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…and deliver us from evil,

by Fr. Jonathan J. Filkins

In Holcomb, Kansas, in the early morning hours before the dawn, the sound of shotgun blasts echoed through a darkened farmhouse. Inside were the Clutter’s who, by all accounts, were the typical farm family of the late 1950’s; pragmatic achievers who regularly worshiped God and gave thanks for their many blessings. Herb, Bonnie, Nancy and Kenyon’s depraved slaughter, brought on by two delinquent young drifters, shocked the entire nation.

The non-fiction novel, In Cold Blood, written by renowned author Truman Capote, detailed the carnage of that cold night and the ensuing detailed stories of pursuit, debauchery and the minds of those involved. Capote’s effort was the first time a writer used the novel form to encapsulate, ergo report, all of the various opinions, and facts, of the crime. He, was there, along with Harper Lee, when many of the events unfolded. It had a resounding effect upon much of what we read today and continues to resonate within our legal system.

Richard Hickock and Perry Smith, the diabolical invaders on that Fall night, had been distinguished only by their lack of any remarkable talent, or constructive behavior. Each had been in trouble with the law; with Smith learning from a fellow inmate of the Clutter’s “safe,” filled with all sorts of “money.” So, with this vague information, the duo plotted to relieve the Kansans’ of their burden, with no witnesses. They did not know the victims, nor did they care about them.

Arriving on the scene, Hickock and Smith entered an unlocked door and swiftly bound their victims with rope and tape. Slowly, methodically, they ended the life of each of the Clutter’s. They found there was no “safe,” and gleaned only forty dollars for their efforts; ten dollars for each life. After their departure, they roamed the West and Mexico, stealing cars and scamming many. Through dogged pursuit, their freedom soon evaporated. After five years of legal wrangling, their lives ended on the gallows in 1965.

It is quite natural to do a bit of soul-searching after the occurrence of such events. School shootings, assaults, murders, and other forms of similar behaviors frequently go beyond our understanding. In our review, we look for what we could have done to prevent, or at least mitigate, what occurred.

The two young men, who accomplished that heinous crime, were not dissimilar to many of us. Each had had difficulty in their youth and in their family’s dynamics. However, it was not so extreme as to be very much different than what others have experienced, with very different results. Given the “sameness,” there certainly had to be other causations.

After their capture, and during the court trials, several psychiatrists were called upon to explain their subjects’ behavior. Each provided an overview of the upbringings of the accused and offered a professional opinion of what led to their behaviors. In the end, they concluded the pair were sane at the moment of their crime.

Even today, we are left with lingering doubts; not only about the Clutter’s, but also the many inexplicable and depraved incidents which have occurred since. While we may buy into the worldview that there is no “real” evil, the evidence is all around us. Shockingly, the evidence is not only writ upon the exterior of our lives, but the interior as well.

Most of us do not sense an evil within ourselves and, as Christians, we are to embrace His presence within and the joy of Christ without. Yet, in our acknowledgement of our humanity, our sin-full actions are what we do to keep us away from our Savior. Simply put: if we are away from God, then it is an evil thing we are doing. If we deny there is evil, both within and without, then we are denying God’s teachings and denial is a sinister attribute of the darkness.