In Cold Blood by Truman Capote


  3.) She feels that:

  a) You are leaning too heavily towards self-pity.

  b) That you are too calculating.

  c) That you are really undeserving of an 8 page letter written in between motherly duties.

  4.) On page 3 she writes: “I truthfully feel none of us has anyone to blame etc.” Thus vindicating those who bore influence in her formative years. But is this the whole truth? She is a wife and mother. Respectable and more or less secure. It is easy to ignore the rain if you have a raincoat. But how would she feel if she were compelled to hustle her living on the streets? Would she still be all-forgiving about the people in her past? Absolutely not. Nothing is more usual than to feel that others have shared in our failures, just as it is an ordinary reaction to forget those who have shared in our achievements.

  5.) Your sister respects your Dad. She also resents the fact that you have been preferred. Her jealousy takes a subtle form in this letter. Between the lines she is registering a question: “I love Dad and have tried to live so he could be proud to own me as his daughter. But I have had to content myself with the crumbs of his affection. Because it is you he loves, and why should it be so?”

  Obviously over the years your Dad has taken advantage of your sister’s emotional nature via the mails. Painting a picture that justifies her opinion of him—an underdog cursed with an ungrateful son upon whom he has showered love and concern, only to be infamously treated by that son in return.

  On page 7 she says she is sorry that her letter must be censored. But she is really not sorry at all. She is glad it passes through a censor. Subconsciously she has written it with the censor in mind, hoping to convey the idea that the Smith family is really a well-ordered unit: “Please do not judge us all by Perry.”

  About the mother kissing away her child’s boo-boo. This is a woman’s form of sarcasm.

  6.) You write to her because:

  a) You love her after a fashion.

  b) You feel a need for this contact with the outside world.

  c) You can use her.

  Prognosis: Correspondence between you and your sister cannot serve anything but a purely social function. Keep the theme of your letters within the scope of her understanding. Do not unburden your private conclusions. Do not put her on the defensive and do not permit her to put you on the defensive. Respect her limitations to comprehend your objectives, and remember that she is touchy towards criticism of your Dad. Be consistent in your attitude towards her and do not add anything to the impression she has that you are weak, not because you need her goodwill but because you can expect more letters like this, and they can only serve to increase your already dangerous anti-social instincts.

  FINISH

  As Perry continued to sort and choose, the pile of material he thought too dear to part with, even temporarily, assumed a tottering height. But what was he to do? He couldn’t risk losing the Bronze Medal earned in Korea, or his high-school diploma (issued by the Leavenworth County Board of Education as a result of his having, while in prison, resumed his long-recessed studies). Nor did he care to chance the loss of a manila envelope fat with photographs—primarily of himself, and ranging in time from a pretty-little-boy portrait made when he was in the Merchant Marine (and on the back of which he had scribbled, “16 yrs. old. Young, happy-go-lucky & Innocent”) to the recent Acapulco pictures. And there were half a hundred other items he had decided he must take with him, among them his treasure maps, Otto’s sketchbook, and two thick notebooks, the thicker of which constituted his personal dictionary, a non-alphabetically listed miscellany of words he believed “beautiful” or “useful,” or at least “worth memorizing.” (Sample page: “Thanatoid = deathlike; Omnilingual = versed in languages; Amerce = punishment, amount fixed by court; Nescient = ignorance; Facinorous = atrociously wicked; Hagiophobia = a morbid fear of holy places & things; Lapidicolous = living under stones, as certain blind beetles; Dyspathy = lack of sympathy, fellow feeling; Psilopher = a fellow who fain would pass as a philosopher; Omophagia = eating raw flesh, the rite of some savage tribes; Depredate = to pillage, rob, and prey upon; Aphrodisiac = a drug or the like which excites sexual desire; Megalodactylous = having abnormally large fingers; Myrtophobia = fear of night and darkness.”)

  On the cover of the second notebook, the handwriting of which he was so proud, a script abounding in curly, feminine flourishes, proclaimed the contents to be “The Private Diary of Perry Edward Smith”—an inaccurate description, for it was not in the least a diary but, rather, a form of anthology consisting of obscure facts (“Every fifteen years Mars gets closer. 1958 is a close year”), poems and literary quotations (“No man is an island, Entire of itself”), and passages for newspapers and books paraphrased or quoted. For example:

  My acquaintances are many, my friends are few; those who really know me fewer still.

