In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

  During the dinner party, Dick, who had consulted a map, announced that Sweetwater was a hundred or more miles west of the route he was driving—the route that would take him across New Mexico and Arizona to Nevada—to Las Vegas. Though this was true, it was clear to Perry that Dick simply wanted to rid himself of the boy and the old man. Dick’s purpose was obvious to the boy, too, but he was polite and said, “Oh, don’t you worry about us. Plenty of traffic must stop here. We’ll get a ride.”

  The boy walked with them to the car, leaving the old man to devour a fresh stack of pancakes. He shook hands with Dick and with Perry, wished them a Happy New Year, and waved them away into the dark.

  The evening of Wednesday, December 30, was a memorable one in the household of Agent A. A. Dewey. Remembering it later, his wife said, “Alvin was singing in the bath. ‘The Yellow Rose of Texas.’ The kids were watching TV. And I was setting the dining-room table. For a buffet. I’m from New Orleans; I love to cook and entertain, and my mother had just sent us a crate of avocados and black-eyed peas, and—oh, a heap of real nice things. So I decided: We’re going to have a buffet, invite some friends over—the Murrays, and Cliff and Dodie Hope. Alvin didn’t want to, but I was determined. My goodness! The case could go on forever, and he hadn’t taken hardly a minute off since it began. Well, I was setting the table, so when I heard the phone I asked one of the boys to answer it—Paul. Paul said it was for Daddy, and I said, ‘You tell them he’s in the bath,’ but Paul said he wondered if he ought to do that, because it was Mr. Sanford calling from Topeka. Alvin’s boss. Alvin took the call with just a towel around him. Made me so mad—dripping puddles everywhere. But when I went to get a mop I saw something worse—that cat, that fool Pete, up on the kitchen table gorging crabmeat salad. My avocado stuffing.

  “The next thing was, suddenly Alvin had hold of me, he was hugging me, and I said, ‘Alvin Dewey, have you lost your mind?’ Fun’s fun, but the man was wet as a pond, he was ruining my dress, and I was already dressed for company. Of course, when I understood why he was hugging me I hugged him right back. You can imagine what it meant to Alvin to know those men had been arrested. Out in Las Vegas. He said he had to leave for Las Vegas straightaway, and I asked him hadn’t he ought to put on some clothes first, and Alvin, he was so excited, he said, ‘Gosh, honey, I guess I’ve spoiled your party!’ I couldn’t think of a happier way of having it spoiled—not if this meant that maybe one day soon we’d be back living an ordinary life. Alvin laughed—it was just beautiful to hear him. I mean, the past two weeks had been the worst of all. Because the week before Christmas those men turned up in Kansas City—came and went without getting caught—and I never saw Alvin more depressed, except once when young Alvin was in the hospital, had encephalitis, we thought we might lose him. But I don’t want to talk about that.

  “Anyway, I made coffee for him and took it to the bedroom, where he was supposed to be getting dressed. But he wasn’t. He was sitting on the edge of our bed holding his head, as if he had a headache. Hadn’t put on even a sock. So I said, ‘What do you want to do, get pneumonia?’ And he looked at me and said, ‘Marie, listen, it’s got to be these guys, has to, that’s the only logical solution.’ Alvin’s funny. Like the first time he ran for Finney County Sheriff. Election Night, when practically every vote had been counted and it was plain as plain he’d won, he said—I could have strangled him—said over and over, ‘Well, we won’t know till the last return.’

  “I told him, ‘Now, Alvin, don’t start that. Of course they did it.’ He said, ‘Where’s our proof? We can’t prove either of them ever set foot inside the Clutter house!’ But that seemed to me exactly what he could prove: footprints—weren’t footprints the one thing those animals left behind? Alvin said, ‘Yes, and a big lot of good they are—unless those boys still happen to be wearing the boots that made them. Just footprints by themselves aren’t worth a Dixie dollar.’ I said, ‘All right, honey, drink your coffee and I’ll help you pack.’ Sometimes you can’t reason with Alvin. The way he kept on, he had me almost convinced Hickock and Smith were innocent, and if they weren’t innocent they would never confess, and if they didn’t confess they could never be convicted—the evidence was too circumstantial. What bothered him most, though—he was afraid that the story would leak, that the men would learn the truth before the K.B.I. could question them. As it was, they thought they’d been picked up for parole violation. Passing bad checks. And Alvin felt it was very important they keep thinking that. He said, ‘The name Clutter has to hit them like a hammer, a blow they never knew was coming.’

