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In Cold Blood is a 1966 book by Americanmarker author Truman Capote.

The book details the brutal 1959 murders of Herbert Clutter, a wealthy farmer from Holcombmarker, Kansasmarker, and his wife and two of their children. When Capote learned of the quadruple murder before the killers were captured, he decided to travel to Kansas and write about the crime. Bringing his childhood friend and fellow author Harper Lee along, 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 not long after the murders, and Capote ultimately spent six years working on the book. It is considered the originator of the non-fiction novel and the forerunner of the New Journalism movement, although other writers, like Rodolfo Walsh, had already explored the genre in books like Operación Masacre.

The plot weaves a complicated psychological story of two parolees who together commit a mass murder, an act they were not capable of individually. Capote's book also details the lives of the victims and the effect the crime had on the community where they lived. A large part of the story involves the dynamic psychological relationship of the two felons that culminated in this senseless crime. In Cold Blood is often regarded by critics as a pioneering work of true crime.

Overview of the Crime

Kenyon Clutter's 1959-60 high school yearbook photo.
Nancy Clutter's 1959-60 high school yearbook photo.

Herb Clutter was a dedicated Methodist and a widely respected self-made man who had established a successful farm from modest beginnings. He employed as many as eighteen farm hands, and former employees reportedly admired and respected him for his fair treatment and good wages. His four children, three girls and a boy, were widely respected in the community. The two eldest, Eveanna and Beverly, had moved out of their parents' home and started their adult lives. The two younger children, Nancy, 16, and Kenyon, 15, were high school students still living at home. Clutter's wife, Bonnie, a member of the local garden club, had been incapacitated by clinical depression and physical ailments since the births of her children, although this characterization of her has been disputed by surviving family members.

Two ex-convicts on parole from the Kansas State Penitentiarymarker, Richard "Dick" Hickock and Perry Edward Smith, committed the robbery and murders on November 15, 1959. Previously, Richard Hickock had heard from a fellow prisoner, Floyd Wells, who had once worked for the Clutters, that he thought there was a safe at the ranch where Herb Clutter kept large amounts of cash, but he couldn't be sure. Hickock later contacted Smith about committing the robbery with him. Hickock hatched the idea in prison to commit the robbery, leave no witnesses and start a new life in Mexicomarker with the cash from the Clutter home. Hickock described his plan as "a cinch, the perfect score." The information proved to be false, since Herb Clutter did not keep cash on hand, had no safe, and did all his business using checks to better keep track of transactions.

After driving across the state of Kansas on Saturday, November 14, 1959, Hickock and Smith located the Clutter home, entering while the family slept. After rousing the family, and discovering that there was no money to be found at the Clutters' home, Smith, notoriously unstable and sociopathic, became enraged and slit Herb Clutter's throat and then shot him in the head. As 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." Kenyon, then Nancy, and then Bonnie were murdered, each by single shotgun blasts to the head.

Smith claimed in his oral confession that Hickock murdered the two women. When asked to sign his confession, however, Smith refused. 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." Hickock always maintained that Smith did all four killings.

Hickock and Smith were ultimately arrested in Las Vegasmarker about six weeks after the murders. They pleaded temporary insanity during the trial, but local GP evaluated the accused and pronounced them sane. After five years on death row, Smith and Hickock were executed by hanging just after midnight on April 14, 1965, in Lansing, Kansasmarker, at the Kansas State Penitentiary (now known as Lansing Correctional Facilitymarker). The gallows from which they were hanged is now part of the collections of the Kansas State Historical Society.

Capote's research

On November 16, 1959, The New York Times published an account of the murders, which began:

Holcomb, Kan., Nov.
15 [1959] (UPI) -- A wealthy wheat farmer, his wife and their two young children were found shot to death today in their home.
They had been killed by shotgun blasts at close range after being bound and gagged ...
There were no signs of a struggle, and nothing had been stolen.
The telephone lines had been cut.
The New York Times

This 335-word article interested Capote enough for him to travel to Kansas to investigate the murders. Capote brought his childhood friend, Harper Lee, who would later win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for her novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, with him to help gain the confidence of the locals, who mistrusted Capote. Capote did copious research for the work, ultimately compiling 8,000 pages of notes. After the criminals were found, tried, and convicted, Capote held personal interviews with both Smith and Hickock. Smith especially fascinated Capote; in the book he is portrayed as the more sensitive and guilt-ridden of the two killers. Rumors of a romantic and even sexual relationship between Smith and Capote still linger to this day. The book was not completed until after Smith and Hickock were executed.


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 New Yorker had distributed the usual number of copies, which sold out immediately. In Cold Blood was first published in book form by Random House in January 1966. 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 indexes as the original publication date. The Library of Congressmarker lists 1966 as the publication date and 1965 as the copyright date.


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."

Despite the book's billing as a factual "True Crime" account, critics have challenged the authenticity of the book, arguing that Capote changed facts to suit his story, added scenes which never occurred, and re-created dialogue. Capote relied entirely on memorization when talking to subjects in the book, and did not use a tape recorder or take any written notes; this alone may have contributed to several inaccuracies in the book.

One of these critics was J. J. Maloney (d. 1999), a convicted murderer who upon release in 1972 became an investigative reporter for the Kansas City Star (he was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize five times) and later a Web publisher (he launched Maloney gave much thought in his crime writing to criminal intent. He surmised that Smith and Hickock had begun a homosexual relationship in prison, and that at the Clutter house Smith had "exploded" when he found Hickock intent on raping the bound Nancy Clutter. At this point, in Maloney’s view, Smith challenged Hickock to kill the family, beginning with the father, as Hickock had previously bragged he would do when talking about the future robbery in prison (though Smith expected Hickock to renege on his threat and thereby show himself humiliated, at least to the two of them, as an unmanly coward). When Hickock did back down, Smith killed the whole family, to show Hickock that he, Smith, the passive partner in their relationship, was even manlier than his active-role sex partner. Maloney felt Capote missed all of this; or rather, he believed Capote had ulterior motives for covering the true account up. His view of Capote's account was that it was, at its core, a dishonest book.


The book itself was made into a 1967 film of the same name by Richard Brooks, who directed and adapted the screenplay. It starred Robert Blake as Perry Smith and Scott Wilson as Richard Hickock. John Forsythe played the investigator (Al Dewey) from the Kansas Bureau of Investigation who apprehended the killers. The film was shot in black and white. It was nominated for four Academy Awards: Best Director, Best Original Score, Best Cinematography and Best Adapted Screenplay. The film was also adapted into a 1996 miniseries starring Anthony Edwards and Eric Roberts, portraying, respectively, Hickock and Smith.

Capote's experiences in writing the story, and his subsequent fascination with the murders, have been adapted into two films. Capote (2005) starred Philip Seymour Hoffman, who won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of Truman Capote, and Catherine Keener as Harper Lee. The film was critically acclaimed and was nominated for four other Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress (Keener), Best Director (Bennett Miller), and Best Adapted Screenplay (Dan Futterman). A year later the film Infamous, starring Toby Jones as Capote and Sandra Bullock as Lee, was released to favorable reviews.

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