Holcomb and Wakefield: A Few Final Notes

By Ralph Hipp  After flags in Kansas flew at half-staff for a week and a half, former Governor Bill Avery was laid to rest last Saturday, November 14th in Wakefield, Kansas.  He was 98 years old.

Turn the clock back 50 years ago last Saturday to a restaurant in Olathe, Kansas.  That's where Truman Capote writes in his classic "In Cold Blood" that killers Richard Hickock and Perry Smith ate a huge meal on that Saturday, November 14th, while poring over maps of Mexico planning what to do with the money from "their big score.." the killings of the Clutter family in Holcomb.  On that same night a half century earlier, the two drove to Finney County to commit their crime.  The Kansas governor who refused to grant Hickock and Smith their final reprieve and set the stage for their hanging.. was Bill Avery.

The head of the slain family, Herbert Clutter.. and William Avery.. were the same age, both born in 1911.  The insurance agent who signed a huge life insurance policy for Herb Clutter on November 14, 1959, proclaimed Clutter as being incredibly hearty and fit for a 48 year old man.  He was strong, and big shouldered, with white teeth from eating apples all the time, and no stimulants, no alcohol or tobacco.  If he hadn't been killed down in the basement of their house at River Valley Farm, barring cancer or some other illness, there's little doubt Clutter could have also lived as long as Bill Avery, to a ripe old age of 98.

After his graduation from the University of Kansas, Bill Avery was set on coming back to his hometown of Wakefield.  His love was continuing to run the family horse and livestock farm.  But his law degree from KU steered him to the statehouse and Congress, before being elected to his one term as governor.  Herbert Clutter was a K-State Wildcat through and through, graduating and putting down roots away from his hometown, going to Holcomb to build his enormous spread of land, and working his way to the top of the Farm Credit Board.  (His slain daughter, Nancy, also had her heart set on going to Kansas State after graduating from high school.)  Clutter was well connected in Kansas, and easily considered an up-and-comer in Washington as a man who could have become a prominent voice for farmers in our nation's capital.

If you believe that the departed get together up there in heaven, imagine Avery and Clutter meeting up talking with each other.  If the Clutters asked Avery "did you find the two men who killed us?  Was justice done?.."  the late Governor Bill Avery is probably telling them he made sure justice was done, that a famous book was written about them, many people around the world have read about them, and Kansans still remember them.     Ralph 

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