Christmas memories of In Cold Blood

The rent has skyrocketed eightfold. The onetime flophouse has been painted and turned into pricey condos. A shabby sign that once read, "Vacancy — Lowest Rates — Beach Facilities — Always a Seabreeze," has been replaced by a pretty picture peddling a $7 million home.

The beachside hotel where two of America's most infamous killers hunkered down while on the run has undergone quite a change. It was exactly a half-century ago on Christmas day — December 25, 1959 — that Dick Hickock and Perry Smith, the protagonists of Truman Capote's classic In Cold Blood, ended up at 335 Ocean Dr. on South Beach.

After a failed robbery, Hickock and Smith had tied up and then shot dead the family of Herb Clutter, a well-regarded businessman in a small Kansas town. Their journey across America, to prison, and finally to a public hanging is the most compelling crime tale ever written.

And as in all good crime stories, Miami plays a role. Page 199 of Riptide's edition describes the two misfits' visit to the Somerset Hotel, where four women sunbathed on the beach, ice cream was cheap, and Smith whispered to Hickock: "You never wished me a merry Christmas," before pondering suicide.

Today, the Somerset has become the Oceanwalk Condos, and none of the five people Riptide spoke to there had read Capote's magnificent book. Two contractors who live in the building — 30-year-old Sisay Barcia and 45-year-old Andy Osorio — were chatting under a canopy out front as rain pelted the now-stylish neighborhood.

Osorio, who's half-Cuban and half-Italian, came to Miami from Guantánamo during the 1980 Mariel Boatlift. He bought a one-bedroom condo 15 years ago for $45,000 and watched it balloon almost ten times in value — then drop by half in the past couple of years. He's never heard of In Cold Blood. "The killers would be nabbed if they tried to stay here today," he says. "The police department is everywhere."

Barcia agrees. Miami is Miami, though, so as evidence, he refers to a killer who a few years ago terrorized the neighborhood: "There was a Cuban kid who used to cut people's throats on the beach, one after the other. They finally caught him," he recalls. "They would have caught those guys too... I'm gonna read that book."

 
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