Corbin H. Crable
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Whatever Capote’s book may have lacked in the killers’ background and interviews with friends and family, it made up for in recreating the scene of the crime and its aftermath. Capote graphically describes the position in which each Clutter family member had been found, including the placement of their bodies and a ghastly theory by law enforcement officials that the killers actually made Herb Clutter bind and gag his own wife, daughter and son before being killed himself. It was said that Bonnie Clutter, the last family member to die, had been found with her eyes open and her hands in front of her, positioned as if in prayer.
Capote’s book also recreates the tension felt among Holcomb residents, who, after the murders, began locking their doors and looking over their shoulders at people who once were friends but now were suspects. Even to the most hardened Holcombites, there was a pervading sense of fear in a community otherwise known as being a safe haven for good families.
“When your time comes, it comes. And tears won’t save you,” Capote quotes Holcomb’s postmistress as saying to a coworker. “If there’s somebody loose around here who wants to cut my throat, I wish him luck. What difference does it make? It’s all the same in eternity.”
Regardless of what Holcomb and Garden City residents thought, however, Brooks and crew rolled into Edgerton in March 1967 – and almost didn’t have access to the Hickock family’s property, where they wished to film.
Johnson County Sheriff’s Deputy Lee Tye escorted Brooks to the property and said they were met with plenty of resistance by the woman who now owned the land – at first, that is.
“The Hickocks’ house was probably two blocks away from the road,” Tye said. “A woman there screamed at them for trespassing.”
That didn’t last long, Tye said. Brooks handed over a check to the woman, paying for the use of her land. After that, she was only too happy to oblige, he said, adding he did not know how much the woman had been paid.
Besides several KU drama students, who had snagged roles in the film, Brooks brought with him the two men who portrayed Smith and Hickock. Newcomer Scott Wilson played Hickock, while veteran actor Robert Blake stepped into the role of Smith.
Blake, already known to fans of “Our Gang,” bore an eerie resemblance to the person he played onscreen – much more so than Wilson. Like Smith, Blake’s thick black hair, greased with pomade, complemented his olive-colored skin.
And while on the set of the film, Edgerton residents found themselves peppered with questions from Blake regarding Smith’s traits and mannerisms – including his awkward gait.
“He’d walk around and ask, ‘Is this how Perry Smith walked?’” Braun recalled, amused by the fact that Blake did not realize Edgerton residents were all too familiar with Hickock, but not with Smith, who was unknown to them.
Tye said although Edgerton residents clamored to get a glimpse of Blake, he recalled little about Wilson. Even in death, as in life, Hickock himself played second fiddle to Smith, whose presence overshadowed all with whom he came in contact.
“The guy who played Hickock was nice,” Tye said.
(To be continued)