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Our Summary of In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

Truman Capote introduces Dick Hickock and Perry Smith as the murderers in In Cold Blood. They plan to rob the Clutter family on November 14, 1959. Something goes wrong that day and they end up murdering all four members of the family, including the two teenage children. The bodies are found by a neighbor and an investigation ensues. Because Hickock and Smith are not from the small town where the Clutters lived, they are not immediately suspect. The book then follows the murderers and the investigators. Hickock and Smith journey to Mexico on the money they stole, while the Kansas Bureau of Investigation hunts for the man or men responsible for the deaths of all four Clutters.

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In Cold Blood

Novel by Truman Capote

This article is about the book by Truman Capote. For the film adaptation, see In Cold Blood (film). For the TV miniseries, see In Cold Blood (miniseries). For other uses, see In Cold Blood (disambiguation).

In Cold Blood is a non-fiction novel[1] by American author Truman Capote, first published in 1966. It details the 1959 murders of four members of the Herbert Clutter family in the small farming community of Holcomb, Kansas.

Capote learned of the quadruple murder before the killers were captured, and he traveled to Kansas to write about the crime. He was accompanied by his childhood friend and fellow author Harper Lee, and they interviewed residents and investigators assigned to the case and took thousands of pages of notes. Killers Richard Hickock and Perry Smith were arrested six weeks after the murders and later executed by the state of Kansas. Capote ultimately spent six years working on the book.

In Cold Blood was an instant success and is the second-best-selling true crime book in history, behind Vincent Bugliosi's Helter Skelter (1974) about the Charles Manson murders.[2] Some critics consider Capote's work the original non-fiction novel, although other writers had already explored the genre, such as Rodolfo Walsh in Operación Masacre (1957).[3][4]In Cold Blood has been lauded for its eloquent prose, extensive detail, and triple narrative which describes the lives of the murderers, the victims, and other members of the rural community in alternating sequences. The psychologies and backgrounds of Hickock and Smith are given special attention, as is the pair's complex relationship during and after the murders. In Cold Blood is regarded by critics as a pioneering work in the true crime genre, although Capote was disappointed that the book failed to win the Pulitzer Prize.[5] Parts of the book differ from the real events, including important details.[6]


Main article: Clutter family murders

The former Clutter home in 2009

Herbert "Herb" Clutter was a prosperous farmer in western Kansas. He employed as many as 18 farmhands, who admired and respected him for his fair treatment and good wages. His two elder daughters, Eveanna and Beverly, had moved out and started their adult lives; his two younger children, Nancy, 16, and his son Kenyon, 15, were in high school. Clutter's wife Bonnie had reportedly been incapacitated by clinical depression and physical ailments since the births of her children, although this was later disputed by her brother and other family members, who maintained that Bonnie's depression was not as debilitating as portrayed in the book.[7]

Two ex-convicts recently paroled from the Kansas State Penitentiary, Richard Eugene "Dick" Hickock and Perry Edward Smith, robbed and murdered Herb, Bonnie, Nancy, and Kenyon in the early morning hours of November 15, 1959. A former cellmate of Hickock's, Floyd Wells, had worked for Herb Clutter and told Hickock that Clutter kept large amounts of cash in a safe. Hickock soon hatched the idea to steal the safe and start a new life in Mexico. According to Capote, Hickock described his plan as "a cinch, the perfect score." Hickock later contacted Smith, another former cellmate, about committing the robbery with him.[8] In fact, Herb Clutter had no safe and transacted essentially all of his business by check.[9]

After driving more than 400 miles across the state of Kansas on the evening of November 14, Hickock and Smith arrived in Holcomb, located the Clutter home, and entered through an unlocked door while the family slept. Upon rousing the Clutters and discovering there was no safe, they bound and gagged the family, and continued to search for money, but found little of value in the house. Still determined to leave no witnesses, the pair briefly debated what to do; Smith, notoriously unstable and prone to violent acts in fits of rage, slit Herb Clutter's throat and then shot him in the head. Capote writes that Smith recounted later, "I didn't want to harm the man. I thought he was a very nice gentleman. Soft-spoken. I thought so right up to the moment I cut his throat."[10] Kenyon, Nancy, and then Mrs. Clutter were also murdered, each by a single shotgun blast to the head. Hickock and Smith left the crime scene with a small portable radio, a pair of binoculars, and less than $50 in cash.[11]

Smith later claimed in his oral confession that Hickock murdered the two women. When asked to sign his confession, however, Smith refused. According to Capote, he wanted to accept responsibility for all four killings because, he said, he was "sorry for Dick's mother." Smith added, "She's a real sweet person."[12] Hickock always maintained that Smith committed all four killings.[13]

Investigation and trial[edit]

On the basis of a tip from Wells, who contacted the prison warden after hearing of the murders, Hickock and Smith were identified as suspects and arrested in Las Vegas on December 30, 1959. Both men eventually confessed after interrogations by detectives of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation.

They were brought back to Kansas, where they were tried together at the Finney County courthouse in Garden City, Kansas, from March 22 to 29, 1960. They both pleaded temporary insanity at the trial, but local general practitioners evaluated the accused and pronounced them sane.[citation needed]

Hickock and Smith are also suspected of involvement in the Walker family murders, which notion is mentioned in the book, although this connection has not been proven.[citation needed] A defense motion that Smith and Hickock undergo comprehensive psychological testing was denied; instead, three local general practitioners were appointed to examine them to determine whether they were sane at the time of the crime.[14]

After only a short interview the doctors determined the defendants were not insane and were capable of being tried under M'Naghten rules. Defense lawyers sought the opinion of an experienced psychiatrist from the state’s local mental hospital, who diagnosed definite signs of mental illness in Smith and felt that previous injuries to Hickock’s head could have affected his behavior.[15] This opinion was not admitted in the trial, however, because under Kansas law the psychiatrist could only opine on the defendant's sanity at the time of the crime.[15]

The jury deliberated for only 45 minutes before finding both Hickock and Smith guilty of murder. Their convictions carried a mandatory death sentence at the time. On appeal, Smith and Hickock contested the determinations that they were sane, and asserted that media coverage of the crime and trial had biased the jury,[16] and that they had received inadequate assistance from their attorneys. Aspects of these appeals were submitted three times to the United States Supreme Court, which refused to hear the case.[17]

After five years on death row at the Kansas State Penitentiary, Smith and Hickock were executed by hanging on April 14, 1965. Hickock was executed first and was pronounced dead at 12:41 a.m. after hanging for nearly 20 minutes. Smith followed shortly afterward and was pronounced dead at 1:19 a.m.[18]

Coverage and public discussion[edit]

During the first few months of their trial and afterward, Hickock and Smith's murder case went unnoticed by most Americans. It was not until months before their executions that they became “two of the most famous murderers in history.”[19] On 18 January 1960, Time magazine published "Kansas: The Killers", a story about the murders.[20] Inspired by that article, Truman Capote wrote, in 1965 serialized in The New Yorker, and in 1966 published as a "non-fiction novel", titled In Cold Blood, a true-crime book that detailed the murders and trial. Due to the brutality and severity of the crimes, the trial was covered nationwide, and even received some coverage internationally.[21]

The notoriety of the murders and subsequent trial brought lasting effects to the small Kansas town, and Capote became so famous and related to trials that he was called to help the Senate in an examination of the court case.[15] The trial also brought into the national spotlight a discussion about the death penalty and mental illness.[19] Capote expressed that after completing the book and interviewing Hickock and Smith, he opposed the death penalty.[15]

This trial has also been cited as an example of “the limitations of the M'Naghten rules (also called M'Naghten test)."[19] The M’Naghten rules are used to determine whether or not a criminal was insane at the time of their crime and therefore incapable of being tried fairly. Authors such as Karl Menninger strongly criticized the M'Naghten test, calling it absurd. Many "lawyers, judges, and psychiatrists" have sought to “get around" the M'Naghten rules.[22] In Intention - Law and Society, James Marshall further criticizes the M'Naghten rules, calling into question the psychological principles upon which the rules are based. He stated that "the M'Naghten rules... are founded on an erroneous hypothesis that behavior is based exclusively on intellectual activity and capacity."[23]

In 2009, 50 years after the Clutter murders, the Huffington Post asked Kansas citizens about the effects of the trial, and their opinions of the book and subsequent movie and television series about the events. Many respondents said they had begun to lose their trust in others, "doors were locked. Strangers eyed with suspicion." Many still felt greatly affected and believed Capote had in a way taken advantage of their "great tragedy."[24] An article in The New York Times states that in the small Holcomb, Kansas community, "neighborliness evaporated. The natural order seemed suspended. Chaos poised to rush in."[25]

Capote's research[edit]

Capote became interested in the murders after reading about them in The New York Times.[26] He brought his childhood friend Nelle Harper Lee (who would later win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for her novel To Kill a Mockingbird) to help gain the confidence of the locals in Kansas.

Capote did copious research for the book, ultimately compiling 8,000 pages of notes.[27] His research also included letters from Smith's Army buddy, Don Cullivan, who was present during the trial.[28]

After the criminals were found, tried, and convicted, Capote conducted personal interviews with both Smith and Hickock. Smith especially fascinated Capote; in the book he is portrayed as the more sensitive of the two killers. The book was not completed until after Smith and Hickock were executed.

An alternate explanation for Capote's interest holds that The New Yorker presented the Clutter story to him as one of two choices for a story; the other was to follow a Manhattan cleaning woman on her rounds. Capote supposedly chose the Clutter story, believing it would be the easier assignment.[29] Capote later wrote a piece about following a cleaning woman, which he entitled "A Day's Work" and included in his book Music for Chameleons.

Capote's novel was unconventional for its time. New Journalism, as a genre and style of writing, developed during the time in which In Cold Blood was written and Capote became a pioneer in showing how it can be used effectively to create a unique non-fiction story. New Journalism is a style of writing where the author writes the non-fiction novel or story while it is developing in real life. This is exactly what Capote did as he followed the court trials and interviewed those close to the Clutter family to create this story while it was unfolding in the real world. As a result, he simultaneously researched and wrote the story we now know as In Cold Blood.


In Cold Blood brought Capote much praise from the literary community. Yet critics have questioned its veracity, arguing that Capote changed facts to suit the story, added scenes that never took place, and manufactured dialogue.[6][30] Phillip K. Tompkins noted factual discrepancies in Esquire in 1966 after he traveled to Kansas and talked to some of the people whom Capote had interviewed. Josephine Meier was the wife of Finney County Undersheriff Wendle Meier, and she denied that she heard Smith cry or that she held his hand, as described by Capote. In Cold Blood indicates that Meier and Smith became close, yet she told Tompkins that she spent little time with Smith and did not talk much with him. Tompkins concluded:

Capote has, in short, achieved a work of art. He has told exceedingly well a tale of high terror in his own way. But, despite the brilliance of his self-publicizing efforts, he has made both a tactical and a moral error that will hurt him in the short run. By insisting that "every word" of his book is true he has made himself vulnerable to those readers who are prepared to examine seriously such a sweeping claim.

True crime writer Jack Olsen also commented on the fabrications:

I recognized it as a work of art, but I know fakery when I see it…. Capote completely fabricated quotes and whole scenes…. The book made something like $6 million in 1960s money, and nobody wanted to discuss anything wrong with a moneymaker like that in the publishing business.

His criticisms were quoted in Esquire, to which Capote replied, "Jack Olsen is just jealous."[31]

That was true, of course…. I was jealous—all that money? I'd been assigned the Clutter case by Harper & Row until we found out that Capote and his cousin [sic] Harper Lee had been already on the case in Dodge City for six months…. That book did two things. It made true crime an interesting, successful, commercial genre, but it also began the process of tearing it down. I blew the whistle in my own weak way. I'd only published a couple of books at that time—but since it was such a superbly written book, nobody wanted to hear about it.[31]

The prosecutor in the case was Duane West, and he claims that the story lacks veracity because Capote failed to get the true hero right. Richard Rohlader took the photo showing that two culprits were involved, and West suggests that Rohlader was the one deserving the greatest praise. Without that picture, West believes, the crime might not have been solved. West had been a friend of Capote's for a while during the writing of the book, including being Capote's guest in New York City for Hello, Dolly! and meeting Carol Channing after the show. Their relationship soured when Capote's publisher attempted to get West to sign a non-compete agreement to prevent him from writing his own book about the murders. Despite a series of malicious rumors, Capote himself was never considered a suspect in the killings.

