In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

  Actually, at this time, on this subject, Dewey was undecided. He still entertained a pair of opinions—or, to use his word, “concepts”—and, in reconstructing the crime, had developed both a “single-killer concept” and a “double-killer concept.” In the former, the murderer was thought to be a friend of the family, or, at any rate, a man with more than casual knowledge of the house and its inhabitants—someone who knew that the doors were seldom locked, that Mr. Clutter slept alone in the master bedroom on the ground floor, that Mrs. Clutter and the children occupied separate bedrooms on the second floor. This person, so Dewey imagined, approached the house on foot, probably around midnight. The windows were dark, the Clutters asleep, and as for Teddy, the farm’s watchdog—well, Teddy was famously gun-shy. He would have cringed at the sight of the intruder’s weapon, whimpered, and crept away. On entering the house, the killer first disposed of the telephone installations—one in Mr. Clutter’s office, the other in the kitchen—and then, after cutting the wires, he went to Mr. Clutter’s bedroom and awakened him. Mr. Clutter, at the mercy of the gun-bearing visitor, was forced to obey instructions—forced to accompany him to the second floor, where they aroused the rest of the family. Then, with cord and adhesive tape supplied by the killer, Mr. Clutter bound and gagged his wife, bound his daughter (who, inexplicably, had not been gagged), and roped them to their beds. Next, father and son were escorted to the basement, and there Mr. Clutter was made to tape Kenyon and tie him to the playroom couch. Then Mr. Clutter was taken into the furnace room, hit on the head, gagged, and trussed. Now free to do as he pleased, the murderer killed them one by one, each time carefully collecting the discharged shell. When he had finished, he turned out all the lights and left.

  It might have happened that way; it was just possible. But Dewey had doubts: “If Herb had thought his family was in danger, mortal danger, he would have fought like a tiger. And Herb was no ninny—a strong guy in top condition. Kenyon too—big as his dad, bigger, a big-shouldered boy. It’s hard to see how one man, armed or not, could have handled the two of them.” Moreover, there was reason to suppose that all four had been bound by the same person: in all four instances the same type of knot, a half hitch, was used.

  Dewey—and the majority of his colleagues, as well—favored the second hypothesis, which in many essentials followed the first, the important difference being that the killer was not alone but had an accomplice, who helped subdue the family, tape, and tie them. Still, as a theory, this, too, had its faults. Dewey, for example, 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.” He went on to explain: “Assuming the murderer was someone known to the family, a member of this community; assuming that he was an ordinary man, ordinary except that he had a quirk, an insane grudge against the Clutters, or one of the Clutters—where did he find a partner, someone crazy enough to help him? It doesn’t add up. It doesn’t make sense. But then, come right down to it, nothing does.”

  After the news conference, Dewey retired to his office, a room that the sheriff had temporarily lent him. It contained a desk and two straight chairs. The desk was littered with what Dewey hoped would some day constitute courtroom exhibits: the adhesive tape and the yards of cord removed from the victims and now sealed in plastic sacks (as clues, neither item seemed very promising, for both were common-brand products, obtainable anywhere in the United States), and photographs taken at the scene of the crime by a police photographer—twenty blown-up glossy-print pictures of Mr. Clutter’s shattered skull, his son’s demolished face, Nancy’s bound hands, her mother’s death-dulled, still-staring eyes, and so on. In days to come, Dewey was to spend many hours examining these photographs, hoping that he might “suddenly see something,” that a meaningful detail would declare itself: “Like those puzzles. The ones that ask, ‘How many animals can you find in this picture?’ In a way, that’s what I’m trying to do. Find the hidden animals. I feel they must be there-if only I could see them.” As a matter of fact, one of the photographs, a close-up of Mr. Clutter and the mattress box upon which he lay, had already provided a valuable surprise: footprints, the dusty trackings of shoes with diamond-patterned soles. The prints, not noticeable to the naked eye, registered on film; indeed, the delineating glare of a flashbulb had revealed their presence with superb exactness. These prints, together with another footmark found on the same cardboard cover—the bold and bloody impression of a Cat’s Paw half sole—were the only “serious clues” the investigators could claim. Not that they were claiming them; Dewey and his team had decided to keep secret the existence of this evidence.

