In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

  “Maybe they were sisters. Both blond. Plump. I’m not too clear about it. See, we’d bought a bottle of ready-mix Orange Blossoms—that’s orange pop and vodka—and I was getting stiff. We gave the girls a few drinks and drove them out to Fun Haven. I imagine you gentlemen never heard of Fun Haven?”

  They hadn’t.

  Hickock grinned and shrugged. “It’s on the Blue Ridge Road. Eight miles south of Kansas City. A combination night-club-motel. You pay ten bucks for the key to a cabin.”

  Continuing, he described the cabin in which he claimed that the foursome had stayed the night: twin beds, an old Coca-Cola calendar, a radio that wouldn’t play unless the customer deposited a quarter. His poise, his explicitness, the assured presentation of verifiable detail impressed Nye—though, of course, the boy was lying. Well, wasn’t he? Whether because of flu and fever or an abrupt lessening in the warmth of his confidence, Nye exuded an icy sweat.

  “Next morning we woke up to find they’d rolled us and beat it,” said Hickock. “Didn’t get much off me. But Perry lost his wallet, with forty or fifty dollars.”

  “What did you do about it?”

  “There wasn’t nothing to do.”

  “You could’ve notified the police.”

  “Aw, come on. Quit it. Notify the police. For your information, a guy on parole’s not allowed to booze. Or associate with another Old Grad—”

  “All right, Dick. It’s Sunday. The fifteenth of November. Tell us what you did that day from the moment you checked out of Fun Haven.”

  “Well, we ate breakfast at a truck stop near Happy Hill. Then we drove to Olathe, and I dropped Perry off at the hotel where he was living. I’d say that was around eleven. Afterward, I went home and had dinner with the family. Same as every Sunday. Watched TV—a basketball game, or maybe it was football. I was pretty tired.”

  “When did you next see Perry Smith?”

  “Monday. He came by where I worked. Bob Sands’ Body Shop.”

  “And what did you talk about? Mexico?”

  “Well, we still liked the idea, even if we hadn’t got hold of the money to do all we had in mind—put ourselves in business down there. But we wanted to go, and it seemed worth the risk.”

  “Worth another stretch in Lansing?”

  “That didn’t figure. See, we never intended coming Stateside again.”

  Nye, who had been jotting notes in a notebook, said, “On the day following the check spree—that would be the twenty-first—you and your friend Smith disappeared. Now, Dick, please outline your movements between then and the time of your arrest here in Las Vegas. Just a rough idea.”

  Hickock whistled and rolled his eyes. “Wow!” he said, and then, summoning his talent for something very like total recall, he began an account of the long ride—the approximately ten thousand miles he and Smith had covered in the past six weeks. He talked for an hour and twenty-five minutes—from two-fifty to four-fifteen—and told, while Nye attempted to list them, of highways and hotels, motels, rivers, towns, and cities, a chorus of entwining names: Apache, El Paso, Corpus Christi, Santillo, San Luis Potosí, Acapulco, San Diego, Dallas, Omaha, Sweetwater, Stillwater, Tenville Junction, Tallahassee, Needles, Miami, Hotel Nuevo Waldorf, Somerset Hotel, Hotel Simone, Arrowhead Motel, Cherokee Motel, and many, many more. He gave them the name of the man in Mexico to whom he’d sold his own old 1949 Chevrolet, and confessed that he had stolen a newer model in Iowa. He described persons he and his partner had met: a Mexican widow, rich and sexy; Otto, a German “millionaire”; a “swish” pair of Negro prizefighters driving a “swish” lavender Cadillac; the blind proprietor of a Florida rattlesnake farm; a dying old man and his grandson; and others. And when he had finished he sat with folded arms and a pleased smile, as though waiting to be commended for the humor, the clarity, and the candor of his traveler’s tale.

  But Nye, in pursuit of the narrative, raced his pen, and Church, lazily slamming a shut hand against an open palm, said nothing—until suddenly he said, “I guess you know why we’re here.”

  Hickock’s mouth straightened—his posture, too.

  “I guess you realize we wouldn’t have come all the way to Nevada just to chat with a couple of two-bit check chiselers.”

  Nye had closed the notebook. He, too, stared at the prisoner, and observed that a cluster of veins had appeared in his left temple.

  “Would we, Dick?”


  “Come this far to talk about a bunch of checks.”

  “I can’t think of any other reason.”

