Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Near the western border of Kansas, among wheat fields and dusty roads, lies Holcomb, a small community of farmers and ranchers. On the morning of November 14, 1959, Herb Clutter strolls across the grounds of River Valley Farm, heading toward a grove of trees that he nursed to life with the same care and purpose that he used to raise four children and build one of the largest, most prosperous spreads in Finney County. An educated, widely respected wheat farmer, Herb Clutter has little to worry about that Saturday morning. A lingering illness left his wife, Bonnie, partially disabled, but recent medical tests encourage the family to think that her medical problem is improving. Daughter Nancy, sixteen years old, the town sweetheart, helps with the household chores. She and her brother, Kenyon, fifteen years old, are outstanding students in the local high school. Two older daughters live out of town.
On that same morning, nearly four hundred miles east, in Olathe, Kansas, Perry Smith sits in a café waiting for his friend, Dick Hickock. They plan to drive to Holcomb, rob Clutter, kill everyone in the house, and flee to Mexico, where they hope to buy a boat and hunt for undersea treasure. Recently paroled from Kansas State Penitentiary and ordered to stay out of the state, Perry is persuaded to return to Kansas when Dick, also paroled, writes him of his plan to rob Clutter. According to Dick’s last cellmate, a former hired hand of Clutter, the farmer keeps...
(The entire section is 907 words.)
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Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
In Cold Blood was created as a work of deliberate literary experiment. Having written extensive journalistic coverage in his account of an opera company’s tour of the Soviet Union (The Muses Are Heard) and in various travel writing, Capote desired to combine the reportorial techniques of journalism—the gathering of detailed factual material by observation and interviewing—with the narrative and dramatic scene devices of fiction. The grisly, senseless murders of a Kansas farm family (Herbert W. Clutter, his wife, and two children) on November 15, 1959, in Holcomb, Kansas, provided the opportunity for the writer to try his experiment.
In Cold Blood is a documented record of those murders, but it is also a documentation of the backgrounds, motives, attitudes, and perspectives of hundreds of local townspeople as well as those of the two killers, ex-convicts Richard Eugene Hickock and Perry Smith, who are arrested eventually for the crime, tried, and executed. Shortly after the crime was committed, Capote went to Kansas to begin the massive accumulation of material that forms the substance of the book. At the outset, the murders were baffling because of the lack of any apparent motive for the slayings. There also were few clues.
Initially Capote envisioned his work as a short one in which he would explore the background of the murders and the reaction of the town to them. With the discovery, capture, and confession...
(The entire section is 983 words.)
Part 1 Summary - The Last to See Them Alive
The first part of In Cold Blood establishes the Clutter family and the duo of Hickock and Smith on two different, but inevitably intersecting, paths. In the small town of Holcomb, Kansas, the Clutter family's activities are ill-fated: Herb Clutter, the father, takes out a forty-thousand-dollar life insurance policy, and the family does not lock the doors to their house. Each member of the family residing in the palatial house at the center of the successful River Valley Farm is painted with delicate, exacting strokes. Kenyon is a boy's boy, not interested in girls yet at fifteen-years-of-age, but a talented carpenter and fisherman nonetheless. Nancy is the town sweetheart, helpful, generous, attractive, and accomplished. She is dating Bobby Rupp, the school basketball star, who is also the last to see the family alive. Perhaps the most tragic member is Bonnie Clutter, the mother, who has been afflicted with a nervous disorder that keeps her confined to her room. The Bible next to her bed is marked at the passage which reads, ‘‘Take ye heed, watch and pray; for ye knows not when the time is.’’ The Clutters are a pious and devout Methodist family.
At the same time, Perry Smith is meeting Dick Hickock four hundred miles away in Olathe, Kansas. Hickock had heard about Clutter's prosperity from a former cellmate who had worked on the farm as a hired hand. Ironically, neither knew of Herb Clutter's reputation for never carrying cash, and both...
(The entire section is 486 words.)
Part 2 Summary - Persons Unknown
Four close friends of Herb Clutter arrive at the house to clean up the scene and burn the tainted clothing and furnishings. Eighteen Kansas Bureau of Investigation agents are assigned to the case. The four primary agents are Alvin Dewey, the chief investigator; Harold Nye; Clarence Duntz; and Roy Church. The bodies of the Clutters are prepared for burial, with each corpse's head wrapped in a huge "cocoon" of cotton and sprinkled with a sparkly substance. The two surviving daughters, now the heirs of the Clutter fortune, arrive for the funerals. Beverly Clutter, who had planned to be married at Christmas, moves up the wedding to follow directly after the funeral out of a sense of thrift, as all the extended relatives are already in town—and, in Capote's opinion, out of a certain callousness.
Agent Dewey and the others are confounded by what seems to be a robbery-homicide that netted less than fifty dollars and a portable radio. Other theories are entertained, but Dewey keeps returning to the idea of strangers committing theft. He is perplexed by the odd manner in which the Clutters were bound; Nancy and her mother were tied but then tucked in their beds. Herb's throat was slashed and he was also bound and gagged, but his body rested on a mattress box, seemingly for comfort. The killers had put a pillow under Kenyon's head before shooting him in the face. A few days later, someone is caught lurking in the Clutter house, but he turns out to be a curious...
(The entire section is 560 words.)
Part 3 Summary - The Answer
On a tip from a former cellmate of Hickock' s, Floyd Wells, Smith and Hickock become the prime suspects. Wells had once worked for Herb Clutter as a hired farmhand and is the one who had described Clutter's apparent wealth to Hickock in prison, a description that ultimately led to the Clutter murders. When Wells hears of the Clutter murders on the radio, he informs authorities. Agent Nye receives a tip that Smith and Hickock are back in Kansas, having left Mexico when they ran out of money. Their plan was, in fact, to "pass a lot of hot paper,’’ or bad checks, around Kansas to raise cash, then leave for Florida. The agents visit Hickock's parents and Smith's sister and question them, under the guise of pursuing Smith and Hickock for parole violations and bouncing checks. The agents hear that the killers are in Kansas, but lose them. Through a bulletin alerting law enforcement officials that Smith and Hickock are driving a stolen vehicle with Kansas license plates, the pair are apprehended in Las Vegas, where they had gone after squandering their money in Miami. Agents Dewey, Nye, Duntz, and Church split up to question the two killers separately, and Hickock eventually confesses everything. Smith, disgusted that Hickock broke so easily, confesses as well and confirms most of Hickock's story.
