In Cold Blood Summary

Truman Capote

In Cold Blood

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In Cold Blood Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics.  This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of In Cold Blood by Truman Capote.

In Cold Blood, first published in 1966, is a non-fiction novel written by Truman Capote.  It details the 1959 murders of four members of the Herbert Clutter family, who lived in the small farming community of Holcomb, Kansas.  When Capote learned of the quadruple murders (before the killers were captured) he traveled 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. Capote ultimately spent six years working on the book.

Herbert Clutter was a widely respected self-made man, who had established a successful and prosperous farm in western Kansas from humble beginnings.  He employed as many as 18 farmhands, and former employees stated they admired and respected him for his fair treatment and good wages.

Clutter’s four children (three daughters and one son) were also widely respected in the community.  The elder daughters, Eveanna and Beverly, had moved out of their parents’ home to start their own 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 suffering from clinical depression and physical ailments since the births of her children.

While in the Kansas State Penitentiary, Dick Hickock had a cellmate named Floyd Wells, who had once worked as a farmhand for Mr. Clutter.  Wells told Hickock that there was a safe at the farmhouse where he claimed Herb Clutter kept large amounts of cash.  Hickock soon got 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.  When Hickock was paroled, he contacted Smith, another former cellmate and parolee, about committing the robbery with him.  (Ultimately, the information from Wells proved to be false because Herb Clutter did not keep cash on hand and had no safe – he did all his business by check in order 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 of value in the house. Still determined to leave no witnesses, the two briefly debated what to do. Smith was emotionally unstable, prone to violence, and 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.” Kenyon, Nancy, and Mrs. Clutter were then 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.  She’s a real sweet person.” However, Hickock always maintained that Smith committed all four murders.

Based on a tip from Wells, who contacted the prison warden after hearing about the murders, Hickock and Smith were identified as suspects and arrested in Las Vegas on December 30, 1959.  Both men eventually confessed after interrogations and were taken back to Kansas, where they were tried together for the murders.  Their trial took place from March 22 – 29, 1960.  They both pleaded temporary insanity at the trial, but they were professionally evaluated and pronounced as 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, they were executed by hanging just after midnight on April 14, 1965.  Hickock was executed first and 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.  The gallows used in their executions now forms part of the collections of the Kansas State Historical Society.

Since Capote wrote his novel, it has been re-created multiple times. Three film adaptations have been produced based upon the book.  It was also adapted into a two-part 1996 television miniseries, as well as a graphic novel entitled Capote in Kansas in 2005.