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Hanging of 'In Cold Blood' killers marks 50th anniversary

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Written by TIM HRENCHIR, The Topeka Capital-Journal   
Monday, 13 April 2015 12:45
Truman Capote's 'In Cold Blood' is the second biggest selling true crime book in publishing history, behind Vincent Bugliosi's 1974 book 'Helter Skelter' on the Manson murders. Image courtesy of archive and Dreweatts & Bloomsbury.

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) – Authorities gathered in the musty, bleakly lit warehouse that housed the gallows at Lansing State Penitentiary to execute convicted murderers Dick Hickock and Perry Smith during the early morning hours of April 14, 1965.

Prison officials decided to hold a coin toss and hang the winner first, Jerry Collins, a corrections officer at the time, said in a 1996 interview with The Topeka Capital-Journal.

Collins recalled that Hickock won the toss and said: “Well, I'll be damned. That's the first thing I've ever won in my life.”

Tuesday marks the 50th anniversary of the executions of Hickock and Smith, whose murders of the Herb Clutter family were the subject of Truman Capote's celebrated 1966 true crime novel, In Cold Blood, The Capital-Journal reported.

Hickock, 33, and Smith, 36, were the next-to-last people to die on the Lansing gallows, which were used for the final time in June 1965 to hang convicted murderers James Latham and George York.

Today, those gallows – now dismantled – are kept in storage at the Kansas State Historical Museum in Topeka.

The gallows were transferred to the Kansas State Historical Society after the state stopped using them, said Bobbi Athon, public information officer for the museum.

They were disassembled for storage because of their size, Athon added.

“There is still a great sensitivity to the case for Kansans, so we have no immediate plans to display them,” she said.= Hickock and Smith were executed for the 1959 murders of 48-year-old Herbert Clutter and his wife, Bonnie Clutter, 45; their daughter, Nancy Clutter, 16; and their son, Kenyon Clutter, 15. The Clutters lived near Holcomb, a quiet community of less than 300 people about seven miles west of Garden City in Finney County. Herb Clutter was a well-to-do wheat farmer.

Hickock and Smith had met in the penitentiary at Lansing, where they were cellmates. Smith was serving time for breaking and entering while Hickock was behind bars for fraud and writing bad checks.

After Smith was paroled, Hickock became cellmates with Floyd Wells, a convicted thief who had once worked for Clutter. Wells told Hickock that Clutter kept a safe in his office at his home. Hickock told Wells he planned to rob and murder the Clutters.

After Hickock was paroled to live with his parents at Olathe, he and Smith made the roughly 400-mile drive to the Clutter home, arriving during the early morning hours of Nov. 15, 1959.

They entered through an unlocked door. Finding little money, they tied up and gagged the Clutter family, then killed them with shotgun blasts to the head at short range.

Hickock and Smith fled to Mexico after the robbery, which authorities said netted them less than $50 cash, a pair of binoculars and a portable radio. They returned in December 1959 to the United States.

Capote – already a celebrated novelist – read about the unsolved murders in the New York Times. He traveled to Garden City and began to research the case accompanied by his childhood friend, Harper Lee, whose novel To Kill a Mockingbird would win the 1961 Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

Meanwhile, Wells had told the Kansas Bureau of Investigation about Hickock's plan to rob and murder the Clutters.

Hickock and Smith were arrested in Las Vegas on Dec. 30, 1959, and Smith confessed to the killings while being driven back to Kansas.

Smith initially told investigators he and Hickock shot two family members each, then changed his story to say he personally shot all four.

A Finney County jury in March 1960 deliberated 40 minutes before finding Hickock and Smith both guilty of four counts of murder. The men were sentenced to hang, and spent more than five years on death row as their court-appointed attorneys pursued appeals.

Authorities allowed visits to Hickock and Smith from Capote, who produced a best-selling and critically acclaimed book that's considered among the most important works of American literature.

On the final evening of their lives, Hickock and Smith ordered a last meal of spiced shrimp as a main dish with ice cream and strawberry shortcake for dessert, the Topeka Daily Capital reported.

