Skip to comments.Capote Classic 'In Cold Blood' Tainted by Long-Lost Files
Posted on 02/08/2013 11:38:52 PM PST by nickcarraway
Truman Capote's masterwork of murder, "In Cold Blood," cemented two reputations when first published almost five decades ago: his own, as a literary innovator, and detective Alvin Dewey Jr.'s as the most famous Kansas lawman since Wyatt Earp.
But new evidence undermines Mr. Capote's claim that his best seller was an "immaculately factual" recounting of the bloody slaughter of the Clutter family in their Kansas farmhouse. It also calls into question the image of Mr. Dewey as the brilliant, haunted hero.
A long-forgotten cache of Kansas Bureau of Investigation documents from the investigation into the deaths suggests that the events described in two crucial chapters of the 1966 book differ significantly from what actually happened. Separately, a contract reviewed and authenticated by The Wall Street Journal shows that Mr. Capote in 1965 required Columbia Pictures to offer Mr. Dewey's wife a job as a consultant to the film version of his book for a fee far greater than the U.S. median family income that year.
In researching "In Cold Blood," Truman Capote received first-class service from the KBI and Mr. Dewey, its lead detective on the case. Mr. Dewey gave the author access to the diary of 16-year-old Nancy Clutterher final entry logged only moments before two strangers invaded her home in late 1959 and murdered her, her brother and her parents. Mr. Dewey opened the KBI's case file to Mr. Capote. He pressured press-shy locals to cooperate with the author and granted him extraordinary access to the killers. Mr. Dewey even helped Mr. Capote, a New Yorker with no home in Kansas, obtain a Kansas driver's license.
(Excerpt) Read more at online.wsj.com ...
Geez, I was just thinking about Mrs. Clutter on Friday. Thinking about how she was bed ridden—obviously suffering from severe depression. Thanks for posting.
Some more In Cold Blood articles from FR and elsewhere:
A Teenage Girl, Truman Capote, Two Killers and a Full Moon
50 years later: Kansas town remembers ‘In Cold Blood’ deaths, still angry about Capote’s book
After murders, Capote’s book, Clutter home is up for auction
In Cold Blood: A Legacy, in Photos April 3, 2005
In the end, just a home
A house with a history of murder finds new life
I felt that I got to know not only the Clutter family, including the tragic figure of Herb's wife, Bonnie, but many of the people of Holcomb as well from the book. It really is one of the few that deserves the description of classic. In Cold Blood, is a chilling yet thoroughly gripping account of the murder in western Kansas at the turn of the decade so many years ago.
I'll admit to being conflicted. As my posting history reveals, I have absolutely zero tolerance for homosexuality and its equally evil twin, liberalism. Yet, grudgingly I must admit that Truman Capote's work, which I just re-read a few weeks ago, is among the very finest writing of the 20th Century. It really is a shame that one blessed with so much talent willfully and deliberately engaged in the deviancy of the sodomite deathstyle. With God, all things are possible and I hope that Truman Capote sincerely repented and sound salvation at the end of his short life. Otherwise, in spite of his writing prowess, Capote is surely (and justifiably) suffering for all eternity along with the murderers, Perry Smith and Richard Hickock.
These revelations about the inaccuracies and fabrications certainly do detract from the narrative but, that said, the mastery of the language, with a stark, minimalist style, while being respectful of the Holcomb citizens (probably due to Capote's Southern upbringing), remains as these brief snippets reveal:
The village of Holcomb stands on the high wheat plains of western Kansas, a lonesome area that other Kansans call "out there." Some seventy miles east of the Colorado border, the countryside, with its hard blue skies and desert-clear air, has an atmosphere that is rather more Far West than Middle West.
Until one morning in mid-November of 1959, few American - in fact, few Kansans - had ever heard of Holcomb. Like the waters of the river, like the motorists on the highway, and like the yellow trains streaking down the Santa Fe tracks, drama, in the shape of exceptional happenings, had never stopped there. The inhabitants of the village, numbering two hundred and seventy, were satisfied that this should be so, quite content to exist inside ordinary life - to work, to hunt, to watch television, to attend school socials, choir practice, meetings of the 4-H Club. But then, in the earliest hours of that morning in November, a Sunday morning, certain foreign sounds impinged on the normal nightly Holcomb noises - on the keening hysteria of coyotes, the dry scrape of scuttling tumbleweed, the racing, receding wail of locomotive whistles. At the time not a soul in sleeping Holcomb heard them - four shotgun blasts that, all told, ended six human lives. But afterward the townspeople, theretofore sufficiently unfearful of each other to seldom trouble to lock their doors, found fantasy recreating them over and again - those somber explosions that stimulated fires of mistrust in the glare of which many old neighbors viewed each other strangely, and as strangers.
Herb, Bonnie, Nancy and Kenyon Clutter
Excellent passage. Ashamedly, probably because of a brain deficiency like ADD, I have never been a huge reader of books. It’s one of the few that I have read, and one of the still fewer that I’ve read several times. No doubt about it, it’s a classic and it’s written beautifully. Such a frightening tale, but one I was/am drawn to. His writing pulled you right into those worlds.