Alvin Dewey was the lead investigator portrayed in In Cold Blood, and he said that the scene in which he visits the Clutters' graves was Capote's invention. Other Kansas residents whom Capote interviewed have claimed that they or their relatives were mischaracterized or misquoted.[32] Dewey said that the rest of the book was factually accurate, but further evidence indicates that it is not as "immaculately factual" as Capote had always claimed it to be. The book depicts Dewey as being the brilliant investigator who cracks the Clutter murder case, but files recovered from the Kansas Bureau of Investigation show that Floyd Wells came forward to name Hickock and Smith as likely suspects, but Dewey did not immediately act on the information, as the book portrays him doing, because he still held to his belief that the murders were committed by locals who "had a grudge against Herb Clutter".[6]

Ronald Nye is the son of Kansas Bureau of Investigation Director Harold R. Nye, and he collaborated with author Gary McAvoy in disclosing parts of his father’s personal investigative notebooks to challenge the veracity of In Cold Blood. Their book And Every Word is True[33] lays out previously unknown facts of the investigation suggesting that Herbert Clutter’s death may have been a murder-for-hire plot.


In Cold Blood was first published as a four-part serial in The New Yorker, beginning with the September 25, 1965, issue. The piece was an immediate sensation, particularly in Kansas, where the usual number of New Yorker copies sold out immediately. In Cold Blood was first published in book form by Random House on January 17, 1966.[34][35] The book, however, was copyrighted in 1965, and this date appears on the title page of most printings of the book and even in some library indices as the original publication date. The Library of Congress lists 1966 as the publication date and 1965 as the copyright date.[36]

The cover, which was designed by S. Neil Fujita, shows a hatpin with what appeared originally as a red drop of blood at its top end. After Capote first saw the design, he requested that the drop be made a deeper shade of red to represent the passage of time since the incident. A black border was added to the ominous image.[37]

Reviews and impact[edit]

Writing for The New York Times, Conrad Knickerbocker praised Capote's talent for detail throughout the novel and declared the book a "masterpiece" — an "agonizing, terrible, possessed, proof that the times, so surfeited with disasters, are still capable of tragedy."[38]

In a controversial review of the novel, published in 1966 for The New Republic, Stanley Kauffmann, criticising Capote's writing style throughout the novel, states that Capote "demonstrates on almost every page that he is the most outrageously overrated stylist of our time" and later asserts that "the depth in this book is no deeper than its mine-shaft of factual detail; its height is rarely higher than that of good journalism and often falls below it."[39]

Tom Wolfe wrote in his essay "Pornoviolence": "The book is neither a who-done-it nor a will-they-be-caught, since the answers to both questions are known from the outset... Instead, the book's suspense is based largely on a totally new idea in detective stories: the promise of gory details, and the withholding of them until the end."[40]

In The Independent's Book of a Lifetime series, reviewer Kate Colquhoun asserts that "the book – for which he made a reputed 8000 pages of research notes – is plotted and structured with taut writerly flair. Its characters pulse with recognisable life; its places are palpable. Careful prose binds the reader to his unfolding story. Put simply, the book was conceived of journalism and born of a novelist."[41]


Three film adaptations have been produced based upon the book. The first focuses on the details of the book, whereas the later two explore Capote's fascination with researching the novel. In Cold Blood (1967) was directed by Richard Brooks and stars Robert Blake as Perry Smith and Scott Wilson as Richard Hickock. It features John Forsythe as investigator Alvin Dewey from the Kansas Bureau of Investigation who apprehended the killers.[42][43] It was nominated for Best Director, Best Original Score, Best Cinematography, and Best Adapted Screenplay.[43][44]

The second and third films focus on Capote's experiences in writing the story and his subsequent fascination with the murders. Capote (2005) stars Philip Seymour Hoffman, who won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of Truman Capote, Clifton Collins Jr. as Perry Smith, and Catherine Keener as Harper Lee.[45] The film was critically acclaimed,[46] won at the 78th Academy Awards for Best Actor (Hoffman), and was nominated for Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress (Keener), Best Director (Bennett Miller), and Best Adapted Screenplay (Dan Futterman).[47]

J. T. Hunter's novel In Colder Blood (2016) discusses Hickock and Smith's possible involvement in the Walker family murders. Oni Press published Ande Parks and Chris Samnee's graphic novel Capote in Kansas (2005).[48] Capote's book was adapted by Benedict Fitzgerald into the two-part television miniseries In Cold Blood (1996), starring Anthony Edwards as Dick Hickock, Eric Roberts as Perry Smith, and Sam Neill as Alvin Dewey.[49][50]

See also[edit]


General references[edit]

  • Clarke, Gerald (1988). Capote, A Biography (1st ed.). New York: Simon and Schuster. ISBN .
  • Davis, Deborah (2006). Party of the Century: The Fabulous Story of Truman Capote and His Black and White Ball (1st ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons. ISBN .
  • McAvoy, Gary (2019). And Every Word Is True (1st ed.). Seattle, WA: Literati Editions. ISBN .
  • Waisbord, Silvio (2000). Watchdog Journalism in South America: News, Accountability, and Democracy. New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN .

Inline citations[edit]

  1. ^Plimpton, George (January 16, 1966). "The Story Behind a Nonfiction Novel". The New York Times.
  2. ^Ferri, Jessica (December 28, 2016). "Capote's Masterpiece 'In Cold Blood' Still Vivid at 50". The Daily Beast. Retrieved November 13, 2017.
  3. ^Waisbord, Silvio (2000). Watchdog Journalism in South America: News, Accountability, and Democracy. New York: Columbia University Press. p. 30. ISBN .
  4. ^Rodolfo Walsh and the Struggle for Argentina, by Stephen Phelan October 28, 2013, Boston Review
  5. ^Thomson, Rupert (August 6, 2011). "The Story of a Town". The Guardian. p. 16.
  6. ^ abcHelliker, Kevin (February 8, 2013). "Capote Classic 'In Cold Blood' Tainted by Long-Lost Files". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved February 12, 2013.
  7. ^
  8. ^In Cold Blood, p. 44.
  9. ^
  10. ^In Cold Blood, p. 244.
  11. ^In Cold Blood, p. 246.
  12. ^In Cold Blood, p. 255.
  13. ^
  14. ^"State v. Hickock & Smith". Justia Law. Retrieved December 1, 2018.
  15. ^ abcdKnappman(1), Christianson(2), Olson(3), Edward W.(1), Stephen(2), Lisa(3). Great American Trials.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  16. ^State v. Hickock & Smith, 363, 1961, p. 541, retrieved November 30, 2018
  17. ^Capote, Truman. In Cold Blood.
  18. ^"Gallows, Kansas State Penitentiary, Lansing, Kansas". Retrieved October 8, 2014.
  19. ^ abc"Richard Hickock and Perry Smith Trial: 1960 - Trial Leaves Questions Over Sanity, Appeals Fail To Overturn Conviction, Suggestions For Further Reading". Retrieved November 30, 2018.
  20. ^"Kansas: The Killers". Time. January 18, 1960. ISSN 0040-781X. Retrieved November 30, 2018.
  21. ^
  22. ^Menninger, Karl A. (1970). "The Crime of Punishment". International Journal of Psychiatry. 9: 541–51. PMID 5483012.
  23. ^Marshall, James. Intention in Law and Society.
  24. ^Kanalley, Craig (March 18, 2010). "Clutter Murders "In Cold Blood" Leave Lasting Impact In Kansas". Huffington Post. Retrieved November 30, 2018.
  25. ^"One Night on a Kansas Farm". Retrieved November 30, 2018.
  26. ^Standen, Amy (January 22, 2002). "In Cold Blood". Archived from the original on March 12, 2008. Retrieved June 21, 2007.
  27. ^"In Cold Blood: Analysis". Spark notes. Retrieved March 16, 2008.
  28. ^Myrick, Steve (September 24, 2015). "Fifty years later Cold blood still fresh". Martha's Vineyard Gazette.
  29. ^Davis, pp. 60–1.
  30. ^Mass, Mark. "Capote's Legacy: The Challenge of Creativity and Credibility in Literary Journalism". Listserv Archives. MSU. Archived from the original on September 11, 2009. Retrieved June 20, 2015.
  31. ^ abHood, Michael. "True Crime Doesn't Pay: A Conversation with Jack Olsen". Point No Point. Jack Olsen. Archived from the original on June 3, 2010. Retrieved March 8, 2010.
  32. ^Van Jensen (April 3, 2005). "Writing history: Capote's novel has lasting effect on journalism". Lawrence, Kansas Journal World.
  33. ^Gary, McAvoy (2019). And Every Word is True. Seattle: Literati. ISBN .
  34. ^"Books Today". The New York Times: 35. January 17, 1966.
  35. ^Clarke, Gerald (1988) Capote: A Biography. Simon and Schuster. pp. 362–363.
  36. ^LCCN 65011257. In Cold Blood listing with the Library of Congress.
  37. ^Grimes, William (October 27, 2010). "S. Neil Fujita, Innovative Graphic Designer, Dies at 89". The New York Times. Retrieved October 27, 2010.
  38. ^Knickerbocker, Conrad (January 16, 1966). "One Night on a Kansas Farm". The New York Times. Retrieved March 2, 2016.
  39. ^Kauffmann, Stanley (January 22, 1966). "Capote in Kansas". The New Republic. Hamilton Fish. Retrieved March 3, 2016.
  40. ^Wolfe, Tom: "Mauve Gloves & Madmen, Clutter & Vine", pp. 163–64. Picador, 1990.
  41. ^Colquhoun, Kate (May 12, 2011). "Book Of A Lifetime: In Cold Blood, By Truman Capote". The Independent. Retrieved March 3, 2016.
  42. ^Patterson, John (September 7, 2015). "In Cold Blood: why isn’t the movie of Capote’s bestseller a masterpiece?". The Guardian.
  43. ^ abStafford, Jeff (January 8, 2018). "In Cold Blood". Turner Classic Movies.
  44. ^"The 40th Academy Awards". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. 2015. Retrieved November 18, 2017.
  45. ^Metcalf, Stephen (April 26, 2006). "The Great American Drama Queen". Slate.
  46. ^"Capote (2005)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved November 18, 2017.
  47. ^"The 78th Academy Awards". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. 2006. Retrieved November 18, 2017.
  48. ^Goldstein, Hilary (August 3, 2005). "Capote in Kansas Review: The path taken to write In Cold Blood". IGN.
  49. ^Robinson, Joanna (April 14, 2015). "Why a New In Cold Blood TV Show Misses the Point of the True-Crime Craze". Vanity Fair.
  50. ^"In Cold Blood (1996)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved November 18, 2017.

External links[edit]

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In Cold Blood

Edited August 9, 2020
"How much money did you get from the Clutters?"
"Between forty and fifty dollars."


Top Picture Hickock, Richard Eugene (WM)28 KBI 97 093; FBI 859 273 A. Address: Edgerton, Kansas. Birthdate 6-6-31 Birthplace K.C., Kans. Height: 5-10 Weight: 175 Hair: Blond. Eyes: Blue. Build: Stout. Comp: Ruddy. Occup: Car Painter. Crime: Cheat & Defr. & Bad Checks. Paroled: 8-13-59 By: So. K.C.K.

Bottom Picture Smith, Perry Edward (WM) 27-59. Birthplace: Nevada. Height: 5-4. Weight: 156 Hair: D. Brn. Crime: B&E. Arrested: (blank) By: (blank). Disposition: Sent KSP 3-13-56 from Phillips Co. 5-10yrs. Rec. 3-14-56. Paroled: 7-6-59.

As I write this review, I'm sitting about 60 miles from the Clutter house in Holcomb, Kansas. Holcomb is a small, farming community located just west of Garden City. This is a place where everyone in the whole county not only knows your name, but also has a working knowledge of your family history going back fifty plus years.

I usually avoid reading true crime books. I don't want my head filled with tragedy. I want to go about my life with a degree of caution, but not be ruled by the fear I feel such books will instill.

I picked up a copy of this book at the Dodge City Library. The librarian at the check out desk, a woman about mid-sixties, slender, elegant, and still attractive ran her finger along the edge of the spine. I noticed a shiver had rolled up her back and rippled her shoulders. She looked up at me with pinched blue eyes and said in a whisper, "I remember when this happened".

