Lowell Lee Andrews

I found this case particularly interesting for several reasons. It has been a while since I have read Truman Capote's In Cold Blood but although Andrews was not a prominent character in the book, he was mentioned both there and in the movies because he shared death row with the perpetrators in that book. Another reason I find this case interesting is just the time period itself. Many of the cases around this era were open and shut quickly but by the time Lowell Andrews was convicted in 1958 appeals seemed to take a little longer than they had in the past, although still nothing like they do now. This case began on November 28, 1958 with the murders of William and Opal Andrews and their twenty year old daughter Jennie Marie, and it ended on November 30, 1962 in the execution of Lowell Lee Andrews. And to be fair, this mere four years was considered to be a long time to close during this time.

There are a few other reasons that I found this case interesting. One, was the nature of the crime in the era. Today it is not necessarily uncommon to hear cases in which a person kills their parents and/or a sibling but in 1958 that was more rare. Cases like those today revolve usually on two motives. You have the young teenager who kills their parents because they think they are overly strict and have often forbidden them to socialize with a romantic interest or friend. Then you have the adult child who seemingly kills their parents and sometimes siblings for the inheritance they presume they are entitled to. While it has been argued by some that Andrews committed this crime in the plans of collecting not just life insurance but inheriting the family farm there has also been arguments that the motive was so that Andrews could go to Chicago and become a “hitman.” The problem with these theories is two fold. First, it appears that all psychiatrists involved in the case, whether they were on the side of the prosecution or the defense, seemed to agree that Andrews suffered from schizophrenia. The other issue lies with the time that has lapse since the crime which can get more credence to “rumors” but also with the issue that this case was spoken about in Capote's book, which in fairness was not always based on facts and truth.
While Capote's book is often considered to be the first true crime book ever published the problem is that it is more “inspired by” than “based on.” Yes, real names were used but again that does not necessarily mean that every fact in the book is true. Capote himself nearly admitted this. Some have argued that Capote's book is a “non fiction novel.” Capote was a struggling writer at the time Richard Hickock and Perry Smith committed one of the most horrendous murders in history, at least at the time. The story of the case and the capture of the perpetrators was nationwide news. While the crime occurred in November of 1959 and the perpetrators were captured some six weeks later it is unclear exactly when Capote began researching for the book. He went to Kansas with his childhood friend, fellow writer, Harper Lee. Harper Lee was in the process of publishing To Kill a Mockingbird. It would be released in July of 1960 and in 1962 after critical success the book was made into a movie. The story behind To Kill a Mockingbird was never considered to be a “true story” but loosely based on an event that occurred in her town when she was a child. I highly suspect that while Capote himself had seen some successes in the short story genre and even moderate success as a novelist, especially after publishing Breakfast At Tiffany's in 1958, he was striving for more and if he did not already know his friend, Harper Lee may have eclipse him with her novel, he suspected it. Now was his chance to in a way do the same.... base a story on a real event. The problem was that Capote was not a journalist, he was a fiction writer and all of his previous work were obviously imaginary and filled with “made up” things. Add to this even if Capote were attempting to bring truth to the story in In Cold Blood much of his information came from Hickock and Smith, known criminals. It has been said that Capote was especially enamored with Smith and his charisma. As I stated earlier, Andrews was a minor character in the story simply because he was in the same prison on death row with Hickock and Smith so Capote had even less reason, and in fairness time or desire, to make sure his story was accurate. But, enough with the rumors and speculation and let us move on to what we can determine about this crime.

Early in the morning of November 29, 1958, eighteen year old Lowell Lee Andrews called 911 from his parents' home in Wolcott Kansas to report a burglary. When investigators arrived at the home they would find the bodies of fifty year old William Andrews, his wife, Opal and their daughter, Jennie. Each had been shot multiple times seemingly while sitting in their living room watching television. Despite having a wonderful reputation in the town as a “nice boy” it appears that authorities thought early on that Lowell was not acting in a way they felt was appropriate.

Lowell would tell authorities, apparently without feeling, that he and his sister had both come home for the Thanksgiving weekend from their respective colleges. On the night before Lowell stated that he had left the home and gone to his dorm at the University of Kansas, some thirty minutes away to get his typewriter for an assignment that was due later. He then went to the movie theater and saw a movie. After the movie he claimed that he had returned to the home, and found a window open and presumed a robbery had taken place. It was unclear if he claimed to have seen the bodies of his family prior to calling 911 or investigators arriving.

