In Cold Blood by Truman Capote


  Here Hickock revealed his pedophiliac tendencies, and after describing several sample experiences, wrote:

  I know it is wrong. But at the time I never give any thought to whether it is right or wrong. The same with stealing. It seems to be an impulse. One thing I never told you about the Clutter deal is this. Before I ever went to their house I knew there would be a girl there. I think the main reason I went there was not to rob them but to rape the girl. Because I thought a lot about it. That is one reason why I never wanted to turn back when we started to. Even when I saw there was no safe. I did make some advances toward the Clutter girl when I was there. But Perry never gave me a chance. I hope no one finds this out but you, as I haven’t even told my lawyer. There were other things I should have told you, but I’m afraid of my people finding them out. Because I am more ashamed of them (these things I did) than hanging. . . . I have had sickness. I think caused from the car wreck I had. Spells of passing out, and sometimes I would hemhorrage at the nose and left ear. I had one at some people’s house by the name of Crist—they live south of my parents. Not long ago I had a piece of glass work out of my head. It came out the corner of my eye. My dad helped me to get it out. . . . I figure I should tell you the things that led to my divorce, and things that caused me to go to prison. It started the early part of 1957. My wife and I were living in an apartment in Kansas City. I had quit my job at the automobile company, and went into the garage business for myself. I was renting the garage from a woman who had a daughter-in-law named Margaret. I met this girl one day while I was at work, and we went to have a cup of coffee. Her husband was away in the Marine Corps. To make a long story short, I started going out with her. My wife sued for divorce. I began thinking I never really loved my wife. Because if I had, I wouldn’t have done all the things I’d done. So I never fought the divorce. I started drinking, and was drunk for almost a month. I neglected my business, spent more money than I earned, wrote bad checks, and in the end became a thief. For this last I was sent to the penitentiary. . . . My lawyer said I should be truthful with you as you can help me. And I need help, as you know.

  The next day, Wednesday, was the proper start of the trial; it was also the first time ordinary spectators were admitted into the courtroom, an area too small to accommodate more than a modest percentage of those who applied at the door. The best seats had been reserved for twenty members of the press, and for such special personages as Hickock’s parents and Donald Cullivan (who, at the request of Perry Smith’s lawyer, had traveled from Massachusetts to appear as a character witness in behalf of his former Army friend). It had been rumored that the two surviving Clutter daughters would be present; they were not, nor did they attend any subsequent session. The family was represented by Mr. Clutter’s younger brother, Arthur, who had driven a hundred miles to be there. He told newsmen: “I just want to get a good look at them [Smith and Hickock]. I just want to see what kind of animals they are. The way I feel, I could tear them apart.” He took a seat directly behind the defendants, and fixed them with a gaze of unique persistence, as though he planned to paint their portraits from memory. Presently, and it was as if Arthur Clutter had willed him to do it, Perry Smith turned and looked at him—and recognized a face very like the face of the man he had killed: the same mild eyes, narrow lips, firm chin. Perry, who was chewing gum, stopped chewing; he lowered his eyes, a minute elapsed, then slowly his jaws began to move again. Except for this moment, Smith, and Hickock too, affected a courtroom attitude that was simultaneously uninterested and disinterested; they chewed gum and tapped their feet with languid impatience as the state summoned its first witness.

  Nancy Ewalt. And after Nancy, Susan Kidwell. The young girls described what they saw upon entering the Clutter house on Sunday, November 15: the quiet rooms, an empty purse on a kitchen floor, sunshine in a bedroom, and their schoolmate, Nancy Clutter, surrounded by her own blood. The defense waived cross-examination, a policy they pursued with the next three witnesses (Nancy Ewalt’s father, Clarence, and Sheriff Earl Robinson, and the county coroner, Dr. Robert Fenton), each of whom added to the narrative of events that sunny November morning: the discovery, finally, of all four victims, and accounts of how they looked, and, from Dr. Fenton, a clinical diagnosis of why—“Severe traumas to brain and vital cranial structures inflicted by a shotgun.”

  Then Richard G. Rohleder took the stand.

  Rohleder is Chief Investigator of the Garden City Police Department. His hobby is photography, and he is good at it. It was Rohleder who took the pictures that, when developed, revealed Hickock’s dusty footprints in the Clutter cellar, prints the camera could discern, though not the human eye. And it was he who had photographed the corpses, those death-scene images Alvin Dewey had continuously pondered while the murders were still unsolved. The point of Rohleder’s testimony was to establish the fact of his having made these pictures, which the prosecution proposed to put into evidence. But Hickock’s attorney objected: “The sole reason the pictures are being introduced is to prejudice and inflame the minds of the jurors.” Judge Tate overruled the objection and allowed the photographs into evidence, which meant they must be shown to the jury.

