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In Cold Blood: A True Account of a Multiple Murder and Its Consequences

Updated on April 6, 2014
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In Cold Blood is a non-fiction book published in 1966 by author Truman Capote. The book details the murders of the Clutter family. Herbert Clutter was a farmer from Holcomb, Kansas, he and his wife, and two of their four children were found murdered in 1959. Richard "Dick" Hickock and Perry Smith, were arrested for the crime six weeks after the murders.

The book examines the complex relationship between Dick and Perry who together committed this mass murder. Capote also details the victims lives and how the crime effected the community in which they lived. In Cold Blood is regarded to be one of the best books of its type.

Dick Hickock and his relationship with Perry Smith

Dick Hickock was born in Kansas City, Kansas on June 6, 1931. He was a thin man of average height with blue eyes and blond hair. First impressions of Dick show a young looking, clean and educated man with a nice smile. He seemed to have a normal childhood with good parents; although they were on the over-protective side. This over-protective side show when faced with the truth about their son and the Clutter crime Dick’s father insisted that Dick never took the gun, which was later determined to be the murder weapon, out of the house after returning home from prison. Dick did well in school and was involved and excelled in many school athletics. He had ambitions of going into engineering in college and could have had a partial college scholarship but he never went to college because his family could not afford the remaining of the tuition. He showed no real contempt for his parents or his childhood in fact as an adult he misses his parents when he is away and wishes he could visit them. He also shows how much he loves his parents and highly he thinks of them because the only regret he ever shows towards his crimes is how it might make his parents feel when they find out what he did. As an adult he was married twice and had three children. He was involved in a car accident that left his face scared and disproportionate. His parents blame this car accident for all of Dick’s problems, according to them it was after this accident that he suddenly turned to criminal activities which mainly consisted of writing bad checks. He feels like he is too good to work a regular job and turned down jobs in Mexico and Miami because he felt like he deserved to make more money. I think this shows that he feels like the world owes him something and is very angry and dissatisfied when things don’t go his way. He is desperate to think of himself as “a normal” and is constantly telling himself and others that he is “a normal” and that there is nothing wrong with him. He has sexual tendencies towards young girls which he knows is not normal but he still tries to play it off as that is how most men feel but don’t admit it just to keep up his feelings of normalness. His trouble with writing bad checks leads to a jail term where he meets Perry Smith. Dick and Perry’s relationship is a complicated and troubled one. Dick and Perry’s relationship was an attraction of opposites in both their personalities and childhoods. They came from two totally different worlds. Perry Smith's family was broken and had a history of violence. Two of his siblings committed suicide and his mother was an alcoholic who choked on her own vomit and died. Perry was half-Cherokee, half-Irish and had a "runty" build due to a motorcycle accident that left him with disfigured legs and an addiction to aspirin. Perry’s bad childhood and lack of comfort and support of reliable parents factored to his dropping out of school in the third grade. Perry describes Dick as totally masculine whereas Dick is always referring to Perry as baby, sugar or honey which lends Perry a feminine quality. I think that there are defiant homosexual undertones in their relationship. They were cell mates which could have led to a sexual relationship while they were in prison. Outside of prison (and inside) both men do not admit to engaging in homosexual relationships but Dick’s dialogue with Perry, always treating him like a woman shows some kind of intimate relationship. When they are in Mexico and met up with Otto it was said that “Dick picked him up” but he “already had a friend” who was a young native Acapulcan boy. Although during their time with Otto and the boy they “bought women” there are unsaid homosexual undertones to the story. Perry was very child like and had fantasies of finding treasure which Dick took to advantage by luring Perry into his plans at the Clutter’s by telling him that they would go to Mexico after to hunt for treasure. Dick really felt that Perry’s fantasies were ridiculous but he knew that he needed to support them or Perry would not go along with his plans. Dick’s ambitions were slightly less delusional; he just wanted to get money (any way he could that did not include working for it) and run off somewhere he wouldn't be found. Although I do not think that this would have worked out too well for him because he seemed to not be able to be away from his parents for too long a period of time. Perry was very upset by Dick’s uncontrolled urges toward young girls. The fact that Dick had wanted to rape Nancy Clutter until Perry stopped him could have contributed to Perry’s built up rage and the eventual killing of the entire family. Dick tells Perry what to do and Perry follows Dick’s orders. Perry lets Dick be in charge and gets upset when he feels like Dick is not living up to his masculine role. It seems like the worse Dick treated him the more he wanted to stay with him. The crime they committed together also holds them together. Perry kind of looks up to Dick and tries to impress him. Dick was mean without remorse for any crime he was a part of committing while Perry does not show remorse either he does wonder if there is something wrong with him. Dick was the first to admit to the crime but of course claimed no direct part of the crime and that Perry was the one they were looking for. Dick never did fully accept his part or responsibility in the crime. He blamed Perry for the entire crime clear to the end.