  “Paul—I’d sent him out to the washline for some of Alvin’s socks—Paul came back and stood around watching me pack. He wanted to know where Alvin was going. Alvin lifted him up in his arms. He said, ‘Can you keep a secret, Pauly?’ Not that he needed to ask. Both boys know they mustn’t talk about Alvin’s work—the bits and pieces they hear around the house. So he said, ‘Pauly, you remember those two fellows we’ve been looking for? Well, now we know where they are, and Daddy’s going to go get them and bring them here to Garden City.’ But Paul begged him, ‘Don’t do that, Daddy, don’t bring them here.’ He was frightened—any nine-year-old might’ve been. Alvin kissed him. He said. ‘Now that’s O.K., Pauly, we won’t let them hurt anybody. They’re not going to hurt anybody ever again.”

  At five that afternoon, some twenty minutes after the stolen Chevrolet rolled off the Nevada desert into Las Vegas, the long ride came to an end. But not before Perry had visited the Las Vegas post office, where he claimed a package addressed to himself in care of General Delivery—the large cardboard box he had mailed from Mexico, and had insured for a hundred dollars, a sum exceeding to an impertinent extent the value of the contents, which were suntans and denim pants, worn shirts, underwear, and two pairs of steel-buckled boots. Waiting for Perry outside the post office, Dick was in excellent spirits; he had reached a decision that he was certain would eradicate his current difficulties and start him on a new road, with a new rainbow in view. The decision involved impersonating an Air Force officer. It was a project that had long fascinated him, and Las Vegas was the ideal place to try it out. He’d already selected the officer’s rank and name, the latter borrowed from a former acquaintance, the then warden of Kansas State Penitentiary: Tracy Hand. As Captain Tracy Hand, smartly clothed in a made-to-order uniform, Dick intended to “crawl the strip,” Las Vegas’s street of never-closed casinos. Small-time, big-time, the Sands, the Stardust—he meant to hit them all, distributing en route “a bundle of confetti.” By writing worthless checks right around the clock, he expected to haul in three, maybe four thousand dollars within a twenty-four-hour period. That was half the plot; the second half was: Goodbye, Perry. Dick was sick of him—his harmonica, his aches and ills, his superstitions, the weepy, womanly eyes, the nagging, whispering voice. Suspicious, self-righteous, spiteful, he was like a wife that must be got rid of. And there was but one way to do it: Say nothing—just go.

  Absorbed in his plans, Dick did not notice a patrol car pass him, slow down, reconnoiter. Nor did Perry, descending the post office steps with the Mexican box balanced on a shoulder, observe the prowling car and the policemen in it.

  Officers Ocie Pigford and Francis Macauley carried in their heads pages of memorized data, including a description of a black-and-white 1956 Chevrolet bearing Kansas license plate no. Jo 16212. Neither Perry nor Dick was aware of the police vehicle trailing them as they pulled away from the post office, and with Dick driving and Perry directing, they traveled five blocks north, turned left, then right, drove a quarter mile more, and stopped in front of a dying palm tree and a weather-wrecked sign from which all calligraphy had faded except the word “OOM.”

  “This it?” Dick asked.

  Perry, as the patrol car drew alongside, nodded.

  The Detective Division of the Las Vegas City Jail contains two interrogation rooms—fluorescent-lighted chambers measuring ten by twelve, with walls and ceilings of celot
ex. In each room, in addition to an electric fan, a metal table, and folding metal chairs, there are camouflaged microphones, concealed tape recorders, and, set into the door, a mirrored one-way observation window. On Saturday, the second day of 1960, both rooms were booked for 2:00 P.M.—the hour that four detectives from Kansas had selected for their first confrontation of Hickock and Smith.