  While this was being done, Hickock’s father, addressing a journalist seated near him, said, “The judge up there! I never seen a man so prejudiced. Just no sense having a trial. Not with him in charge. Why, that man was a pallbearer at the funeral!” (Actually, Tate was but slightly acquainted with the victims, and was not present at their funeral in any capacity.) But Mr. Hickock’s was the only voice raised in an exceedingly silent courtroom. Altogether, there were seventeen prints, and as they were passed from hand to hand, the jurors’ expressions reflected the impact the pictures made: one man’s cheeks reddened, as if he had been slapped, and a few, after the first distressing glance, obviously had no heart for the task; it was as though the photographs had prised open their mind’s eye, and forced them to at last really see the true and pitiful thing that had happened to a neighbor and his wife and children. It amazed them, it made them angry, and several of them—the pharmacist, the manager of the bowling alley—stared at the defendants with total contempt.

  The elder Mr. Hickock, wearily wagging his head, again and again murmured, “No sense. Just no sense having a trial.”

  As the day’s final witness, the prosecution had promised to produce a “mystery man.” It was the man who had supplied the information that led to the arrest of the accused: Floyd Wells, Hickock’s former cellmate. Because he was still serving a sentence at Kansas State Penitentiary, and therefore was in danger of retaliation from other inmates, Wells had never been publicly identified as the informer. Now, in order that he might safely testify at the trial, he had been removed from the prison and lodged in a small jail in an adjacent county. Nevertheless, Wells’ passage across the courtroom toward the witness stand was oddly stealthy—as though he expected to encounter an assassin along the way—and, as he walked past Hickock, Hickock’s lips writhed as he whispered a few atrocious words. Wells pretended not to notice; but like a horse that has heard the hum of a rattlesnake, he shied away from the betrayed man’s venomous vicinity. Taking the stand, he stared straight ahead, a somewhat chinless little farmboyish fellow wearing a very decent dark-blue suit which the State of Kansas had bought for the occasion—the state being concerned that its most important witness should look respectable, and consequently trustworthy.

  Wells’ testimony, perfected by pre-trial rehearsal, was as tidy as his appearance. Encouraged by the sympathetic promptings of Logan Green, the witness acknowledged that he had once, for approximately a year, worked as a hired hand at River Valley Farm; he went on to say that some ten years later, following his conviction on a burglary charge, he had become friendly with another imprisoned burglar, Richard Hickock, and had described to him the Clutter farm and family.

  “Now,” Green asked, “during your conversations with Mr. Hickock what was said about Mr. Clutter by either of you?”

  “We
ll, we talked quite a bit about Mr. Clutter. Hickock said he was about to be paroled, and he was going to go West looking for a job; he might stop to see Mr. Clutter to get a job. I was telling him how wealthy Mr. Clutter was.”

  “Did that seem to interest Mr. Hickock?”

  “Well, he wanted to know if Mr. Clutter had a safe around there.”

  “Mr. Wells, did you think at the time there was a safe in the Clutter house?”

  “Well, it has been so long since I worked out there. I thought there was a safe. I knew there was a cabinet of some kind. . . . The next thing I knew he [Hickock] was talking about robbing Mr. Clutter.”

  “Did he tell you anything about how he was going to commit the robbery?”

  “He told me if he done anything like that he wouldn’t leave no witnesses.”

  “Did he actually say what he was going to do with the witnesses?”

  “Yes. He told me he would probably tie them up and then rob them and then kill them.”

  Having established premeditation of great degree, Green left the witness to the ministrations of the defense. Old Mr. Fleming, a classic country lawyer more happily at home with land deeds than ill deeds, opened the cross-examination. The intent of his queries, as he soon established, was to introduce a subject the prosecution had emphatically avoided: the question of Wells’ own role in the murder plot, and his own moral liability.

  “You didn’t,” Fleming said, hastening to the heart of the matter, “say anything at all to Mr. Hickock to discourage him from coming out here to rob and kill the Clutter family?”

  “No. Anybody tells you anything about that up there [Kansas State Penitentiary], you don’t pay any attention to it because you think they are just talking anyway.”

  “You mean you talked that way and didn’t mean anything? Didn’t you mean to convey to him [Hickock] the idea that Mr. Clutter had a safe? You wanted Mr. Hickock to believe that, did you not?”

  In his quiet way, Fleming was giving the witness a rough time; Wells plucked at his tie, as though the knot was suddenly too tight.

  “And you meant for Mr. Hickock to believe that Mr. Clutter had a lot of money, didn’t you?”

  “I told him Mr. Clutter had a lot of money, yes.”

  Fleming once more elicited an account of how Hickock had fully informed Wells of his violent plans for the Clutter family. Then, as though veiled in a private grief, the lawyer wistfully said, “And even after all of that you did nothing to discourage him?”

  “I didn’t believe he’d do it.”

