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 Hymn of the Republic,” which has become their “marching song.”