  Among the other articles on Dewey’s desk was Nancy Clutter’s diary. He had glanced through it, no more than that, and now he settled down to an earnest reading of the day-by-day entries, which began on her thirteenth birthday and ended some two months short of her seventeenth; the unsensational confidings of an intelligent child who adored animals, who liked to read, cook, sew, dance, ride horseback—a popular, pretty, virginal girl who thought it “fun to flirt” but was nevertheless “only really and truly in love with Bobby.” Dewey read the final entry first. It consisted of three lines written an hour or two before she died: “Jolene K. came over and I showed her how to make a cherry pie. Practiced with Roxie. Bobby here and we watched TV. Left at eleven.”

  Young Rupp, the last person known to have seen the family alive, had already undergone one extensive interrogation, and although he’d told a straightforward story of having passed “just an ordinary evening” with the Clutters, he was scheduled for a second interview, at which time he was to be given a polygraph test. The plain fact was that the police were not quite ready to dismiss him as a suspect. Dewey himself did not believe the boy had “anything to do with it”; still, it was true that at this early stage of the investigation, Bobby was the only person to whom a motive, however feeble, could be attributed. Here and there in the diary, Nancy referred to the situation that was supposed to have created the motive: her father’s insistence that she and Bobby “break off,” stop “seeing so much of each other,” his objection being that the Clutters were Methodist, the Rupps Catholic—a circumstance that in his view completely canceled any hope the young couple might have of one day marrying. But the diary notation that most tantalized Dewey was unrelated to the Clutter-Rupp, Methodist-Catholic impasse. Rather, it concerned a cat, the mysterious demise of Nancy’s favorite pet, Boobs, whom, according to an entry dated two weeks prior to her own death, she’d found “lying in the barn,” the victim, or so she suspected (without saying why), of a poisoner: “Poor Boobs. I buried him in a special place.” On reading this, Dewey felt it could be “very important.” If the cat had been poisoned, might not this act have been a small, malicious prelude to the murders? He determined to find the “special place” where Nancy had buried her pet, even though it meant combing the vast whole of River Valley Farm.

  While Dewey was occupying himself with the diary, his principal assistants, the Agents Church, Duntz, and Nye, were crisscrossing the countryside, talking, as Duntz said, “to anyone who could tell us anything”: the faculty of the Holcomb School, where both Nancy and Kenyon had been honor-roll, straight-A students; the employees of River Valley Farm (a staff that in spring and summer sometimes amounted to as many as eighteen men but in the present fallow season consisted of Gerald Van Vleet and three hired men, plus Mrs. Helm); friends of the victims; their neighbors; and, very particularly, their relatives. From far and near, some twenty of the last had arrived to attend the funeral services, which were to take place Wednesday morning.

  The youngest of the K.B.I. group, Harold Nye, who was a peppy little man of thirty-four with restless, distrustful eyes and a sharp nose, chin, and mind, had been assigned what he called “the damned delicate business” of interviewing the Clutter kinfolk: “It’s painful for you and it’s painful for them. When it comes to murder, you can’t respect grief. Or privacy. Or personal
feelings. You’ve got to ask the questions. And some of them cut deep.” But none of the persons he questioned, and none of the questions he asked (“I was exploring the emotional background. I thought the answer might be another woman—a triangle. Well, consider: Mr. Clutter was a fairly young, very healthy man, but his wife, she was a semi-invalid, she slept in a separate bedroom . . .”), produced useful information; not even the two surviving daughters could suggest a cause for the crime. In brief, Nye learned only this: “Of all the people in all the world, the Clutters were the least likely to be murdered.”

  At the end of the day, when the three agents convened in Dewey’s office, it developed that Duntz and Church had had better luck than Nye—Brother Nye, as the others called him. (Members of the K.B.I. are partial to nicknames; Duntz is known as Old Man—unfairly, since he is not quite fifty, a burly but light-footed man with a broad, tomcat face, and Church, who is sixty or so, pink-skinned and professorial-looking, but “tough,” according to his colleagues, and “the fastest draw in Kansas,” is called Curly, because his head is partly hairless.) Both men, in the course of their inquiries, had picked up “promising leads.”