  Heard about a new rat poison on the market. Extremely potent, odorless, tasteless, is so completely absorbed once swallowed that no trace could ever be found in a dead body.

  If called upon to make a speech: “I can’t remember what I was going to say for the life of me—I don’t think that ever before in my life have so many people been so directly responsible for my being so very, very glad. It’s a wonderful moment and a rare one and I’m certainly indebted. Thank you!”

  Read interesting article Feb. issue of Man to Man: “I Knifed My Way to a Diamond Pit.”

  “It is almost impossible for a man who enjoys freedom with all its prerogatives, to realize what it means to be deprived of that freedom.”—Said by Erle Stanley Gardner.

  “What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is a breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is as the little shadow that runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.”—Said by Chief Crowfoot, Blackfoot Indian Chief.

  This last entry was written in red ink and decorated with a border of green-ink stars; the anthologist wished to emphasize its “personal significance.” “A breath of a buffalo in the wintertime”—that exactly evoked his view of life. Why worry? What was there to “sweat about”? Man was nothing, a mist, a shadow absorbed by shadows.

  But, damn it, you do worry, scheme, fret over your fingernails and the warnings of hotel managements: “SU DÍA TERMINA A LAS 2 P.M.”

  “Dick? You hear me?” Perry said. “It’s almost one o’clock.”

  Dick was awake. He was rather more than that; he and Inez were making love. As though reciting a rosary, Dick incessantly whispered: “Is it good, baby? Is it good?” But Inez, smoking a cigarette, remained silent. The previous midnight, when Dick had brought her to the room and told Perry that she was going to sleep there, Perry, though disapproving, had acquiesced, but if they imagined that their conduct stimulated him, or seemed to him anything other than a “nuisance,” they were wrong. Nevertheless, Perry felt sorry for Inez. She was such a “stupid kid”—she really believed that Dick meant to marry her, and had no idea he was planning to leave Mexico that very afternoon.

  “Is it good, baby? Is it good?”

  Perry said: “For Christsake, Dick. Hurry it up, will you? Our day ends at two P.M.”

  It was Saturday, Christmas was near, and the traffic crept along Main Street. Dewey, caught in the traffic, looked up at the holly garlands that hung above the street—swags of gala greenery trimmed with scarlet paper bells—and was reminded that he had not yet bought a single gift for his wife or his sons. His mind automatically rejected problems not concerned with the Clutter case. Marie and many of their friends had begun to wonder at the completeness of his fixation.

  One close friend, the young lawyer Clifford R. Hope, Jr., had spoken plainly: “Do you know what’s happening to you, Al? Do you realize you never talk about anything else?” “Well,” Dewey had replied, “that’s all I think about. And there’s the chance that just while talking the thing over, I’ll hit on something I haven’t thought of before. Some new angle. Or maybe you will. Damn it, Cliff, what do you suppose my life will b
e if this thing stays in the Open File? Years from now I’ll still be running down tips, and every time there’s a murder, a case anywhere in the country even remotely similar, I’ll have to horn right in, check, see if there could be any possible connection. But it isn’t only that. The real thing is I’ve come to feel I know Herb and the family better than they ever knew themselves. I’m haunted by them. I guess I always will be. Until I know what happened.”

  Dewey’s dedication to the puzzle had resulted in an uncharacteristic absent-mindedness. Only that morning Marie had asked him please, would he please, please, not forget to. . . But he couldn’t remember, or didn’t, until free of the shopping-day traffic and racing along Route 50 toward Holcomb, he passed Dr. I. E. Dale’s veterinarian establishment. Of course. His wife had asked him to be sure and collect the family cat, Courthouse Pete. Pete, a tiger-striped tom weighing fifteen pounds, is a well-known character around Garden City, famous for his pugnacity, which was the cause of his current hospitalization; a battle lost to a boxer dog had left him with wounds necessitating both stitches and antibiotics. Released by Dr. Dale, Pete settled down on the front seat of his owner’s automobile and purred all the way to Holcomb.

