In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

  It was Thanksgiving week, and Lowell Lee was home for the holidays, as was Jennie Marie, an intelligent but rather plain girl who attended a college in Oklahoma. On the evening of November 28, somewhere around seven, Jennie Marie was sitting with her parents in the parlor watching television; Lowell Lee was locked in his bedroom reading the last chapter of The Brothers Karamazov. That task completed, he shaved, changed into his best suit, and proceeded to load both a semi-automatic .22-caliber rifle and a Ruger .22-caliber revolver. He fitted the revolver into a hip holster, shouldered the rifle, and ambled down a hall to the parlor, which was dark except for the flickering television screen. He switched on a light, aimed the rifle, pulled the trigger, and hit his sister between the eyes, killing her instantly. He shot his mother three times, and his father twice. The mother, eyes gaping, arms outstretched, staggered toward him; she tried to speak, her mouth opened, closed, but Lowell Lee said: “Shut up.” To be certain she obeyed him, he shot her three times more. Mr. Andrews, however, was still alive; sobbing, whimpering, he thrashed along the floor toward the kitchen, but at the kitchen’s threshold the son unholstered his revolver and discharged every chamber, then reloaded the weapon and emptied it again; altogether, his father absorbed seventeen bullets.

  Andrews, according to statements credited to him, “didn’t feel anything about it. The time came, and I was doing what I had to do. That’s all there was to it.” After the shootings he raised a window in his bedroom and removed the screen, then roamed the house rifling dresser drawers and scattering the contents: it was his intention to blame the crime on thieves. Later, driving his father’s car, he traveled forty miles over snow-slippery roads to Lawrence, the town where the University of Kansas is located; en route, he parked on a bridge, dismantled his lethal artillery, and disposed of it by dropping the parts into the Kansas River. But of course the journey’s true purpose was to arrange an alibi. First he stopped at the campus house where he roomed; he talked with the landlady, told her that he had come to pick up his typewriter, and that because of the bad weather the trip from Wolcott to Lawrence had taken two hours. Departing, he visited a movie theater, where, uncharacteristically, he chatted with an usher and a candy vendor. At eleven, when the movie let out, he returned to Wolcott. The family’s mongrel dog was waiting on the front porch; it was whining with hunger, so Lowell Lee, entering the house and stepping across his father’s corpse, prepared a bowl of warm milk and mush; then, while the dog was lapping it up, he telephoned the sheriff’s office and said, “My name is Lowell Lee Andrews. I live at 6040 Wolcott Drive, and I want to report a robbery—”

  Four officers of the Wyandotte County Sheriff’s Patrol responded. One of the group, Patrolman Meyers, described the scene as follows: “Well, it was one in the morning when we got there. All the lights in the house was on. And this big dark-haired boy, Lowell Lee, he was sitting on the porch petting his dog. Patting it on the head. Lieutenant Athey asked the boy what happened, and he pointed to the door, real casual, and said, ‘Look in there.’ ” Having looked, the astonished officers summoned the county coroner, a gentleman who was also impressed by young Andrews’ callous nonchalance, for when the coroner asked him what funeral arrangements he wished to have made, Andrews replied with a shrug, “I don’t care what you do with them.”

  Shortly, two senior detectives appeared and began to question the family’s lone survivor. Though convinced he was lying, the detectives listened respectfully to the tale of how he had driven to Lawrence to fetch a typewriter, gone to a movie, and arrived home after midnight to find the bedrooms ransacked and his family slain. He stayed with the story, and might never have altered it if, subsequent to his arrest and removal to the county jail, the authorities had not obtained the aid of the Reverend Mr. Virto C. Dameron.

  The Reverend Dameron, a Dickensian personage, an unctuous and jolly brimstone-and-damnation orator, was minister of the Grandview Baptist Church in Kansas City, Kansas, the church the Andrews family attended regularly. Awakened by an urgent call from the county coroner, Dameron presented himself at the jail around 3:00 A.M., whereupon detectives, who had been strenuously but abortively interrogating the suspect, withdrew to another room, leaving the minister to consult privately with his parishioner. It proved a fatal interview for the latter, who many months afterward gave this account of it to a friend: “Mr. Dameron said, ‘Now, Lee, I’ve known you all your life. Since you were just a little tadpole. And I knew your daddy all his life, we grew up together, we were childhood friends. And that’s why I’m here—not just because I’m your minister, but because I feel like you’re a member of my own family. And because you need a friend that you can talk to and trust. And I feel terrible about this terrible event, and I’m every bit as anxious as you are to see the guilty party caught and punished.’

