Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood

by Jess

Published serially in 1965 and in book form in 1966, In Cold Blood is a retelling of the brutal 1959 murder of four members of the Clutter family in rural Kansas. The tale begins on the last day the family members were seen alive. Herb Clutter, the hardworking ranch owner; his wife, Ennis Clutter, who suffered from a nervous condition; and their children, Nancy and Kenyon, were all slaughtered one night in November. There were no witnesses, no real clues (excepting a couple of boot prints later discovered on scene), and no motive.

Capote then starts the narrative bouncing between the detectives trying to crack the case, the townspeople reeling from shock, and the two murderers, Perry Smith and Dick Hickock, as they party and engage in petty theft and check fraud across the country and through Mexico. He follows the story all the way through the eventual capture of the two men, their confessions, their trial, and their execution by hanging after five years on death row, in 1965.

Despite some claims that not all of Capote’s accounts are entirely factual (he claimed his memory retention for verbatim conversations had been tested at 94 percent, and he reprints in the book long paragraphs of supposed actual dialog that others have contested), it’s a chilling account of a murder that didn’t have to happen. Smith said several times that he liked Mr. Clutter, thought him a nice gentleman, and didn’t mean to do him any harm right up until the moment when he slit Mr. Clutter’s throat. They planned the heist for a safe they thought was in the house somewhere, only to discover Mr. Clutter never paid with cash, and they got away with a whopping $40. As the prosecutor noted during the trial, that’s only $10 a life. It’s one of those terrifying “it can happen to anyone” stories, but it’s fascinating to get into the minds of the killers the way Capote does.

And anyway, I ain’t scurred.  I’ve got a big husky sleeping at the foot of my bed and a Rock Island Armory .45 pistol hidden close at hand. I dare you.