In Cold Blood Summary

In In Cold Blood, Perry Smith and Dick Hickock kill Herb Clutter and his family. They think that Clutter, a rich farmer, has thousands of dollars lying around. Capote gets to know the killers, studies their motives, and decides the murders were committed in cold blood.

  • Nancy Clutter and her brother Kenyon are exemplary young students. Their father, Herb, is a successful farmer, and their mother, Bonnie, has reason to believe that she's going to recover from a recent illness that has left her disabled.

  • Perry and Dick drive hundreds of miles to the Clutter home, having heard from a former cellmate of Perry's that Clutter keeps up to ten thousand dollars in the house. When they arrive, they find just $40 in Clutter's wallet.

  • Nancy, Kenyon, Herb, and Bonnie are killed not long after midnight. Perry and Dick are arrested and sentenced to death. Capote, who interviews them, watches the hanging.

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(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

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 as much as ten thousand dollars in his house.

Arriving at the Clutter farm near midnight, Perry and Dick enter through an unlocked door, awaken the victims, tie them up, and put them in separate rooms in the house. The killers find no wall safe stuffed with thousands of dollars; instead, they find Clutter’s wallet, containing about forty dollars. Still determined to leave no witnesses, the killers cut Clutter’s throat, then shoot him in the head at close range with a shotgun; the other three victims are shot, one by one, in similar fashion.

When the bodies are discovered the next morning, neighbors, friends, and relatives are electrified by the shocking crime. Alvin Dewey and his team of three investigators from the Kansas Bureau of Investigation in nearby Garden City interview anyone remotely connected to the Clutters or to River Valley Farm. Nothing develops from these efforts, not even a firm theory as to whether the Clutters were killed by one person or by two, and none of the investigators is sure why the four were killed. Robbery is a possible motive, but the few clues left by the killers confirm none of these theories.

Back in Olathe, Perry and Dick continue with their plans to go to Mexico, despite their failure in Holcomb. On November 21, Dick begins passing bad checks to finance their Mexican venture. Mexico, however, proves grimly disappointing. After a week in Mexico City and a trip to Acapulco, they use up most of their money, and the pawned merchandise is all but gone as well. A wealthy German finances a few days on a fishing boat, but plans of diving for treasure...

(The entire section is 907 words.)