  “He wanted to know was I thirsty, and I was, so he got me a Coke, and after that he’s going on about the Thanksgiving vacation and how do I like school, when all of a sudden he says, ‘Now, Lee, there seems to be some doubt among the people here regarding your innocence. I’m sure you’d be willing to take a lie detector and convince these men of your innocence so they can get busy and catch the guilty party.’ Then he said, ‘Lee, you didn’t do this terrible thing, did you? If you did, now is the time to purge your soul.’ The next thing was, I thought what difference does it make, and I told him the truth, most everything about it. He kept wagging his head and rolling his eyes and rubbing his hands together, and he said it was a terrible thing, and I would have to answer to the Almighty, have to purge my soul by telling the officers what I’d told him, and would I?” Receiving an affirmative nod, the prisoner’s spiritual adviser stepped into an adjacent room, which was crowded with expectant policemen, and elatedly issued an invitation: “Come on in. The boy’s ready to make a statement.”

  The Andrews case became the basis for a legal and medical crusade. Prior to the trial, at which Andrews pleaded innocent by reason of insanity, the psychiatric staff of the Menninger Clinic conducted an exhaustive examination of the accused; this produced a diagnosis of “schizophrenia, simple type.” By “simple,” the diagnosticians meant that Andrews suffered no delusions, no false perceptions, no hallucinations, but the primary illness of separation of thinking from feeling. He understood the nature of his acts, and that they were prohibited, and that he was subject to punishment. “But,” to quote Dr. Joseph Satten, one of the examiners, “Lowell Lee Andrews felt no emotions whatsoever. He considered himself the only important, only significant person in the world. And in his own seclusive world it seemed to him just as right to kill his mother as to kill an animal or a fly.”

  In the opinion of Dr. Satten and his colleagues, Andrews’ crime amounted to such an undebatable example of diminished responsibility that the case offered an ideal chance to challenge the M’Naghten Rule in Kansas courts. The M’Naghten Rule, as has been previously stated, recognizes no form of insanity provided the defendant has the capacity to discriminate between right and wrong—legally, not morally. Much to the distress of psychiatrists and liberal jurists, the Rule prevails in the courts of the British Commonwealth and, in the United States, in the courts of all but half a dozen or so of the states and the District of Columbia, which abide by the more lenient, though to some minds impractical, Durham Rule, which is simply that an accused is not criminally responsible if his unlawful act is the product of mental disease or mental defect.

  In short, what Andrews’ defenders, a team composed of Menninger Clinic psychiatrists and two first-class attorneys, hoped to achieve was a victory of legal-landmark stature. The great essential was to persuade the court to substitute the Durham Rule for the M’Naghten Rule. If that happened, then Andrews, because of the abundant evidence concerning his schizophrenic condition, would certainly be sentenced not to the gallows, or even to prison, but to confinement in the State Hospital for the Criminally Insane.

  However, the defense reckoned without the defendant’s religious counselor, the tireless
Reverend Mr. Dameron, who appeared at the trial as the chief witness for the prosecution, and who, in the overwrought, rococo style of a tent-show revivalist, told the court he had often warned his former Sunday School pupil of God’s impending wrath: “I says, there isn’t anything in this world that is worth more than your soul, and you have acknowledged to me a number of times in our conversations that your faith is weak, that you have no faith in God. You know that all sin is against God and God is your final judge, and you have got to answer to Him. That is what I said to make him feel the terribleness of the thing he’d done, and that he had to answer to the Almighty for this crime.”

  Apparently the Reverend Dameron was determined young Andrews should answer not only to the Almighty, but also to more temporal powers, for it was his testimony, added to the defendant’s confession, that settled matters. The presiding judge upheld the M’Naghten Rule, and the jury gave the state the death penalty it demanded.