  Shortly before the appointed moment, the quartet of K.B.I. agents—Harold Nye, Roy Church, Alvin Dewey, and Clarence Duntz—gathered in a corridor outside the interrogation rooms. Nye was running a temperature. “Part flu. But mostly sheer excitement,” he subsequently informed a journalist. “By then I’d already been waiting in Las Vegas two days—took the next plane out after news of the arrest reached our headquarters in Topeka. The rest of the team, Al and Roy and Clarence, came on by car—had a lousy trip, too. Lousy weather. Spent New Year’s Eve snowed up in a motel in Albuquerque. Boy, when they finally hit Vegas, they needed good whiskey and good news. I was ready with both. Our young men had signed waivers of extradition. Better yet: We had the boots, both pairs, and the soles—the Cat’s Paw and the diamond pattern—matched perfectly life-size photographs of the footprints found in the Clutter house. The boots were in a box of stuff the boys picked up at the post office just before the curtain fell. Like I told Al Dewey, suppose the squeeze had come five minutes sooner!

  “Even so, our case was very shaky—nothing that couldn’t be pulled apart. But I remember, while we were waiting in the corridor—I remember being feverish and nervous as hell, but confident. We all were; we felt we were on the edge of the truth. My job, mine and Church’s, was to pressure it out of Hickock. Smith belonged to Al and Old Man Duntz. At that time I hadn’t seen the suspects—just examined their possessions and arranged the extradition waivers. I’d never laid eyes on Hickock until he was brought down to the interrogation room. I’d imagined a bigger guy. Brawnier. Not some skinny kid. He was twenty-eight, but he looked like a kid. Hungry—right down to the bone. He was wearing a blue shirt and suntans and white socks and black shoes. We shook hands; his hand was drier than mine. Clean, polite, nice voice, good diction, a pretty decent-looking fellow, with a very disarming smile—and in the beginning he smiled quite a lot.

  “I said, ‘Mr. Hickock, my name is Harold Nye, and this other gentleman is Mr. Roy Church. We’re Special Agents of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, and we’ve come here to discuss your parole violation. Of course, you’re under no obligation to answer our questions, and anything you say may be used against you in evidence. You’re entitled to a lawyer at all times. We’ll use no force, no threats, and we’ll make you no promises.’ He was calm as could be.”

  “I know the form,” Dick said. “I’ve been questioned before.”

  “Now, Mr. Hickock—”


  “Dick, we want to talk to you about your activities since your parole. To our knowledge, you’ve gone on at least two big check sprees in the Kansas City area.”

  “Uh-huh. Hung out quite a few.”

  “Could you give us a list?”

  The prisoner, evidently proud of his one authentic gift, a brilliant memory, recited the names and addresses of twenty Kansas City stores, cafés, and garages, and recalled, accurately, the “purchase” made at each and the amount of the check passed.

  “I’m curious, Dick. Why do these people accept your checks? I’d like to know the secret.”

  “The secret is: People are dumb.”

  Roy Church said, “Fine, Dick. Very funny. But just for the moment let’s forget these checks.” Though he sounds as if his throat were lined with hog bristle, and has hands so hardened that he can punch stone walls (his favorite stunt, in fact), persons have been known to mistake Church for a kindly little man, somebody’s bald-headed, pink-cheeked uncle. “Dick,” he said, “suppose you tell us something about your family background.”

  The prisoner reminisced. Once, when he was nine or ten, his father had fallen ill. “It was rabbit fever,” and the illness lasted many months, during which the family had depended upon church assistance and the charity of neighbors—“otherwise we would’ve starved.” That episode aside, his childhood had been O.K. “We never had much money, but we were never really down-and-out,” Hickock said. “We always had clean clothes and something to eat. My dad was strict, though. He wasn’t happy unless he had me doing chores. But we got along O.K.—no serious arguments. My parents never argued, either. I can’t recall a single quarrel. She’s wonderful, my mother. Dad’s a good guy, too. I’d say they did the best for me they could.” School? Well, he felt he might have been more than an average student if he had contributed to books a fraction of the time he’d “wasted” on sports. “Baseball. Football. I made all the teams. After high school I could have gone to college on a football scholarship. I wanted to study engineering, but even with a scholarship, deals like that cost plenty. I don’t know, it seemed safer to get a job.”

