In Cold Blood Family Breaks Their Silence: Why They're Speaking Out Now About Infamous Slayings
Unhappy with Truman Capote's book and the legacy it left behind, the Clutter family for decades remained silent about the killings — until now
Long before Making a Murderer or Serial captivated audiences, there was In Cold Blood — Truman Capote’s non-fiction account of a Kansas family’s brutal farmhouse slaying in 1959, which gripped the nation and shattered its sense of security.
Capote’s 1966 book was a bestseller, garnering acclaim for its author and shining a spotlight on killers Perry Smith and Richard Hickock, who bound and shot four members of the Clutter family at their Holcomb, Kansas, home in November 1959.
Only the Clutters’ eldest daughters, Beverly and Eveanna, survived as they were staying elsewhere at the time.
Smith and Hickock were later convicted and put to death for the slayings, which they committed in the mistaken belief the family had thousands of dollars stashed in a safe. In reality, they left the house after the murders with binoculars, a radio and just $50 — and the bodies of their victims still inside.
Amid the fanfare and dizzying success of Capote’s book, which was quickly adapted into a 1967 film, surviving members of the Clutter family felt that the loved ones they lost that night — Herbert Clutter, his wife, Bonnie Mae, their 16-year-old daughter, Nancy, and 15-year-old son Kenyon — were secondary to the story of their deaths and were not accurately portrayed.
Though they were unhappy with the book and the legacy it left behind, the family for decades remained silent about the killings. Until now.
Several relatives will speak for the first time in SundanceTV’s Cold Blooded: The Clutter Family Murders, a two-part documentary airing Saturday and Sunday as part of the network’s “True Crime Weekend” marathon.
“With this project, we felt like it was the right time and the right venue as a documentary to get the true story out about who Herbert, Bonnie, Nancy and Kenyon Clutter were as people — not just how they died,” the Clutters’ granddaughter, who asked not to be identified, tells PEOPLE exclusively.
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Directed by Oscar-nominated filmmaker Joe Berlinger, the four-hour docuseries features new information about the case, never-before-seen footage and photographs and, for the first time ever, on-camera interviews with Clutter family members.
“Grandpa accomplished a lot of things in his 48 years. But think of all the things he didn’t get to do and that we lost out on,” the granddaughter told Berlinger during filming.
“And so, where other people profited monetarily from the crime, we lost,” she said. “The family has not profited from the book or movies and would have never taken any money if it was offered.”
The Family Today
During his time with the family, Berlinger says, he learned they are “terrific people who don’t understand why this story continues to fascinate people.”
Respecting the family’s desire for privacy, he declined to share details about the two surviving sisters or their children.
“I think they would rather the whole thing go away,” he tells PEOPLE, “but this is an opportunity to set the record straight about who this family is.”
The two sisters, the Clutter granddaughter told Berlinger, dealt with the killings and its aftermath “with their faith and family and the close friends that supported them — but mainly their faith: knowing that it doesn’t end here, that they’re going to see them again.”
The granddaughter told Berlinger her family today is tight-knit, brought closer together by the tragedy nearly 60 years ago.
“What happened caused us to focus even more on the strength and support of the family and help one another,” she said. “There is a very strong bond of care and love between our family members.”
Her mother, one of the surviving daughters, cherishes time with her children as a result of what she endured, she said:
“She wants to be as close with us and in touch as possible. I feel like part of that is because she doesn’t want to lose people.”
The granddaughter said they make a point of keeping Clutter family traditions alive — especially during the holidays. “One of the letters that we have is from Grandma Bonnie, who wrote to her mother after Christmas, especially about the traditions of Christmas Eve, which we’ve kept and passed down and keeps going even today.”
Cold Blooded: The Clutter Family Murders will air Saturday and Sunday (9 p.m. ET) on SundanceTV.