Macabre Mondays: The Walker Family Murders


A neighborhood is always affected when a murder occurs, and one of their own has been lost to senseless violence. But the cold-blooded killing of an entire family can shake a community to its very core. This month, we’re exploring five of America’s little-known cold cases. Read on to learn about the Walker Family Murders, who were found brutally murdered in their home on December 20, 1959.

A Gruesome Discovery

The morning of December 20, 1959, started out as a normal day for Daniel McLeod. A ranch worker for the Palmer Ranch, McLeod started his morning by getting ready, and then travelling to the home of his coworker Cliff Walker. That morning, McLeod and Walker were due to go hog hunting. Pulling up to the Walkers’ small home in his truck, McLeod immediately found it odd that the house was dark, and relatively quiet.

Cliff, a 25 year old ranch hand, lived at a home on Palmer Ranch with his wife Christine and their two toddler children, Jimmie and Debbie. As a result, the entire family were typically early risers, and their house was typically a flurry of activity. McLeod knocked loudly at the door, believing that Cliff might have just mistakenly slept in. When he got no reply, he began to worry, and cut through the screen door to enter the home.

He was not prepared for what he found.

Directly in the doorway to the living room was Christine, lying in a pool of blood. She had been raped, and shot in the head. In a corner of the room were Cliff and Jimmie, who had both also been shot in the head. Debbie was nowhere to be found. McLeod quickly left to call the police, who searched the small home.

Debbie, not even two years old, was found shot and drowned in the family bathtub.

The Investigation

Investigators immediately began searching for clues into who may have wanted to harm the Walkers. A walkthrough of the house revealed that some key items were missing from the home: Cliff’s pocketknife, Christine’s high school majorette uniform, and perhaps most interestingly, the couple’s marriage license.

Actors Robert Blake and Scott Wilson during the filming of In Cold Blood, where they played Perry Smith and Richard Hickock respectively. Reprinted from Prisons of Cañon City by Victoria R. Newman (pg. 84, Arcadia Publishing, 2008).

Based on the missing items, investigators theorized that the Walkers’ killer must have known the couple, and was maybe even in love with Christine, given that she had been the first to be murdered. Suspects ranging from Daniel McLeod, who’d first found the bodies, to Elbert Walker, a cousin of Cliff’s with a violent streak were questioned. However, none of these interrogations led to any arrests, and the case slowly went cold.

Since the initial murder investigation, several ideas have been presented on what may have happened to the Walkers. One theory came from the confession of serial killer of Emmett Monroe Spencer. However, his confession was quickly discredited by the Sarasota County Sherriff’s office, who had previously branded Spencer a “pathological liar.”

The most prevalent theory for what happened to the Walkers, however, can be found in Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood.

Holcomb, Kansas, 1959. In the early hours of a mid-November day, recently-paroled convicts Richard Hickock and Perry Smith entered the home of farmer Herb Clutter. They’d heard in prison that Clutter kept a safe with a large sum of money – money they decided would help fund a new life in Mexico. But all Hickock and Smith found within the Clutter home were the Clutters themselves. There was no money. In retaliation, Hickock and Smith murdered the entire family, include Herb, his wife, and two of their children.

There were many similarities between the Clutter and Walker murders. Both were quadruple homicides of full families, who were all shot in the head. Both homes also had items stolen in the wake of the murder. Even more damning, Hickock and Smith were in Florida just a month after the Clutters’ murders – putting them directly near the Walkers at the time of their murder.

Capote initially rejected that Hickock and Smith could have been responsible for the murders , citing what he believed to be valid alibis. Hickock and Smith also passed polygraph tests, which cleared them of the Walker murders. Today, authorities still believe that Hickock and Smith are the most viable suspects in the case, and in 2012, their bodies were exhumed for a DNA comparison to evidence from the crime scene. However, these test results came back as inconclusive.

Although it is probable that Hickock and Smith had something to do with the Walkers death, their motive for murdering the Walkers remains unknown. Unfortunately, these murders will most likely remain unsolved.