  “You didn’t believe him. Then why, when you heard about the thing that happened out here, why did you think he was the one that was guilty?”

  Wells cockily replied, “Because it was done just like he said he was going to do!”

  Harrison Smith, the younger half of the defense team, took charge. Assuming an aggressive, sneering manner that seemed forced, for really he is a mild and lenient man, Smith asked the witness if he had a nickname.

  “No. I just go by ‘Floyd.’ ”

  The lawyer snorted. “Don’t they call you ‘Squealer’ now? Or do they call you ‘Snitch’?”

  “I just go by ‘Floyd,’ ” Wells repeated, rather hangdog.

  “How many times have you been in jail?”

  “About three times.”

  “Some of those times for lying, were they?”

  Denying it, the witness said that once he’d gone to jail for driving without an operator’s license, that burglary was the reason for his second incarceration, and the third, a ninety-day hitch in an Army stockade, had been the outcome of something that happened while he was a soldier: “We was on a train trip guard. We got a little intoxicated on the train, done a little extra shooting at some windows and lights.”

  Everyone laughed; everyone except the defendants (Hickock spat on the floor) and Harrison Smith, who now asked Wells why, after learning of the Holcomb tragedy, he had tarried several weeks before telling the authorities what he knew. “Weren’t you,” he said, “waiting for something to come out? Maybe like a reward?”

  “No.”

  “You didn’t hear anything about a reward?” The lawyer was referring to the reward of one thousand dollars that had been offered by the Hutchinson News, for information resulting in the arrest and conviction of the Clutter murderers.

  “I seen it in the paper.”

  “That was before you went to the authorities, wasn’t it?” And when the witness admitted that this was true, Smith triumphantly continued by asking, “What kind of immunity did the county attorney offer you for coming up here today and testifying?”

  But Logan Green protested: “We object to the form of the question, Your Honor. There’s been no testimony about immunity to anybody.” The objection was sustained, and the witness dismissed; as he left the stand, Hickock announced to everyone within earshot, “Sonofabitch. Anybody ought to hang, he ought to hang. Look at him. Gonna walk out of here and get that money and go scot-free.”

  This prediction proved correct, for not long afterward Wells collected both the reward and a parole. But his good fortune was short-lived. He was soon in trouble again, and, over the years, has experienced many vicissitudes. At present he is a resident of the Mississippi State Prison in Parchman, Mississippi, where he is serving a thirty-year sentence for armed robbery.

  By Friday, when the court recessed for the weekend, the state had completed its case, which included the appearance of four Special Agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Washington, D.C. These men, laboratory technicians skilled in various categories of scientific crime detection, had studied the physical evidence connecting the accused to the murders (blood samples, footprints, cartridge shells, rope and tape), and each of them certified the validity of the exhibits. Finally, the four K.B.I. agents provided accounts of interviews with the prisoners, and of the confessions eventually made by them. In cross-examining the K.B.I. personnel, the defense attorneys, a beleaguered pair, argued that the admissions of guilt had been obtained by improper means—brutal interrogation in sweltering, brightly lighted, closet-like rooms. The allegation, which was untrue, irritated the detectives into expounding very convincing denials. (Later, in reply to a reporter who asked him why he had dogged this artificial scent at such length, Hickock’s lawyer snapped, “What am I supposed to do? Hell, I’m playing without any cards. But I can’t just sit here like a dummy. I’ve got to sound off once in a while.”)

  The prosecution’s most damaging witness proved to be Alvin Dewey; his testimony, the first public rendering of the events detailed in Perry Smith’s confession, earned large headlines (UNVEIL MUTE MURDER HORROR—Cold, Chilling Facts Told), and shocked his listeners—none more so than Richard Hickock, who came to a startled and chagrined attention when, in the course of Dewey’s commentary, the agent said, “There is one incident Smith related to me that I haven’t as yet mentioned. And that was that after the Clutter family was tied up, Hickock said to him how well built he thought Nancy Clutter was, and that he was going to rape her. Smith said he told Hickock there wasn’t going to be anything like that go on. Smith told me he had no respect for anyone who couldn’t control their sexual desires, and that he would have fought Hickock before allowing him to rape the Clutter girl.” Heretofore, Hickock had not known that his partner had informed police of the proposed assault; nor was he aware that, in a friendlier spirit, Perry had altered his original story to claim that he alone had shot the four victims—a fact revealed by Dewey as he neared the end of his testimony: “Perry Smith told me he wished to change two things in the statement he had given us. He said everything else in that statement was true and correct. Except these two things. And that was that he wanted to say he killed Mrs. Clutter and Nancy Clutter—not Hickock. He told me that Hickock. . . didn’t want to die with his mother thinking he had killed any members of the Clutter family. And he said the Hickocks were good people. So why not have it that way.”

 
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