Walker family murders
On December 19, 1959, Christine and Cliff Walker, and their two children, were murdered at their home in Osprey, Florida. The case is unsolved as of 2020.
1959 murder case
Authorities believe that 24-year-old Christine Walker arrived at the family's farm home around 4pm on Saturday, December 19, 1959, where she was raped, then murdered by gunshot. Her husband Cliff, 25, then arrived with their 3-year-old son Jimmie and 1-year-old daughter Debbie. Cliff was ambushed and killed by gunshot. Jimmie and Debbie were then murdered. Jimmie was shot, and Debbie was shot in addition to being drowned in the bathtub. The actual cause of death is unknown, and she could have been shot in the bathtub. News stories noted there were gifts around the Christmas tree.
A serial killer named Emmett Monroe Spencer confessed to the murders, but the confession was discredited by Sarasota County Sheriff Ross Boyer, who labeled Spencer a pathological liar. Spencer's confession was "determined to be cleverly constructed from real murders written up in newspapers and true-crime novels that he liked to read." In 1994, a bartender in Stroudsburg claimed that one of her customers had boasted of killing the Walker family; this tip was never verified.
Police never identified a motive, and 587 people were suspects at one time or another. The case remains open.
In 2012, the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office began investigating possible links between the Walker family murders and Perry Smith and Richard "Dick" Hickock, who had been convicted and executed for the 1959 murders of the Clutter family in Holcomb, Kansas. The Clutter murders were the topic of Truman Capote's 1965 best-selling true crime book In Cold Blood. While that book devoted several pages to the Walker case, it dismissed a possible connection to Hickock and Smith, asserting that the two men had an alibi for that day. However, records and witness accounts collected by Kansas and Florida investigators show several factual contradictions in Capote's account.
The Sheriff's Office admitted that Hickock and Smith had been considered suspects as far back as 1960. After killing four members of the Clutter family in Kansas, 34 days before the Walker murders, Smith and Hickock fled to Florida in a stolen car, and were spotted at least a dozen times between Tallahassee and Miami. The pair checked into a Miami Beach motel, about four hours from Osprey, and checked out on the morning of the Walker murders. At some point that day, Smith and Hickock bought items at a Sarasota department store, just a few miles from the Walker home. One witness said that the taller of the two men "had a scratched-up face." The pair was arrested in Las Vegas, Nevada, on December 30, 1959, for the Clutter murders, and were executed by hanging on April 14, 1965. While a polygraph test appeared to clear them of the Walker murders, at least one expert has asserted that polygraph machines of the early 1960s were notoriously inaccurate.
According to Sheriff's records, the Walkers had been considering buying a 1956 Chevrolet Bel Air, the same kind of stolen car that Smith and Hickock were driving through Florida. It is therefore believed that Smith and Hickock may have gained entry to the Walker home on the pretense of selling their car.
In December 2012, Sarasota County investigators announced they were seeking an order to exhume Smith's and Hickock's bodies from Mount Muncie Cemetery, in the hopes that mitochondrial DNA extracted from their bones could be matched to semen found at the Walker home. Hickock's and Smith's bodies were exhumed and DNA extracted. Kansas authorities stated that they would process the DNA samples with active cases taking higher priority, and that results would take "weeks or months."
In August 2013, the Sarasota County Sheriff's office announced they were unable to find a match between the DNA of either Perry Smith or Richard Hickock with the samples in the Walker family murder. Only partial DNA could be retrieved, possibly due to degradations of the DNA samples over the decades or contamination in storage, making the outcome one of uncertainty (neither proving nor disproving the involvement of Smith and Hickock). Consequently, investigators have stated that Smith and Hickock still remain the most viable suspects. However, based on the personal items that were stolen, Katherine Ramsland, of the University of Pennsylvania, finds Smith and Hickock unlikely and instead suspects that the killer knew at least one member of the Walker family. The Walkers' marriage certificate, which was reported stolen, had turned up among items recently given to Cliff Walker's niece by a relative.
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- Doig, Matthew (December 18, 2005). "The Walker Murders Unsolved". Sarasota Herald Tribune. Retrieved December 11, 2012.
- Hunter, JT (September 1, 2016). In Colder Blood. RJ Parker Publishing.
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- "An Enduring Mystery". Sarasota Herald Tribune. December 18, 2005. Retrieved September 30, 2010.
- Tamara Lush and John Hanna (December 5, 2012). "Did 'In Cold Blood' murderers kill Florida family, too?". Mercury News. Retrieved December 11, 2012.
- McFarland, Shannon (December 2, 2012). "Did 'In Cold Blood' killers murder Sarasota's Walker family in '59?". Herald Tribune. Retrieved December 13, 2012.
- "Walker Slaying Confession Discredited by Sheriff". Sarasota Herald Tribune. December 3, 1962. Retrieved December 11, 2012.
- Doig, Matthew (April 6, 2008). "The murderous journey from lies to prison and redemption". Herald Tribune. Retrieved December 12, 2012.
- Jordan, Tracy (March 18, 2011). "Cold case: Stroudsburg bartender may hold key to unsolved Florida murders". The Morning Call. Retrieved December 11, 2012.
- McFarland, Shannon (December 9, 2012). "Walker investigation shows parts of 'In Cold Blood' don't add up". Herald Tribune. Retrieved December 13, 2012.
- Newcomb, Alyssa (December 3, 2012). "DNA From 'In Cold Blood' Killers Could Solve 1959 Florida Cold Case". ABC News. Retrieved December 11, 2012.
- Germano, Sarah (February 8, 2013). "Did the Clutter Murderers Kill Again?". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved February 13, 2013.
- Koehn, Donna (August 13, 2013). "No DNA link between Walker murders, 'In Cold Blood' killers". Herald Tribune. Retrieved September 30, 2013.