The killers lay out the gruesome details of the murder, from planning to execution. Once the pair had entered the Clutter house and discovered there was no safe...
(The entire section is 476 words.)
Part 4 Summary - The Corner
Smith and Hickock are kept in separate cells of the county prison. Smith wants to amend Hickock's confession to state that he, Smith, killed all four Clutters. His reason for this, he claims, is to give Hickock's mother peace-of-mind. Dewey refuses this request. Smith and Hickock continue their mutual love-hate relationship, wherein each annoys and disgusts the other, but they are tied by this act of murder and their own insecurities. Dr. Jones, a court-appointed psychiatrist, asks the two to write their life histories. Smith's is rambling and detailed, revealing more about his dreadful childhood; Hickock's is succinct and generic. Extensive, detailed psychiatric profiles of both killers, written by Dr. Jones, appear in full text. The two killers are not able to utilize the insanity plea to their benefit, because Kansas applies the M'Naughten Rule in its death penalty cases, which states that if the accused could distinguish right from wrong at the time of the crime, that person is legally sane. The two are ultimately found guilty at trial and given the death penalty.
Smith, desperate for friendship, becomes friendly with Mrs. Meier, the sheriff's wife, who cooks him meals and lures a squirrel, which he names Big Red, into his cell. He also begins a correspondence with Don Cullivan, an Army acquaintance who writes Smith upon hearing about the case. Once Smith and Hickock are transferred to Death Row at Kansas State Penitentiary, also known as ‘‘the...
(The entire section is 474 words.)
Part 1, Chapters 1-4 Summary
In November 1959, the village of Holcomb, Kansas, sits quietly on the far western Plains. With remnants of business long gone, Holcomb now sees prosperity through the natural gas industry rather than farming and ranching, which are more risky. Outwardly, it seems a rapidly diminishing community, but its stability is seen in its newly constructed school building and the rich furnishings of the unprepossessing one-story homes. Holcomb is seemingly invisible to the rest of the state and country, but it will come to prominence as four gunshots ring out on a cold Sunday morning that will eventually claim the lives of six people.
Herbert Clutter, a forty-eight-year-old rancher, awakens on Saturday to the day’s work. He was born a farmer’s son, and he rose through a college education to the offices of the agricultural industry in western Kansas and even served on a national level. His wife, Bonnie, has psychiatric difficulties that she has recently been told are the result of a misplaced vertebra and is expecting to have surgery. Two older daughters are no longer living at home—one is married with a small baby and the other is in nursing school in Kansas City. Living at home are fifteen-year-old Kenyon and sixteen-year-old Nancy. Clutter is worried about his youngest daughter, who was out the night before until 2:00 a.m. with her boyfriend, Bobby. Mr. Clutter does not approve of her relationship with Bobby, who is Catholic, and has told Nancy to begin to break it off. This morning, Mr. Clutter meets with his farmhand; he agrees to let him have the morning off to care for a sick child.
In the Little Jewel Café in Olathe, Kansas (on the other side of the state), Perry waits for his partner, Dick. As he waits, Perry looks at maps, especially one of Mexico. He dreams of going treasure hunting like in the movie Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Dick always points out the untimely end of the gold hunters in that movie. Perry, whose physical features are due more to his Cherokee mother than to his Irish father, longs to go deep-sea diving. Dick is half an hour late when he finally shows up.
Mrs. Katz calls the Clutter home on Saturday morning to ask Nancy if she will help her daughter make a cherry pie. Nancy’s schedule is full, as usual, but she cancels her plans to attend a 4-H meeting with her father and agrees. Her best friend, Susan, calls; the two girls discuss Nancy’s boyfriend, Bobby, and her...
(The entire section is 466 words.)
Part 1, Chapters 5-8 Summary
Dick pulls up in his car and Perry jumps in, making sure his guitar is still in the back seat from the night before. He sees a shotgun along with an assortment of other hunting gear. Dick explains that, if stopped, they will pretend to be hunters who have become lost and need directions. Dick is wearing coveralls from his job at a body shop. He and Perry proceed to do some maintenance on the car in preparation for their trip. Dick explains that he was late because his father gave him a hard time after he explained that he and Perry were going to Fort Scott to visit Perry’s sister. Perry says he thinks Dick’s mother is a “real sweet person,” and Dick agrees.
Nancy Clutter helps thirteen-year-old Jolene bake a cherry pie at the Clutter home. She is unable to stay to help eat the pie, however, and takes off on one of her other “missions of mercy.” Mrs. Clutter stays to entertain Jolene. She shows the girl some of the small gifts Mr. Clutter brought her from his many traveling trips. When Jolene leaves, Mrs. Clutter goes to her room. With nothing to do while the others are away, she puts on her nightgown and socks and goes to bed. She is always cold and does not open the windows, even in the summer. One day, Susan’s mother had stayed behind while most of the family and other guests went mulberry picking. She heard Mrs. Clutter sobbing in her bedroom. When she went to her, she found Mrs. Clutter locked in her stifling bedroom. She claimed she was freezing and begged her not to tell the others.
Following their automotive maintenance, Dick and Perry clean up; both are very fastidious. Dick has numerous tattoos, many of which were self-inflicted. He is muscled from his stint in prison but bears the scars of injuries from the past. Perry was also injured, in a motorcycle accident. His tattoos are less numerous but more elaborate. When they are cleaned up, they climb in their car and take off down the road from Olathe.
In Garden City, Herb Clutter attends the 4-H Club and nominates Mrs. Hideo Ashida to receive a special award at the upcoming Achievement Banquet. Mrs. Ashida and her husband and children moved to the area from Holcomb. They have been welcomed into the ethnically diverse community around Garden City, and Mrs. Ashida is known for her soup and flowers. Mr. Clutter gives her and her children a ride home after the meeting. She tells him that her husband is thinking of improving his opportunities in...
(The entire section is 449 words.)
Part 1, Chapters 9-15 Summary
Dick and Perry stop in Emporia to buy more supplies. They try to find some black stockings but have no success. They buy rope, thinking there might be as many as twelve people to deal with.