  Friday, May 13, the first date set for the execution of Smith and Hickock, passed harmlessly, the Kansas Supreme Court having granted them a stay pending the outcome of appeals for a new trial filed by their lawyers. At that time the Andrews verdict was under review by the same court.

  Perry’s cell adjoined Dick’s; though invisible to each other, they could easily converse, yet Perry seldom spoke to Dick, and it wasn’t because of any declared animosity between them (after the exchange of a few tepid reproaches, their relationship had turned into one of mutual toleration: the acceptance of uncongenial but helpless Siamese twins); it was because Perry, cautious as always, secretive, suspicious, disliked having the guards and other inmates overhear his “private business”—especially Andrews, or Andy, as he was called on the Row. Andrews’ educated accent and the formal quality of his college-trained intelligence were anathema to Perry, who though he had not gone beyond third grade, imagined himself more learned than most of his acquaintances, and enjoyed correcting them, especially their grammar and pronunciation. But here suddenly was someone—“just a kid!”—constantly correcting him. Was it any wonder he never opened his mouth? Better to keep your mouth shut than to risk one of the college kid’s snotty lines, like: “Don’t say disinterested. When what you mean is uninterested.” Andrews meant well, he was without malice, but Perry could have boiled him in oil—yet he never admitted it, never let anyone there guess why, after one of these humiliating incidents, he sat and sulked and ignored the meals that were delivered to him three times a day. At the beginning of June he stopped eating altogether—he told Dick, “You can wait around for the rope. But not me”—and from that moment he refused to touch food or water, or say one word to anybody.

  The fast lasted five days before the warden took it seriously. On the sixth day he ordered Smith transferred to the prison hospital, but the move did not lessen Perry’s resolve; when attempts were made to force-feed him he fought back, tossed his head and clenched his jaws until they were rigid as horseshoes. Eventually, he had to be pinioned and fed intravenously or through a tube inserted in a nostril. Even so, over the next nine weeks his weight fell from 168 to 115 pounds, and the warden was warned that forced-feeding alone could not keep the patient alive indefinitely.

  Dick, though impressed by Perry’s will power, would not concede that his purpose was suicide; even when Perry was reported to be in a coma, he told Andrews, with whom he had become friendly, that his former confederate was faking. “He just wants them to think he’s crazy.”

  Andrews, a compulsive eater (he had filled a scrapbook with illustrated edibles, everything from strawberry shortcake to roasted pig), said, “Maybe he is crazy. Starving himself like that.”

  “He just wants to get out of here. Play-acting. So they’ll say he’s crazy and put him in the crazy house.”

  Dick afterward grew fond of quoting Andrews’ reply, for it seemed to him a fine specimen of the boy’s “funny thinking,” his “off on a cloud” complacency. “Well,” Andrews allegedly said, “it sure strikes me a hard way to do it. Starving yourself. Because sooner or later we’ll all get out of here. Either walk out—or be carried out in a coffin. Myself, I don’t care whether I walk or get carried. It’s all the same in the end.”

  Dick said, “The trouble with you, Andy, you’ve got no respect for human life. Including your own.”

  Andrews agreed. “And,” he said, “I’ll tell you something else. If ever I do get out of here alive, I mean over the walls and clear out—well, maybe nobody will know where Andy went, but they’ll sure hell know where Andy’s been.”

  All summer Perry undulated between half-awake stupors and sickly, sweat-drenched sleep. Voices roared through his head; one voice persistently asked him, “Where is Jesus? Where?” And once he woke up shouting, “The bird is Jesus! The bird is Jesus!” His favorite old theatrical fantasy, the one in which he thought of himself as “Perry O’Parsons, The One-Man Symphony,” returned in the guise of a recurrent dream. The dream’s geographical center was a Las Vegas night-club where, wearing a white top hat and a white tuxedo, he strutted about a spotlighted stage playing in turn a harmonica, a guitar, a banjo, drums, sang “You Are My Sunshine,” and tap-danced up a short flight of gold-painted prop steps; at the top, standing on a platform, he took a bow. There was no applause, none, and yet thousands of patrons packed the vast and gaudy room—a strange audience, mostly men and mostly Negroes. Staring at them, the perspiring entertainer at last understood their silence, for suddenly he knew that these were phantoms, the ghosts of the legally annihilated, the hanged, the gassed, the electrocuted—and in the same instant he realized that he was there to join them, that the gold-painted steps had led to a scaffold, that the platform on which he stood was opening beneath him. His top hat tumbled; urinating, defecating, Perry O’Parsons entered eternity.