  The detective’s destination was River Valley Farm, but wanting something warm—a cup of hot coffee—he stopped off at Hartman’s Café.

  “Hello, handsome,” said Mrs. Hartman. “What can I do for you?”

  “Just coffee, ma’am.”

  She poured a cup. “Am I wrong? Or have you lost a lot of weight?”

  “Some.” In fact, during the past three weeks Dewey had dropped twenty pounds. His suits fitted as though he had borrowed them from a stout friend, and his face, seldom suggestive of his profession, was now not at all so; it could have been that of an ascetic absorbed in occult pursuits.

  “How do you feel?”

  “Mighty fine.”

  “You look awful.”

  Unarguably. But no worse than the other members of the K.B.I. entourage—Agents Duntz, Church, and Nye. Certainly he was in better shape than Harold Nye, who, though full of flu and fever, kept reporting for duty. Among them, the four tired men had “checked out” some seven hundred tips and rumors. Dewey, for example, had spent two wearying and wasted days trying to trace that phantom pair, the Mexicans sworn by Paul Helm to have visited Mr. Clutter on the eve of the murders.

  “Another cup, Alvin?”

  “Don’t guess I will. Thank you, ma’am.”

  But she had already fetched the pot. “It’s on the house, Sheriff. How you look, you need it.”

  At a corner table two whiskery ranch hands were playing checkers. One of them got up and came over to the counter where Dewey was seated. He said, “Is it true what we heard?”

  “Depends.”

  “About that fellow you caught? Prowling in the Clutter house? He’s the one responsible. That’s what we heard.”

  “I think you heard wrong, old man. Yes, sir, I do.”

  Although the past life of Jonathan Daniel Adrian, who was then being held in the county jail on a charge of carrying a concealed weapon, included a period of confinement as a mental patient in Topeka State Hospital, the data assembled by the investigators indicated that in relation to the Clutter case he was guilty only of an unhappy curiosity.

  “Well, if he’s the wrong un, why the hell don’t you find the right un? I got a houseful of women won’t go to the bathroom alone.”

  Dewey had become accustomed to this brand of abuse; it was a routine part of his existence. He swallowed the second cup of coffee, sighed, smiled.

  “Hell, I’m not cracking jokes. I mean it. Why don’t you arrest somebody? That’s what you’re paid for.”

  “Hush your meanness,” said Mrs. Hartman. “We’re all in the same boat. Alvin’s doing good as he can.”

  Dewey winked at her. “You tell him, ma’am. And much obliged for the coffee.”

  The ranch hand waited until his quarry had reached the door, then fired a farewell volley: “If you ever run for sheriff again, just forget my vote. ’Cause you ain’t gonna get it.”

  “Hush your meanness,” said Mrs. Hartman.

  A mile separates River Valley Farm from Hartman’s Café. Dewey decided to walk it. He enjoyed hiking across wheat fields. Normally, once or twice a week he went for long walks on his own land, the well-loved piece of prairie where he had always hoped to build a house, plant trees, eventually entertain great-grandchildren. That was the dream, but it was one his wife had lately warned him she no longer shared; she had told him that never now would she consider living all alone “way out there in the country.” Dewey knew that even if he were to snare the murderers the next day, Marie would not change her mind—for once an awful fate had befallen friends who lived in a lonely country house.

  Of course, the Clutter family were not the first persons ever murdered in Finney County, or even in Holcomb. Senior members of that small community can recall “a wild goings-on” of more than forty years ago—the Hefner Slaying. Mrs. Sadie Truitt, the hamlet’s septuagenarian mail messenger, who is the mother of Postmistress Clare, is expert on this fabled affair: “August, it was. 1920. Hot as Hades. A fellow called Tunif was working on the Finnup ranch. Walter Tunif. He had a car, turned out to be stolen. Turned out he was a soldier AWOL from Fort Bliss, over there in Texas. He was a rascal, sure enough, and a lot of people suspected him. So one evening the sheriff—them days that was Orlie Hefner, such a fine singer, don’t you know he’s part of the Heavenly Choir?—one evening he rode out to the Finnup ranch to ask Tunif a few straightforward questions. Third of August. Hot as Hades. Outcome of it was, Walter Tunif shot the sheriff right through the heart. Poor Orlie was gone ’fore he hit the ground. The devil who done it, he lit out of there on one of the Finnup horses, rode east along the river. Word spread, and men for miles around made up a posse. Along about the next morning, they caught up with him; old Walter Tunif. He didn’t get the chance to say how d’you do? On account of the boys were pretty irate. They just let the buckshot fly.”