Kenyon Clutter is more like his mother than his father. He has only one friend, from whom he has become somewhat distanced due to the latter’s newfound interest in girls. Mr. Helm, the housekeeper’s husband, asks Kenyon who is talking with Mr. Clutter. Kenyon assumes it is Mr. Johnson, the insurance salesman. Nancy comes riding up on Babe the horse. Kenyon used to have his own horse, but he rode it to death the year before. Nancy and Kenyon talk about Tracy, their nephew. They hope he will be able to talk by the big Thanksgiving reunion being held at the Clutter home. The next day, Mr. Helm will reflect that this was the last time he saw Nancy Clutter alive.
Perry suggests that they might be able to buy some black stockings from one of the nuns at the Catholic hospital. Dick ridicules the idea and Perry eventually gives it up. Perry thinks about his best friend in prison, Willie-Jay. He had waited several months after his parole until Willie-Jay was released, hoping to join up with him. Despite being ordered to stay out of Kansas as a condition of his parole, Perry returned to Lansing only to find that Willie-Jay had left town a few hours previously. Perry and Dick leave Emporia.
Mr. Johnson, the insurance salesman, seals the deal on which he has been working with Mr. Clutter for several months. Mr. Clutter tells him he has plans that will make him some “real money” in the area soon. Mr. Johnson leaves, carrying the first payment of a forty-thousand-dollar life insurance policy.
As they drive along, Dick and Perry bicker back and forth. Perry plays hymns on his guitar and talks about his plans to settle along the coast in Mexico.
Bobby Rupp, Nancy’s boyfriend, gives evidence the following Monday about his last visit to the Clutter home. He had wanted to take Nancy out but Mr. Clutter refused permission, so the two of them sat watching television with Mr. Clutter. Because the teenagers would not let the older man choose any of the programs, Mr. Clutter criticized every show. Mr. Clutter received a phone call from his partner, Mr. Van Vleet. Bobby and Nancy made plans to go on a date the next night, then Bobby left. Monday he reports that someone must have been hiding among the trees, waiting...
(The entire section is 483 words.)
Part 1, Chapters 16-22 Summary
Nancy’s bedroom is decorated in a feminine mode of pink, blue, and white. It is personalized with mementos and photographs. Her diary records major events in her life for the past four years.
Dick and Perry reach Holcomb and drive up to the Clutter home.
On Sunday morning, Nancy Ewalt (a friend of Nancy Clutter’s) arrives at the Clutter home. Her father dropped her off so she could go to church with the Clutter family. There is no response at any of the four doors. Disturbed, Nancy goes to Susan Kidwell’s home, and the two return to the Clutters. They go upstairs and find Nancy lying on her bed with blood splattering the wall. The girls run out, hysterical, and Nancy Ewalt’s father calls the police.
The sheriff arrives and sees that the phone line has been cut. Nancy has been bound by the hands and feet and shot through the back of her head. Mrs. Clutter is tied onto her bed and was shot in the side of her head. The sheriff wonders where Mr. Clutter and Kenyon are. The undersheriff finds Kenyon in the basement, bound just like his mother and tied onto the couch. He has been shot point blank in the face. In the furnace room, Mr. Clutter is tied up and lying on a large piece of cardboard, also shot in the face. The sheriff concludes that he was already dead, or nearly so, when he was shot because his throat had been slashed. A cord hanging from the steam pipe signifies that at some point, Mr. Clutter had been tied to the pipe. It is unknown what kind of torture was inflicted upon him.
The townspeople see two ambulances drive off in the direction of the Clutter home. Police, lawyers, and so forth are called out of church on this Sunday morning. Soon the whole town learns the awful truth. Mrs. Clare immediately suspects the person Mr. Clutter sued for crash-landing a plane into his peach trees. Susan Kidwell runs out to tell Bobby Rupp because she does not want him to just hear it as gossip, but Bobby already knows. She finds him outside, standing in shock. When she comes near him, he begins to cry. Later, Bobby learns that already he was considered the prime suspect. The two other Clutter daughters, along with the rest of the relations, are notified and make their way toward Holcomb. The news is broadcast from the Garden City radio station.
In Olathe, Perry sleeps in a hotel room, his bloody boots soaking in the sink. Dick arrives at his parents’ home and joins them for Sunday...
(The entire section is 470 words.)
Part 2, Chapters 1-4 Summary
A group of Herb Clutter’s hunting companions arrive at the Clutter home with a grim mission: to clean up the traces of the grisly murder. Alfred Stoecklein, who worked for the Clutters and lived not a hundred yards from the main house, lets them in. He has to keep explaining that he could not have heard the gunshots because of the wind and also because of the barn situated between his house and the Clutters’. The men burn the couch, mattresses, pillows, and other items that have been soaked in blood. They feel shock that a man they knew well has been the victim of such a ghastly crime.
Alvin Dewey is put in charge of the investigation. Having served in the Kansas Bureau of Investigation for several years, Dewey knew Herb Clutter personally. From the autopsy reports, it is determined that the victims were killed between 11:00 p.m. Saturday and 2:00 a.m. Sunday morning. Neither Mrs. Clutter nor Nancy were sexually molested. It is impossible to determine the order of the killings. Dewey devises separate theories as to the number of murderers. If there was a single killer, Mr. Clutter was most likely drafted into tying up his family. More likely, according to Dewey, two murderers joined in the killing. There are very few clues beyond the footprints of blood and dust on the cardboard on which Mr. Clutter was found. Dewey pours over the crime scene photographs, hoping that some clue will pop out to give him some direction. He calls his wife, who used to work for the FBI and is used to her husband’s odd hours. She tells him she has had the locks on their house doors changed.
Residents of the town of Holcomb give way to fear. They begin to lock their doors, which they never felt they had to do. They look at each other with suspicion. As people move past the Clutters’ reputation as a popular, highly respected family, they begin to remember incidents in which Herb Clutter made some enemies. Arthur Clutter, Herb’s brother, is sure the killer is within a ten-mile radius. However, four hundred miles to the east, Perry and Dick dine together at a restaurant in Kansas City. Perry is fascinated by the newspaper report of their crime. He has difficulty believing that the police have found no clues, though Dick tells him to relax: they have committed the perfect crime.