  Before his twenty-first birthday Hickock had worked as a railway trackman, an ambulance driver, a car painter, and a garage mechanic; he’d also married a girl sixteen years old. “Carol. Her father was a minister. He was dead against me. Said I was a full-time nobody. He made all the trouble he could. But I was nuts about Carol. Still am. There’s a real princess. Only—see, we had three kids. Boys. And we were too young to have three kids. Maybe if we hadn’t got so deep into debt. If I could’ve earned extra money. I tried.”

  He tried gambling, and started forging checks and experimenting with other forms of theft. In 1958 he was convicted of house burglary in a Johnson County court and sentenced to five years in Kansas State Penitentiary. But by then Carol had departed and he’d taken as a bride another girl aged sixteen. “Mean as hell. Her and her whole family. She divorced me while I was inside. I’m not complaining. Last August, when I left The Walls, I figured I had every chance to start new. I got a job in Olathe, lived with my family, and stayed home nights. I was doing swell—”

  “Until November twentieth,” said Nye, and Hickock seemed not to understand him. “The day you stopped doing swell and started hanging paper. Why?”

  Hickock sighed, and said, “That would make a book.” Then, smoking a cigarette borrowed from Nye and lighted by the courteous Church, he said, “Perry—my buddy Perry Smith—was paroled in the spring. Later on, when I came out, he sent me a letter. Postmarked Idaho. He wrote reminding me of this deal we used to talk over. About Mexico. The idea was we would go to Acapulco, one of them places, buy a fishing boat, and run it ourselves—take tourists deep-sea fishing.”

  Nye said, “This boat. How did you plan to pay for it?”

  “I’m coming to that,” Hickock said. “See, Perry wrote me he had a sister living in Fort Scott. And she was holding some heavy change for him. Several thousand dollars. Money his dad owed him from the sale of some property up in Alaska. He said he was coming to Kansas to get the dough.”

  “And the two of you would use it to buy a boat.”


  “But it didn’t work out that way.”

  “What happened was, Perry showed up maybe a month later. I met him at the bus station in Kansas City—”

  “When?” said Church. “The day of the week.”

  “A Thursday.”

  “And when did you go to Fort Scott?”


  “November fourteenth.”

  Hickock’s eyes flashed with surprise. One could see that he was asking himself why Church should be so certain of the date; and hurriedly—for it was too soon to stir suspicions—the detective said, “What time did you leave for Fort Scott?”

  “That afternoon. We did some work on my car, and had a bowl of chili at the West Side Café. It must have been around three.”

  “Around three. Was Perry Smith’s sister expecting you?”

  “No. Because, see, Perry lost her address. And she didn’t have a telephone.”

  “Then how did you expect to find her?”

  “By inquiring at the post office.”

  “Did you?”

  “Perry did. They said she’d moved away. To Oregon, they thought. But she hadn’t left any forwarding address.”

  “Must have been quite a blow. After you’d been counting on a big piece of money like that.”

  Hickock agreed. “Because—well, we’d definitely decided to go to Mexico. Otherwise, I never would’ve cashed them checks. But I hoped . . . Now listen to me; I’m telling the truth. I thought once we got to Mexico and began making money, then I’d be able to pay them off. The checks.”

  Nye took over. “One minute, Dick.” Nye is a short, short-tempered man who has difficulty moderating his aggressive vigor, his talent for language both sharp and outspoken. “I’d like to hear a little more about the trip to Fort Scott,” he said, soft-pedaling. “When you found Smith’s sister no longer there, what did you do then?”

  “Walked around. Had a beer. Drove back.”

  “You mean you went home?”

  “No. To Kansas City. We stopped at the Zesto Drive-In. Ate hamburgers. We tried Cherry Row.”

  Neither Nye nor Church was familiar with Cherry Row.

  Hickock said, “You kiddin’? Every cop in Kansas knows it.” When the detectives again pleaded ignorance, he explained that it was a stretch of park where one encountered “hustlers mostly,” adding, “but plenty of amateurs, too. Nurses. Secretaries. I’ve had a lot of luck there.”

  “And this particular evening. Have any luck?”

  “The bad kind. We ended up with a pair of rollers.”


  “Mildred. The other one, Perry’s girl, I think she was called Joan.”

  “Describe them.”

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