- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 4, 2012

OSPREY, Fla. — At the end of 1959, two families of four — one in Kansas, the other in Florida — were brutally murdered.

Two men were arrested, charged and executed in the Kansas case, and writer Truman Capote captured the horrific tale in his famous crime novel, “In Cold Blood.”

The Florida murder of two parents and two children was investigated by dozens of detectives over the years, but it remained unsolved. Now, a detective is trying to prove that the men who were executed in Kansas were also responsible for the Florida slayings.

“It’s like putting together a jigsaw puzzle,” said Sarasota County Sheriff’s Detective Kimberly McGath, who began in 2007 to again investigate the murders of Cliff and Christine Walker and their two young children.

Ms. McGath said evidence points to the two men who are now in a Kansas cemetery for executed prisoners: Perry Smith and Richard Hickock.

DNA recovered from semen found on Christine Walker’s underwear could be compared to the remains of Smith and Hickock, said Ms. McGath. She is working with Kansas authorities to petition a judge there to approve exhuming the bodies of the two men.

Linking long-dead killers to unsolved homicides is becoming more common.

Authorities hope to find DNA matches from blood, semen, hair or skin under victims’ fingernails that link the long-dead killers to the coldest of cold cases. And they want investigators in other states to follow suit and submit the DNA of their own executed inmates or from decades-old crime scenes.

Kansas officials said this week they have talked with Florida detectives and would continue to help if the Florida detectives file an exhumation petition in court.

Hickock and Smith are buried on a gently sloping hill at the Mount Muncie Cemetery in Lansing, where Kansas interred its executed criminals when their families didn’t claim the bodies.

The possibility that the pair was involved in the Florida murders has been considered since 1960, according to records released by the Sarasota sheriff’s office.

After Smith and Hickock killed the Clutter family in Holcomb, Kan., on Nov. 15, 1959, they fled to Florida in a stolen car. They were spotted at least a dozen times from Tallahassee to Miami and points in between. On Dec. 18, the two men checked into a Miami Beach motel and checked out the next day.

The Walker family, who lived in the small community of Osprey on a ranch some four hours northwest of Miami near Sarasota, was killed on Dec. 19. Cliff Walker was fatally shot, his wife was beaten, raped and then shot. Three-year-old Jimmie was fatally shot and his 2-year-old sister was shot and drowned in a bathtub.

That same day, the men bought items at a Sarasota department store. On Dec. 21, witnesses say they spoke with Smith and Hickock in Tallahassee.

Ms. McGath said there’s evidence that extends beyond the duo’s road trip. Before their death, the Walkers were considering buying a 1956 Chevrolet Bel Air, which was the kind of car Smith and Hickock had stolen and were driving through Florida.