(The entire section is 406 words.)
Part 2, Chapters 5-10 Summary
Susan Kidwell explains that she and Nancy Clutter were like sisters. She does not go to school until after the funeral. Neither does Bobby Rupp. He and Susan spend time grieving together; Bobby swears that he will never love another girl. The two of them go to the funeral home for the viewing. They see the four open caskets. Each head is completely wrapped in cotton. Susan sees that Nancy is in a dress for which she had helped pick out the material. She is overcome and rushes out and waits for Bobby. All she can think about is Nancy in that red velvet dress.
Perry reads the account of the Clutter funeral in the Kansas City Star. Over a thousand people attended, which impresses Perry. He and Dick pass bad checks in purchasing several items, which they then pawn to get cash. Dick feels bad because he knows that when those checks come due and he is in Mexico, his father will feel that he has to make good on them. Perry speaks of their intended sojourn in Mexico. He wants to go to Costa Rica and search for sunken treasure.
Alvin Dewey’s life is wrapped up in the murder investigation. He and his family cannot sleep because the phone is constantly ringing with people trying to help or else drunks claiming they are the murderers but want the reward money offered by the local paper before they turn themselves in. He puzzles over the crime scene. Only a radio and a few dollars are missing, which makes the motive of robbery puzzling. He wonders at the cardboard under Mr. Clutter’s body and the blankets tucked around Nancy and Mrs. Clutter. He concludes that these were pathetic means to make the Clutters comfortable before they were killed. Dewey suggests to his wife that they send their two boys to stay with their grandmother. Mrs. Dewey wants to know if their lives will ever be the same again.
Dick and Perry pull out of Kansas City; the back seat of the car is full of things to pawn along the way. Perry is relieved when they cross the border into Oklahoma. He does not have any regrets, but he knows that Dick is leaving behind his parents, a brother, and his three sons.
Beverly Clutter, the second oldest daughter, moves up the date of her wedding to the weekend after the funeral. All the family is present for the memorial service, so she decides it would be better than making them all come back in a month. Herb Clutter’s brother writes a letter to the Garden City Telegram begging people to cease talking...
(The entire section is 493 words.)
Part 2, Chapters 11-14 Summary
Perry still ponders the possibility that there is something “not right” about him and Dick. Though Dick claims to be normal, Perry keeps remembering the sounds of the Clutters’ begging. He relives the murder as Dick forgets about it. Perry wonders about his family. One of his sisters has lived a “normal” life, but his other sister jumped out of a window and his brother drove his wife to suicide and then took his own life. Perry had told Dick at their first meeting that he had killed a Black man named King. He said they both lived in a boarding house in Las Vegas. Perry had invited King to go for a ride and then beaten him to death with a chain. This story, however, was untrue; Perry never killed anyone. As they drive along the road, Dick swerves to hit a dog and rejoices in its death.
After Thanksgiving, many of the newsmen leave Holcomb, convinced that the Clutter murder will never be solved. At the Hartman’s Café, however, the local townspeople still gossip and pass on rumors. It is speculated that the intended victims were the Jones family, who lived next to the Clutters. They were richer than the Clutters were, so they are the focus of much talk. Mrs. Archibald William Warren-Browning, a transplant from northern England, talks about her initial fondness for the region. Now, however, the atmosphere has changed. Lester McCoy, who is a tenant farmer, plans to move because of the crime. Mrs. Ashida also announces that, acceding to her husband’s wishes, they are moving to Nebraska to buy a larger farm.
In Acapulco, Dick and Perry pick up Otto, a vacationing German lawyer. Along with Otto’s companion, known as The Cowboy, they go deep-sea fishing. Dick does not like the water and so lies around while Perry does the fishing. They have sold all the goods they had “bought” in Kansas City and talk about selling their car. Dick has promised to marry a couple of women already, and Perry is worried that Dick will spend all their money on girls. Otto sketches Perry as he fishes and does “nude studies” of Dick. When Perry catches a large fish, Otto takes some photographs of him holding up his catch.
Paul Helm, the husband of the Clutters’ housekeeper, continues to work on the Clutter property. He worries about what he is going to do for a job, but it does not much matter because he has only four months left to live. As he trims the flowers, Helm sees the upstairs curtains move. He runs to town...
(The entire section is 479 words.)
Part 2, Chapter 15 Summary
Perry and Dick are in a motel room in Mexico City. They are almost completely broke. As Perry predicted, Dick spent most of the money from selling the car on women. Dick tries to get a job but is disgusted that the wages in Mexico are so low. He wants to get bus tickets back to the United States. Although Perry could stay in Mexico alone, he refuses to leave Dick, thinking that somehow things will work out if the two of them are together. He is upset that he must leave most of his possessions behind; they will most likely be hitchhiking a good part of the way.
Perry thinks about a letter from his father to the parole board, entitled “A History of My Boy’s Life,” that explains Perry’s boyhood. His mother decided she wanted to leave for California and separated from her husband and took her children. Mr. Smith worried that she would teach the children to hate him—which they did, with the exception of Perry, who ran away several times to get back to his father. Once Perry was in his father’s custody, he made a name for himself at school by beating up bullies. Mr. Smith defended him because the principal took the side of the bully. As a teenager, Perry joined the Merchant Marines during World War II. He joined the army during the Korean War. On his return, he had a motorcycle accident and suffered severe injuries to his legs, requiring several months of recuperation.
Mr. Smith said that Perry’s interests run to girls until they mistreat him. He had difficulty getting a job because of his legs. His ramblings took him all over the country, but he never stayed in one place for very long. He traveled to Kansas, where he joined up with a partner and robbed a store. They were caught, and Perry was sent to Lansing Prison. His sister, Barbara, wrote to him with news about her children and her life; she is the only one of the children to have stayed out of trouble. She told Perry that she and their father are ashamed of him. She urged him to sincerely regret his crimes; she knew he was intelligent and well-spoken. Perry dismissed Barbara’s advice, especially after his friend Willie-Jay analyzed the letter and saw Barbara as foolish. Willie-Jay urged Perry to keep his relationship with his sister purely social.
Perry tells Dick, who is making love to Inez (one of his “fiancées”) to hurry up because they are supposed to be out of the motel room by two o’clock.
