In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

In Cold Blood

On November 15, 1959, in the small town of Holcomb, Kansas, four members of the Clutter family were savagely murdered by blasts from a shotgun held a few inches from their faces. There was no apparent motive for the crime, and there were almost no clues.As Truman Capote reconstructs the murder and the investigation that led to the capture, trial, and execution of the kille...

Title:In Cold Blood
Author:
Rating:
ISBN:0679745580
Edition Language:English
Number of Pages:343 pages

In Cold Blood Reviews

  • Jeffrey Keeten

    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.

    Smith, Perry Edward (WM) 27-59. Birthplace: Nevada. Height: 5-4. Weight: 156 Hair: D. Brn. Crim

    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.

    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. The line from the long running show

    perfectly describes this community. Where not only does everyone in the bar know your name, but everyone in the whole county knows your name and knows your family history.

    I don't own a copy of

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

    I stopped by the Dodge City Library, and as expected, they had several copies for me to choose from. The librarian at the check out desk, a woman about mid-sixties, slender, elegant, and still attractive paused for a moment looking down at the book. She physically shivered. She looked up at me and said in a whisper,

    .

    She can remember watching her father put locks on the doors for the first time and knowing afterwards that there was life before the Clutter murders, and then there was life after the Clutter murders. Her response surprised me. In a time when any crime anywhere in the country is broadcast out to the nation I would have thought some of the impact of the Clutter murder would have been buried under the avalanche of murder and mayhem related to us on a daily basis. 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

    .

    As I talked to people about the Clutter murders most everybody had a physical reaction. They flinched as if they were dodging a blow. You could almost see the pages of their memories fluttering behind their eyes back to 1959. They attributed more deaths to the crime, each of them citing six deaths rather than four. This could have to do with the fact that there were six Clutters. The two older girls had already left the home and started their own lives and were not present on that fateful night when their family was murdered.

    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 still been impacted by the murders.

    In the description above of 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 Dad 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 got away clean. Later they ignored a traffic signal in St. Joseph, Missouri and were pulled over by a cop. All the loot was wedged into the backseat of the car eliciting the wrong kinds of questions from law enforcement. They were extradited back to Phillipsburg, where through an open window (image 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 did a 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 for them to 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 not only a rich farmer, but kept a safe full of cash in his house.

    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 money still trickled through their fingers, after they burned through the goods they had acquired through the Clutter robbery and through defrauding retail stores, they found that working in Mexico didn't pay well either. They came back up to the United States and there was an interesting moment from the time they were in Miami that for me was really indicative of a level of detachment they were able to maintain. Perry Smith is reading the paper and sees an article about a family that was tied up and shot to death.

    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.

    Truman Capote had been looking for the right story for an experimental form of writing he'd been thinking about. He wanted to blend fiction and nonfiction and 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.

    Floyd Wells eventually comes forward and tells what he knows about the murders. He had always liked Herb Clutter and felt bad 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. They are convicted with the help of their signed confessions, and the punishment is death. As they are being led back to their cells:

    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 long overdue to read this. I'm glad that "On the Southern Literary Trail" selected to read this book. It was the right push to get me past my own reticence in avoiding this genre. I certainly have a connection to this book and that may have colored my perceptions and certainly may have elevated my rating of the book, but given the historic nature of the book, ushering in a new genre that is still vibrantly alive today; I think most anyone should put this on their reading list.

  • Brina

    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 Nov

    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.

  • Michael Finocchiaro

    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 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 p

    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 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 is 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 homoerotism 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 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 :/)


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