In Cold Blood

In Cold Blood is the 1966 book by Truman Capote about the murders of four members of the Clutter family in Holcomb, Kansas on November 15, 1959.

This book was banned for a short time in Savanna, Georgia, after a parent complained about sex, violence, and profanity.

Members of the community protested, and the ban was reversed.

This gruesome tale is a true story of the murder of Herbert Clutter, his wife, Bonnie, and their two youngest children, sixteen-year-old Nancy, and fifteen-year-old Kenyon.

Two older daughters, Eveanna and Beverly, were no longer living in the home.

Herb Clutter and his family were well liked and respected by all who knew them. Nancy and Kenyon were out-going and popular.

Mr. Clutter worked hard over the years to build his farm into a large and prosperous one. Former employees spoke well of him for his kindness, fair treatment, and generous wages.

The entire community couldn't have been more shocked when the news spread about the murders. These were people who all knew and trusted each other.

Who could have done such a horrible thing? And to the Clutters! If it could happen to them, it could happen to anyone.

People became fearful, and some began to suspect the crime could very well have been committed by someone they knew. All four victims had been bound and gagged, and killed with a shotgun at close range. Mr. Clutter's throat had been cut.

There were hardly any clues, and nothing significant was missing. Robbery didn't appear to be a motive.

But it was.

Richard "Dick" Hickock and Perry Edward Smith, a couple of ex-cons on parole from the Kansas State Penitentiary killed the Clutter family.

It was Hickock's idea. He had heard from another prisoner, Floys Wells, who had once worked at the Clutter farm, that he thought Mr. Clutter kept large sums of cash in a safe in his office at the farmhouse. The plan was to take the cash, leave no witnesses, and start a new life in Mexico.

There was no safe. In fact, it was well known that Herb Clutter did all his business by check, and carried very little cash.

Floyd Wells tipped off authorities when he learned of the brutal killings. Hickock and Smith were arrested about six weeks after the murders.

They spent five years on death row, and were executed by hanging just after midnight on April 14, 1965, in Lansing, Kansas.

Truman Capote read an article about the Clutter murders in The New York Times, and decided to go to Kansas to investigate. He took Harper Lee, a childhood friend, with him. (She would later win the Pulitzer Prize for To Kill A Mockingbird.)

Capote did not finish the book until after Hickock and Smith were executed.

Taken at Brentwood Branch Library, Springfield, MO. BBW, 2010.

In Cold Blood was especially disturbing to me for several reasons other than the obvious.

I am from Kansas, and many of the towns mentioned in the book are familiar to me, which made it seem a little too close to home.

Another thing was that Capote gives us quite a lot of personal information and insight into the backgrounds of Hickock and Smith, which made them seem more "human" than they otherwise would have.

We get to know something about them other than the senseless cruelty they displayed at the Clutter farmhouse.

It seems clear in the book that Hickock would have raped Nancy Clutter if Smith had not stopped him. At least she was spared that particular horror. For that, I was grateful.

At times, I found myself feeling a little sorry for the criminals, especially Perry Smith.

I didn't want them to be executed. I was horrified that people were still being hanged in Kansas in 1965!

In Cold Blood reminds us of the cruelty human beings are capable of inflicting on each other - within the law (in this case, hanging), as well as outside of it. But it also reminds us that no one is all bad.

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