  Nye drew a dagger on the cover of his notebook. While doing so, he said, “Tell me, Dick. Have you ever heard of the Clutter murder case?” Whereupon, he later wrote in a formal report of the interview, “Suspect underwent an intense visible reaction. He turned gray. His eyes twitched.”

  Hickock said, “Whoa, now. Hold on here. I’m no goddam killer.”

  “The question asked,” Church reminded him, “was whether you’d heard of the Clutter murders.”

  “I may have read something,” Hickock said.

  “A vicious crime. Vicious. Cowardly.”

  “And almost perfect,” Nye said. “But you made two mistakes, Dick. One was, you left a witness. A living witness. Who’ll testify in court. Who’ll stand in the witness box and tell a jury how Richard Hickock and Perry Smith bound and gagged and slaughtered four helpless people.”

  Hickock’s face reddened with returning color. “Living witness! There can’t be!”

  “Because you thought you’d got rid of everyone?”

  “I said whoa! There ain’t anybody can connect me with any goddam murder. Checks. A little petty thievery. But I’m no goddam killer.”

  “Then why,” Nye asked hotly, “have you been lying to us?”

  “I’ve been telling you the goddam truth.”

  “Now and then. Not always. For instance, what about Saturday afternoon, November fourteenth? You say you drove to Fort Scott.”


  “And when you got there you went to the post office.”


  “To obtain the address of Perry Smith’s sister.”

  “That’s right.”

  Nye rose. He walked around to the rear of Hickock’s chair, and placing his hands on the back of the chair, leaned down as though to whisper in the prisoner’s ear. “Perry Smith has no sister living in Fort Scott,” he said. “He never has had. And on Saturday afternoons the Fort Scott post office happens to be closed.” Then he said, “Think it over, Dick. That’s all for now. We’ll talk to you later.”

  After Hickock’s dismissal, Nye and Church crossed the corridor, and looking through the one-way observation window set in the door of the interrogation room, watched the questioning of Perry Smith—a scene visible though not audible. Nye, who was seeing Smith for the first time, was fascinated by his feet—by the fact that his legs were so short that his feet, as small as a child’s, couldn’t quite make the floor. Smith’s head—the stiff Indian hair, the Irish-Indian blending of dark skin and pert, impish features—reminded him of the suspect’s pretty sister, the nice Mrs. Johnson. But this chunky, misshapen child-man was not pretty; the pink end of his tongue darted forth, flickering like the tongue of a lizard. He was smoking a cigarette, and from the evenness of his exhalations Nye deduced that he was still a “virgin”—that is, still uninformed about the real purpose of the interview.

  Nye was right. For Dewey and Duntz, patient professionals, had gradually narrowed the prisoner’s life story to the events of the last seven weeks, then reduced those to a concentrated recapitulation of the crucial weekend—Saturday noon to Sunday noon, November 14 to 15. Now, having spent three hours preparing the way, they were not far from coming to the point.

  Dewey said, “Perry, let’s review our position. Now, when you received parole, it was on condition that you never return to Kansas.”

  “The Sunflower State. I cried my eyes out.”

  “Feeling that w
ay, why did you go back? You must have had some very strong reason.”

  “I told you. To see my sister. To get the money she was holding for me.”

  “Oh, yes. The sister you and Hickock tried to find in Fort Scott. Perry, how far is Fort Scott from Kansas City?”

  Smith shook his head. He didn’t know.

  “Well, how long did it take you to drive there?”

  No response.

  “One hour? Two? Three? Four?”

  The prisoner said he couldn’t remember.

  “Of course you can’t. Because you’ve never in your life been to Fort Scott.”

  Until then, neither of the detectives had challenged any part of Smith’s statement. He shifted in his chair; with the tip of his tongue he wet his lips.

  “The fact is, nothing you’ve told us is true. You never set foot in Fort Scott. You never picked up any two girls and never took them to any motel—”

  “We did. No kidding.”

  “What were their names?”

  “I never asked.”

  “You and Hickock spent the night with these women and never asked their names?”

  “They were just prostitutes.”

  “Tell us the name of the motel.”

  “Ask Dick. He’ll know. I never remember junk like that.”

  Dewey addressed his colleague. “Clarence, I think it’s time we straightened Perry out.”