(The entire section is 440 words.)
Part 2, Chapters 16-18 Summary
On a Saturday in December, Alvin Dewey observes all the Christmas decorations around town and realizes that he has not bought a single gift yet because he has been so focused on the Clutter case. His friends and family are beginning to worry that it has become an obsession. His biggest fear, however, is that it will remain an unsolved case and will continue to haunt him; he will be always checking for more clues.
Dewey remembers to pick up the family cat at the veterinarian’s office. He stops at the Hartman Café, where Mrs. Hartman notices that he has lost twenty pounds in the past three weeks, which gives him a cadaverous appearance. One of the other customers berates him for not catching the murderer yet. He asks if the man they caught prowling in the Clutter house, Jonathan Daniel Adrian, was the killer. It has turned out that he was just curious but was carrying a concealed weapon. Because he had previously been confined to a mental hospital, Adrian has been held in custody since his arrest. The customer warns Dewey that he will not vote for him if he ever decides to run for sheriff again unless he catches the murderer.
Dewey goes for a hike across to the Clutter house and reflects on the past murders in the area. He has had only four murder cases in his career until the Clutter murders, and those did not compare to his present burden. He has come to the Clutter home almost every day since the murders. The two surviving Clutter daughters have taken away the clothes and some furniture. He reflects on the coroner’s report: the differences in body temperatures indicate that Mrs. Clutter died first, then Nancy and Kenyon, and finally Mr. Clutter. Dewey suspects that the Clutters knew their killers. From an upstairs window, Dewey looks at a scarecrow garbed in one of Mrs. Clutter’s old dresses. He remembers a dream his wife recently told him of. She saw Bonnie Clutter standing in the doorway, saying nothing but wringing her hands and whimpering. Then she said nothing is worse than being murdered.
In the Mojave Desert, Dick and Perry hitchhike along Route 66. One truck driver on his way to Needles, California, had stopped, but Dick declined. He wants a solitary driver with money in his billfold. One such driver stops, but when he looks closely at the two men, he takes off. Dick laughs and shouts after him that he is very lucky. Perry takes out the harmonica he stole the day before and plays “The Battle...
(The entire section is 445 words.)
Part 3, Chapters 1-4 Summary
Floyd Wells lies in the Kansas State Penitentiary, where he is serving three to five years for robbery. He listens to the radio and is shocked when he hears about the murder of the Clutter family two days previously. Not only does he know the Clutter family, but he knows who killed them. Wells had worked for Herb Clutter eleven years before as a farm hand for about a year. At the end of that time, Wells moved on, but not because of any trouble with Mr. Clutter. In fact, he liked the entire Clutter family, thinking them one of the nicest families he had ever met. In Lansing prison, Wells met Dick Hickock, sharing the same cell with him for about a month. He told Dick about his past, and Dick seemed especially interested in his time working for the rich wheat farmer in western Kansas. Eventually, Dick proclaimed that he was going to kill Herb Clutter, leaving no witnesses behind, and take whatever money he found. After Wells hears about the murder, he debates what he should do. He is fearful of the other prisoners, sure that he would be killed for turning “stool pigeon.” Eventually, Wells confides in a fellow prisoner, who arranges for Dick to talk to someone in authority. When Wells tells the warden that he knows Dick and Perry are the murderers, the warden immediately calls Logan Sanford of the KBI, who sends information about the two ex-convicts to Alvin Dewey.
When Dewey receives the envelope containing the details about Dick Hickock and Perry Smith, he is overjoyed that at last he has a lead. He shows Marie, his wife, who comments on the soft eyes of Perry. As for Dick, however, she is shaken of thinking of his “mean” eyes coming toward her. Harold Nye, another KBI agent, interviews Dick’s parents. Mr. Hickock says that Dick was a good boy but began to act differently following his accident. He blames his association with Perry Smith as the cause of his problems. Following the information about Dick’s passing of bad checks, Nye discovers the shopping spree that Dick and Perry had gone on prior to leaving for Mexico. It is determined that Dick was the main instigator, while Perry was the silent companion. Nye comes up with a timeline of Dick and Perry’s movements, and determines that the two could have easily driven to Holcomb and back within the twenty-four hours in which they had claimed to have gone to Fort Scott to see Perry’s sister.
Dick and Perry have hitchhiked from California to Nebraska. They...
(The entire section is 484 words.)
Part 3, Chapters 5-8 Summary
Detective Harold Nye travels to Las Vegas and interviews a boarding house manager. Nye was able to track Perry Smith to this address. He now questions the manager about her former boarder. He tells her that Perry was in violation of his parole, but she does not believe his lie. She still has a box of belongings Perry left in her care. When they examine it, they find very little except odds and ends, a scrapbook containing pictures of weightlifters, and numerous bottles of aspirin. The next day, Nye goes in search of Perry’s father, Tex John Smith, but he has gone to Alaska. The post office clerk only knows that Smith used to be with the rodeo and dressed the part. He describes Perry from the one time he came to visit his father.
In San Francisco, Nye (who is now joined by Inspector Guthrie) visits Barbara Johnson, Perry’s only surviving sister. She is decent, middle-class, and married with three children. She is expecting guests when the two detectives arrive. She tells them that she has not seen Perry for four years and does not want to be in contact with him. She explains that she is scared of him and has been for years. She tells them that Perry does not know she moved from Denver to San Francisco—and she does not want him to know this. Nye and Guthrie learn that she has never lived in Fort Scott. When they leave, she reflects on Perry’s childhood. As a baby, he had been her special “toy,” and she had cared for him diligently. When he reached school age, Perry changed. He was first arrested at the age of eight. He became bitter toward their parents and finally told Barbara that he hated all of them. Barbara now keeps her door locked.
Perry and Dick have reached Iowa, where they stay in a barn to wait out the rain. Dick wants to return to Kansas City because he thinks it is the best place to pass bad checks. In the barn, the two men find a car with the keys still in it.
Dewey keeps his new leads a secret from the community in Garden City, claiming it might be possible that Richard Hickock and Perry Smith are innocent. The inhabitants are still full of conjectures and rumors. Mrs. Hartman is tired of it all and tells people that if they want to discuss the murders they can go elsewhere.