While Lowell was first being questioned at the scene, and later at the police station, an examination of the bodies were being conducted. William appeared to suffer from the most amount of gunshot wounds. Most reports say the final total appeared to be approximately seventeen. Opal had been shot approximately six times and Jennie Marie suffered from three gunshot wounds, one killing her instantly between the eyes. Also during this time the family minister, who was also a childhood friend of William's was called to first the scene and then asked to go to the police station where Lowell was being questioned.

It appears that in short order the minister was allowed to speak with Lowell privately and that Lowell confessed to committing the murders. It was said that the minister, who was also obviously a family friend, offered to help him obtain a lawyer and did not push for him to tell his story to authorities but that Lowell decided on his own to do so. After telling authorities his story, Lowell was arrested.

Whether it was from the story that he told, or a theory of the prosecution, it was said that on the evening of November 28th Lowell was upstairs reading while the rest of his family was watching television. When he was finished he had gone to shave and placed a suit on. Then then went downstairs armed with a .22 rifle and a revolver. He turned on the lights and began firing. After apparently shooting each of the victims at least once it was claimed that when Lowell saw a victim move he shot them more to ensure they were dead. He then opened a window in the home and left. It seems that he did go to his dorm to retrieve his typewriter and to a movie. Prosecutors would believe both of those actions were to give him an alibi and to be seen by others. After the movie Lowell had gone to the river and dismantled the weapons, tossing them into the water. A subsequent search only resulted in finding portions of the weapons but apparently not all pieces. He then returned home to call the police.

By the time he went to trial in December of 1960 Lowell had pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. There were three psychiatrists that testified at the trial. Two testified for the prosecution while another testified for the defense. The one thing that they agreed on was that Lowell showed signs of schizophrenia. But, that was not then, or even sometimes even now, enough to prevent a conviction. The rule of law to determine insanity lies with the idea of whether the defendant knew the difference between right and wrong at the time of the crime. Regardless of any other issues the psychiatrists thought Lowell may have had, at least the two that testified for the prosecution, believed that Lowell did in fact know that what he was doing was wrong. He would be quoted later as saying “I'm not sorry and I'm not glad I did it. I just don't know why I did it.” Whether that was a true statement is anyone's guess.

So, what was the motive? It was reported that at some point he claimed to have done it to inherit the significant family farm and about $1,800 that his father had in a saving's account. That $1,800 is equivalent to about $15,000 in today's money. So for an eighteen year old boy that could have seemed like a fortune. There are other reports, and some of them seem to have come from Capote through his book and interviews with his subjects, that Lowell fantasized about poisoning his family and moving to Chicago to become a gangster and professional hitman. According to Richard Hickock to Capote, Lowell often talked about breaking out of prison and being a hitman. Whether this is true or not, as I said earlier, is anyone's guess.

While Lowell's first execution date in 1961 came and went he had an appeal in June of 1962. It was here that the courts upheld the conviction and sentence. On November 30, 1962, twenty-two year old Lowell Andrews was executed at a prison in Leavenworth Kansas. By this time Hickock and Perry were awaiting their own executions. The reason that Lowell is even seemingly discussed at all In Cold Blood was that Lowell's execution was the first in Kansas in over eight years and the only one to occur while they were there. In fact, after Hickock and Perry were executed on April 14, 1965, there have only been two more executions in Kansas at all. The last executions in Kansas occurred on June 22, 1965 of spree killers, James Latham and George York. Although Kansas still legally has the death penalty they, along with only New Hampshire, has not executed anyone since the Supreme Court began allowing executions to resume in 1976. Kansas does apparently have ten inmates that have been sentenced to execution but do not sit on “death row” as they no longer maintain a separate portion for them. Whether they will resume executions is unknown.


  1. One little anachronism in your otherwise very fine article: There was no such thing as 911 in 1959. It wasn't developed until the 80s. Back in those times, you dialed 0 for the operator and asked to have the police, or fire dept or ambulance sent.

  2. Ha ha... you're correct. I guess I'm so used to 911 I refer to all calls that way on accident.


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