  Duntz’s story concerned a father and son who shall here be known as John Senior and John Junior. Some years earlier John Senior had conducted with Mr. Clutter a minor business transaction, the outcome of which angered John Senior, who felt that Clutter had thrown him “a queer ball.” Now, both John Senior and his son “boozed”; indeed, John Junior was an often incarcerated alcoholic. One unfortunate day father and son, full of whiskey courage, appeared at the Clutter home intending to “have it out with Herb.” They were denied the chance, for Mr. Clutter, an abstainer aggressively opposed to drink and drunkards, seized a gun and marched them off his property. This discourtesy the Johns had not forgiven; as recently as a month ago, John Senior had told an acquaintance, “Every time I think of that bastard, my hands start to twitch. I just want to choke him.”

  Church’s lead was of a similar nature. He, too, had heard of someone admittedly hostile to Mr. Clutter: a certain Mr. Smith (though that is not his true name), who believed that the squire of River Valley Farm had shot and killed Smith’s hunting dog. Church had inspected Smith’s farm home and seen there, hanging from a barn rafter, a length of rope tied with the same kind of knot that was used to bind the four Clutters.

  Dewey said, “One of those, maybe that’s our deal. A personal thing—a grudge that got out of hand.”

  “Unless it was robbery,” said Nye, though robbery as the motive had been much discussed and then more or less dismissed. The arguments against it were good, the strongest being that Mr. Clutter’s aversion to cash was a county legend; he had no safe and never carried large sums of money. Also, if robbery were the explanation, why hadn’t the robber removed the jewelry that Mrs. Clutter was wearing—a gold wedding band and a diamond ring? Yet Nye was not convinced: “The whole setup has that robbery smell. What about Clutter’s wallet? Someone left it open and empty on Clutter’s bed—I don’t think it was the owner. And Nancy’s purse. The purse was lying on the kitchen floor. How did it get there? Yes, and not a dime in the house. Well—two dollars. We found two dollars in an envelope on Nancy’s desk. And we know Clutter cashed a check for sixty bucks just the day before. We figure there ought to have been at least fifty of that left. So some say, ‘Nobody would kill four people for fifty bucks.’ And say, ‘Sure, maybe the killer did take the money—but just to try and mislead us, make us think robbery was the reason.’ I wonder.”

  As darkness fell, Dewey interrupted the consultation to telephone his wife, Marie, at their home, and warn her that he wouldn’t be home for dinner. She said, “Yes. All right, Alvin,” but he noticed in her tone an uncharacteristic anxiety. The Deweys, parents of two young boys, had been married seventeen years, and Marie, a Louisiana-born former F.B.I. stenographer, whom he’d met while he was stationed in New Orleans, sympathized with the hardships of his profession—the eccentric hours, the sudden calls summoning him to distant areas of the state.

  He said, “Anything the matter?”

  “Not a thing,” she assured him. “Only, when you come home tonight, you’ll have to ring the bell. I’ve had all the locks changed.”

  Now he understood, and said, “Don’t worry, honey. Just lock the doors and turn on the porch light.”

  After he’d hung up, a colleague asked, “What’s wrong? Marie scared?”

  “Hell, yes,” Dewey said. “Her, and everybody else.”

  Not everybody. Certainly not Holcomb’s widowed postmistress, the intrepid Mrs. Myrtle Clare, who scorned her fellow townsmen as “a lily-livered lot, shaking in their boots afraid to shut their eyes,” and said of herself, “This old girl, she’s sleeping good as ever. Anybody wants to play a trick on me, let ’em try.” (Eleven months later a gun-toting team of masked bandits took her at her word by invading the post office and relieving the lady of nine hundred and fifty dollars.) As usual, Mrs. Clare’s notions conformed with those of very few. “Around here,” according to the proprietor of one Garden City hardware store, “locks and bolts are the fastest-going item. Folks ain’t particular what brand they buy; they just want them to hold.” 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.” That, with variations, was the customary response. However, one woman, a schoolteacher, observed, “Feeling wouldn’t run half so high if this had happened to anyone except the Clutters. Anyone less admired. Prosperous. Secure. But that family represented everything people hereabouts really value and respect, and that such a thing could happen to them—well, it’s like being told there is no God. It makes life seem pointless. I don’t think people are so much frightened as they are deeply depressed.”