  Dewey’s own initial contact with foul play in Finney County occurred in 1947. The incident is noted in his files as follows: “John Carlyle Polk, a Creek Indian, 32 years of age, resident Muskogee, Okla., killed Mary Kay Finley, white female, 40 years of age, a waitress residing in Garden City. Polk stabbed her with the jagged neck of a beer bottle in a room in the Copeland Hotel, Garden City, Kansas, 5-9-47.” A cut-and-dried description of an open-and-shut case. Of three other murders Dewey had since investigated, two were equally obvious (a pair of railroad workers robbed and killed an elderly farmer, 11-1-52; a drunken husband beat and kicked his wife to death, 6-17-56), but the third case, as it was once conversationally narrated by Dewey, was not without several original touches: “It all started out at Stevens Park. Where they have a bandstand, and under the bandstand a men’s room. Well, this man named Mooney was walking around the park. He was from North Carolina somewhere, just a stranger passing through town. Anyway, he went to the rest room, and somebody followed him inside—a boy from hereabouts, Wilmer Lee Stebbins, twenty years old. Afterward, Wilmer Lee always claimed Mr. Mooney made him an unnatural suggestion. And that was why he robbed Mr. Mooney, and knocked him down, and banged his head on the cement floor, and why, when that didn’t finish him, he stuck Mr. Mooney’s head in a toilet bowl and kept on flushing till he drowned him. Maybe so. But nothing can explain the rest of Wilmer Lee’s behavior. First off, he buried the body a couple of miles northeast of Garden City. Next day he dug it up and put it down fourteen miles the other direction. Well, it went on like that, burying and reburying. Wilmer Lee was like a dog with a bone—he just wouldn’t let Mr. Mooney rest in peace. Finally, he dug one grave too many; somebody saw him.” Prior to the Clutter mystery, the four cases cited were the sum of Dewey’s experience with murder, and measured against the case confronting him, were as squalls preceding a hurricane.

  Dewey fitted a key into the front door of the Clutter house. Inside, the house was
warm, for the heat had not been turned off, and the shiny-floored rooms, smelling of a lemon-scented polish, seemed only temporarily untenanted; it was as though today were Sunday and the family might at any moment return from church. The heirs, Mrs. English and Mrs. Jarchow, had removed a vanload of clothing and furniture, yet the atmosphere of a house still humanly inhabited had not thereby been diminished. In the parlor, a sheet of music, “Comin’ Thro’ the Rye,” stood open on the piano rack. In the hall, a sweat-stained gray Stetson hat—Herb’s—hung on a hat peg. Upstairs in Kenyon’s room, on a shelf above his bed, the lenses of the dead boy’s spectacles gleamed with reflected light.

  The detective moved from room to room. He had toured the house many times; indeed, he went out there almost every day, and, in one sense, could be said to find these visits pleasurable, for the place, unlike his own home, or the sheriff’s office, with its hullabaloo, was peaceful. The telephones, their wires still severed, were silent. The great quiet of the prairies surrounded him. He could sit in Herb’s parlor rocking chair, and rock and think. A few of his conclusions were unshakable: he believed that the death of Herb Clutter had been the criminals’ main objective, the motive being a psychopathic hatred, or possibly a combination of hatred and thievery, and he believed that the commission of the murders had been a leisurely labor, with perhaps two or more hours elapsing between the entrance of the killers and their exit. (The coroner, Dr. Robert Fenton, reported an appreciable difference in the body temperatures of the victims, and, on this basis, theorized that the order of execution had been: Mrs. Clutter, Nancy, Kenyon, and Mr. Clutter.) Attendant upon these beliefs was his conviction that the family had known very well the persons who destroyed them.

 
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