Later, Hickock's arms were strapped tightly to his torso as he entered the warehouse among a small group of men. He joked around with the others before walking the 13 steps to the top of the gallows.

The Daily Capital quoted Hickock as saying: “I don't have any hard feelings. You're sending me to a better place.”

The trap sprung under Hickock at 12:19 a.m. The attending physician pronounced him dead 22 minutes later.

Smith went next. The Daily Capital reported he said: “I think it's a hell of a thing that a life has to be taken in this manner. I think capital punishment is legally and morally wrong.”

Smith was hanged at 1:07 a.m. and pronounced dead 12 minutes later.

The men were buried side by side at Mount Muncie Cemetery in Lansing. Capote paid for small headstones to be placed on their graves.

The bodies were exhumed in December 2012 to carry out DNA testing to try to determine whether Hickock and Smith committed the unsolved December 1959 killings of Cliff Walker, 25, and his wife, Christine Walker, 24, along with their two small children. Each was shot at their home in Osprey, Fla., south of Sarasota. The youngest child also was drowned.

Hickock and Smith had initially taken a lie detector test, which investigators concluded cleared them of the Walker killings, but a polygraph expert in 1987 declared that such tests were worthless in the 1960s.

Christine Walker also had been raped, so Florida investigators sought to compare a DNA profile from (filtered word) on her clothing to the DNA profiles taken from the remains of Hickock and Smith. But authorities subsequently said the DNA testing proved inconclusive as to whether they were involved.


Information from: The Topeka (Kan.) Capital-Journal,

Copyright 2015, Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

AP-WF-04-12-15 1629GMT

Last Updated on Monday, 13 April 2015 13:13

‘Birds of Paradise’ reveals NY women’s everyday styles

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Written by CAMILLE DAVIS, Auction Central News International   
Monday, 13 April 2015 09:49
Gallery owner Nyssa Frank and a friend. Images by Lee O'Connor Photograpy

NEW YORK – In a small art gallery on one of the last slushy nights in East Williamsburg, among a swarm of black skinny jeans, leather jackets and those ubiquitous Rachel Comey boots, one woman was dressed entirely in red: a red patterned silk kimono over a red lace dress, complete with a red leather fringed purse that had a vaguely Southwestern feel. But what stood out the most was the zigzag of ruby-hued gems down the middle of her forehead. Smaller, clear crystal stones arched over her eyebrows, and a smattering of more rubies framed her eyes. She wore these jewels like I wore my jeans.

Stella Rose St. Clair, a fashion designer, is featured in O’Connor’s book.

It had been a long time since I had seen a look that I had never seen before – between the bottomless world of Instagram, the runway-ready street style blogs and the New York City subways, the unique starts to all look the same and inspiration rarely shines among all of the blending in. But this was brand new.

Christiana is a musician.

Her name was Nyssa Frank, and she was one of the women featured in the gallery’s show, celebrating the launch of photographer Lee O’Connor’s book, Birds of Paradise.

Ingrid is a librarian.

O’Connor spent three years photographing the women she spotted in her north Brooklyn neighborhood, enticed by their colorful ensembles. What’s most striking about her portraits are not the women’s incredible outfits, but their strong presence. Her work does what most fashion photography does not – it shows the women who wear the clothes, not the clothes the women wear. Some are defiant, some are shy, others are happy and absolutely everything in between, but all are entirely themselves.

Doll is a filmmaker.

O’Connor’s own love of unique style begin with her mother, an actress who taught her daughter that you got dressed up everyday, regardless of what you were doing. All of the women Lee photographed are all entrepreneurs of some sort – whether filmmakers, artists, designers, photographers, gallery owners or musicians – and I realized that Lee’s lively portraits redefined her mother’s credo: dress as yourself every day, and you can create a life that you love.

Adia is a creative director.

As the night went on, more of these featured women trickled in and all were as striking as Nyssa yet entirely different – their vibrant colors, eclectic patterns and inventive makeup were more contagious than any editorial in Vogue. They drank beers, chatted with their friends and excitedly posed in front of their portraits.