She watched her father put locks on the doors for the first time. The murders became a demarcation line in her life there was life before the Clutter murders, and then there was life after the Clutter murders. Her response surprised me. We live in a time when any crime anywhere in the country is broadcast out to the nation and something tragic that happens in Illinois or in Virginia or Alaska impacts our lives. I would have thought over time some of the significance of the Clutter murder would have been buried under the avalanche of murder and mayhem that the news cycle brings us 24/7. For this community and for all the small communities dotting the map of Kansas, and even in the surrounding states, this was something that wasn't supposed to happen in a small town. This was big city crime that happened in their own backyard.

As I talked to people about the Clutter murders most everybody had some kind of physical reaction. They flinched as if they were dodging a blow or took a step back from me or developed a twitch along their jawline. Their eyes gazed through me or beyond me as the fears and anxieties of 1959 came flooding back into their mind. Most of them attributed more deaths to the crime, each of them citing six deaths rather than four. I'm sure they remembered that there was six family members, but two older girls had already left the home to start their own lives. They were not present on that fateful night when their family was murdered.

In Cold Blood was required reading in many schools in this region clear up until about the 1970s, so even people who were too young to remember the crime have experienced the tragedy through Truman Capote.

In the description above regarding Perry Edward Smith there is a reference to Phillips County. This has special significance for me because I was born and raised in Phillips County. The family farm is located in Phillips County. My Father and I graduated from Phillipsburg High School. My Dad was a sophomore in high school in 1955 when Perry Smith decided to burglarize the Chandler Sales Company in Phillipsburg, Kansas and this seemingly insignificant act was really the beginning of this story. Smith and his accomplice, also Smith, stole typewriters, adding machines etc and left town with their ill gotten goods in the backseat of the car. Later they ignored a traffic signal in St. Joseph, Missouri and were pulled over by a police officer. The cop was very interested in what was in their backseat. They were extradited back to Phillipsburg, where through an open window (imagine my embarrassment for the law enforcement of my home county) they escaped. Later Perry was caught again and sent back to Phillipsburg where the law enforcement fortunately did a much better job of keeping track of him.

Perry Smith received 10 years in the Kansas Penitentiary in Leavenworth. Richard Eugene Hickock was already serving time in Leavenworth for fraud. The two met and became friends. The final piece to the puzzle that not only determined the fate of the Clutter family, but also the fates of Smith and Hickock was snapped down in place when they meet Floyd Wells. Wells, serving time for some bit of stupidity, had worked for Herb Clutter back in 1948. He told Hickock and Smith that Clutter was a wealthy farmer, and kept a safe full of cash in his house.

Wells was absolutely full of shit.

There was no safe. There was no pile of cash. There was absolutely no reason for four people to lose their lives for $40.


After the murders they went to Mexico for a while, but even though they could live cheaply down South the money still trickled through their fingers. After they burned through the goods they had acquired through the Clutter robbery and through defrauding a series of retail stores, they found that working in Mexico didn't pay well either. They came back up to the United States and there was this baffling moment where Perry Smith is reading the paper and sees an article about a family that was tied up and shot to death. "Amazing!" Perry glanced through the article again. "Know what I wouldn't be surprised? If this wasn't done by a lunatic. Some nut that read about what happened out in Kansas."

WTF? Some nut? How about the original coconut heads that murdered the family in Kansas?

Perry does have a moment or two where he weighs what happened in Kansas. "Know what I think?" said Perry. "I think there must be something wrong with us. To do what we did."

"Did what?"

"Out there."

"Deal me out, baby," Dick said. "I'm a normal."

Truman Capote had been looking for the right story for an experimental form of writing he'd been considering trying. He wanted to blend fiction and nonfiction. The Clutter murders struck him as the perfect story to launch this new form of writing. I have to admire his fortitude, for a man of his sensibilities not only spending that much time among farmbillies, but having to befriend them as well. It must have been somewhat of a painful experience.

Capote in the Clutter home

Floyd Wells eventually comes forward and tells what he knows about the murders. He had always liked Herb Clutter and felt ashamed that what he had told, in a moment of prison bonding, had led to such a vicious conclusion. Without his statement I'm pretty sure that Smith and Hickock would have gotten away with the murders. The slender evidence tying them to the murders would have made it almost impossible to prosecute them. Their sentencing can have only one conclusion...death.

As they are being led back to their cells:
Smith says to Hickock, "No chicken-hearted jurors, they!" They both laughed loudly, and a cameraman photographed them. The picture appeared in a Kansas paper above a caption entitled: "The Last Laugh?"

When I consider their bravado the last vestiges of any sympathy I may have been harboring for their plight dissipated.

This is a beautifully written book. I want to thank Harper Lee for her role in helping Capote bring this book to completion. I'm not sure Capote would have had the perseverance to see it through without her holding his hand. I was surprised about how many connections I have to the events in this book many of which I had no idea until I read them in the book for the first time. I was long overdue to read this book and this experience has certainly convinced me to add more of the classic True Crime genre to my reading queue. This book is legendary not only because of the heinous nature of the crime, but also because Capote was ushering in a new way to tell a story.

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Edited February 15, 2020

I just wonder why it took me so long to get this masterpiece on my currently-reading shelf. What a breathtaking story! And told in the most amazing novelistic style! The cold-blooded murders in Kansas in 1956 is described by a cold, distant narrator via the interviews of the family, acquaintances, and community around the victims and the hair-raising stories of Perry and Bobby, the murderers. It is a real page-turner - I couldn't put it down! The descriptions of the youth of all the tragic protagonists are explored from every angle as under a magnifying glass. In Cold Blood kept me thinking that most of the recent murder mystery shows and movies were indebted to this piece of literature (that Capote probably deserved a Pulitzer for but was passed over, helas, in 1965). There is this strange homoeroticism between the two murderers (who call each other "sugar" and "honey") but who both spout homophobic words throughout. Like the lawyers, I felt Richard was the coldest one and Perry the most twisted and tragic.

This book is a true masterpiece of the non-fiction novel (even if some of the facts brought out by Capote were disputed) and its narration is stupendous in character development and maintaining an enormous amount of suspense end-to-end. It is even more astounding because the reader already knows who commits the crime, the novel only elucidates the "why" and even that is ambiguous and pathetic. An awesome read.

Note that in A Capote Reader, there is a great short essay about the making of the movie In Cold Blood where Capote talks a bit about the 6 years it took him to write this masterpiece. (Haven't seen the movie yet :/)

[UPDATE] I finally saw the movie Capote and it was absolutely amazing as a backstory to this book. I still haven't found the movie In Cold Blood yet.

May 14, 2020

This story made a huge impact on my life. There were six of us kids and come summer my mother couldn't handle all of us so she farmed me out every year to the aunts. One aunt lived in Indio. My mother put me on a Greyhound bus and nine years old; all alone with my brown paper grocery bag as luggage. I was scared to death. A Seagull hit the expansive windshield with splat of blood and feathers. Unfazed the driver merely turned on the windshield wipers and made and even bigger mess.
I arrived in Indio a hundred plus degrees and my aunt Carol picked me up at the bus station. She said she was taking me and my cousin Danny to the movies. Oh, boy I loved the movies. We stopped at a store to pick up some candy and I bought my favorite Chicken-O-stick. I was nine my cousin was seven, she bought our tickets at The Aztec theater and ushered us through the door. She said she'd be back when the movie was over. It was nice to be out of the sweltering heat. We sat down ate our candy in great anticipation. The movie started and it was in black and white. It was In Cold Blood, not something a nine year old should be watching.
Ten years later my cousin Danny and my Aunt Carol would be arrested for killing my favorite uncle Don in a murder for hire. My aunt hired a hit man out of Orange County named Cornelius. They stiffed in a fake call of an emergency at the Metropolitan Water Distinct where my uncle worked. There was a clause in the life insurance policy that if he died at work it was double indemnity. My uncle showed up in the middle of the night and they shot him in the back of the head. Of course there is lots more to this true story.
And to this day I can not forget In Cold Blood, the movie.
Sorry for the rant this was supposed to be a book review.
David Putnam Author of the Bruno Johnson series.

Edited October 25, 2019
Truman Capote - image from the NY Post

This is one of the great ones. Capote blankets Holcomb, Kansas with his curiosity. The root of this work is a ghastly crime. Two recently released convicts, seeking a fortune that did not exist, invade the Clutter family home, tie up the four family members present and leave no witnesses. It takes some time for the perpetrators to be identified, then tracked down. Capote looks at how the townspeople react to this. Many, fearful that one of their own was responsible, become withdrawn. How do people mourn? He looks at the sequence of investigation that leads ultimately to the capture of the suspects, focusing on one of the chief investigators. He looks in depth at the criminals. What makes them tick? How could people do such awful things? In reading this I was reminded of some of the great panoramic art works of a bygone age, works by Bosch, Breughel, in which entire towns were brought together into one wide-screen image. This is what Capote has done. But even with all the territory he covers there is considerable depth. I was also reminded, for an entirely different reason of Thomas Hardy. Capote has an incredible gift for language. He writes beautifully, offering descriptions that can bring to tears anyone who truly loves language. It has the power of poetry. This is truly a classic, a book that defined a new genre of literature. If you haven’t read it, you must.

Murderers, Dick Hickock and Perry Smith - image from ABC Australia

In case you are in the market and in the neighborhood, this 10/24/19 item from SF Gate by Clare Trapasso, might be of interest - The Untold Story Behind the Infamous 'In Cold Blood' Murder House—and Why It's for Sale
Edited October 17, 2021
An absolute masterpiece of True Crime literature, In Cold Blood is both gritty and intelligent!

This should be on everyone's Books to Read in My Lifetime list. Capote's writing style in this account is absolutely flawless.

As many of you may know, In Cold Blood is a true account of the heinous murders of the Clutter Family in 1959-Kansas.

Through Capote's words, you are transported to this small town; you get alternating accounts from the family, the killers and from other individuals close to the crime.

The description of the night of the actual murders is bone-chilling and can disturb sleep, believe me!

This is my second time reading this book and I found it just as impactful during my reread.

To me, it is interesting to think about Capote investigating and compiling his research for the novel.

He actually went and lived in this town, along with one of his closest friends, Harper Lee, and they painstakingly interviewed hundreds of people associated with the events.

Just the sheer amount of data collected and how it was intricately woven into a cohesive narrative astounds me.

Yes, I know that is what nonfiction novelists do, but this was truly a ground-breaking piece of journalistic writing at the time and should be appreciated as such.

Another interesting aspect of this is how focused Capote was in the psychology behind the killers' motivations and actions, as well as their complex relationship with one another both before and after the crimes. Ahead of his time in that regard, in my opinion.

I think anyone who enjoys True Crime, Criminology, Psychology and even Sociology will find this book absolutely captivating.

If you have been putting off reading this for any reason, please stop, pick it up, NOW!!!

Edited August 14, 2021

In Cold Blood, Truman Capote

This article is about the book by Truman Capote. In Cold Blood is a non-fiction novel by American author Truman Capote, first published in 1966; it details the 1959 murders of four members of the Herbert Clutter family in the small farming community of Holcomb, Kansas.

When Capote learned of the quadruple murder, before the killers were captured, he decided to travel to Kansas and write about the crime.

He was accompanied by his childhood friend and fellow author Harper Lee, and together they interviewed local residents and investigators assigned to the case and took thousands of pages of notes. The killers, Richard "Dick" Hickock and Perry Smith, were arrested six weeks after the murders and later executed by the state of Kansas.

Capote ultimately spent six years working on the book. When finally published, In Cold Blood was an instant success, and today is the second-biggest-selling true crime book in publishing history, behind Vincent Bugliosi's 1974 book Helter Skelter about the Charles Manson murders.

