RESTING IN PEACE HASN'T BEEN easy for farmer Herbert Clutter, his wife, Bonnie, and their two children Nancy, 16, and Kenyon, 15, whose brutal murders were immortalized in In Cold Blood, Truman Capote's haunting 1966 bestseller-turned-Oscar-nominated feature film. Even now, 37 years after the killings, curiosity seekers defy the No Trespassing sign posted by the private road to gawk at the five-bed-room farmhouse in Holcomb, Kans., where the family was slain. "Not a day goes by when someone doesn't drive down that road," says Donna Mader, 59—who bought the house for an undisclosed amount in 1990 with her husband, Leonard, 66—referring to the quarter-mile gravel drive leading onto the 440-acre property. "On Saturdays and Sundays, we get 25 to 35 people." So bold are some of them, says Donna, "we'll meet them in the lane and they won't even turn their heads and look at you."

More, no doubt, will follow with the airing (on Nov. 24 and 26) of CBS's remake of the movie, starring Eric Roberts and ER's Anthony Edwards as killers Perry Smith and Richard Hickock, who were hanged for the crime in 1965. "It's like The Amityville Horror house in New York, or J.R. Ewing's house outside Dallas," explains Sonnie Baird, 44, a neighbor of the Maders who recalls that when she first arrived in town, "my family, everybody I knew, that's what they wanted to go see." Sold to an out-of-town businessman in 1962 by the Clutters' surviving children, Eveanna Jarchow, now 60, a retired schoolteacher, and Beverly English, 57, a retired nurse (as the two oldest children, they had already moved out of their parents' home before the night of the murders), the house was rented as a location site to the In Cold Blood moviemakers in 1967. Later the Maders opened it to the public for $5 tours after they moved in. "We had all this interest," explains Donna, who ran the tours despite the protests of some locals who thought of them as unseemly, "yet [the flow of people] wasn't consistent enough to live there and keep everything ready and clean."

Now, except for what's believed to be a bloodstain in the furnace room where Herb Clutter was murdered, the 5,500-square-foot house bears few traces of its violent past. Still, given the trespassers—including possible gang members who spray graffiti at night on what was once the farmhands' quarters—the Maders are cautious. "I've got my dogs, and security on the doors," says Donna, who, when she's not working part-time as a clerk at the local recreation center (Leonard farms wheat, corn and milo), invites their six children and 14 grandchildren over. "What worries me the most is someone trying to get in and reenact this case and make a name for themselves." Not that the Maders are publicity-shy. Deciding they're too old to follow through with plans to turn the place into a bed-and-breakfast ("I think it would be a gold mine," says Donna), the Maders are hoping someone will make them an offer. After all, says Donna, there's more to the house than its infamous past. "It's beautiful and it's huge," she says. "I've been in houses where there's no feeling. This is a warm-feeling house."

JANICE MIN
JOANNE FOWLER in Holcomb

  • Contributors:
  • Joanne Fowler.