These women aren’t only birds of paradise, they’re birds of our world and that’s what makes them so special, because we can be one too.

Veronika, a writer, is pictured at left with photographer Lee O'Connor at right.

For more information about Lee O’Connor photography and to order her book 32-page softbound book Birds of Paradise log on to

Last Updated on Monday, 13 April 2015 14:11

Books: Roaring 20s live on in New York's secret speakeasies

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Written by Outside Media Source   
Wednesday, 11 March 2015 09:23
Image courtesy of the publisher NEW YORK - Down dark alleys, hidden behind boarded-up shops or anonymous doors, are New York’s biggest secrets: the raucous, cocktail-swigging speakeasies that are still in operation 80 years after Prohibition ended.

Some are original – relics from the Jazz Age, restored to their former glory – while others have meticulously recreated the Prohibition era with antique fittings, gin in teacups, and a Boardwalk Empire aesthetic of bartenders in vests mixing cocktails in subterranean pleasure palaces.

Former national newspaper journalist Boo Paterson has written a new e-book, The Greatest Speakeasies in New York City, to give travelers an insight into these hidden gems, as well as specific instructions on how to find their entrances.

Paterson explains: “Most speaks are hidden behind a ‘front’ that is only recognizable to those in the know. There is one that is hidden behind a false wall in a telephone booth in a real hot-dog shop, another disguised as a psychic’s establishment, complete with palm-reader, and one that pretends to be toy wholesaler.

“The lengths the owners go to to hide the speakeasies is quite extraordinary, and this was one of the main reasons I decided to write the e-book. So many friends visiting New York – and even New Yorkers themselves – couldn’t find the doors and would ask me to write out precise directions.”

Paterson – a former music manager – ended up becoming a speakeasy regular when she moved from her native Scotland to Manhattan’s Lower East Side with the singer she managed, in a bid to try and break her on the city’s jazz scene.

She says: “A lot of the jazz sessions are in speakeasies, so I spent six nights a week going out to these places for more than two years with my singer. On top of that, I have a keen interest in the history, architecture and style of the 20s and 30s, so I would track down the speaks that didn’t even have live bands because I love being transported back to those times…even if only for a few hours.”

In keeping with this, Paterson edits the digital magazine , which is a guide to bohemian, secret and vintage New York, and this e-book is the first in a series of Secret Guides she is planning.

She said: “I think the e-book, which can be easily referred to on smartphone or tablet while you’re out and about, is the future of travel guides; particularly for city breaks. Who wants to tote a hefty tome around on holiday, especially if you’re only away for a few nights?

“Most people I’ve spoken to just want insider knowledge on the types of places they’re actually interested in, so they can get a shortcut to living like a local. They don’t need directions to the Statue of Liberty – they need to find that great secret bar with the killer cocktails that’s hidden behind a boarded-up Chinese restaurant.”

Click to purchase the e-book through Amazon .

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Image courtesy of the publisher
Last Updated on Wednesday, 11 March 2015 10:00

Aging gracefully: How mid-century modern classics adapted

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Written by KATHERINE ROTH, Associated Press   
Wednesday, 04 March 2015 13:09

Glass House, aka Johnson House in New Canaan, Connecticut, designed by Philip Johnson, 1949. This work has been released into the public domain by its author, Carol M. Highsmith. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

NEW CANAAN, Conn. (AP) – In the years after World War II, when suburban towns were still “the country,” this unassuming village an hour north of Manhattan became an epicenter of modernist architecture, and a birthplace of then-radical concepts like family rooms, floor-to-ceiling windows and open-plan living.

Since then, the surviving homes have continued to evolve, a transformation explored in a new book that looks at 16 of New Canaan's 91 remaining homes from this influential era.

“These homes were meant to be truly modern, to adapt. Preservation is about keeping the character while allowing these homes to move on,” said architect Cristina A. Ross, who with architect Jeffrey Matz, photographer Michael Biondo and graphic designer Lorenzo Ottaviani produced the book, Midcentury Houses Today (Monacelli Press, 2014).

In New Canaan, she said, “the concentration of homes and the number of surviving houses to this day is incredibly unique.”