The Trial

Dick Hickock and Perry Smith were not given a fair trail by today’s standards and even considering the laws of the time quite a few things about their trial seem unfair. If there trial happened now days the evidence they took from the Hickock’s home without a search warrant would have been thrown out of court along with the whole case probably because they did not give them lawyers before they confessed and waived preliminary hearings. I am not educated in the law and how it worked in the 1960’s so I am not sure if these things were things that they thought were wrong to do in criminal proceedings at that time. Their lawyers did not request a change of venue because they thought that their chance was as good in Garden City as anywhere in Kansas. They felt that the strong anti capital punishment segment in Garden City over ruled their biased towards the case. I think that this shows their lawyers extreme incompetence. Later in the story Capote tells us that most people outside of Kansas barely remember the Clutter case at the time of Dick and Perry’s trial so I would think that the farther away from the crime they could get the less people would remember the details of the crime or at the very least they would not be so emotionally involved because it happen far from their homes. If they could have changed the venue to the outer edge of Kansas towards Colorado they would have received trial that was fairer. The Jury too was not fair in their trial partly because of the venue and partly because of the incompetence of their lawyers. The make up of the Juror was mostly farmers which I think is unfair because Mr. Clutter was a farmer too so they might unconsciously side with the side the farmer. Also they were all family men just like Mr. Clutter and unlike Dick and Perry which could have the same effect. They were all seriously affiliated with a church like the Clutters and unlike the defendants. The worst part is that four of the jurors said they were personally but not intimately acquainted with Mr. Clutter. There is no way that anyone that had any kind of contact with the Clutters should have been on that Jury. Even though they each said that they did not feel it would hinder their ability to reach an impartial verdict there is not way that this could be true. They may have believed that fact but it shows a serious lack of thinking on the part of Dick and Perry’s lawyers to let anyone that had any kind of personal knowledge of the Clutter’s to be on that jury. You would think that all this would be it for the errors of the jury selection but no they also let in a juror that stated that normally he would be against capital punishment but in this case he would be for it which clearly shows he know too much already about this case to be impartial. Finally the time it took to select the jury shows that Dick and Perry’s lawyers did not take it seriously enough. To pick a jury for a trial like this in just four hours with the first forty-four candidates shows that they did not take the proper time to select an impartial jury. Judge Tate is another story, he did not really personally know any of the Clutters but I am sure he knew too much about the crime to be totally impartial. He did everything by the book which included obeying to the letter the M’Naghten rule which if that is what he did with every case he judged was totally fair but I think that his letting the pictures of the crime to be viewed by the jury shows that he did not conduct a fair trial. Those pictures biased the jurors against the defendants. Again I don’t know much about the law so I don’t know if pictures like that are allowed in court but I do not see how it is relevant for the jury to see the actual brutality of the crime. Pictures like that stir up personal emotions and with heightened emotions people are more likely to act in ways they normally would not – without thinking things all the way though. By strictly following the M’Naghten rule importance evidence was omitted in the case. It did not allow Perry or Dick to be formally evaluated by a Psychiatrist or allow the psychiatric doctor who did talk to them tell his evaluation in court. All he could say was yes or no if he had an opinion if they knew right from wrong and yes or no as to what that opinion was. Dick could have had mental problems and Perry definitely had serious mental problems. Another thing I thought was suspect was that the state paired their normal prosecuting lawyer with a very good and experienced lawyer (that normally was a defending attorney) because they wanted to have a good prosecuting team but the defendants got just the opposite. All of these facts prove that their trial was not a fair trial and they were not given proper legal counsel.

I think that Perry’s was the more believable confession because he had more details. He told things like where they buried the rope and shells and that Dick wanted to rape Nancy but he would not let him. I think that the main thing that made me believe Perry over Dick was that Dick blamed everything on Perry compared to Perry who admitted to killing Herb and Kenyon but said Dick killed Nancy and her mom. This is more believable because Dick also said it was never his intention to harm the Clutters at all but we already knew that he had said all along to Perry that they would not leave any witnesses and he did not even want to wear a mask because he knew that there would never be anyone left alive to identify him. Dick also said that he was too afraid to stop Perry which also does not seem to be the truth given what we have read about his and Perry’s personalities. It was Perry that was always letting Dick boss him around and he always seemed at Dick’s mercy. So when Dick confessed but added things that were not true like he never intended to do any harm to the Clutter’s we tend to not believe any of the rest of the confession. In the book even Dewey does not believe Perry when he decides to change his story to him killing the whole family. Dewey did not let Perry alter his statement because he did not believe him and he know they had enough evidence to convict without a signed statement so he just let it go. In court he told of Perry’s new statement but alluded to the fact he did not believe it to be true.

Summary

Overall this is a very good book and is a book everyone should read at least once.

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    • The Informist profile image

      Jeremy Fredde 3 years ago from Midvale, UT

      Interesting. I might have to read in cold blood. I love books on murder and crime.

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