ "Witness to execution"] . Lawrence Journal-World. 5 April 2005.]

Relationship with Truman Capote

During research for his novel "In Cold Blood", Truman Capote extensively interviewed Smith and eventually befriended him. [Adam, Suzanna. [ "Death penalty: Kansans continue to debate capital punishment decades later"] . Lawrence Journal-World. 6 April 2005.] There have long been rumors and conjecture as to the exact nature of their relationship. While Capote never wrote anything to suggest that theirs was anything more than a platonic friendship, some accounts have suggested perhaps a stronger association having developed.Pela, Robert L. [ "Truman Capote: In Which Various Friends, Enemies, Acquaintances, and Detractors Recall His Turbulent Career. - book reviews"] . The Advocate. 23 Dec 1997. at Find Articles.]


Perry Smith and Dick Hickock were executed by hanging on April 14, 1965. Warden Greg Seamon presided over the convicted murderers' hangings in Lansing, Kansas.

Film portrayals

Smith was portrayed by Robert Blake in the 1967 film version of "In Cold Blood", [imdb title|id=0061809|title=In Cold Blood] Eric Roberts in the 1996 miniseries adaptation of the original film, [imdb title|id=0116619|title=In Cold Blood - TV] Clifton Collins Jr. in 2005's "Capote" [imdb title|id=0379725|title=Capote] and Daniel Craig in 2006's "Infamous". [imdb title|id=0420609|title=Infamous]


External links

* [ In Cold Blood: A Legacy, Lawrence Journal-World, Lawrence, Kansas, April 3-6, 2005]
* [ Crime library article]

NAME= Smith, Perry Edward
SHORT DESCRIPTION= Criminal, seaman, soldier.
DATE OF BIRTH= October 27 1928
PLACE OF BIRTH= Huntington, Nevada
DATE OF DEATH= April 14 1965

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