عنوانهای چاپ شده در ایران: «به خونسردی»؛ «به خونسردی - شرح واقعی قتل چهار نفر و پی آمدهای آن»؛ «در کمال خونسردی»؛ نویسنده: ترومن کاپوتی؛ تاریخ نخستین خوانش: روز هفدهم ماه سپتامبر سال 1998میلادی

عنوان: به خونسردی؛ نویسنده: ترومن کاپوت؛ مترجم: باهره راسخ؛ تهران، فرانکلین، 1347، در 345ص، موضوع داستانهای نویسندگان ایالات متحده آمریکا - سده 20م

عنوان: به خونسردی - شرح واقعی قتل چهار نفر و پی آمدهای آن؛ نویسنده: ترومن کاپوتی؛ مترجم: پریوش شهامت؛ تهران، نشر پیکان، 1376، در 467ص؛ شابک 9646229123؛

داستان برگرفته از خبری واقعی، از قتل‌عام یک خانواده، در «کانزاس» است، و همین رویداد به نویسنده فرصت می‌دهد، تا نخستین رمان ناداستان خویش را بنویسند؛ نویسنده زمان بسیاری را صرف گفتگو، با «شاهدان»، «دو قاتل»، و «بررسی گزارش پلیس»، می‌کنند؛ کتابشان در سال1965میلادی، با تیراژی میلیونی برایش نامداری، پیروزی و ثروت به همراه می‌آورد؛ با این کتاب به اوج می‌رسند، و نمی‌توانند هرگزی کتاب دیگری در همین اندازه بنویسند؛ زندگینامه نویسش «جرالد کلارک»، علت را زمان طولانی پژوهش، و خستگی ناشی از کار سنگین ایشان می‌داند؛

تاری بهنگام رسانی 27/06/1399هجری خورشیدی؛ 22/05/1400هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی

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814 reviews4 followers

Edited October 19, 2016

In Cold Blood is the new school classics selection in the group catching up on classics for November 2016. Having read Truman Capote's Breakfast at Tiffany's recently and enjoying his writing, I could not wait to read this nonfiction thriller in advance of the upcoming group read. Writing in his relaxing southern style, Capote turns a horrid crime into a story to make the how's and whys accessible to the average American. It is in this regard that I rate this thrilling classic five stars.

On November 15, 1959 Richard "Dick" Hickock and Perry Smith, on a tip from another inmate, brutally murdered four members of the Clutter family of Holcomb, Kansas. Having heard that the Clutters possessed either a safe or $10,000 cash in their home, Smith and Hickock desired this wealth for themselves so that they could live out their days in a Mexican beach resort. To their surprise and chagrin, the Clutters did not have neither the safe nor the cash, but Hickock had said to leave no witnesses. Crime committed, the pair escaped to a life of continued crimes and violence and believing that authorities would never catch up with them. And in the beginning it appeared that this ill advised lifestyle might actually work.

Due to the relentless work of the Kansas Bureau of Investigations (KBI) lead by Alvin Dewey, Hickock and Smith were eventually brought to justice and ultimately given the death penalty. Capote weaves a tale by giving us the backstory of both felons as well as a picture of Holcomb and nearby Garden City, Kansas as an idyllic place to raise a family. The crime changed everything. Families kept their doors locked and did not allow their children to venture far from home. In the surrounding areas, people viewed their lives as a before and after. Inevitably, the Clutter case lead to less community interaction and a beginning of a breakdown of society.

Yet by providing the backstories of the felons, Capote allows the the readers to emphasize with their place in society. Dick Hickock was on his way to finishing at the top of his class with a possible athletic scholarship and a degree in engineering. His family could not afford a university education even with the scholarship so Hickock went to work. An automobile accident left him partially brain damaged as his parents maintained that he was not the same person since, and this one incident lead to his adult life of crime. Smith, on the other hand, lead a bleak childhood to the point where readers would feel sorry for him. Coming from a fractured family and only a third grade education, Smith suffered from a superiority complex his entire life. His role in the Clutter murders was the consummation of a lifetime of rejection. The felons came from diametrically opposed upbringings and yet I was left feeling remorse for both.

Capote pieced together the crime to the point where I felt that I knew the people of Holcomb as well as the principal players in the crime intimately. This work lead to a new genre that brings together nonfiction and fiction in a way that history feels like a story. Both Capote and his research assistant Harper Lee ended up as award winning authors. Their fictional writing skills allowed for the personalization of this tale and ultimately help change the way many write nonfiction.

Truman Capote is one of 20th America's master storytellers, and In Cold Blood is by many considered his opus. His research was detail oriented and allowed him to bring the story of the Clutter murders to the average American home. After completing this five star work painting the picture of the how's and whys of murder, I look forward to reading more of his charming Southern stories.

Profile Image for Justin.


255 reviews2,188 followers

Edited July 21, 2017

At the beginning, In Cold Blood reads like a classic southern gothic tale. I've read about Harper Lee hanging out with Capote while he put this thing together, and at times it feels like she greatly influenced how it was written. You meet the Clutters who are just the nicest people in the world out working hard and going to school and being awesome people in the town. And, I know there's all this controversy over how the book is written since it adds fictional conversations and thoughts that Capote obviously couldn't have known, but everything is rooted in the nonfiction account of what happened, and I think it adds a deeper layer of connection to the family.

I read Helter Skelter in high school, and I remember that book starting out right from the gate with all the details of the murders before diving into the Manson family and the trial. In Cold Blood works more in reverse and saves the details for later, and my God when I got there I didn't even want to read about what happened. It was all so senseless and random. I had a hard time finishing the book after that. I just wanted it to be over.

Often beautifully and brilliantly written, sometimes tedious to get through, sometimes way too meticulous with details, sometimes spending a couple of pages discussing cats or a building or something, this book is a classic in the true crime genre. I haven't read a lot of true crime in my reading life, but I've read enough to know that this deserves a spot at the top of the list. Capote does an excellent job laying out the story, and gives the family, the murderers, and the cops an overwhelming amount of description and development. I knew more about the killers than I ever wanted to know, and I want things to go a different direction even though I knew they wouldn't.

Now I have to watch the movie, then Capote, then Infamous. This is a story that will be stuck in my head for a while. It's a harsh reminder of the evil that exists in the world, and how fragile our existence on this planet really is. It's also a very detailed account of the senseless murder of most of a family, but I took away a lot of other stuff from its pages, too. Read it.

Edited April 10, 2008

After I read it, I looked up pictures of the Clutter family, and just stared for about five minutes. They endured what is probably everyone’s worst fear.

Having never heard anything of the Clutter murders prior to reading this book, the experience of reading it was intense, gripping, and suspenseful from beginning to end. Capote, with his impartial writing style, relayed facts and details in such a way as to give a complete character illustration of everyone involved: from each of the Clutters, to the investigators, lawyers, and even the murderers themselves. He did not reveal his personal sentiments or biases, or even presume to know right from wrong. In what he coined a “non-fiction novel,” Capote brilliantly combined the elements of a fictional murder novel with factual journalism and psychological analysis to show the moral dilemmas surrounding the act of murder.

In the section about the Clutter family life during their final days before the murders, Capote’s description of their daily routines and habits made what was to come even more troubling. Nancy and Kenyon were going through the typical hardships of adolescence; Nancy had a boyfriend of whom her father did not approve and was the most popular girl in school, while Kenyon was self-conscious, nerdy, and socially awkward. Herbert and Bonnie’s marriage was a bit shaky; Bonnie had a mysterious and fleeting mental illness, and Herbert was very busy with his farming business and did not have much time to tend to her. However, despite their problems, they maintained a strong family bond, were well-liked by the entire community, and we get a sense that things were looking up for them.

After the murder takes place, as if to intensify the suspense, Capote does not immediately reveal to us exactly how or why Perry and Dick committed the crime, but instead takes us on their journey as they attempt escape through the deep South while the investigators begin to try to solve the crime. We learn much about these two characters through their interactions with each other, letters, diary excerpts, and interviews with family members. We are brought deep into their psyche, learning everything from their personal hygiene habits to their mannerisms and quirks. In an uncomfortable yet brilliant way, Capote allows us to sympathize with the murderers, if only for a moment. What exactly went wrong with them? Did Perry Smith’s childhood of abuse, neglect, and displacement lead him to have moments of extreme callousness and violence? Dick, who had a seemingly normal childhood and a loving family, was in a car accident which left him with a permanent head injury. Was his head injury the cause of his downfall, or was it some other unknown character defect? Even though they were capable of evil and cold-heartedness, they also had goals and insecurities as well as the capacity for creativity, love, and fear. The murders were a tragic “psychological accident” (according to Alvin Dewey), the collision of two personalities gone terribly wrong with an innocent family who was in the wrong situation at the wrong time.

The final section of the book, from their first of many trials to their execution, presents us with the moral dilemmas surrounding the punishment of crime. Capote does not make any definitive conclusions, but poses many questions: Is execution right or wrong? Why the long delay (approx. 6 years) between the guilty verdict and the execution? Was a fair trial possible or necessary, given the horrific nature of the crimes committed? It is impossible to summarize the impact of this book in a few paragraphs, but it will definitely stay with me for years to come.

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote Summary and Explanation

They skirted the southern rim of the town. No one was abroad at this nearly midnight hour, and nothing was open except a string of desolately brilliant service stations. Dick turned into one—Hurd’s Phillips 66. A youngster appeared, and asked, “Fill her up?” Dick nodded, and Perry, getting out of the car, went inside the station, where he locked himself in the men’s room. His legs pained him, as they often did; they hurt as though his old accident had happened five minutes before. He shook three aspirin out of a bottle, chewed them slowly (for he liked the taste), and then drank water from the basin tap. He sat down on the toilet, stretched out his legs, and rubbed them, massaging the almost unbendable knees. Dick had said they were almost there—“only seven miles more.” He unzipped a pocket of his windbreaker and brought out a paper sack; inside it were the recently purchased rubber gloves. They were glue-colored, sticky, and thin, and as he inched them on, one tore—not a dangerous tear, just a split between the fingers, but it seemed to him an omen.

The doorknob turned, rattled. Dick said, “Want some candy? They got a candy machine out here.”


“You O.K.?”

“I’m fine.”

“Don’t be all night.”

Dick dropped a dime in a vending machine, pulled the lever, and picked up a bag of jelly beans; munching, he wandered back to the car and lounged there watching the young attendant’s efforts to rid the windshield of Kansas dust and the slime of battered insects. The attendant, whose name was James Spor, felt uneasy. Dick’s eyes and sullen expression and Perry’s strange, prolonged sojourn in the lavatory disturbed him. (The next day, he reported to his employer, “We had some tough customers in here last night,” but he did not think, then or for the longest while, to connect the visitors with the tragedy in Holcomb.)

Dick said, “Kind of slow around here.”

“Sure is,” James Spor said. “You’re the only body stopped here since two hours. Where you coming from?”

“Kansas City.”

“Here to hunt?’

“Just passing through. On our way to Arizona. We got jobs waiting there. Construction work. Any idea the mileage between here and Tucumcari, New Mexico?”

“Can’t say I do. Three dollars six cents.” He accepted Dick’s money, made change, and said, “You’ll excuse me, sir? I’m doing a job. Putting a bumper on a truck.”

Dick waited, ate some jelly beans, impatiently gunned the motor, sounded the horn. Was it possible that he had misjudged Perry’s character? That Perry, of all people, was suffering a sudden case of “blood bubbles”? A year ago, when they first encountered each other, he’d thought Perry “a good guy,” if a bit “stuck on himself,” “sentimental,” too much “the dreamer.” He had liked him but not considered him especially worth cultivating until, one day, Perry described a murder, telling how, simply for “the hell of it,” he had killed a colored man in Las Vegas—beaten him to death with a bicycle chain. The anecdote elevated Dick’s opinion of Little Perry; he began to see more of him, and, like Willie-Jay, though for dissimilar reasons, gradually decided that Perry possessed unusual and valuable qualities. Several murderers, or men who boasted of murder or their willingness to commit it, circulated inside Lansing, but Dick became convinced that Perry was that rarity, “a natural killer”—absolutely sane, but conscienceless, and capable of dealing, with or without motive, the coldest-blooded deathblows. It was Dick’s theory that such a gift could, under his supervision, be profitably exploited. Having reached this conclusion, he had proceeded to woo Perry, flatter him—pretend, for example, that he believed all the buried-treasure stuff and shared his beachcomber yearnings and seaport longings, none of which appealed to Dick, who wanted “a regular life,” with a business of his own, a house, a horse to ride, a new car, and “plenty of blond chicken.” It was important, however, that Perry not suspect this—not until Perry, with his gift, had helped further Dick’s ambitions. But perhaps it was Dick who had miscalculated, been duped; if so—if it developed that Perry was, after all, only an “ordinary punk”—then “the party” was over, the months of planning were wasted, there was nothing to do but turn and go. It mustn’t happen; Dick returned to the station.

The door to the men’s room was still bolted. He banged on it: “For Christsake, Perry!”

“In a minute.”

“What’s the matter? You sick?”