  One afternoon he escaped from a dream and wakened to find the warden standing beside his bed. The warden said, “Sounds like you were having a little nightmare?” But Perry wouldn’t answer him, and the warden, who on several occasions had visited the hospital and tried to persuade the prisoner to cease his fast, said, “I have something here. From your father. I thought you might want to see it.” Perry, his eyes glitteringly immense in a face now almost phosphorescently pale, studied the ceiling; and presently, after placing a picture postcard on the patient’s bedside table, the rebuffed visitor departed.

  That night Perry looked at the card. It was addressed to the warden, and postmarked Blue Lake, California; the message, written in a familiar stubby script, said: “Dear Sir, I understand you have my boy Perry back in custody. Write me please what did he do wrong and if I come there could I see him. Alls well with me and trust the same with you. Tex J. Smith.” Perry destroyed the card, but his mind preserved it, for the few crude words had resurrected him emotionally, revived love and hate, and reminded him that he was still what he had tried not to be—alive. “And I just decided,” he later informed a friend, “that I ought to stay that way. Anybody wanted my life wasn’t going to get any more help from me. They’d have to fight for it.”

  The next morning he asked for a glass of milk, the first sustenance he had volunteered to accept in fourteen weeks. Gradually, on a diet of eggnogs and orange juice, he regained weight; by October the prison physician, Dr. Robert Moore, considered him strong enough to be returned to the Row. When he arrived there, Dick laughed and said, “Welcome home, honey.”

  Two years passed.

  The departures of Wilson and Spencer left Smith and Hickock and Andrews alone with the Row’s burning lights and veiled windows. The privileges granted ordinary prisoners were denied them; no radios or card games, not even an exercise period—indeed, they were never allowed out of their cells, except each Saturday when they were taken to a shower room, then given a once-weekly change of clothing; the only other occasions for momentary release were the far-between visits of lawyers or relatives. Mrs. Hickock came once a month; her husband had died, she had lost the farm, and, as she told Dick, lived now with one relativ
e, now another.

  It seemed to Perry as though he existed “deep underwater”—perhaps because the Row usually was as gray and quiet as ocean depths, soundless except for snores, coughs, the whisper of slippered feet, the feathery racket of the pigeons nesting in the prison walls. But not always. “Sometimes,” Dick wrote in a letter to his mother, “you can’t hear yourself think. They throw men in the cells downstairs, what they call the hole, and plenty of them are fighting mad and crazy to boot. Curse and scream the whole time. It’s intolerable, so everybody starts yelling shut up. I wish you’d send me earplugs. Only they wouldn’t allow me to have them. No rest for the wicked, I guess.”

  The little building had been standing for more than a century, and seasonal changes provoked different symptoms of its antiquity: winter cold saturated the stone-and-iron fixtures, and in summer, when temperatures often hurtled over the hundred mark, the old cells were malodorous cauldrons. “So hot my skin stings,” Dick wrote in a letter dated July 5, 1961. “I try not to move much. I just sit on the floor. My bed’s too sweaty to lie down, and the smell makes me sick because of only the one bath a week and always wearing the same clothes. No ventilation whatever and the light bulbs make everything hotter. Bugs keep bumping on the walls.”

  Unlike conventional prisoners, the condemned are not subjected to a work routine; they can do with their time what they like—sleep all day, as Perry frequently did (“I pretend I’m a tiny little baby that can’t keep its eyes open”); or, as was Andrews’ habit, read all night. Andrews averaged fifteen to twenty books a week; his taste encompassed both trash and belles-lettres, and he liked poetry, Robert Frost’s particularly, but he also admired Whitman, Emily Dickinson, and the comic poems of Ogden Nash. Though the quenchless quality of his literary thirst had soon depleted the shelves of the prison library, the prison chaplain and others sympathetic to Andrews kept him supplied with parcels from the Kansas City public library.

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