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Kan. sues over ownership of 'In Cold Blood' files

Published on -10/2/2012, 11:48 AM

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WICHITA, Kan. (AP) -- The state is suing the family of a deceased Kansas Bureau of Investigation agent who worked on the 1959 murder case that became the subject of Truman Capote's novel "In Cold Blood," arguing that his relatives don't own the case files.

The lawsuit, made public Monday, asks the court to decide legal ownership of Harold Nye's case files in the murders of prominent farmer and community leader Herbert Clutter, his wife and two children in Holcomb.

The items appeared on an online auction site earlier this year. Nye's son said Monday that the dispute centers on his father's personal journals and copies of case documents, and noted that he has already returned crime scene photographs.

The lawsuit contends that crime scene and autopsy photos, and other criminal investigation case materials are KBI property.

"It is important for these materials to be returned to the State of Kansas for the protection of the integrity of the records and out of respect for the Clutter family," Attorney General Derek Schmidt said in a news release Monday.

Schmidt has asked the court to order their return and prohibit their sale, publication or distribution. Shawnee County District Judge Larry Hendricks last week temporarily blocked their sale until the ownership issue is determined.

Clutter and his wife, Bonnie Mae Fox, along with their children, 15-year-old Kenyon and 16-year-old Nancy, were brutally killed at their rural farmhouse. And the hunt for their killers -- parolees Dick Hickock and Perry Smith -- mesmerized the nation, drawing journalists from across the U.S. to the small western Kansas town.

When Capote's book hit the shelves, it forever linked the small town with the crime. His book also inspired a movie of the same name.

The lawsuit names as defendants the dead agent's adult children, Ronald Nye and Terry Hurley; his widow, Joyce Nye; and auctioneer Gary McAvoy and his company Vintage Memorabilia, a Seattle-based auction company specializing in film and literature relics.

Ronald Nye, of Oklahoma City, told The Associated Press on Monday that he returned the crime scene photographs, which he felt were the major concern of the victims' family, to the state after he was contacted by a Clutter attorney after the auction was initially announced. He noted that many of the same crime scene photos are posted on the Garden City police department's website.

Ronald Nye said the dispute centers on personal journals his father kept and copies of case documents that had been in his father's possession since 1959. He said the KBI has the originals in their case file. Some of the pictures and documents at issue had "Property of Harold Nye" written on them.

"I feel they belonged to my dad and he believed they belonged to him and the Kansas attorney general feels differently," Ronald Nye said. "That is going to have to be settled in a court of law."

Nye was a KBI special agent from 1955 until his retirement in 1975, and during his tenure served as KBI director from 1969 to 1971.

The lawsuit contends any possession of the Clutter investigative records by Harold Nye would have been "the result of his wrongdoing or a default in the performance of his duties as a special agent of the KBI."

His son disputes that, saying they would not have made his father KBI director if there had been a problem with him having copies of the records. Harold Nye died in 2003 in Winfield.

"I got them out of the trash -- so there is no wrongdoing on my part," Ronald Nye said.

Two autographed first-edition books and two letters from Capote to his father whose ownership is not disputed were separately auctioned off this past weekend, Nye said. He said one book's bid reached "five-figures."

McAvoy did not return a message Monday left at Vintage Memorabilia. But he has said he and Ronald Nye didn't want to exploit the family, and considered the material historical.

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