In Cold Blood

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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: A True Account of a Multiple Murder and Its Consequences
Capote cold blood.jpg
Author Truman Capote
Original title In Cold Blood
Cover artist S. Neil Fujita
Country United States
Language English
Genre Nonfiction/Literature
Publisher Random House
Publication date
1966 (see #Publication for more information)
Media type Print (Hardback and Paperback), e-book, audio-CD
Pages 343 pp (Paperback edition)
ISBN ISBN 0-679-74558-0 (Paperback edition)
OCLC 28710511
364.1/523/0978144 20
LC Class HV6533.K3 C3 1994

In Cold Blood is a non-fiction book 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, and 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 Manson murders.

Some critics consider Capote's work the original non-fiction novel, though other writers had already explored the genre, such as Rodolfo Walsh in Operación Masacre (1957). It has been especially lauded for its eloquent prose, extensive detail, and simultaneous 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 well as the complex relationship that existed between them during and after the murders. In Cold Blood is regarded by critics as a pioneering work in the true crime genre, though Capote was disappointed that the book failed to win the Pulitzer Prize.[1] Critics have also noted that parts of the book, including important details, differ from the real events.[2]

Overview of the crime[edit]

Herbert Clutter was a devout Methodist and a widely respected self-made man, who had established a successful and prosperous farm in western Kansas from modest beginnings. He employed as many as 18 farmhands, and former employees reportedly admired and respected him for his fair treatment and good wages. His four children—three girls and a boy—were also widely respected in the community. The elder daughters, 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 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,[citation needed] although this characterization of her has been disputed by surviving family members.

Two ex-convicts recently paroled from the Kansas State Penitentiary, Richard Eugene "Dick" Hickock and Perry Edward Smith, committed the robbery and murders in the early morning hours of November 15, 1959. A former cellmate of Hickock's, Floyd Wells, had once worked as a farmhand for Mr. Clutter, and had told Hickock about a safe at the farmhouse where he claimed Herb Clutter kept large amounts of cash. Hickock soon hatched the idea to rob the safe (which he believed contained as much as ten thousand dollars), leave no witnesses, and start a new life in Mexico with the cash. 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.[3] The information from Wells ultimately proved to be false, however, since Herb Clutter did not keep cash on hand, had no safe, and did all his business by check, to keep better track of transactions.

After driving more than four hundred 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 else 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."[4] 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 fifty dollars in cash.

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."[5] Hickock always maintained that Smith committed all four killings.

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 for the murders. Their trial took place at the Finney County courthouse in Garden City, Kansas from March 22 to March 29, 1960. They both pleaded temporary insanity at the trial, but local GPs evaluated the accused and pronounced them sane. The jury deliberated for only 45 minutes before finding both Hickock and Smith guilty of murder. Their conviction carried a mandatory death sentence at the time.

After five years on death row at the Kansas State Penitentiary (now known as Lansing Correctional Facility) in Lansing, Kansas, Smith and Hickock were executed by hanging just after midnight 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 after and was pronounced dead at 1:19 a.m. Warden Greg Seamon presided over the executions in Lansing. The gallows used in their executions now forms part of the collections of the Kansas State Historical Society.[6]

Hickock and Smith are also suspected of involvement in the Walker family murders, a notion which is mentioned in the book, though this connection has not been proven.

Capote's research[edit]

Clutter family home in Holcomb, Kansas. The home is privately owned and not open to the public. (Photographed March 2009.)
37°59′06″N 100°59′59″W / 37.985°N 100.999795°W / 37.985; -100.999795 (Site of Clutter Family Home)

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[7]

This 300-word article interested Capote enough for him 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) to help gain the confidence of the locals in Kansas. Capote did copious research for the book, ultimately compiling 8,000 pages of notes.[8] 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 and guilt-ridden of the two killers. Rumors of a relationship between Smith and Capote still linger to this day.[citation needed] 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 being to follow a Manhattan cleaning woman on her rounds. Capote supposedly chose the Clutter story, believing it would be the easier assignment.[9] Capote later did write a piece about following a cleaning woman, which he entitled "A Day's Work" and included in his book Music for Chameleons.

50 years after the book was published, it is still of interest to readers. Capote's research also included letters from Smith's Army buddy, Don Cullivan, who was present during the trial, as per this article published in the Martha's Vineyard Gazette.

