Holcomb, Kansas, late 1950s. Two vicious punks named Perry Smith and Richard Hickock invaded the farmhouse of the Clutter family. Minutes later, Herb Clutter and his wife, and their son and daughter, lay dead. In April of 1965, both of the murderers would die at the end of righteously-tightened nooses…but it would not bring back the four innocent lives they had extinguished. The killers, motivated by the erroneous belief that the prosperous farmer had a safe full of cash, left the murder scene with approximately forty dollars.
This mass home invasion murder in a rural home was the focus of Truman Capote’s classic book “In Cold Blood.” I read it as a high school kid when it came out in 1965 or ’66, and reread it over the past few weeks. I was reminded of the same stark lessons I’d seen when I first read it.
The Clutter home was not an unarmed household…but the guns weren’t where any of the victims could reach them in time. Capote wrote that the police “found some shotguns in a closet.” They didn’t do much good there when the murderers, armed with a hunting knife and a Savage 12 gauge shotgun one of the parolees had taken without permission from his parents’ home, caught Herb Clutter alone and unarmed and forced him to lead them to the bedrooms where, one by one, they bound and then murdered his wife and his son and his daughter, and Clutter himself.
A gun you can’t reach in an emergency is useless. When I read that book as a high school kid, it struck me that since I had long possessed guns in my bedroom including a loaded Colt .45 automatic, I would have had a lot more options than Clutter’s son did when the homicidal intruders entered his bedroom…and, knowing my dad, in Herb Clutter’s situation my old man’s regularly-carried Colt Cobra .38 revolver would have probably gone into action long before things got even that far.
In a lifetime among cops since, I’ve noted that investigators who piece together the aftermaths of home invasion murders tend to keep their guns on all the time after that, even when off duty in their own house, and keep them by the bed when they go to sleep.
They have learned from the helplessly-murdered dead.
The rest of us can learn from them in turn.
If an intruder’s footsteps sound outside your bedroom right now, how soon will your hand be able to reach something with which you can defend yourself and your loved ones?