On December 19, 1959, the entire Walker family was brutally murdered in their home in Osprey, Florida. Twenty-four-year-old Christine Walker was raped before being shot to death, while Christine’s husband Cliff, 25, and their children, three-year-old Jimmie and one-year-old Debbie, were all shot to death.
Clues found during the investigation included a bloody cowboy boot and a fingerprint on the handle of the bathtub faucet. Despite these clues, and despite upward of 500 suspects over the years, the case could not be solved.
In 2010, however, over 50 years after the crime, the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office took another crack at the Walker family murders case. Authorities acted on a lead that connected the 1959 murder of the Walker family with an earlier—and much more famous—crime: the slaying of the Clutter family, the very case that inspired Truman Capote’s groundbreaking book, .
About a month before the Walker family slaying occurred, the Clutters were killed in their Holcomb, Kansas home by Perry Smith and Richard “Dick” Hickock. The Clutter case bore eerie similarities to the Walker case: both were quadruple homicides, with both parents and two children slaughtered (the Clutter’s other children escaped the violence because they were not home at the time).
After killing the Clutter family, Hickock and Smith fled to Florida in a stolen car, where they bought items from a department store in Sarasota, just a few miles away from the Walker home, on the very day that the Walkers were killed. According to the sheriff’s department, the Walkers had been considering buying a car of the exact make and model that Hickock and Smith had stolen. This might have been how the two men gained access to the Walker home: on the pretense of selling their car.
Hickock and Smith confessed to the murders of the Clutter family, for which they were hanged in April of 1965. Authorities suspected the pair of murdering the Walkers as well, but could never secure a charge after Hickock and Smith were cleared by the results of a polygraph test. Truman Capote devoted several pages of In Cold Blood to the murder of the Walkers, but ultimately, concluded that Hickock and Smith couldn’t have been the killers, as they had alibis.
Despite what Capote asserted at the time, subsequent investigations have since revealed holes in Hickock and Smith’s alibis, and some experts have asserted that polygraph tests of the era were notoriously unreliable.
In December of 2012, the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Department requested a court order to exhume the bodies of Hickock and Smith, in order to run DNA tests in an attempt to connect them to the Walker family murders. The bodies were exhumed on December 18, 2012, but it wasn’t until August of 2013 that results were officially announced.
Unfortunately, the results proved inconclusive. Due to the passage of time, only partial samples could be retrieved from the bodies, and these could not be matched to samples taken from the Walker home. Despite this, many still believe that Hickock and Smith are the most likely suspects in the slaying.
With Hickock and Smith long dead and now reburied, though, it’s likely their connection to the Walker murders will remain strictly hypothetical.