The book, “In Cold Blood,” by Truman Capote was written in a way that was so different than any other book I have read before. The nonfiction novel was endearing, complex, gruesome, and so descriptive to the point that I felt like I was a community member of Holcomb, Kansas.
In the town of Holcomb, Kansas, on November 15, 1959, the Clutter family was killed by intruders who had ulterior motives. A newspaper article covering the murders of the four family members led Truman Capote to travel from New York to Kansas to document every detail of the occurrence. In 1965, “In Cold Blood,” was published. In the book Capote describes the characters, how the murders occurred, and why it happened.
In order to set the scene, Capote introduces the reader to the characters involved in the book. The Clutter family consists of Herbert, Bonnie, Nancy, Kenyon, and two older daughters who no longer live at home. Herbert William Clutter is the father of the family and husband to his housebound wife. He is a reliable man who owns a farm, and he is financially stable. His wife, Bonnie, suffers from severe depression which her children only make worse. Bonnie also hates the company of large groups.
Herbert and Nancy have two children that live at home. Their daughter, Nancy, is a young, beautiful girl and a great student. She is considered to be “all that” in Holcomb. She is also a brave child as she talked to the murderers during the night. Nancy has a romantic relationship with Bobby Rupp who she’s been dating since the sixth grade. Kenyon is the only son and youngest in the Clutter family. Kenyon is not someone who has many friends. Kenyon is a normal son. He is not particularly successful, but he does not cause problems either. Overall, the Clutter family is a Christian family, Methodists to be exact. They are the family that is very well known in the town of Holcomb, and they are somewhat well to do with the income from Herbert’s ranch. The Clutters are a family that no one would expect to get hurt.
At this point in the book, the reader feels as if they know who the Clutters are, and one might even become fond of them. However, after Capote proves them to be productive and likeable citizens of society, Capote tells the reader that the family is going to die. There is no sugar coating in the book. It’s simply the family’s last day alive, and nothing can be changed about it. Moving forward, Capote introduces two new characters who will take the Clutters’ last breaths away from them.
The killers in the book are Perry Smith and Dick Hickok. Perry Smith is out on parole, but he has visited prison many times. He had a troubling childhood that would leave him with everlasting trauma. While growing up, Perry had an abusive father and an alcoholic mother. He never had a true education, and he was never really taught right from wrong. Dick Hickok is an insensitive coward. He had good parents and an education, but he wants more from life. He feels like he’s entitled to whatever he wants. Dick uses other people to his advantage and is one of the greediest people. Dick also doesn’t care about right or wrong. He acts upon impulse, and consequences mean little to nothing to him. Dick is the mastermind behind the whole “big score.”
The big score came into play when Dick’s former inmate, Floyd Wells told him about Herbert Clutter. Wells was once employed by Herbert to work on his ranch, and he believed he had a huge safe filled with cash. Wells also told Dick about his daughter, Nancy. Dick had a massive fetish with children. In fact, one of his motives for the “big score” was to rape Nancy Clutter as he is attracted to little girls. Along with the abuse towards Nancy, Dick planned to rob Herbert Clutter and kill his family.
In the event of the actual crime, Dick and Perry cannot find the safe. The two are stunned and at a loss. Dick and Perry tie down the family and continue searching for the money. They then start speaking to Herbert, and in the heat of the moment Perry kills Herbert Clutter. Perry murders Herbert by slitting his throat and shooting him in the head. They killers were adamant about not leaving any witnesses, and the rest of the family members, Bonnie, Nancy, and Kenyon were killed by shotgun bullets to the head. The crime ended with Dick and Perry taking small items such as, binoculars, a portable radio, and around forty to fifty dollars in cash.
The Clutters are found dead the next morning. However, the killers skipped town, and no one in the Holcomb community trusts one another anymore. The community members start to point fingers, and they no longer feel safe. The people feel as though the Clutter family’s murder is among them. Unfortunately, Dick and Perry were not anywhere near Kansas, and they left nearly no evidence. They even took their shotgun shells. With that being said, the investigation still prevailed.
The last of the few key characters introduced is the head investigator of the case, Alvin Dewey. He knew the family, and their murders were very personal to him. Alvin is an experienced investigator, but he becomes very stressed with the case as there is little evidence. Al feels like he needs to bring answers to the community of Holcomb because they start to turn on each other. As leads start to arise, Alvin becomes obsessed with the murders of the Clutter family, and everything he does begins to revolve around the Clutter case.
Eventually, a lead comes from Floyd Wells. Wells heard about the murders on the radio, and he instantly knew it was Dick. Wells comes clean to the police, and he receives a monetary reward for his information. Alvin finally has a real lead, and he starts to hunt down Dick and Perry. Alvin Dewey arrests Dick and Perry on parole violation charges. The two confess during interrogation. Enough truth comes out during the trial that Dick and Perry are both sent to execution by hanging.
Moving forward, something interesting about the investigation was the legal injustice. Nothing in the investigation was done according to law and legal procedures. There were no warrants involved, and the trial was held in Holcomb. The system was already against Dick and Perry before the court hearing even started, especially considering that the judge knew the Clutters. In some ways, the cases could’ve been considered a mistrial.
In conclusion, Truman Capote wrote an amazing true crime novel describing the murders of the Clutter family. In the book, he reviewed the characters in detail, the murders, and why the murders happened. Overall, I quite enjoyed this book. I think it was a great example of true crime, and some issues within the American legal system. I feel like every aspect of the book was described beyond perfect. However, I would argue Capote himself almost deserved to be a character in the book.