OSPREY, FL — Six days before Christmas, in 1959, an unknown assailant or assailants entered the home of the Walker family and massacred Christine, 24; her husband Cliff, 25; and their children: three-year-old Jimmie and one-year-old Debbie.
It remains one of the most haunting unsolved cases in Florida history. Over the past decade, though, the Walker family murders have taken on another chilling dimension, as the prime suspects are, at present, Perry Smith and Dick Hickock.
About a month earlier, Smith and Hickock slaughtered the four-member Clutter family in Kansas, creating the tragedy that was immortalized in author Truman Capote’s 1966 true crime masterpiece In Cold Blood and its classic 1969 movie adaptation.
At about 4 P.M. on December 19, 1959, Christine Walker, 24, came home to a house she thought was empty. It wasn’t. She was raped and shot to death.
When Cliff arrived later with the kids, a gunshot cut him down immediately. The killer then also shot both Jimmie and Debbie. The one-year-old girl didn’t die immediately, though, so the perpetrator drowned her in the bathtub before leaving.
A neighbor found the bodies early the next morning. Amid the carnage, police turned up a bloody boot, a partial fingerprint on the tub faucet, and a cellophane cigarette wrapper. Not a lot to go on.
Investigators worked frantically to find the culprits, ultimately interviewing 587 potential suspects or witnesses.
Serial murderer Emmett Monroe Spencer wasted the authorities’ time by confessing in a letter that proved to be “cleverly constructed from real murders written up in newspapers and true-crime novels that he liked to read.”
The trail went cold, and the horror has hung over the community for nearly 60 years. In 2007, however, Sarasota County Sheriff’s detective Kimberly McGath reopened the file and worked for the next five years to connect the killings to Perry and Smith — who, it turned out, had been among the original suspects back in 1960.
Following the Kansas massacre, Smith and Hickock had stolen a Chevrolet Bel Air and hightailed it to Florida. On the morning of the Walker murders, the duo checked out of a Miami Beach motel. Later that day, they shopped in a store in Sarasota — only several miles from the crime scene. They were in the area.On December 30, cops picked up Smith and Hickock in Las Vegas for the Clutter killings. Reportedly, Smith and Hickock passed a polygraph exam in regard to the Walker massacre, so police didn’t pursue it further.
The killers’ stolen car eventually supplied the angle that reignited the investigation nearly a half-century later. Sheriff’s documents indicated that the Walkers had been in the market to purchase a Chevy Bel Air.
When Smith and Hickock arrived that exact make and model, it’s thought that perhaps Christine Walker invited them inside, believing they showed up to sell the car.
In December 2012, the state of Florida exhumed the bodies of Perry Smith and Dick Hickock to collect DNA for testing against evidence in the Walker case. So much time had passed though, that the gathered samples turned out weak and proved inconclusive.
As a result, the Yuletide horror that befell the Walkers remains a mystery that Smith and Hickock may have taken to their graves — again.
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Main photo: (from left) Jimmie Walker, Cliff Walker, Christine Walker, Debbie Walker [Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office]