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This Chilling Documentary About the Real-Life Clutter Murders Will Make Your Blood Run Cold

True crime documentary "Cold Blooded" revisits the murder case that inspired Truman Capote’s "In Cold Blood."

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  • Photo Credit: Sundance

The Clutter family murders of 1959 cast a long shadow across American culture. Much of this is due to Truman Capote’s groundbreaking book on the crime, In Cold Blood, published in 1966. Yet, while a number of books and films focus on Capote and the making of his book, far fewer take an in-depth look at the murder case itself.

That is, until now. 

Cold Blooded: The Clutter Murders is a fascinating, four-hour docuseries about the quadruple Clutter family murders in Holcomb, Kansas. It’s available on Sundance Now—and Sundance Now is offering a 30-day free trial, just for our readers to watch the series. Use special offer code 'LINEUPCB' to start your free trial    

Produced and directed by Joe Berlinger, the filmmaker behind the Paradise Lost trilogy on the West Memphis Three, Cold Blooded retraces the details of the Clutter case through first-person accounts from law enforcement officials, family friends, and surviving Clutter family members—some of whom are speaking to the public for the first time. Diana Edwards, a niece of the Clutters, was just a teenager at the time of the murders. Addressing her family’s decision to stay silent for all these years, she says, “Nobody talked about it. It was too painful ... It was unspeakable.”

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  • The Clutter family

    Photo Credit: Sundance

The Clutters were prominent members of their small town community. Herbert Clutter, the family patriarch, was a successful farmer. He and his family were active in the Methodist church and welcomed friends and neighbors into their home for social gatherings. Like other families in Holcomb, they left their doors unlocked at night.

But in the early morning hours of November 15, 1959, darkness arrived at their doorstep. Richard Eugene Hickock and Perry Edward Smith entered the Clutter home, armed with cord and a shotgun. The two ex-convicts were in search of Herbert Clutter’s rumored safe stuffed with cash, a tip Hickock received while behind bars. Upon realizing that no such safe existed, Hickock and Smith decided the family had to go.

Herbert Clutter, his wife Bonnie, and their two teenaged children Nancy and Kenyon were murdered that morning. Cold Blooded expertly combines archival footage, dramatic recreations, and audio recordings of Hickock's interrogation to illustrate the brutality of the slayings—and the shockwaves these slayings sent across the country as authorities searched for the killers. 

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  • Perry Edward Smith (left) and Richard Eugene Hickock (right)

    Photo Credit: Sundance

Viewers looking for a detailed recreation of the Clutter investigation will certainly find it in Cold Blooded. Yet the docuseries shines brightest as an exploration of the human lives at the heart of this now-legendary case.

In one scene, Diana Edwards searches through a box of Clutter family photos and reads from a letter written by her cousin Nancy. Later, Diana recalls the day of the Clutter funeral, remembering she dressed in the same brown suit and dress shoes from her school’s homecoming game. A former prison guard ruminates on the relationship he had with convicted killers Perry and Hickock, finding moments of levity prior to their executions. Don Cullivan, Perry Smith’s former army buddy, recalls with horror the way in which Smith coldly described the murders, and the quiet goodbye he shared with Smith moments after the killer was sentenced to death.  

Cold Blooded is a heartfelt portrait of one of America’s most notorious murder cases, exploring not just the crime itself, but the lives that it impacted and the culture it transformed. Readers can sign up and start binge-watching now. Use special offer code 'LINEUPCB' to score your 30-day free trial to Sundance Now, and start watching tonight!

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All stills from "Cold Blooded" via Sundance