Perry gripped the edge of the washbasin and hauled himself to a standing position. His legs trembled; the pain in his knees made him perspire. He wiped his face with a paper towel. He unlocked the door and said, “O.K. Let’s go.”

Nancy’s bedroom was the smallest, most personal room in the house—girlish, and as frothy as a ballerina’s tutu. Walls, ceiling, and everything else except a bureau and a writing desk were pink or blue or white. The white-and-pink bed, piled with blue pillows, was dominated by a big pink-and-white Teddy bear—a shooting-gallery prize that Bobby had won at the county fair. A cork bulletin board, painted pink, hung above a white-skirted dressing table; dry gardenias, the remains of some ancient corsage, were attached to it, and old valentines, newspaper recipes, and snapshots of her baby nephew and of Susan Kidwell and of Bobby Rupp, Bobby caught in a dozen actions—swinging a bat, dribbling a basketball, driving a tractor, wading, in bathing trunks, at the edge of McKinney Lake (which was as far as he dared go, for he had never learned to swim). And there were photographs of the two together—Nancy and Bobby. Of these, she liked best one that showed them sitting in a leaf-dappled light amid picnic debris and looking at one another with expressions that, though unsmiling, seemed mirthful and full of delight. Other pictures, of horses, of cats deceased but unforgotten—like “poor Boobs,” who had died not long ago and most mysteriously (she suspected poison)—encumbered her desk.

Nancy was invariably the last of the family to retire; as she had once informed her friend and home-economics teacher, Mrs. Polly Stringer, the midnight hours were her “time to be selfish and vain.” It was then that she went through her beauty routine, a cleansing, creaming ritual, which on Saturday nights included washing her hair. Tonight, having dried and brushed her hair and bound it in a gauzy bandanna, she set out the clothes she intended to wear to church the next morning: nylons, black pumps, a red velvet dress—her prettiest, which she herself had made. It was the dress in which she was to be buried.

Before saying her prayers, she always recorded in a diary a few occurrences (“Summer here. Forever, I hope. Sue over and we rode Babe down to the river. Sue played her flute. Fireflies”) and an occasional outburst (“I love him, I do”). It was a five-year diary; in the four years of its existence she had never neglected to make an entry, though the splendor of several events (Eveanna’s wedding, the birth of her nephew) and the drama of others (her “first real quarrel with Bobby”—a page literally tear-stained) had caused her to usurp space allotted to the future. A different tinted ink identified each year: 1956 was green and 1957 a ribbon of red, replaced the following year by bright lavender, and now, in 1959, she had decided upon a dignified blue. But, as in every manifestation, she continued to tinker with her handwriting, slanting it to the right or to the left, shaping it roundly or steeply, loosely or stingily—as though she were asking, “Is this Nancy? Or that? Or that? Which is me?” (Once, Mrs. Riggs, her English teacher, had returned a theme with the scribbled comment “Good. But why written in three styles of script?” To which Nancy had replied, “Because I’m not grown-up enough to be one person with one kind of signature.”) Still, she had progressed in recent months, and it was in a handwriting of emerging maturity that she wrote, “Jolene K. came over and I showed her how to make a cherry pie. Practiced with Roxie. Bobby here and we watched TV. Left at 11:00.”

“This is it, this is it, this has to be it, there’s the school, there’s the garage, now we turn south.” To Perry, it seemed as though Dick were muttering jubilant mumbo-jumbo. They left the highway, sped through a deserted Holcomb, and crossed the Santa Fe tracks. “The bank, that must be the bank, now we turn west—see the trees? This is it, this has to be it.” The headlights disclosed a lane of Chinese elms; bundles of wind-blown thistle scurried across it. Dick doused the headlights, slowed down, and stopped until his eyes were adjusted to the moon-illuminated night. Presently, the car crept forward.

Holcomb is twelve miles east of the Mountain Time zone, a circumstance that causes some grumbling, for it means that at seven in the morning, and in winter at eight or after, the sky is still dark, and the stars, if any, are still shining—as they were when the two sons of Vic Irsik arrived to do their Sunday-morning chores. But by nine, when the boys finished work—during which they noticed nothing amiss—the sun had risen, delivering another day of pheasant-season perfection. As they left the property and ran along the lane, they waved at an incoming car, and a girl waved back. She was a classmate of Nancy Clutter’s, and her name was also Nancy—Nancy Ewalt. She was the only child of the man who was driving the car, Mr. Clarence Ewalt, a middle-aged sugar-beet farmer. Mr. Ewalt was not himself a churchgoer, nor was his wife, but every Sunday he dropped his daughter at River Valley Farm in order that she might accompany the Clutter family to Methodist services in Garden City. The arrangement saved him “making two back-and-forth trips to town.” It was his custom to wait until he had seen his daughter safely admitted to the house. Nancy, a clothes-conscious girl with a film-star figure, a bespectacled countenance, and a coy, tiptoe way of walking, crossed the lawn and pressed the front-door bell. The house had four entrances, and when, after repeated knockings, there was no response at this one, she moved on to the next—that of Mr. Clutter’s office. Here the door was partly open; she opened it somewhat more—enough to ascertain that the office was filled only with shadow—but she did not think the Clutters would appreciate her “barging right in.” She rang, knocked, and at last walked around to the back of the house. The garage was there, and she noted that both cars were in it: two Chevrolet sedans. Which meant they must be home. However, having applied unavailingly at a third door, which led into a “utility room,” and a fourth, the door to the kitchen, she rejoined her father, who said, “Maybe they’re asleep.”

“But that’s impossible. Can you imagine Mr. Clutter missing church? Just to sleep?”

“Come on, then. We’ll drive down to the Teacherage. Susan ought to know what’s happened.”

The Teacherage, which stands opposite the Holcomb School, is an out-of-date edifice, drab and poignant. Its twenty-odd rooms are separated into grace-and-favor apartments for those members of the faculty unable to find, or afford, other quarters. Nevertheless, Susan Kidwell and her mother had managed to sugar the pill and install a cozy atmosphere in their apartment—three rooms on the ground floor. The very small parlor incredibly contained—aside from things to sit on—an organ, a piano, a garden of flowering flowerpots, and usually a darting little dog and a large, drowsy cat. Susan, on this Sunday morning, stood at the window of this room watching the street. She is a tall, languid young lady with a pallid, oval face and beautiful pale-blue-gray eyes; her hands are extraordinary—long-fingered, flexible, nervously elegant. She was dressed for church, and expected momentarily to see the Clutters’ Chevrolet, for she, too, always attended services chaperoned by the Clutter family. Instead, the Ewalts arrived to tell their peculiar tale.

But Susan knew no explanation, nor did her mother, who said, “If there was some change of plan, why, I’m sure they would have telephoned. Susan, why don’t you call the house? They could be asleep—I suppose.”

“So I did,” said Susan, in a statement made at a later date. “I called the house and let the phone ring—at least, I had the impression it was ringing—oh, a minute or more. Nobody answered, so Mr. Ewalt suggested that we go to the house and try to ‘wake them up.’ But when we got there—I didn’t want to do it. Go inside the house. I was frightened, and I don’t know why, because it never occurred to me—Well, something like that just doesn’t. But the sun was so bright, everything looked too bright and quiet. And then I saw that all the cars were there, even Kenyon’s old coyote wagon. Mr. Ewalt was wearing work clothes; he had mud on his boots; he felt he wasn’t properly dressed to go calling on the Clutters. Especially since he never had. Been in the house, I mean. Finally, Nancy said she would go with me. We went around to the kitchen door, and, of course, it wasn’t locked; the only person who ever locked doors around there was Mrs. Helm—the family never did. We walked in, and I saw right away that the Clutters hadn’t eaten breakfast; there were no dishes, nothing on the stove. Then I noticed something funny: Nancy’s purse. It was lying on the floor, sort of open. We passed on through the dining room, and stopped at the bottom of the stairs. Nancy’s room is just at the top. I called her name, and started up the stairs, and Nancy Ewalt followed. The sound of our footsteps frightened me more than anything, they were so loud and everything else was so silent. Nancy’s door was open. The curtains hadn’t been drawn, and the room was full of sunlight. I don’t remember screaming. Nancy Ewalt says I did—screamed and screamed. I only remember Nancy’s Teddy bear staring at me. And Nancy. And running . . . ”

In the interim, Mr. Ewalt had decided that perhaps he ought not to have allowed the girls to enter the house alone. He was getting out of the car to go after them when he heard the screams, but before he could reach the house, the girls were running toward him. His daughter shouted, “She’s dead!” and flung herself into his arms. “It’s true, Daddy! Nancy’s dead! “

Susan turned on her. “No, she isn’t. And don’t you say it. Don’t you dare. It’s only a nosebleed. She has them all the time, terrible nosebleeds, and that’s all it is.”

“There’s too much blood. There’s blood on the walls. You didn’t really look.”

“I couldn’t make head nor tails,” Mr. Ewalt subsequently testified. “I thought maybe the child was hurt. It seemed to me the first thing to do was call an ambulance. Miss Kidwell—Susan—she told me there was a telephone in the kitchen. I found it, right where she said. But the receiver was off the hook, and when I picked it up, I saw the line had been cut.”

Larry Hendricks, a teacher of English, aged twenty-seven, lived on the top floor of the Teacherage. He wanted to write, but his apartment was not the ideal lair for a would-be author. It was smaller than the Kidwells’, and, moreover, he shared it with a wife, three active children, and a perpetually functioning television set. (“It’s the only way we can keep the kids pacified.”) Though as yet unpublished, young Hendricks, a he-mannish ex-sailor from Oklahoma who smokes a pipe and has a mustache and a crop of untamed black hair, at least looks literary—in fact, remarkably like youthful photographs of the writer he most admires, Ernest Hemingway. To supplement his teacher’s salary, he also drove a school bus.

“Sometimes I cover sixty miles a day,” he said to an acquaintance. “Which doesn’t leave much time for writing. Except Sundays. Now, that Sunday, November 15th, I was sitting up here in the apartment going through the papers. Most of my ideas for stories, I get them out of newspapers—you know? Well, the TV was on and the kids were kind of lively, but even so I could hear voices. From downstairs. Down at Mrs. Kidwell’s. But I didn’t figure it was my concern, since I was new here—only came to Holcomb when school began. But then Shirley—she’d been out hanging up some clothes—my wife, Shirley, rushed in and said, ‘Honey, you better go downstairs. They’re all hysterical.’ The two girls—now, they really were hysterical. Susan never has got over it. Never will, ask me. And poor Mrs. Kidwell. Her health’s not too good; she’s high-strung to begin with. She kept saying—but it was only later I understood what she meant—she kept saying, ‘Oh, Bonnie, Bonnie, what happened? You were so happy, you told me it was all over, you said you’d never be sick again.’ Words to that effect. Even Mr. Ewalt, he was about as worked up as a man like that ever gets. He had the sheriff’s office on the phone—the Garden City sheriff—and he was telling him that there was something radically wrong over at the Clutter place.’ The sheriff promised to come straight out, and Mr. Ewalt said fine, he’d meet him on the highway. Shirley came downstairs to sit with the women, try and calm them—as if anybody could. And I went with Mr. Ewalt—drove with him out to the highway to wait for Sheriff Robinson. On the way, he told me what had happened. When he came to the part about finding the wires cut, right then I thought, Uh-uh, and decided I’d better keep my eyes open. Make a note of every detail. In case I was ever called on to testify in court.

“The sheriff arrived; it was nine thirty-five—I looked at my watch. Mr. Ewalt waved at him to follow our car, and we drove out to the Clutters’. I’d never been there before, only seen it from a distance. Of course, I knew the family. Kenyon was in my sophomore English class, and I’d directed Nancy in the ‘Tom Sawyer’ play. But they were such exceptional, unassuming kids you wouldn’t have known they were rich or lived in such a big house—and the trees, the lawn, everything so tended and cared for. After we got there, and the sheriff had heard Mr. Ewalt’s story, he radioed his office and told them to send reinforcements, and an ambulance. Said, ‘There’s been some kind of accident.’ Then we went in the house, the three of us. Went through the kitchen and saw a lady’s purse lying on the floor, and the phone where the wires had been cut. The sheriff was wearing a hip pistol, and when we started up the stairs, going to Nancy’s room, I noticed he kept his hand on it, ready to draw.