Veracity of In Cold Blood[edit]

In Cold Blood brought Capote much praise from the literary community, but despite the book's billing as a factual account, critics have questioned its veracity, arguing that Capote changed facts to suit the story, added scenes that had never occurred, and re-created dialogue.[2][10] Writing in Esquire in 1966, Phillip K. Tompkins noted factual discrepancies after he traveled to Kansas and talked to some of the same people interviewed by Capote. In a telephone interview with Tompkins, Mrs. Meier denied that she heard Perry cry and that she held his hand as described by Capote. In Cold Blood indicates that Meier and Perry became close, yet she told Tompkins she spent little time with Perry 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 alleged fabrications:

"I recognized it as a work of art, but I know fakery when I see it," Olsen says. "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." Nobody except Olsen and a few others. His criticisms were quoted in Esquire, to which Capote replied, "Jack Olsen is just jealous."[citation needed]
"That was true, of course," Olsen says, "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." Olsen explains, "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."[11]

Alvin Dewey, Jr., the lead investigator portrayed in In Cold Blood, later said that the last scene, in which he visits the Clutters' graves, was Capote's invention, while other Kansas residents whom Capote interviewed have claimed they or their relatives were mischaracterized or misquoted.[12] Dewey said that the rest of the book was factually accurate. Further evidence indicates that the book is not as “immaculately factual” as Capote had always claimed it to be.[2] 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 when Floyd Wells came forward naming Richard Hickock and Perry Smith as likely suspects, Dewey did not immediately act on the information, as the book portrays him doing, because Dewey still held to his belief that the murders were committed by locals who "had a grudge against Herb Clutter".[2]


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 in January 1966.[13] 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.[14]

The cover was created by S. Neil Fujita and features a hat pin 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.[15]

Reviews and impact[edit]

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."[16]



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. The first adaptation was the 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, shot in black and white, was nominated for four Academy Awards: Best Director, Best Original Score, Best Cinematography,[17] and Best Adapted Screenplay.

The second and third film adaptations tell the story of Capote's experiences in writing the story and his subsequent fascination with the murders. 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).[18]

A year later the film Infamous (2006), starring Toby Jones as Capote, Daniel Craig as Smith, and Sandra Bullock as Lee, was released to favorable reviews.[19]


The book was also adapted into a 1996 television miniseries starring Anthony Edwards, Eric Roberts, and Sam Neill, portraying, respectively, Dick Hickock, Perry Smith, and Alvin Dewey.[20]

Graphic novelization[edit]

Oni Press published a graphic novel, Capote in Kansas by Ande Parks and Chris Samnee, in 2005.[17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Thomson, Rupert (6 Aug 2011). "The Story of a Town". The Guardian. p. 16. 
  2. ^ a b c d Helliker, Kevin (February 8, 2013). "Capote Classic 'In Cold Blood' Tainted by Long-Lost Files". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved February 12, 2013. 
  3. ^ In Cold Blood, p. 44
  4. ^ In Cold Blood, p. 244
  5. ^ In Cold Blood, p. 255
  6. ^ "Gallows, Kansas State Penitentiary, Lansing, Kansas". Retrieved 8 October 2014. 
  7. ^ Standen, Amy (January 22, 2002). "In Cold Blood". Retrieved 2007-06-21. 
  8. ^ "In Cold Blood: Analysis". Retrieved 2008-03-16. 
  9. ^ Davis, pp 60—1
  10. ^ Mass, Mark. "Capote's Legacy: The Challenge of Creativity and Credibility in Literary Journalism". Listserv Archives at Archived from the original on 12 February 2010. Retrieved 20 June 2015. 
  11. ^ Hood, Michael. "True Crime Doesn't Pay: A Conversation with Jack Olsen". Point No Point. Retrieved March 8, 2010. 
  12. ^ Van Jensen (April 3, 2005). "Writing history: Capote’s novel has lasting effect on journalism". Lawrence, Kansas Journal World. 
  13. ^ Clarke, Gerald (1988) Capote: A Biography. Simon and Schuster. P. 362–363.
  14. ^ LCCN 65011257. In Cold Blood listing with the Library of Congress
  15. ^ Grimes, William (October 27, 2010). "S. Neil Fujita, Innovative Graphic Designer, Dies at 89". The New York Times. Retrieved October 27, 2010. 
  16. ^ Wolfe, Tom: "Mauve Gloves & Madmen, Clutter & Vine", pages 163-164. Picador, 1990.
  17. ^ a b "Capote In Kansas: An Interview With Ande Parks « Truman Capote". 2007-09-03. Retrieved 2012-11-02. 
  18. ^ Internet Movie Database: "Capote (2005)", accessed June 28, 2010
  19. ^ Internet Movie Database: "Infamous (2006)", accessed June 28, 2010
  20. ^ "In Cold Blood (TV Movie 1996)". IMDb. Retrieved 8 October 2014. 
  • Clarke, Gerald (1988). Capote, A Biography (1st ed.). New York: Simon and Schuster. ISBN 978-0-241-12549-6. 
  • 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 978-0-470-09821-9. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]