  Duntz hunched forward. He is a heavyweight with a welterweight’s spontaneous agility, but his eyes are hooded and lazy. He drawls; each word, formed reluctantly and framed in a cattle-country accent, lasts awhile. “Yes, sir,” he said. “ ’Bout time.”

  “Listen good, Perry. Because Mr. Duntz is going to tell you where you really were that Saturday night. Where you were and what you were doing.”

  Duntz said, “You were killing the Clutter family.”

  Smith swallowed. He began to rub his knees.

  “You were out in Holcomb, Kansas. In the home of Mr. Herbert W. Clutter. And before you left that house you killed all the people in it.”

  “Never. I never.”

  “Never what?”

  “Knew anybody by that name. Clutter.”

  Dewey called him a liar, and then, conjuring a card that in prior consultation the four detectives had agreed to play face down, told him, “We have a living witness, Perry. Somebody you boys overlooked.”

  A full minute elapsed, and Dewey exulted in Smith’s silence, for an innocent man would ask who was this witness, and who were these Clutters, and why did they think he’d murdered them—would, at any rate, say something. But Smith sat quiet, squeezing his knees.

  “Well, Perry?”

  “You got an aspirin? They took away my aspirin.”

  “Feeling bad?”

  “My legs do.”

  It was five-thirty. Dewey, intentionally abrupt, terminated the interview. “We’ll take this up again tomorrow,” he said. “By the way, do you know what tomorrow is? Nancy Clutter’s birthday. She would have been seventeen.”

  “She would have been seventeen.” Perry, sleepless in the dawn hours, wondered (he later recalled) if it was true that today was the girl’s birthday, and decided no, that it was just another way of getting under his skin, like that phony business about a witness—“a living witness.” There couldn’t be. Or did they mean— If only he could talk to Dick! But he and Dick were being kept apart; Dick was locked in a cell on another floor. “Listen good, Perry. Because Mr. Duntz is going to tell you where you really were . . .” Midway in the questioning, after he’d begun to notice the number of allusions to a particular November weekend, he’d nerved himself for what he knew was coming, yet when it did, when the big cowboy with the sleepy voice said, “You were killing the Clutter family”—well, he’d damn near died, that’s all. He must have lost ten pounds in two seconds. Thank God he hadn’t let them see it. Or hoped he hadn’t. And Dick? Presumably they’d pulled the same stunt on him. Dick was smart, a convincing performer, but his “guts” were unreliable, he panicked too easily. Even so, and however much they pressured him, Perry was sure Dick would hold out. Unless he wanted to hang. “And before you left that house you killed all the people in it.” It wouldn’t amaze him if every Old Grad in Kansas had heard that line. They must have questioned hundreds of men, and no doubt accused dozens; he and Dick were merely two more. On the other hand—well, would Kansas send four Special Agents a thousand miles to pick up a small-time pair of parole violators? Maybe somehow they had stumbled on something, somebody—“a living witness.” But that was impossible. Except— He’d give an arm, a leg to talk to Dick for just five minutes.

  And Dick, awake in a cell on the floor below, was (he later recalled) equally eager to converse with Perry—find out what the punk had told them. Christ, you couldn’t trust him to remember even the outline of the Fun Haven alibi—though they had discussed it often enough. And when those bastards threatened him with a witness! Ten to one the little spook had thought they meant an eyewitness. Whereas he, Dick, had known at once who the so-called witness must be: Floyd Wells, his old friend and former cellmate. While serving the last weeks of his sentence, Dick had plotted to knife Floyd—stab him through the heart with a handmade “shiv”—and what a fool he was not to have done it. Except for Perry, Floyd Wells was the one human being who could link the names Hickock and Clutter. Floyd, with his sloping shoulders and inclining chin—Dick had thought he’d be too afraid. The sonofabitch was probably expecting some fancy reward—a parole or money, or both. But hell would freeze before he got it. Because a convict’s tattle wasn’t proof. Proof is footprints, fingerprints, witnesses, a confession. Hell, if all those cowboys had to go on was some story Floyd Wells had told, then there wasn’t a lot to worry about. Come right down to it, Floyd wasn’t half as dangerous as Perry. Perry, if he lost his nerve and let fly, could put them both in The Corner. And suddenly he saw the truth: It was Perry he ought to have silenced. On a mountain road in Mexico. Or while walking across the Mojave. Why had it never occurred to him until now? For now, now was much too late.