“Well, it was pretty bad. That wonderful girl—But you would never have known her. She’d been shot in the back of the head with a shotgun held maybe two inches away. She was lying on her side, facing the wall, and the wall was covered with blood. The bedcovers were drawn up to her shoulders. Sheriff Robinson, he pulled them back, and we saw that she was wearing a bathrobe, pajamas, socks, and slippers—like, whenever it happened, she hadn’t gone to bed yet. Her hands were tied behind her, and her ankles were roped together with the kind of cord you see on Venetian blinds. Sheriff said, ‘Is this Nancy Clutter?’—he’d never seen the child before. And I said, ‘Yes. Yes, that’s Nancy.’


Cold summary chapter in blood

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In Cold Blood Book Summary, by Truman Capote

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Overall Summary

In Cold Blood is a nonfiction novel that explores the murder of four people. The author, Truman Capote, interviewed many witnesses and family members to tell what he believed was an accurate story about the murders. Scholars considered In Cold Blood one of the first examples of a new genre called “nonfiction novel,” which combines elements from both journalism and fiction writing. Critics argue that Capote fabricated parts of his book because some interviewees disagree with his portrayal. However, no matter how you look at it, this book has had a huge impact on society: It inspired many other writers to create true crime novels; it also helped popularize this genre in literature and film.

The Summary of the Plot

In this passage, Capote introduces the Clutters and their killers. The Clutter family is a prosperous farming family in Holcomb, Kansas. Two ex-convicts are also introduced as they plan to rob the safe of the Clutters’ home.

The next morning, two of Nancy’s friends found all four Clutters dead. The Southern Kansas Bureau of Investigation sent a special agent to investigate. Everyone was shocked by the tragic deaths.

Dick and Perry go to Mexico, where Perry wants to dive for treasure. However, it’s clear that Dick doesn’t share the same aspirations. They don’t have enough money to continue their journey; they return home. In Las Vegas, authorities apprehend Dick and Perry based on a tip from Floyd Wells (a former cellmate of Dick). He had given false information about the Clutter family safe. Dick confesses quickly but says that he was just an accomplice in all four murders; he blames everything on Perry. Meanwhile, Perry confesses too—he claims that Herbert’s murder was fueled by rage and shame after his initial plan failed miserably; plus Kenyon’s murder occurred because there were two people there when only one person should’ve been present at any time during the robbery planning process. The author also mentions how Bonnie and Nancy were killed by Dick while he claims that he didn’t kill them himself but still feels responsible for their deaths.

In January of 1960, Dick and Perry were imprisoned for the murder of Nancy. They pled insanity in order to receive a reduced sentence, but it was ruled that they did not have diminished responsibility. The court found them guilty and sentenced them to death. Dick spent five years on Death Row at Kansas State Penitentiary before he was executed with Perry on April 14th 1965. Dewey attended the execution but did not feel closure because he remembered an encounter with one of Nancy’s friends who had moved away after high school and was happy now.

Part 1: “The Last to See Them Alive”

In 1959, Holcomb is a small agricultural town in western Kansas. Herbert Clutter owns the River Valley Farm, where he lives with his wife Bonnie and two of their children: Nancy (age 16) and Kenyon (age 15). One morning while the Clutters were still sleeping, someone entered their home and shot them all to death.

Meanwhile, Perry Smith eats breakfast in a cafe in Olathe, Kansas. He’s waiting for Dick Hickock to arrive so they can plan their next move. While he waits, he pores over a map of Mexico and dreams of lost treasure.

Nancy gets a phone call from her neighbor, who wants Nancy to help bake a pie. She agrees, but she has to reorganize her schedule and do other things first. Her father doesn’t want the couple to break up, because Bobby is Catholic and they’re Methodist.

While Perry and Dick get ready to steal the money, Nancy goes to see her mother. When she arrives at her house, she notices that it’s quiet and empty. She calls out for her mother but gets no response. After a few minutes of waiting in the car, she decides to go inside and look around. The lights are off in the house; everything is very dark except for some light coming from under one of the doors upstairs. As Nancy moves closer towards it, she hears a strange noise coming from behind that door. At first, it sounds like an animal scratching or clawing at something hard; then there is a loud thud followed by silence again. Nancy opens up the door slowly with fear on her face as if someone might be hiding behind it just waiting for her to come into their trap so they can kill or hurt her. But when Nancy steps into the room, she finds nothing unusual apart from what appears to be dust covering most things in sight including all furniture items including beds, tables etc…

Allen Cheng

In Cold Blood Summary

In Cold Blood

Read our complete notes on the novel “In Cold Blood” by Truman Capote. Our notes cover In Cold Blood summary, themes, and critical analysis.


Truman Capote was an American journalist, novelist, playwright, short-story writer and actor. Many of his writings have been admired as literary classics including the novella Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1958)and In Cold Blood (1966) which was labelled as a “nonfiction novel”. Capote lived a miserable life throughout. He had a traumatic childhood due to his parents’ divorce. Long absence from his mother also affected him.

Due to the failed marriage of his parents, he lived most of his childhood with his aunts and cousins in Alabama. He became good friends with another great novelist, Harper Lee, the author of To Kill a Mockingbird. Their friendship lasted for the whole of Capote’s life. He rose to prominence with his novel Other Voices, Other Rooms (1948) and gained recognition for the true-crime novel In Cold Blood.

In Cold Blood is a journalistic novel about the murders of a farm family in Kansas. Capote read about the murders in the New York Times’ article. For investigation, he along with Harper Lee went to Holcomb, Kansas after the funeral. They remained there till the investigation ended. They interviewed the inhabitants of the town and the investigators assigned and wrote thousands of pages of notes. Capote also built a particular relationship with the murderers, Perry Smith and Richard Dick Hickock. He spent about six years working on the book and ultimately made it a true-crime novel.

In Cold Blood gained early success because of its persuasive prose style and considerable detail. The book was also lauded for its triple narrative technique i-e which describes the lives of the murderers, the victims and the community in rural villages. Capote has also given proper attention to the family backgrounds of the two murderers and their psychological traits. He has also commented on the complex relationship between them. Critics regard it as a true crime novel and laud it for its genuineness though some of the events differ from the real events. It was published originally in four parts in The New Yorker and then as a novel in 1965.

In Cold Blood Summary

The novel consists of four chapters. The summary of each chapter is given below.

Chapter 1

The setting is Holcomb, Kansas, a town of approximately 270 people, located at the carrefour between the potent pasture of the Midwest and the grubby span of the High West. The pueblo consists of a post office, the Holcomb school, the Teacherage where several of the pueblo’s teachers live, and Hartman’s Cafe (run by Mrs. Hartman). The stillness in the city is destroyed, in the early morning, by gunshots.

The story rewinds two days back. The Clutter family is introduced to the readers. The family consists of the couple, Herbert and Bonnie Clutter and their children; Eveanna, Beverly, Nancy and Kenyon. Herbert Clutter is the master of the family. He is a person who has achieved his American Dream. He runs a ranch and supervises his employees. He is very generous and fulfills the needs of his subordinates. He does not like people using tobacco and alcohol. His wife 

Bonnie Clutter lives a miserable life. She suffers from depression and is bedridden.

Eveanna is married and the mother of an infant. Beverly is a nursing tutee who is going to marry soon. Nancy is the darling of the town. She is energetic and lively. She is a dream-girl and wants to go to New York and attend college. She dates a local boy named Bobby Rupp but does not see her future with him. Kenyon, the youngest wants to be an engineer or inventor, is all day busy in making gadgets and other electronic equipment. The family is tightly-knit and they have a very comfortable life.

Herb, Herbert, thinks about sleeping as it is too late. His wife sleeps alone in Eveanna’s previous room. They have not slept together for many years which reveals their failed marital relationship. They live in a well-built house built by Herb himself. He drinks some milk and heads towards the livestock’s room with Teddy, a dog.

In this passage, Herb’s story through the ranks has been discussed. He works day and night to achieve that status. The writer tells us that, how with sheer determination and hard work, Herb has attained this status. How he has leapfrogged from an assistant to a county agent, with sheer hard work. He quits his job dreaming of running his own farm and achieves the status. People doubted his credentials but he proved them wrong.

Later, an employee of the farm comes to him and asks for leave as his child is ill. He gives him a day off and asks him if he needs any help. He then goes towards his garden of fruit trees built at the bank of the river and thinks of the jolly days of their early marriage. Five pheasant hunters come to him with their guns and offer money to him for hunting. He permits them to hunt for free saying that he is not a poor man as they think.

Perry Smith, one of the murderers, is introduced in this passage. He is in a cafe waiting for his other partner in crime, Dick Hickock. He is busy drinking beer, smoking a cigarette and also studying the map of Mexico where he intends to go. He also dreams of becoming a treasure hunter in the tropics and dreams about having a future in the music world, in Las Vegas.  He pays his bill and waits outside for Dick to discuss a plan for robbery. He is short in stature and openly praises Dick’s masculinity. His dreams are broken when Dick reaches in a car.

The story then jumps into Nancy’s experience in baking a cherry pie. She receives a phone call from Mrs. Clarence Katz, who tells her  to teach her daughter about the cherry pie recipe. She hesitates because of her busy schedule working with her father. She visits his office and feels the scent of tobacco. Herb permits her to skip the meeting and she gets herself ready to help Jolene Katz.

Nancy enters her room to change clothes. She puts on her gold watch as well. Susan Kidwell, her bestie, calls her and she shares her worry about her father with Susan. She tells her that her father has started smoking. Nancy tells her that she wants to be “father’s girl” and does not want to disobey her father in any case. Susan tells her that Bobby can be the reason for her father’s trouble but Nancy does not think so. However, she thinks secretly that Bobby might be the source of trouble.

Perry sits in Dick’s car. Dick still wears his mechanic attire. He looks for his guitar in the backseat. He finds a gun and some other tools for robbery. He also spots a vest filled with shells. He asks Dick about the vest and Dick tells him that it is part of the plan. Dick promises him that he will see him blasting hair over the wall. Both of them go to Bob Sands’ Body Shop, where Dick works. Dick tells him that he was with his father at home that’s why he came late. He also tells him that he has lied to his parents telling them that they, he and Perry, are going to Fort Scott to borrow money from Perry’s sister.

The story again comes to Clutters’ house where the cherry pie is being cooled on the table. Nancy feels happy that she helped her. Jolene wants to eat the pie instantly. She offers some pieces to Bonny and Nancy. They decline because Nancy is ready to go to help another girl in the neighborhood and Bonny is suffering from a headache. Nancy leaves so Bonny keeps the company of Jolene till her mother picks her up.

Jolene is feeling shy but tells Bonnie that her home economics teacher in school admires Nancy. Mrs. Clutter acknowledges, telling her that her children are efficient and they do not need her. Bonnie leads Jolene to her room and opens her a small paper fan. She tells her that such little things are for her. She also tells her about her illness and hopes that God will have mercy upon her. When Jolene’s mother comes, Bonnie offers her the fan which she accepts. Bonnie then goes into her bedroom. Her bedroom is greatly embellished. The windows are shut. She thinks about her past and blames herself for bringing disrepute to her family. She changes her nightclothes and begins to read the Bible.

When Dick and Perry ready the car, they spend ample time in the shop’s washroom. Both of them reveal their bodies. Both of them have flaws, in one way or the other, in their bodies. Dick’s face is curved because he had a car accident. Being naked, Perry’s own flaws are also visible. His legs and lower body are scarred and twisted due to a motorbike accident. That accident has given him chronic pain due to which he uses aspirin continuously. Dick decides that they have wasted enough time and tells him to go. They reach the pueblo of Emporia to buy some more things for the looting. Perry asserts that they should wear women’s attire over their faces to conceal their true selves. Dick refuses and comforts Perry that his plan is flawless and they will be able to execute it properly.

Kenyon is busy in the cellar making a wedding gift for his sister Beverly. He is an introvert and does not take any interest in girls. He goes outside to work in his mother’s garden when he sees Paul Helm. Mr. Helm asks him about a vehicle in the driveway and Kenyon tells him that it might be Mr. Johnson’s, the insurance agent. Nancy, fresh from swimming, comes on the back of her Babe. Mr. Helm leaves.

Dick and Perry, who are still searching for a black pantyhose, park the car outside a Catholic hospital on the fringes of the town. Dick enters the hospital hoping that he might find one. Perry does not want to confront the nuns so he stays in the car. Perry thinks about his return to Kansas and hopes that he may get united with Willie-Jay who was his friend in prison. Willie-Jay had tried to change Perry to Christianity but failed to do so. He had also notified him of his bad temper. Dick dismisses Willie-Jay and Perry believes that he has disappeared. Dick comes back to the car with nothing and Perry is shaken from his musings.