(The entire section is 415 words.)
Part 3, Chapters 9-12 Summary
In a Kansas City laundromat, Perry is washing clothes while Dick is out passing bad checks. Perry begins to worry that Dick has been caught; perhaps someone has realized the checks are bad, or perhaps he has been stopped for a minor traffic violation during which it was discovered that the car is stolen. He imagines the police soon arriving at the laundromat to arrest him. His legs begin to ache and he becomes sick to his stomach from the pain and the fear. When he goes outside, Dick arrives and kids him for being worried. He had some luck passing checks; he even got an old friend to cash one for him. They are heading for Florida that night.
Alvin Dewey has a nightmare in which he is chasing Dick and Perry. He corners them at the Clutters’ grave and shoots them, but they refuse to die. Instead, they become invisible. He wakes up and receives a phone call from Harold Nye, who has tracked Dick and Perry to Kansas City. A pawn shop owner wrote down the license plate number, which identifies the car as stolen with stolen plates. Dewey wonders why he does not feel as elated as he should. He realizes that he does not believe the killers will ever be caught; he believes they are invincible.
Dick and Perry reach Miami Beach, Florida, and find a cheap hotel. On Christmas Day, they sit outside on the beach. Perry reads an account of the murder of a nearby family and wonders if it is a copycat crime based on their murder of the Clutters. Perry feels sensitive about his crippled legs and refuses to wear swim trunks. Dick, however, walks along the beach. He strikes up a conversation with a young girl, about twelve years old. He regrets that he feels sexually attracted to pubescent girls; he has seduced several in his past. His attentions this time, however, are resisted, so he moves on. Perry listens to the Christmas carols coming over the speakers and begins to weep. Dick returns and states that it is time they move on because wages in Florida are lower even than in Mexico. He suggests that they head west to Texas or Nevada.
Bobby Rupp spends Christmas at home. For years he has walked out to the Clutter farm to give Nancy her present, but now he has no reason to go. He remembers one time when snow had fallen and made heavy travel for him. Mr. Clutter had told him a story from his own childhood: He went to town to buy presents on behalf of the entire family. A blizzard struck, but he rode the wagon back through the storm...
(The entire section is 487 words.)
Part 3, Chapters 13-18 Summary
Bobby Rupp walks among Mr. Clutter’s fruit trees and notices that the place is already seeing the decay of neglect. He visits Babe, Nancy’s horse, which remains in the barn.
Perry and Dick pick up a pair of hitchhikers in Texas, a boy and his sickly grandfather who are on their way to Sweetwater. The boy suggests that they stop and pick up some pop bottles to turn in for refund money. They garner over twelve dollars, and the four of them stop at a diner for a decent meal. Dick tells the boy that Sweetwater is a hundred miles in a different direction from where they are going. Perry realizes this means Dick is tired of the pair and wants to get rid of them.
On December 30, Alvin Dewey is elated. He has just received a phone call from Logan Sanford that Dick Hickock and Perry Smith have been arrested in Las Vegas. Dewey’s wife had been planning to have a party that evening, but Dewey dashes off to Nevada.
Perry and Dick had reached Las Vegas and were riding down the strip. Dick was planning on getting an Air Force uniform and posing as an officer while passing bad checks. He figured that he could get a few thousand dollars that way. He was also planning on ditching Perry; he had grown tired of him. The Las Vegas police spotted the car and recognized the license plate number as being that of a stolen car. The police car came alongside Perry and Dick and pulled them over.
The four KBI agents (Harold Nye, Roy Church, and Clarence Duntz) and Alvin Dewey gather in the interrogation room at the Las Vegas City Jail. Dewey feels that their case is still shaky, so they must proceed carefully. Dick Hickock is brought into the room first. He is asked about having passed bad checks in Kansas City. Willingly, he lists all the places where he wrote bad checks; he has an amazing memory. He gives them some information about his background, including his family history. The KBI agents ask him about his trip to Fort Scott. He says they were unable to find Perry’s sister, even though they inquired at the post office. He then tells the agents that he and Perry picked up a couple of women and spent the night in a motel. They awoke the next morning to find that the women stole money from Perry and left. The agents confront Dick with the fact that they know Perry’s sister never lived in Fort Scott and that the post office there is closed on Saturdays, the day he claims to have gone there. When Nye asks Dick if he...
(The entire section is 492 words.)
Part 3, Chapters 19-24 Summary
Perry’s story is vague; he feels too shaken to remember the details of what he and Dick had decided to say should they ever get caught. Alone in his cell, he worries that Dick will break and tell everything. That afternoon, in another round of questioning, Perry admits that the story of going to Fort Scott was a lie to fool Dick’s parents, who did not want him to leave town and break parole. Dick breaks and says Perry killed the Clutters. He passes out as he leaves the cell.
The people of Holcomb feel relief when they hear news of the arrest. They wait for the return of the prisoners, who are being driven back from Nevada.
In the car, Perry gives his account of what happened. As they drove up to the house, there was no sign of anyone, not even the Clutters’ dog. The office door was open, and the two killers found Mr. Clutter’s bedroom. They demanded that he open his safe for them, but Mr. Clutter insisted that he did not have a safe. Dick and Perry took Mr. Clutter to the basement and tied him up. Perry placed the cardboard box on the floor so Mr. Clutter would not have to lie on the cold cement. Dick went through Mr. Clutter’s billfold but found only a few dollars. Mr. Clutter begged Perry to leave his wife alone; he said she has not been well for years. Perry took Mrs. Clutter to the bathroom and locked her in. He got Kenyon out of bed and locked him in, too. Perry looked around the house and found a few more dollars. He took the radio and also a pair of binoculars. After he tied up Mr. Clutter, he brought down Kenyon and tied him to the pipe. Then he decided Kenyon might escape, so he took him into the other room and tied him to the couch. He looked for Dick and found him sitting by Nancy on her bed. He told Dick to go look for the safe, fearful that he would molest Nancy. While Dick looked for the safe, Perry talked with Nancy. Then he and Dick tied up Mrs. Clutter, who begged them not to hurt her children. Out in the hall, Dick told Perry that he planned on raping Nancy, but Perry said Dick would have to kill him first. Perry went down to Mr. Clutter and told him that it would soon be morning and someone would find them. Then he cut Mr. Clutter’s throat. When Dick came down, Perry told him to finish Mr. Clutter off, but Dick could not do it, so Perry shot him. He then shot Kenyon. Perry claims that Dick shot Nancy and Mrs. Clutter, though Dick says Perry killed all four. Perry says all the money they found...