Through photos, detailed floor plans and time lines, and the voices of architects, builders and occupants, the book traces the original structures and subsequent additions, devoting a full chapter to each home.

Unlike the modernist architecture of the Midwest, New Canaan's modernist homes directly reflect the principles of the Bauhaus school of design in Germany, established by architect Walter Gropius. When the Nazi regime closed down the Bauhaus in the 1930s, Gropius became chairman of the architecture department at the Graduate School of Design at Harvard. He was later joined by Marcel Breuer. Together, the two passed on their aesthetic – emphasizing volume; large areas of glass juxtaposed by blank walls; flat roofs; freedom from architectural ornamentation – to students and associates.

Breuer, Eliot Noyes, Landis Gores, Philip Johnson and John Johansen, all early promulgators of modernism in New Canaan, became known as the Harvard Five. They moved to New Canaan, near the last stop on the commuter rail line and near the newly constructed Merritt Parkway. Land was cheap and plentiful enough to allow for new experiments in architecture. They were soon joined there by architects Victor Christ-Janer, John Black Lee and others.

“They were experimenting, and they were fast and furiously creating the way they felt people should be living,” said Ross. “They were designing the offices for IBM, for big corporations, and people became so enamored of the work environment that many CEOs wanted to bring that streamlining and flow to their home life.”

Although these architects' work is well-known, the ways their structures have been transformed over time is not. The book offers ideas and a rough roadmap for those looking to adapt modernist-inspired homes throughout the U.S.

“Some of these homes now have a second story, and some were expanded in other ways, while others were restored and updated and not expanded at all. There are many different approaches that allow the original house to continue to shine while moving on,” Ross said.

Both Johnson and Black Lee, when invited to see changes made to homes they had designed, said they thought their works had been improved, the authors say.

In fact, the evolution of homes of this era seems crucial to their survival. The original homes tended to be modest by contemporary standards, with interior areas of around 2,000 square feet. Their designs reflected European sensibilities and so tended to have small bedrooms and minimal closet space.

To adapt to changing expectations of comfort in affluent New Canaan, many of the homes were expanded, with larger bedrooms, en suite bathrooms, media rooms and wine cellars. Also, higher energy costs meant that glassed-in areas had to be upgraded and homes refitted with state-of-the-art mechanical systems.

At the same time, additions demanded a creative approach so as to retain the aesthetics of movement, simplicity, openness, and sensitivity to site and nature, while respecting zoning regulations limiting the structures' footprint.

One of the more striking additions is a glassed-in staircase and cantilevered master suite by Toshiko Mori, a sort of transparent floating tree house that extends out into the woods behind a 1951 Breuer house.

“Additions to midcentury modern buildings do not necessarily harmonize with existing construction. Instead, they may introduce a different, more contemporary interpretation of modernism,” writes John Morris Dixon.

Adds Ross: “Preservation doesn't mean stagnation. These houses were meant to live and breathe with families, and not end up like museums or time capsules.”


For a firsthand look at midcentury modern architecture in New Canaan, visit the Glass House, Philip Johnson's well-known 1949 residence and surrounding structures, which became a National Trust Property in 2007. ( )

Also, the New Canaan Historical Society features a detailed survey of the town's midcentury homes, and runs tours of the 1957 Gores Pavilion (Irwin Pool House) and, every couple years, tours of some of the modernist homes in the town. ( )

Copyright 2015 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

AP-WF-03-03-15 1359GMT


Glass House, aka Johnson House in New Canaan, Connecticut, designed by Philip Johnson, 1949. This work has been released into the public domain by its author, Carol M. Highsmith. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 04 March 2015 16:49

Author's hometown excited, perplexed by 'Mockingbird' sequel

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Written by JAY REEVES, Associated Press   
Thursday, 05 February 2015 10:18
President George W. Bush awards the Presidential Medal of Freedom to author Harper Lee during a ceremony Nov. 5, 2007, in the East Room. White House photo by Eric Draper, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. MONROEVILLE, Ala. (AP) – In the small Alabama town author Harper Lee made famous with To Kill a Mockingbird, the Southern classic novel can be seen and felt everywhere.

