In Truman Capote's In Cold Blood, what are Dewey's two different scenarios for the crime?

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Al Dewey is asked to head the investigation into the Clutter case, which Capote describes as an “intricate ... apparently motiveless, [and] all but clueless” crime. Dewey was not only qualified as a former FBI Special Agent and sheriff himself, but he knew the Clutter family personally.

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Al Dewey is asked to head the investigation into the Clutter case, which Capote describes as an “intricate ... apparently motiveless, [and] all but clueless” crime. Dewey was not only qualified as a former FBI Special Agent and sheriff himself, but he knew the Clutter family personally.

Early in the investigation, Dewey comments that he has an opinion on whether the murders were committed by one or more killers but prefers not to disclose it. However, Capote notes that “at this time, on this subject, Dewey was undecided” about the single killer or multiple killer theories.

Single-killer scenario: the murderer knew the family and each family member’s habits and also had a general knowledge of the layout of the house. One thing that supports the killer knowing the family is that he would therefore have known that the Clutter's dog, Teddy, was afraid of weapons and would not have barked and alerted the family.

The killer entered the house at around midnight and immediately, after disabling the telephone, forced Mr. Clutter at gunpoint to awaken the family and tie his wife and daughter up in their bedrooms. The killer then forced Mr. Clutter to take his son, Kenyon, to the basement and tie him to the playroom couch. The killer himself then binds Mr. Clutter and proceeds to murder the family one member at a time. He then “turned out all the lights and left.”

The problem Dewey has with this scenario is that neither father nor son would have permitted harm to come to the family without putting up a fight, even if the single killer had a gun. Between the two Clutter men, they might have been able to overtake the killer in the single killer theory.

Killer and accomplice scenario: this scenario is very similar to the single killer one, but in this case, Dewey theorized that there was an accomplice who helped subdue and bind the family.

The problem Dewey has with this second scenario is that he cannot see two killers being equally as crazy and the viciousness of the crime tells Dewey that the killer or killers were crazy with rage. Capote writes that,

Dewey—and the majority of his colleagues, as well— favored the second hypothesis.

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Dewey has two ideas, or "concepts," about how the murders of the Clutter family were committed. The first scenario is that a single murderer, likely a casual acquaintance of the Clutters, committed the crime. That person likely knew that the family did not lock the doors and that Mr. Clutter slept alone downstairs while the rest of the family slept upstairs. This person would have cowed the family dog, Teddy, who was afraid of weapons, and he would have forced Mr. Clutter to tie up his family at gunpoint. The murderer would have then bound Mr. Clutter and killed all the victims. However, this theory has several holes. First, Mr. Clutter and his son would have struggled against the murderer, and all the bodies were bound and trussed in exactly the same way (not, in this scenario, by two different people—Mr. Clutter and the murderer).

The second concept is that the murder occurred along the same lines but that there were two murderers. The accomplice to the murderer tied and bound all the family members in this scenario. However, Dewey finds it hard to believe that two people could be moved to commit this kind of murder and could have been motivated to commit such a heinous series of crimes.

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Dewey, the agent representing the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, was asked to lead the investigation of the Clutter murders partly because he was deemed capable of managing a case as bereft of obvious clues as this one. While he worked with his team to put together the details of the murder, Dewey developed a "single-killer concept," in which the killer was known to the family, and a "double-killer concept," in which the killers worked together to dominate the family and murder them as a team.

Both scenarios are flawed, and Dewey is aware of the problems of each, but he leans towards the second theory that involves more than one killer because of the practical concerns involved in subduing and taking down an entire family. But who could have been "crazy enough" to assist in such a violent and rageful act? Dewey acknowledges that neither option makes for an obvious answer—but nothing about the case, except for its tragedy, makes much sense to anybody at this early stage of the investigation.

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When he begins his investigation of the Clutter murders, Dewey forms two main theories about what happened. One is that only one killer was involved – somebody with a grudge against the Clutters. According to this scenario, this person would have forced Mr Clutter, with the aid of a shotgun, to help him tie up the family before shooting them one by one. However, the difficulty with this is that it seems very unlikely that a single individual, even with a shotgun, would have been able to overpower four people, particularly Mr Clutter and his son Kenyon.

Dewey therefore inclines towards a second scenario, in which the killer is assumed to have had an accomplice. However, Dewey finds this problematic as well:

Dewey … found it difficult to understand how two individuals could reach the same degree of rage, the kind of psychopathic rage it took to commit such a crime.

Dewey, then, can accept that maybe one person was deranged enough to perpetrate such a horrific crime, but finds it hard to believe that there could have been two such people. Of course, this second scenario turns out to be the correct one, although the personalities of the murderers are not quite what he originally envisages. 

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