The scene changes and now Bob Johnson, “the Garden City Representative of the New York Life Insurance Company”, observes Mr. Clutter who is busy writing a check for a new life insurance policy. Mr. Johnson jokes about his old routine of never carrying cash. Herbert talks about his daughter’s coming marriage and talks about his luck. He tells him that his life will get more settled in the coming years. Mr. Johnson takes the check from him, places it in his pocket and leaves.

Perry and Dick drive in the night. Perry thinks about the scenery and reflects on how he hates Kansas. He talks about Mexico and talks about renting a ship and going to Japan with Dick. He starts thinking about Japan but Dick interrupts his thinking.

The narrator of the following scene is Bobby Rupp, during his testimony at the police station after the killing of the Clutters. He talks about his connection with Nancy and praises her for her beauty and fame. He recalls the last time he met with the Clutters and says that he left that night at 10:30.

Again Dick and Perry are the subjects in this passage. They have dinner at Great Bend and then they travel towards Holcomb. After several hours they halt at a gas station on the fringes of Garden City. Perry, feeling his legs itchy, takes aspirin and rests for some time in the restroom. Dick impatiently waits for him in his car thinking that he may have changed his mind about the robbery. Perry has told him that once he killed a man and from thereafter Dick is convinced that he is the man for the job. Dick resolves to manipulate Perry and he has promised him to partner him with his hunting treasures. Dick also wishes for a luxurious life having a home, a car, a horse etc. Perry at last comes and they leave. They arrive at the Clutters’ late that night.

The next morning Nancy Ewalt, with her father Clarence Ewalt, goes to the Clutters’ so that she accompanies them to the church. When she rings the doorbell, no answer comes. They go to the Teacherage, to ask Susan about what’s the matter. After calling the Clutters’ on the phone, they decide to visit their home. Nancy, her father, Susan and her mother go there. Nancy and Susan go to the house first. They see the dead body of Nancy Clutter and rush out of the house screaming.

The police, along with Larry Hendricks and Mr. Ewalt, search the whole house. 

Upstairs, they come across Nancy’s body. Then they discover Bonnie’s body in Eveanna’s former room. Afterwards, they find the dead bodies of Herbert and Kenyon down in the cellar. All of them were shot in the head from point-blank range. Mr. Clutter’s throat was also cut. The murderers’ only clue was a bloodsoaked footprint. Holcomb’s mailwoman Mother Truitt sees ambulances at the Farm. She tells her daughter, who is a postmistress in the town. She makes a phone call and comes to know about the murder of the Clutters. They both react with agony and terror hearing this horrific news.

People of the town come to know about the murders quickly. They react with shock, despair and incredulity. The owner of Hartman’s Cafe, Mr. Bess Hartman, is completely shaken by the news. Bob Johnson feels sad about the family’s death and decides to honor Herb’s life insurance policy, even though he hasn’t yet processed Herb’s check. Beverly, Eveanna and other family members come to Holcomb. Mr. Ewalt breaks the news to Bobby Rupp and Susan consoles him.

After the murder, Perry takes rest in a motel room in Olathe, Kansas. His smudged boots are saturating in the washbasin. Dick feels very hungry and enjoys Sunday dinner with his family. He is so tired that he goes to sleep instantly once he finishes his meal.

Chapter 2

Herbert’s home is cleaned up by four of his closest friends. They all praise him for his hard work and commitment. Alvin Dewey who is Kansas Bureau of Investigation (KBI) agent is given the murder case. He is an experienced investigator and Herb’s personal friend. His team includes Special Agents Harold Nye, Roy Church and Clarence Duntz. They arrange a press conference in which Alvin reveals that neither of the females is sexually abused. He also says that they are trying to get any clue, motive or lead. The whole town is in a disarray. Fear is looming large in the town. The people in town feel frightened. Many of the houses keep their lights burning at night.

Perry and Dick sit in a cafe in Kansas. Perry reads about the murders in an article. Perry tells dick that they will get caught eventually bringing a connection with Floyd. Dick tells him that he will kill Floyd if he opens his mouth. Susan and Bobby agree to go to see Nancy a day before their funeral. They feel amazed when they see all of them dressed in their formal dress with their heads completely encased in cotton.

In Kansas City, Perry and Dick are busy writing bad checks. When they get enough money, Perry is excited that he will be able to go to Mexico to fulfil his dreams. He also dreams of getting married to the nurse who took care of him after his accident. He thinks that they will become treasure hunters in Mexico and will pay off bad checks then.

Alvin Dewey is busy investigating the murder. He thinks it strange that the murderers acted with simultaneous violence and tenderness. Perry and Dick load the Chevy with stolen goods and go to Oklahoma. Perry is relieved that his dream is finally coming true. Dick is sad because he thinks about his family. Only days after the funeral, Beverly marries Vere English. They marry so early because they think all their relatives are in town for the funeral.

Perry and Dick are enjoying their stay in Mexico. Perry is suspicious that something bad will happen to them as they have murdered innocent people. Dick dismisses his fear. He also hates Perry for his unusual habits. Perry thinks about his doomed life throughout. He had a troubled childhood. His mother was alcoholic, his sister was killed in a horrific accident, his brother committed suicide. He thinks he is doomed to lead a miserable life. He reveals he lied to 

Dick about killing a man because he wanted to impress Dick.

Hartman’s Cafe’s steadiest customers Lester McCoy and Mrs. Hideo Ashida say that they are leaving the town following the unrest. Mrs. Ashida tells that her husband wanted to leave early but she refused. Following the murder, she also wants to leave. Dick and Perry aboard a small boat at the coast of Acapulco. They have no money and Dick decides to sell the Chevy. Dick does not do any manual work thinking that the wages in Mexico are very low. Perry thinks Dick cannot manage any money. Dick decides to go back to the States. They borrow some money and buy two bus tickets to the States.

Perry contemplates his past. His time as a Merchant Marine, his time in the Army, and his time in Worcester, Massachusetts. He recalls a letter from his sister, Barbara, in which she scolds him for his criminal behavior. After the letter, Perry hates his sister and wishes her to be at the Clutters’ house that night so that he would have killed her too. Later, Perry looks at his watch to note the time. He hurries Dick, who is busy being physical and intimate with a prostitute, to go.

In Holcomb, Alvin Dewey stops at Hartman’s Cafe for a cup of coffee. He gets some stick from local men due to his failure in locating the murderers. Alvin also remembers the murders occured in Holcomb in the past. Dick and Perry are busy hitchhiking in the Mojave Desert. They plan to take a lift from a stranger, then kill him and get the car. A man comes but does not give them a lift. They proceed on their journey.

Chapter 3

The chapter starts with Floyd Wells, Herb’s former employee and current inmate at Kansas State Penitentiary in Lansing, who learns of the Clutter murder. Once he was a cellmate with Dick and told him about the Clutters’ well-being. Dick has told him that he and Perry will rob and kill the Clutters. Floyd fears retribution however he goes to the deputy warden’s office and tells him what Dick’s plans were. Alvin and his wife Marie also learn of Dick and Perry as the suspects in the murder. Alvin shares their photos with Marie. Dick looks like a criminal while Perry’s soft eyes do not prove him a bad guy.

The KBI starts its investigation. Agent Nye questions Dick’s parents in their house. His father tells him that Dick was a good boy however he became resentful because they could not send him to college. Dick’s mother argues that her son became a criminal because of Perry. Agent Nye spots a 12-gauge shotgun. Dick’s father tells him that the gun belongs to Dick. A travelling businessman gives a ride to both of them. Dick makes him busy and signals Perry to murder him. In the meantime, a third traveller gets on the car and their plan fails.

Agent Nye visits a house in Las Vegas where Perry once lived. The lady there tells Nye that she expects Perry soon as he has sent some luggage before his arrival. Nye then visits San Francisco to meet Perry’s sister Barbara. Barbara hates to discuss her brother. She tells Agent Nye not to tell Perry her whereabouts because she fears him. She has no clues for Agent Nye. Afterwards, the KBI decides to keep the information secret as they have no clue whether Dick and Perry are the murderers.

Dick and Perry head for Kansas City. They seek shelter in a barn from a rainstorm. Dick thinks that he will cash on selling bad checks and will spend the winter in Florida. Perry is convinced that they will get caught. They discover a car in the barn and decide to steal it. In Kansas City, Perry does the manual work of laundry while waiting for Dick to come. He thinks about his life and concludes that his life has not changed from his childhood days. Dick comes happily telling that he has written one bad check. They plan to go to Florida. In the meantime, Alvin is told by Agent Nye that Dick and Perry have been traced to Kansas City but nobody has caught them yet. Alvin thinks they cannot be caught and terms them invincibles.

Perry and Dick enjoy their life on the beach in Miami, Florida. Dick collects seashells and feels envious of a rich man who is enjoying with his wife. He is a pedophile and gives the seashells to a twelve-year-old girl to entice her sexually. Perry feels relieved when the girl leaves Dick. He feels his dream of being a treasure hunter and a musician has been destroyed. He contemplates suicide as an escape from the miserable life. They have no money and are leaving Florida tomorrow aiming to go west. On the same day, Bobby goes for a walk and inadvertently ends at the Clutters’ farm. He examines their house which has become a symbol of abandonment and despair. The only sound in the house is of the family’s pet horse, Babe, in the livestock corral still alive.

Dick and Perry team up with a boy who finds returnable bottles by the roadside. They collect a good amount of bottles and exchange them at a motel. They divide the money and have a great dinner in a restaurant. Afterwards, on 30th December Alvin gets notified through a call that both the murderers have been caught in Las Vegas. Afraid that the KBI’s evidence will not be sufficient to prove their crime, he sets off for Las Vegas.

Agent Nye and Church interrogate Dick. Agent Nye is surprised by Dick’s lean demeanor. Dick lies about the murders and both of them catch his lies. Dick persistently denies his crime. Then Agent Nye spots Perry outside the room and is amazed by his dark complexion and short legs. Alvin and Agent Duntz question Perry about the murders. Both of them accuse him of the killings and he remains silent. They are imprisoned in separate cells. Perry wishes to talk to Dick but cannot. Dick is assured that Floyd has betrayed him and feels angry for not killing him in prison. He also realizes that Perry is a greater weakness and regrets not killing him first.

They both are interrogated for the second time. Dick puts all the blame on Perry and tells them that it was Perry who killed them all. He tells them that he was unable to stop him. After Dick’s confession, the people of Holcomb feel shocked and confused that the killer is not one of their own. Some of them still believe that the real killer is someone else who is hidden.

Both of them are driven to Garden City in a police caravan. Perry is handcuffed and sits in the passenger seat besides Alvin who is driving. In Garden City, the agents turn Perry against Dick and Perry tells him the story of the murders. Perry tells them that they were so frustrated after finding no money in Clutters’ house. He says he also protected Nancy from Dick who was going to rape her. He tells them he wanted to kill even Dick after the murders as he was a witness. Alvin heard the story with horror also feeling sympathy for Perry. Outside, a large crowd is gathered to see the two murderers get escorted to jail.

Chapter 4

Perry is kept in a “ladies cell” because of his feminine qualities. Josephine Meier, the undersheriff’s wife, feels sympathy towards him and offers him food to eat. She tells her husband about Perry’s sympathetic character but he scolds her saying he is a murderer. Perry takes full responsibility for all the murders sparing Dick because he does not want Dick’s family to suffer. In the meantime, the county attorney gives his verdict that he will pursue the death penalty against both of them. Perry misses Dick very much.

Dick seeks a way of escaping jail. He plans to make a jailbreak and go to Colorado. He makes a knife in the hope of killing the undersheriff. The sheriff finds Dick’s knife and Perry comes to know of it. He has also dreamed of escaping jail. He even dreams of suicide but there is no way to escape the cell. 

Meanwhile, the authorities decide that the trial will be held in Garden City keeping in view the sentiments of the people towards both of them. Many leaders in the city are against the death sentence. Doctors are called upon to examine the mental state of both the criminals. The doctors confirm that both are sane and fit for trial. The defense comes up with their own psychiatrist, Dr. Jones to examine them.