  Ultimately, at five minutes past three that afternoon, Smith admitted the falsity of the Fort Scott tale. “That was only something Dick told his family. So he could stay out overnight. Do some drinking. See, Dick’s dad watched him pretty close—afraid he’d break parole. So we made up an excuse about my sister. It was just to pacify Mr. Hickock.” Otherwise, he repeated the same story again and again, and Duntz and Dewey, regardless of how often they corrected him and accused him of lying, could not make him change it—except to add fresh details. The names of the prostitutes, he recalled today, were Mildred and Jane (or Joan). “They rolled us,” he now remembered. “Walked off with all our dough while we were asleep.” And though even Duntz had forfeited his composure—had shed, along with tie and coat, his enigmatic drowsy dignity—the suspect seemed content and serene; he refused to budge. He’d never heard of the Clutters or Holcomb, or even Garden City.

  Across the hall, in the smoke-choked room where Hickock was undergoing his second interrogation, Church and Nye were methodically applying a more roundabout strategy. Not once during this interview, now almost three hours old, had either of them mentioned murder—an omission that kept the prisoner edgy, expectant. They talked of everything else: Hickock’s religious philosophy (“I know about hell. I been there. Maybe there’s a heaven, too. Lots of rich people think so”); his sexual history (“I’ve always behaved like a one-hundred-percent normal”); and, once more, the history of his recent cross-country hegira (“Why we kept going like that, the only reason was we were looking for jobs. Couldn’t find anything decent, though. I worked one day digging a ditch . . .”). But things unspoken were the center of interest—the cause, the detectives were convinced, of Hickock’s escalating distress. Presently, he shut his eyes and touched the lids with trembling fingertips. And Church said, “Something wrong?”

  “A headache. I get real bastards.”

  Then Nye said, ?
??Look at me, Dick.” Hickock obeyed, with an expression that the detective interpreted as a pleading with him to speak, to accuse, and let the prisoner escape into the sanctuary of steadfast denial. “When we discussed the matter yesterday, you may recall my saying that the Clutter murders were almost a perfect crime. The killers made only two mistakes. The first one was they left a witness. The second—well, I’ll show you.” Rising, he retrieved from a corner a box and a briefcase, both of which he’d brought into the room at the start of the interview. Out of the briefcase came a large photograph. “This,” he said, leaving it on the table, “is a one-to-one reproduction of certain footprints found near Mr. Clutter’s body. And here”—he opened the box—“are the boots that made them. Your boots, Dick.” Hickock looked, and looked away. He rested his elbows on his knees and cradled his head in his hands. “Smith,” said Nye, “was even more careless. We have his boots, too, and they exactly fit another set of prints. Bloody ones.”

  Church closed in. “Here’s what’s going to happen to you, Hickock,” he said. “You’ll be taken back to Kansas. You’ll be charged on four counts of first-degree murder. Count One: That on or about the fifteenth day of November, 1959, one Richard Eugene Hickock did unlawfully, feloniously, willfully and with deliberation and premeditation, and while being engaged in the perpetration of a felony, kill and take the life of Herbert W. Clutter. Count Two: That on or about the fifteenth day of November 1959, the same Richard Eugene Hickock did unlawfully—”

  Hickock said, “Perry Smith killed the Clutters.” He lifted his head, and slowly straightened up in the chair, like a fighter staggering to his feet. “It was Perry. I couldn’t stop him. He killed them all.”

  Postmistress Clare, enjoying a coffee break at Hartman’s Café, complained of the low volume of the café’s radio. “Turn it up,” she demanded.

  The radio was tuned to Garden City’s Station KIUL. She heard the words “. . . after sobbing out his dramatic confession, Hickock emerged from the interrogation room and fainted in a hallway. K.B.I. agents caught him as he fell to the floor. The agents quoted Hickock as saying he and Smith invaded the Clutter home expecting to find a safe containing at least ten thousand dollars. But there was no safe, so they tied the family up and shot them one by one. Smith has neither confirmed nor denied taking part in the crime. When told that Hickock had signed a confession, Smith said, ‘I’d like to see my buddy’s statement.’ But the request was rejected. Officers have declined to reveal whether it was Hickock or Smith who actually shot the members of the family. They emphasized that the statement was only Hickock’s version. K.B.I. personnel, returning the two men to Kansas, have already left Las Vegas by car. It is expected the party will arrive in Garden City late Wednesday. Meanwhile, County Attorney Duane West . . .”

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