(The entire section is 518 words.)
Part 4, Chapters 1-4 Summary
At the Finney County Courthouse, Dick Hickock and Perry Smith are placed in cells far enough apart that they are not able to communicate with each other. Perry is in what is known as the “ladies cell,” where female prisoners are kept. It is located within the apartment of the undersheriff and his wife, Wendle and Josie Meier. The cell is attached to the kitchen, so Mrs. Meier comes to know Perry well as she cooks. He strikes her as a pleasant young man—until her husband points out that he brutally killed four people and would be likely to do the same to her. Although many people expected a mob to form, the townspeople of Garden City show only intense curiosity.
Over the next few months, the snow falls almost every day. The only visitors Perry receives are KBI agents and his court-appointed attorneys. Dewey comes to have him sign his statement, but Perry refuses; he says there are a couple of things in there he wants changed. Originally, Perry had said that Dick killed Mrs. Clutter and Nancy, while Dick had said that Perry killed all four of the Clutters. Perry wants his statement changed to match Dick’s. He says he is doing this for the sake of Dick’s mother, whom he describes as a sweet woman. He tells the agents that he and Dick stopped and buried or burned the weapons, tape, and rope, which the police eventually recover. The radio and the binoculars they pawned in Mexico are also found.
The prosecutor for the state says he will seek the death penalty for both Perry and Dick no matter what. Perry is forced to take a lie detector test concerning the Walker murder, the family of four that was killed in a manner similar to that of the Clutters while Perry and Dick were in Florida. Mr. Hickock comes to visit Dick; he feels sure that his son will hang. Perry begins a correspondence with someone he knew in the army. Perry imagines that there are two men outside his cell window that he might convince to help him escape. He writes instructions to drop to them the next time they appear, but they never return. Perry begins to wonder if he is losing his mind. He dreams that he breaks a light bulb and uses the glass shards to cut his wrists and ankles. He dreams of a yellow bird; he has dreamed of this bird often all his life.
(The entire section is 417 words.)
Part 4, Chapters 5-7 Summary
The trial is set for March 22, 1960. Perry’s and Dick’s attorneys discuss requesting a change of venue because the emotions of Garden City are so high, but they decide against it because this is a religious community and the city’s ministers are mostly against capital punishment. The lawyers tell their clients that at this point they are focused on saving their lives, not acquittal. They also request psychological evaluations at the state hospital in Larned, which will take from four to eight weeks. Judge Tate, who will sit on the bench for their trial, is known to dislike attempts to focus on the criminals rather than on their victims. He allows local psychiatrists to talk to Perry and Dick; they are found to be sane and competent to stand trial. Perry is cynical, saying the psychiatrists simply wanted to hear the gruesome details from the killers’ own lips. There is also a request for a postponement because the Clutter estate sale is scheduled for the day before the trial begins. This request is denied. Several thousand people come to the auction and everything is sold, including Nancy’s horse, Babe.
Despite the sensationalism of the case, it does not receive as much national attention as the residents of Garden City believe. During jury selection, most try to get out of serving for different reasons. Fourteen jurors are eventually selected. They are all local men but not all objective. The defense attorney goes to Larned and convinces a doctor to travel to Garden City to meet with the defendants. Both Perry and Dick write out a statement of their past for the doctor. Perry focuses on the instability of his home and the violence of his parents. He speaks of his time in the orphanage when a nun abused him for constantly wetting the bed. Perry claims to be impressed with the psychiatrist’s sense of dedication to the truth. Dick writes of his relatively normal childhood. He speaks of his high school years and his participation in sports. He confesses that he initially went to the Clutter home to rape Nancy but that Perry prevented him from doing so. He also tells of several of his pedophiliac rapes. He believes he has a “sickness” caused by brain injury during his automobile accident. He confesses to drinking and passing bad checks. He tells the doctor that he knows he needs help.
(The entire section is 402 words.)
Part 4, Chapters 8-11 Summary
When the trial starts, there are several visitors present who are connected to Perry and Dick. Mr. and Mrs. Hickock are present, as is Donald Cullivan, the man Perry knew in the army and with whom he has been corresponding. The only person from the Clutter family is Herb Clutter’s brother, Arthur. He glares at Perry, who looks at Arthur Clutter, recognizes the family resemblance, is shaken momentarily, and then looks away.
Nancy Ewalt and Susan Kidwell are called as the first witnesses. The other people who saw the crime scene the day of the murder are also present. The defense does not cross-examine. When the crime scene photographs are shown to the jury, Mr. Hickock mutters that this is not a fair trial. The defense attorney makes an objection, but it is denied. The jury is visibly shaken by the gruesome photos. Frank Wells is present and gives his testimony as to Dick’s intentions to rob and kill the Clutters. The defense attorney tries to weaken the witness’s credibility but is not able to do so.
The most damaging witness is Alvin Dewey, who gives explicit details about Perry’s confession, including the fact that he wanted to change his statement to say that he alone killed the Clutters in order to protect Mrs. Hickock. At this, Mrs. Hickock breaks down and is led from the room by a female reporter. Mrs. Hickock remembers Dick’s childhood and says he had always been a good boy.
The testimony of Donald Cullivan confuses many present; they do not understand how such a decent individual could befriend a known killer. He later dines with Perry in his cell and is impressed by Mrs. Meier’s cooking. Cullivan’s only concern is for Perry eternal soul, but Perry states that he bears the scars of the nuns and priests who tried to convert him.
The prosecution dismisses other character witnesses for being irrelevant to the case. The psychologists who testify are sure that both Perry and Dick were well aware of the nature of their crime and thus are to be considered sane. In a later professional article, one of the psychologists discusses Perry as a criminal with no apparent motive. The only motive for the murders of Mrs. Clutter and her two children is that, after Perry killed Mr. Clutter, the witnesses had to be killed. Perry had said in his confession that he thought Mr. Clutter was a nice man—right up to the moment he slit his throat.