In the meantime, on 31st March the remaining belongings of the Clutters’ are sold in an auction. Their family horse, Babe, is sold to a Mennonite farmer much to the grief of Susan. Paul Helm views the auction as a second funeral. The authorities select a jury for the trial. The defense’s psychiatrist Dr. Jones takes details from Dick and Perry about their lives. They both write about their lives until the moment they murder the family. 

When the trial begins, Mr. Hickock argues that the trial is biased against his son Dick. Floyd confirms the crime and says that it was planned. Alvin also testifies that Perry had protected Dick from raping Nancy. He also tells them that Perry gets all the blame to spare Dick’s family from suffering. Mrs. Hickock cries when she hears this and feels sympathy for both of them.

Don Cullivan visits Perry in jail. After eating the meal, Perry tells him that he does not know why he killed the Clutters. He tells him maybe he was satisfying his private anger on them. He also tells him that he does not feel guilty about the crime because he did not know the Clutters before. 

When the trial resumes, Dr. John is summoned to testify. He was asked about whether both of them knew right from wrong when they were committing the crime. He shares his opinion about Dick that he suffers from “organic brain damage”. About Perry he says he is unable to draw an opinion. He may be suffering from schizophrenia and may be “murders without motive”.

In the final session of the trial the defense argues that the death penalty is harsh and it goes against Christianity. The highly experienced Logan Green, who is the prosecution’s attorney, argues that the act is barbarous and the murderers if spared, will cause more danger in the community. Finally, the jury finds both of them guilty and gives them death sentences.

Both of them survive their first execution date because of their case in appeals court. Perry goes for a hunger strike and is sent to hospital to be forcibly fed. After some days he begins to eat and returns to the cell. Two years go by and they are joined by other mates in the cell who are also having death penalties. Dick studies law books hoping that he will reverse his penalty. A final hearing is conducted, on the request of Dick, and the whole cast is reassembled in Garden City. After much discussion, they conclude that both have had a fair trial and there is no evidence of their innocence. Consequently, a new date is fixed for their execution.

Three more years pass and they survive three more execution dates. Their final appeal fails and a date is set for their execution: April 14th, 1965. Alvin, along with his team, comes for the execution. Dick shakes hands with the KBI agents feeling no remorse. He is hanged till death. Later, Perry is also executed. He apologized for all his crimes but was meaningless. Alvin is deeply moved by his execution. He also tells us that he was happy for all the people, related to the Clutters, living their lives happily afterwards.

In Cold Blood Characters Analysis

Characters are mouthpieces for a writer. A writer expresses his opinion about an issue through their characters. Writing a literary piece is impossible without characters. Through characters, the readers come to know about the writer’s opinion on a particular subject. In this novel, the main focus is on Herbert Clutter, the owner of the Clutter family, and the two murderers; Dick Hickock and Perry Smith. 

Herbert Clutter

Herbert Clutter is the owner of the Clutter family. He is the master of River Valley Farm as well. He is a successful man and a prominent citizen of the town. He has achieved his success through sheer hard work and determination. He used to be an assistant at a farm but his determination to run a farm himself pays off. He pursues the American Dream and attains it through hard work. People doubted his credentials but he proved them wrong with his success.

Herb is a generous and sympathetic person. He shows sympathy towards his workers as well. He treats them kindly and pays their wages in time. One of his workers requests for a day off as his child is ill. He spares him for the day and asks him if he needs any help. He also allows the hunters to hunt in his orchards free of cost. He also instils his qualities in his children particularly, Nancy and Kenyon, who also work hard to achieve their own success.

Perry Smith

Perry Smith is one of the murderers of the Clutters’ family. He is a complicated guy and a round character who changes very quickly. He is Capote’s most complex character. His traumatic childhood has made him a criminal. His father did not send him to school. His mother was an alcoholic. His two brothers committed suicides and a sister who is afraid of him. His childhood was very troubled which has a lasting effect on his adult life. 

He used to live in orphanages in his childhood where the nuns abused him constantly. He was brutally tortured in the orphanages. In his adulthood, he gets into a motorcycle accident which leaves him with crippled legs and constant pain. He craves for education all his life and sees himself as an individual with proper potential if given proper education.

He is mistreated all his life which results in him being a thief first and then a serious murderer. He wants to give an outlet to his anger and murders the whole Clutters’ family without any motive. The family has not done him any harm but he murders them brutally. He wants to achieve the American Dream by hook or by crook. He wants to go beyond his potentials to achieve that dream which results in him being a murderer.

There is a soft side to his personality as well. He does not allow Dick to rape Nancy before her murder. He does not like Dick being a pedophile. He becomes a teacher of Joe’s kids when he stays with him. He is very touchy and cries easily on an ordinary matter. However, being a murderer all his good qualities remain useless. He is caught by the police, sentenced to death, and executed finally.

Dick Hickock

Dick Hickock is Perry’s partner in crime. According to his parents he was a good boy in his childhood. He does well in school and in sports as well. However, he thinks life has not given him what he has wished for, so he wants to snatch it from life by whatever means possible. He sells bad checks and does not care for his actions.

He blows away all his money on alcohol and women. He is a rapist and a pedophile. He does not care about the consequences of his actions. He acts according to his own will and desire. He is a materialist and does not share any emotional connection with another person. He partners Perry for the murders because he thinks it is not a one man job. After succeeding in his crime he thinks about getting rid of Perry.

He does not feel any guilt for his crime. Perry always alludes to the fact that they have done many things wrong but Dick is fed up with Perry moaning about the crime. He tells him to forget about it as it is nothing serious for Dick. Lack of empathy and guilt are the biggest traits in his personality.

In Cold Blood Themes

Themes are the central ideas writers explore in their writings. When they want to address an issue they turn to literary writing. Truman Capote has put emphasis on many issues in his novel. They are given as under;

The American Dream

The American Dream, as defined by James Truslow, is “ a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position”. The idea of achieving this dream takes centre stage in In Cold Blood. All the characters strive to achieve this dream. They also want to know about who has achieved it and who has not.

Both the murderers want to achieve this dream but are devoid by circumstances. Perry’s traumatic childhood, his crippled legs and his poverty make him unable to achieve this dream. His inability of achieving this dream compels him to choose the life of crime. Despite being an intelligent and hardworking individual, he turns to the life of crime for achieving success because of his dire circumstances. Dick also turns to unfair means to achieve success. His low income and less resources frustrate him in his life. He looks for a shortcut to achieve success and turns to a life of crime, ultimately planning with Perry to rob the Clutters’.

Contrastingly, Herbert Clutter is a self-made man. He runs his own farm and lives a prosperous life. Unlike both Dick and Perry, he has achieved the American Dream by sheer hard work and determination. He has used hard work as a ladder to achieve success. He has also instilled the idea of hard work in his children particularly Nancy and Kenyon. They represent the ideal achievement of the American Dream for Dick and Perry.

The Idea of Evil

Truman Capote, in his novel, terms the idea of evil as relative which differs from individual to individual. What seems evil to one person, does not seem evil to another person. Perry does not think that his murder of the Clutters’ was an evil act. He argues that soldiers murder more men and get middles for it. However, he thinks Dick’s pedophilic nature as evil. 

He even prevents Nancy Clutter from rape before murdering her. His idea is relative but ironic. He murders Nancy but prevents her from being raped. He thinks rape is evil but does not think murder evil. This idea is not cleared given his troubled childhood and traumatic life.


The idea of Christianity as a force of redemption and salvation is discussed in numerous ways in the text. Holcomb City is a religious city and the inhabitants practice religion fully. The Clutters’ family is Methodist and their Methodist mindset can be related to their achievement of the American Dream. Although Perry openly shuns Catholicism, because of his experience with the abusive nuns who tortured and abused him, Christian norms and values are important to him.

Willie-Jay thinks Christianity can bring back Dick and Perry from a life of crime. She sees Christianity as a savior for both of them. Most Christians term the death penalty harsh for both of them and demand leniency from the authorities. Christianity acts as an antidote to killing and violence in the novel.

In Cold Blood Literary Analysis

Capote’s In Cold Blood is a nonfiction novel – the first of its kind. He has told the story of the Clutters’ family’s murders with great details. Prior to the novel writing, he had taken notes of approximately 8000 pages about the horrific murders. Capote and Harper Lee followed the investigation till the end and Capote then decided to make a novel out of it.

Capote’s art of storytelling is admirable. Capote has given his readers a detailed account of his characters. The readers know all about the main characters as well as the minor ones. They know about the dreams, ambitions and desires of each character. He has also given proper attention to the psychological minds of the main characters. Capote’s eloquent style and his extensive detail about the characters make him a better novelist. His language is simple and concise.

Capote’s novel can be read as a commentary on the American Dream. According to the novel, every individual seeks to achieve the American Dream but few individuals succeed in achieving it. Individuals like Dick and Perry turn to a life of crime trying to achieve it. They do not have the proper means to achieve it so they turn to unfair means. They seek criminal life as a shortcut to be successful in their lives and pursue it, unlike Herbert Clutter who achieves the dream through sheer hard work and determination. Capote wants to tell his readers that the American Dream cannot be achieved by everyone.

Capote uses ironies significantly in the story. Firstly, the Clutters’ were made comfortable before they were brutally killed is ironic. Perry also tells the investigator that he did not want to give any harm to Mr. Herbert and then he slits his throat. Secondly, Perry saves Nancy from being raped by Dick and then murders her. Perry does not think murdering someone is an evil act and does not feel any regret in the last scene while previously he had apologized for his crimes is also ironic.

Capote has used apt words and sentence structure for the narration of the story. The choice of words completely befits the subject matter. He has addressed the alarming subject of the American Dream in a very simple way. The plot is well-knitted. There are no loose threads in the plot. The story moves slowly and gradually towards its ending. Capote has taken care of every little detail in his masterpiece.

Capote describes the Clutters’ and the murderers contrastingly. His choice of words is different for both of them. He uses “Mr.” with Herbert Clutter but calls the murderers by their original names. It is because he respects Herbert for his hard work and determination in successfully achieving his American Dream. On the contrary, he does not have the same amount of respect for both the murderers who depend on shortcuts to achieve their success.


The Title

The title of the novel In Cold Blood itself is symbolic. The denotative meaning of ‘in cold blood’ is “without feeling or mercy; ruthlessly”. In the context of the novel we, the readers, assume from the title that something brutal is going to happen. Afterwards, the readers come to know that the murderers have done the crime brutally and mercilessly. They have felt no sympathy for the victims. This is the first significant symbol.

The Clutter Family

The Clutter family is a well-balanced and perfect family. Most of the family members live a happy life. Most of them are busy in achieving their desires and goals in life. They symbolize a family which have achieved their American Dream. Herbert Clutter has achieved success with hard work and patience and he is busy instilling that idea in his children. His children are following their father’s footsteps in making themselves stable and independent.


Truman Capote criticizes the presence of prisons in the country and the way the criminals are treated there. He informs his readers that the prisons in the country do not reform the criminals rather they make them more brutal and cruel. The criminals, in the novel, who come out of prisons end up committing more serious crimes and are caught again. Floyd Wells, Dick and Perry all have spent time in jail and have come out more experienced criminals.

To sum up, Capote’s novel makes readers understand that the American Dream can only be achieved through continuous hard work and struggle. Men who follow shortcuts to achieve it mostly end up in a life of crime.


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In Cold Blood

In 1959, Holcomb is a small agricultural town in western Kansas. Herbert Clutter owns the River Valley Farm, where he lives with his wife Bonnie and his two youngest children, 16-year-old Nancy and 15-year-old Kenyon. On the morning of the murders, Herbert oversleeps, having stayed up late to see Nancy home from a date with her boyfriend, Bobby Rupp. After a light breakfast, he goes outside to his prized fruit orchard.

Meanwhile, Perry Smith eats breakfast at a cafe in Olathe, Kansas. As he waits for Dick Hickock to arrive, Perry pores over a map of Mexico, dreaming of lost treasure.

Back at the Clutters,’ Nancy receives a phone call from a neighbor asking her to help her daughter Jolene bake a pie. Nancy agrees, although it requires her to reorganize her busy schedule which includes tutoring another child, running errands, and sewing dresses for her older sister Beverly’s wedding. On a phone call with her best friend, Susan Kidwell, Nancy describes her distress about her relationship with Bobby. Her father wants the couple to break up, because Bobby is Catholic and the Clutters are Methodist.

Meanwhile, Dick and Perry drive to a body shop where Dick outfits their car for the long trip to Holcomb, where they plan to steal ten thousand dollars from Herbert Clutter’s safe.


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