Perry Edward Smith
Perry Edward Smith, a superstitious and sentimental man, an inveterate dreamer with an explosive personality. As a child, Perry was shunted from one orphanage to another, neglected by an alcoholic mother and a father who drifted in search of gold. Perry joined the merchant marine, then the Army, serving a four-year hitch. A motorcycle crash left him with permanently disfigured legs and constant pain. He escapes from a Kansas jail, where he is serving a sentence for burglary, but is recaptured and sent to prison, where he meets Dick Hickock. Dick’s plan to rob and kill the Clutters offers Perry a chance to fulfill his dream of treasure hunting in Mexico, a dream that evaporates when the crime nets the pair no money. Convicted along with Dick of the Clutter murders and sentenced to death, Perry spends his time on death row reviewing his life with a degree of self-pity. As he is about to be hanged, he apologizes for his crime but adds that perhaps he could have contributed something worthwhile after all.
Richard Eugene (Dick) Hickock
Richard Eugene (Dick) Hickock, the twenty-eight-year-old son of poor Kansas farmers. He has been married and divorced twice and has fathered three boys by the time he is sent to prison for writing bad checks. A car accident has given his face an uneven, serpentine look. Intelligent and friendly, he easily talks merchants into cashing checks that later prove worthless. He boasts that, after robbing the Clutters, he will “blast hair all over them walls.” Seeing young women as “blond chicken,” he secretly plans to rape Nancy Clutter before killing her, but at the last minute Perry prevents him. Dick’s wisecracking manner continues through his trial and stint on death row. Only at the foot of the gallows does he turn solemn, politely shaking hands with the four agents who led in his capture and who know that beneath the personable exterior, he is a mean, vicious punk.
Herbert (Herb) Clutter
Herbert (Herb) Clutter, a wealthy Kansas wheat farmer, the father of four children, a devoted husband, and an active member of the Methodist church. A rumor that he keeps as much as forty thousand dollars in his house with which to pay workers reaches Dick Hickock, who hears it from a cellmate. When Herb is awakened by Dick and Perry, who demand the money, he tries in vain to convince them that it does not exist. He pleads with them not to harm his family and to be especially careful of his wife, Bonnie, whose health is very fragile. His efforts to reason with the two killers end when Perry cuts his throat.
Nancy Clutter, the town favorite. She is sixteen years old, bright, pretty, and outgoing. Her days are active and filled with pie baking, music lessons, rides on her favorite horse, and errands for her mother. In her diary and on the telephone with her close friend, Susan Kidwell, she talks mostly about Bobby Rupp, her boyfriend. Self-possessed enough to chat with Perry as Dick searches the house for money, she is the last of the Clutters to be shot.
Kenyon Clutter, fifteen years old, the youngest Clutter child. He is tall and awkward, and he wears glasses. He busies himself making a hope chest for his sister, Beverly, who is soon to be married, and chasing coyotes in his old truck with a friend. Bound and gagged and laid out on a sofa in the basement, with a pillow placed under his head to make him comfortable, he is the second one to be shot.
Bonnie Clutter, a timid and pious woman in poor health, Herb’s wife and the mother of the four Clutter children. She rarely is strong enough to greet the friends who come to the house, staying in her second-story bedroom, where she sleeps alone, too fragile even to share a bed with her husband, who sleeps downstairs. She is the killers’ third victim.
Alvin Adams Dewey
Alvin Adams Dewey, a special agent of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation. He heads the team of investigators assigned to the Clutter case. Taciturn and tough, he is a former county sheriff and Federal Bureau of Investigation agent. He knows and respects the Clutter family. He stoically bears the brunt of criticism from the locals who are impatient for the crime to be solved. When the killers are captured in Las Vegas, he and three of his agents return them to Kansas. On the trip back, Alvin elicits from Perry a detailed description of the murders. At the execution, he remembers seeing only Perry’s small feet dangling in the air. Later, at the Clutter gravesite, he is reminded of what has been lost and what remains when he encounters Nancy’s close friend Susan Kidwell, now studying at the university. She tells him that Bobby Rupp, Nancy’s boyfriend, has married “a very nice, beautiful girl,” then looks away.