In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
A True Account of a Multiple Murder and Its Consequences
Then I aimed the gun. The room just exploded. Went blue. Just blazed up. Jesus, I’ll never understand why they didn’t hear the noise twenty miles around.
Originally published in 1965, this non-fiction title covers the case of the brutal murders of the Clutter family in rural Kansas in 1959. Herb Clutter, a wealthy rancher, his wife Bonnie, their 16-year-old daughter Nancy, and 15-year-old son Kenyon were found tied up and shot in their home on 15 November 1959. No one could believe something so horrific could have happened in such a small, tight-knit community.
But who did it? And why?
Capote spent considerable time making observations, trawling through official records, and conducting interviews to create this book, which is simply breathtaking in its nuanced detail. His descriptive powers are such that when I googled images of the murderers, they looked exactly as I had pictured.
The book is split into four chapters. Chapter 1 gives the background on the victims and the murderers, and outlines their exact movements on 14th November 1959, up to just before the murder. Chapter 2 skips to the aftermath: the discovery of the bodies, and introduces the detectives assigned to the case. Chapter 3 deals with the breakthrough in the case, while Chapter 4 covers the trial.
From the outset we know who committed the horrendous crime. But we don’t fully know why or if they achieved their aim, whatever that was. This is gradually revealed through the confessions and the trial.
Throughout, we learn more and more about the criminals, Perry Smith and Richard ‘Dick’ Hickock, their backgrounds, previous crimes, and what made them tick. Amazingly, although they undoubtedly committed the murders, and confess, Capote doesn’t completely vilify them. They are portrayed as human, and dare I say it, even likeable at times, particularly Smith. The fact that Capote could evoke pity and even likeability for such cold-blooded killers amazed me, even made me slightly uncomfortable sometimes – the sign of a truly worthwhile book! I do believe that every human has some redeeming feature(s), even if they have committed something horrendous. Nonetheless it was still a lesson to read how Capote managed to convey that, without in any way lessening the brutal murders they committed or cheapening the lives of those killed.
Another thing it brought up for me was the nature versus nurture debate. No, I don’t have any answers! But it’s still a stimulating one to mull over. This is well worth a read, even if it does leave you with more questions than answers about human nature.