(The entire section is 422 words.)
Part 4, Chapters 12-15 Summary
Although the more influential and wealthy citizens of Garden City have not attended to trial, many decide to come on the day of the closing arguments. Many out-of-town visitors, especially lawyers, are also seated in the courtroom on the last day. The defense attorney pleads not for acquittal but for mercy, calling the death penalty a relic of barbarism and out of character with a Christian community. The prosecutor, however, states that murder is to be punished by death and supports this with quotations from the Bible. He repeats the order of the killings, that Kenyon had to wait in sight of his father’s murder, Nancy’s pleading, and Mrs. Clutter’s suffering as she listened to her family being systematically destroyed. He reminds the jury of many murderers who have been released on parole and who have gone on to kill again because of “chicken-hearted jurors.” The jury finds Perry Smith and Richard Hickock guilty on all charges and recommends the death penalty for both.
Mrs. Meier later tells a friend how upset she was by the verdict even though she knew of Perry’s guilt. She had gotten to know him while he was in her home. She says that when he returned from the courthouse, all he did was cry while she held his hand.
Perry and Dick are transported to the state prison in Lansing and placed on death row. Among the others there is Lowell Lee Andrews, who is notorious for the murder of his own family. Outwardly, Andrews was a quiet, overweight, bookish student of biology at the University of Kansas, but inwardly he was forming plans to poison his parents and his sister. His intent was to use arsenic and then burn down the house with the appearance of an accident, but he feared that the autopsy would reveal the arsenic, which would then be traced to him. Instead, he quietly shot his sister and then each of his parents. Then, to provide himself with an alibi, he drove back to college in Lawrence and said he had been on the road for two hours due to bad weather. He picked up his typewriter (the reason for the trip, he said), went to a movie, and then returned home, where he called the police to report a robbery. When the officers arrived, they found him sitting on the porch. He calmly told them to go inside to look. He later confessed to the family preacher, who was one of the major witnesses against him at his trial. Like Perry and Dick, Lowell Lee Andrews is awaiting death by hanging.
(The entire section is 437 words.)
Part 4, Chapters 16-18 Summary
Perry and Dick are scheduled to be executed on May 13, 1961, but are granted a stay of execution pending the outcome of an appeal for a new trial with different lawyers. Lowell Lee Andrews is awaiting a similar verdict. Perry and Dick barely speak to each other. Andrews frequently corrects Perry’s grammar, which irritates Perry because he saw himself as an expert on the English language. After one incident of being corrected by Andrews, Perry goes on a hunger strike. After not eating for five days, Perry is transferred to a state hospital where he is force-fed. Over the next nine weeks, Perry loses more than fifty pounds. Dick is not impressed even when it is reported that Perry is in a coma; he proclaims that Perry is faking it. Dick and Andrews become friends of a sort. Perry drifts in and out of consciousness, frequently dreaming of being a one-man show on the stage. The warden shows him a postcard from Perry’s father, who asks to visit Perry. Perry throws it away.
After two years awaiting the appeal, only Perry, Dick, and Andrews are left on Death Row at Lansing. Mrs. Hickock visits monthly. She tells Dick that his father has died and she has lost the farm and is essentially homeless, living with one relative after another. Dick writes letters to multiple organizations, pleading for their assistance for a new trial. He claims that his attorneys were incompetent and biased because they knew the victims, as did all of the jurors and the judge. In the meantime, two more prisoners arrive on Death Row. These are two former soldiers who went on a killing spree across the country and are now awaiting execution.
Eventually, Dick’s letters find a sympathetic ear with Everett Steerman, Chairman of the Legal Aid Committee of the Kansas Bar Association. He launches an investigation in which the jurors and Judge Tate are questioned as to their objectivity. The jurors claim to have not been acquainted with any of the Clutters and to have approached the trial with an open mind as to Dick and Perry’s innocence. Judge Tate answers charges that he refused to request a change of venue by stating that by state law only the attorneys can request such a change, and they did not. The Kansas Supreme Court decides that Richard Hickock and Perry Smith had a constitutionally fair trial and set October 25, 1962, as the new date of execution. However, they are given a reprieve by a federal judge. Andrews is put to death.
(The entire section is 426 words.)
Part 4, Chapters 19-22 Summary
Within the American justice system, there are several avenues of appeal in capital cases, which may drag out the length of time between sentencing and execution. Lowell Lee Andrews’s case goes through appeals several times before he is executed on November 30, 1962. He takes nineteen minutes to die after the trap door falls and his neck breaks. Perry, Dick, and the two soldiers listen through their cell windows and comment on the nonchalance Andrews shows on his way to his execution. Dick has been given a portion of Gray’s “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard,” though he does not know for sure if Andrews wrote it or copied it. Dick comments that Andrews knew a lot of information from books but nothing from real life. Perry does not regret Andrews’s death; he is unable to forgive him for correcting his grammar.
Dick’s mother continues to visit once a month and becomes friends with Mrs. York, the mother of one of the two soldiers also awaiting execution. The two women plan to live together in Florida, which Dick thinks is a good deal because it will allow his mother to get away from “all this.” Andrews’s aunt and uncle had visited Andrews once and told him that they would take his body back with them so he could be buried with his family, which Dick sees as laughably ironic.
Three more years pass, and more appeals are made on behalf of Perry and Dick. Two new lawyers examine Dick’s request for a new trial. Because of the numerous appeals, three new execution days go by without a hanging. The case is carried before the United States Supreme Court three times, but the justices refuse to hear the case. Their final date of execution is set for Wednesday, April 14, 1965, five and a half years after they killed the four members of the Clutter family. Alvin Dewy and the other KBI agents attend the execution. Dick is hanged first and is pronounced dead twenty minutes after the trap door drops. Perry is executed second, and Dewey notices how small Perry’s feet appear as they swing below the trap door.
Alvin Dewey goes to the Garden City cemetery to take care of his father’s grave. He notices the grave of Judge Tate, who died a few months previously from pneumonia. Mrs. Ashida, who had moved with her family to Nebraska, was killed in a car accident while she was back visiting; her grave is also in the cemetery. The Clutters are buried under a single stone. Dewey sees Susan Kidwell there. She is now...
(The entire section is 482 words.)