Signs in Monroeville are decorated with mockingbirds. The old courthouse, a model for the movie version of the book, is now a museum that sells souvenirs including coffee cups, aprons and Christmas ornaments. A statue in the town square and a mural decorating the side of a building depict characters who inhabited a fictional version of the town Lee called “Maycomb, Alabama.”

So when it was announced Tuesday that Lee had written a second novel to be released this summer, Monroeville residents and visitors alike were pleased and excited – but they were also perplexed.

The first book centered on small-town attorney Atticus Finch, his children Scout and Jem, and racial injustice in the Jim Crow South. The new book, Go Set a Watchman, is described as a sequel that Lee actually wrote in the 1950s before To Kill a Mockingbird.

“I was really surprised,” said Jillian Schultz, 28, who owns a business in the town square. “You know there's a lot of controversy about whether Harper Lee actually wrote the (first) book. There's been so many years in between, and you have to wonder, ‘How did somebody forget about a book?’”

Located halfway between Montgomery and Mobile, Monroeville calls itself the “Literary Capital of Alabama,” a designation bestowed by the state Legislature in the late 1990s. Besides Lee, the city was home to novelist Truman Capote and Pulitzer Prize-winning editorialist Cynthia Tucker.

For years, the town of 6,300 was known as the home of a huge Vanity Fair mill and outlet, but the factory shut down nearly 20 years ago. That left Monroeville with “Mockingbird” and its literary heritage to attract visitors off the nearest highway, Interstate 65, about 25 miles away.

The nonprofit Monroe County Heritage Museum opens the old courthouse to visitors and features a display about Lee's life in her own words. Fans can sit in the courtroom balcony depicted in the Academy Award-winning screen version of the book.

Area residents put on a play based on the book each spring, holding the first act of sold-out performances on the courthouse lawn, then taking patrons inside for the climactic courtroom scenes. While visitors are few in shops right now, they'll return once winter is over.

“It will be busy again during the play,” Schultz said.

Visitors likely won't see the 88-year-old Lee, who lived in New York for years but now resides in an assisted living center not far from where she grew up. A longtime friend said she is deaf, blind and in poor health, spending much of her time in a wheelchair. She was last seen publicly in November at the funeral of her older sister, Alice Lee, who long represented the author and was known for being protective of her.

Harper publisher Jonathan Burnham acknowledged Tuesday that the publisher has had no direct conversations about the new book with Harper Lee, but communicated through her Monroeville attorney, Tonja Carter, and literary agent Andrew Nurnburg.

The publisher says Carter came upon the manuscript at a “secure location where it had been affixed to an original typescript of To Kill a Mockingbird.”

Burnham said during a telephone interview that he had known both Carter and Nurnburg for years and was “completely confident” Lee was fully involved in the decision to release the book.

“We've had a great deal of communication with Andrew and Tonja,” said Burnham, adding that Nurnburg had met with her recently and found her “feisty and in very fine spirits.”

Some “Mockingbird” fans encountered in Monroeville on Tuesday said they are excited by the news of a new book.

“I bet it's going to be great. The first one was,” said Judy Turberville, of nearby Frisco City. Turberville said she can't wait to read Go Set a Watchman, which publisher Harper said will be released July 14.

Ginger Brookover, who lives in West Virginia, is among the tourists who have been lured to Monroeville by “Mockingbird.” In the middle of her second trip to town when the publisher announced Lee's new novel, Brookover got goose bumps.

“I'm just absolutely shaking,” she said.

Worldwide sales of To Kill A Mockingbird have topped 40 million copies since its release in July 1960. Although occasionally banned over the years because of its language and racial themes, To Kill a Mockingbird has become a standard for reading clubs and middle and high schools.

Copyright 2015 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

AP-WF-02-04-15 1456GMT

President George W. Bush awards the Presidential Medal of Freedom to author Harper Lee during a ceremony Nov. 5, 2007, in the East Room. White House photo by Eric Draper, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Last Updated on Thursday, 05 February 2015 10:33
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