Thank you and if you don't mind, let me share one more excerpt from In Cold Blood that remains unforgettable:
Imagination, of course, can open any door - turn the key and let terror walk right in. Tuesday, at dawn, a carload of pheasant hunters from Colorado - strangers, ignorant of the local disaster - were startled by what they saw as they crossed the prairies and passed through Holcomb: windows ablaze, almost every window in almost every house, and, in the brightly lit rooms, fully clothed people, even entire families, who had sat the whole night wide awake, watchful, listening. Of what were they frightened? "It might happen again."
I am a voracious reader but murders, mysteries and crime stories have never been (and still aren't) among those near the top of my list. In Cold Blood transcends such categorization, and as is the case with you, it's one that I've read numerous times, and in spite of the Wall Street Journal article that does diminish the book to a degree, I'll likely open it up and read it from start to finish in one night. It really is that compelling.
I just wish that someone other than Truman Capote would have authored it, maybe even Harper Lee. :-) I really do have to momentarily suspend my intolerance and utter disgust for sodomites when I turn the pages of this otherwise captivating book.
Hmmm, gives me chills. Very true. I have a feeling I'm going to be rereading again. It's been a long time.
Did you know that “Dill” in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD was based on Truman Capote?
I have long suspected Capote of stealing the parrot in In Cold Blood from Flaubert.
I have long suspected Capote of stealing the parrot in In Cold Blood from Flaubert.
For what it’s worth. Robert Blake reprised his role as the murder many years later only this time he got away with it.
“Do the crime. Don’t necessarily do the time” Fred the Bird or was it Sammy Davis ?
Never going to remove all gays. It has been around since forever.
It would be nice if it were re-closetized. The blatant flaunting of it is what is sickening and will (is?) tear down western society. People who show pride in this aberrant lifestyle are destroying America. The soviets(now the Russians ) were the ones who pushed this on us as a form of undermining of our society. You may have notice that the Putin administration has criminalized homosexuality in HIS Russia.
Back in the closet with ye, faggots.(but then leave them alone as long as they are not doing it in public, are pedophiles or are even teaching your children)
The murders took place 54 years ago. Anyone who knows anything is dead or at least long since retired.
To be sure, the KBI's hesitation in pursuing Messrs. Smith and Hickock was brief, resulting in no delay of justice. Within five months of killing the Clutters, Messrs. Smith and Hickock were caught, convicted and sentenced to death. Both men confessed. They were hanged in 1965.
Contrast and compare to any similar murder today as to the relative timeline. The passage above details a swift justice we are likely to never see again in this country.
What’s even bigger is that Capote could write In Cold Blood and Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
Thank you for posting those passages. I have never read “In Cold Blood”, mostly because of the upsetting content. But I am a former English major and lover of well-written prose - and indeed, those passages are haunting and beautiful. I may have to rethink my avoidance of the book and finally read it. I did that last year with “Lolita” and was amazed by Nabokov’s writing.
Did they ever tie the murderers to the murder of a family in Florida? I have heard nothing.
I think this is just a spat between reality and imagery.
The truth is that real police work is rather dull and methodical, either “cleaning up” after crimes and collecting evidence, or doggedly pursuing criminals.
It’s important, just not typically dramatic. The vast majority of what they do is both dull and leads nowhere, such as interviewing people who have no clue or useful information.
Nobody is at fault in this, as it does not reflect ineptness, indifference or incompetence. But it is extraneous to the story, after the fact.
As far as creating the genre of “nonfiction novel”, it is a paradoxical term, and could be more accurately described as a “mostly-nonfictional novel”. Not quite as bad as scripted “reality television”, but in a similar vein.
I think that if anything, we should look back at those events nostalgically for one reason. Two brutal murderers were executed by hanging just 5 years and 5 months after the murders. Not decades, like today.
Even liberal Truman Capote recognized the importance of meting out sure and swift justice as well as the value of the death penalty as a deterrent:
"I take the course that yes, it [capital punishment] is a deterrent...if people really were sentenced to be executed and were within a reasonable period of time, the professional murderer knew the absolute, positive end of their actions would be their own death, I think it would certainly give them second thoughts.
The full interview with William F. Buckley and Capote is from a 1968 Firing Line telecast. If you can get beyond his effeminate voice and mannerisms, it's an interesting interview and it shows Buckley at his literate best. And on a much, much lighter note, Capote's resemblance to the fictional Frazier Crane character is worth remarking.
Thanks for the response, Terry. Yes, I was aware that Truman Capote was the inspiration for Dill Harris, both of whom were short of stature and "odd ducks" (to say the least) in the mainstream of South Alabama. And Nelle Harper Lee's success with To Kill a Mockingbird was resented by Capote, to the extent that their friendship became strained.
(2007) President Bush awards Lee with the Medal of Freedom