  Another reason, the simplest, the ugliest, was that this hitherto peaceful congregation of neighbors and old friends had suddenly to endure the unique experience of distrusting each other; understandably, they believed that the murderer was among themselves, and, to the last man, endorsed an opinion advanced by Arthur Clutter, a brother of the deceased, who, while talking to journalists in the lobby of a Garden City hotel on November 17, had said, “When this is cleared up, I’ll wager whoever did it was someone within ten miles of where we now stand.”

  Approximately four hundred miles east of where Arthur Clutter then stood, two young men were sharing a booth in the Eagle Buffet, a Kansas City diner. One—narrow-faced, and with a blue cat tattooed on his right hand—had polished off several chicken-salad sandwiches and was now eying his companion’s meal: an untouched hamburger and a glass of root beer in which three aspirin were dissolving.

  “Perry, baby,” Dick said, “you don’t want that burger. I’ll take it.”

  Perry shoved the plate across the table. “Christ! Can’t you let me concentrate?”

  “You don’t have to read it fifty times.”

  The reference was to a front-page article in the November 17 edition of the Kansas City Star. Headlined CLUES ARE FEW IN SLAYING OF 4, the article, which was a follow-up of the previous day’s initial announcement of the murders, ended with a summarizing paragraph:

  The investigators are left faced with a search for a killer or killers whose cunning is apparent if his (or their) motive is not. For this killer or killers: *Carefully cut the telephone cords of the home’s two telephones. *Bound and gagged their victims expertly, with no evidence of a struggle with any of them. *Left nothing in the house amiss, left no indication they had searched for anything with the possible exception of [Clutter’s] billfold. *Shot four persons in different parts of the house, calmly picking
up the expended shotgun shells. *Arrived and left the home, presumably with the murder weapon, without being seen. *Acted without a motive, if you care to discount an abortive robbery attempt, which the investigators are wont to do.

  “ ‘For this killer or killers,’ ” said Perry, reading aloud. “That’s incorrect. The grammar is. It ought to be ‘For this killer or these killers. ’ ” Sipping his aspirin-spiked root beer, he went on, “Anyway, I don’t believe it. Neither do you. Own up, Dick. Be honest. You don’t believe this no-clue stuff?”

  Yesterday, after studying the papers, Perry had put the same question, and Dick, who thought he’d disposed of it (“Look. If those cowboys could make the slightest connection, we’d have heard the sound of hoofs a hundred miles off”), was bored at hearing it again. Too bored to protest when Perry once more pursued the matter: “I’ve always played my hunches. That’s why I’m alive today. You know Willie-Jay? He said I was a natural-born ‘medium,’ and he knew about things like that, he was interested. He said I had a high degree of ‘extrasensory perception.’ Sort of like having built-in radar—you see things before you see them. The outlines of coming events. Take, like, my brother and his wife. Jimmy and his wife. They were crazy about each other, but he was jealous as hell, and he made her so miserable, being jealous and always thinking she was passing it out behind his back, that she shot herself, and the next day Jimmy put a bullet through his head. When it happened—this was 1949, and I was in Alaska with Dad up around Circle City—I told Dad, ‘Jimmy’s dead.’ A week later we got the news. Lord’s truth. Another time, over in Japan, I was helping load a ship, and I sat down to rest a minute. Suddenly a voice inside me said, ‘Jump!’ I jumped I guess maybe ten feet, and just then, right where I’d been sitting, a ton of stuff came crashing down. I could give you a hundred examples. I don’t care if you believe me or not. For instance, right before I had my motorcycle accident I saw the whole thing happen: saw it in my mind—the rain, the skid tracks, me lying there bleeding and my legs broken. That’s what I’ve got now. A premonition. Something tells me this is a trap.” He tapped the newspaper. “A lot of prevarications.”

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