In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

  Among the elements contributing to Dewey’s confidence was the recovery of the radio and pair of binoculars the murderers had stolen from the Clutter house and subsequently disposed of in Mexico City (where, having flown there for the purpose, K.B.I. Agent Harold Nye traced them to a pawnshop). Moreover, Smith, while dictating his statement, had revealed the whereabouts of other potent evidence. “We hit the highway and drove east,” he’d said, in the process of describing what he and Hickock had done after fleeing the murder scene. “Drove like hell, Dick driving. I think we both felt very high. I did. Very high, and very relieved at the same time. Couldn’t stop laughing, neither one of us; suddenly it all seemed very funny—I don’t know why, it just did. But the gun was dripping blood, and my clothes were stained; there was even blood in my hair. So we turned off onto a country road, and drove maybe eight miles till we were way out on the prairie. You could hear coyotes. We smoked a cigarette, and Dick went on making jokes about what had happened back there. I got out of the car, and siphoned some water out of the water tank and washed the blood off the gun barrel. Then I scraped a hole in the ground with Dick’s hunting knife, the one I used on Mr. Clutter, and buried in it the empty shells and all the leftover nylon cord and adhesive tape. After that we drove till we came to U.S. 83, and headed east toward Kansas City and Olathe. Around dawn Dick stopped at one of those picnic places: what they call rest areas—where they have open fireplaces. We built a fire and burned stuff. The gloves we’d worn, and my shirt. Dick said he wished we had an ox to roast; he said he’d never been so hungry. It was almost noon when we got to Olathe. Dick dropped me at my hotel, and went on home to have Sunday dinner with his family. Yes, he took the knife with him. The gun, too.”

  K.B.I. agents, dispatched to Hickock’s home, found the knife inside a fishing-tackle box and the shotgun still casually propped against a kitchen wall. (Hickock’s father, who refused to believe his “boy” could have taken part in such a “horrible crime,” insisted the gun hadn’t been out of the house since the first week in November, and therefore could not be the death weapon). As for the empty cartridge shells, the cord and tape, these were retrieved with the aid of Virgil Pietz, a county-highway employee, who, working with a road grader in the area pinpointed by Perry Smith, shaved away the earth inch by inch until the buried articles were uncovered. Thus the last loose strings were tied; the K.B.I. had now assembled an unshakable case, for tests established that the shells had been discharged by Hickock’s shotgun, and the remnants of cord and tape were of a piece with the materials used to bind and silence the victims.

  Monday 11 January. Have a lawyer. Mr. Fleming. Old man with red tie.

  Informed by the defendants that they were without funds to hire legal counsel, the court, in the person of Judge Roland H. Tate, appointed as their representatives two local lawyers, Mr. Arthur Fleming and Mr. Harrison Smith. Fleming, seventy-one, a former mayor of Garden City, a short man who enlivens an unsensational appearance with rather conspicuous neckwear, resisted the assignment. “I do not desire to serve,” he told the judge. “But if the court sees fit to appoint me, then of course I have no choice.” Hickock’s attorney, Harrison Smith, forty-five, six feet tall, a golfer, an Elk of exalted degree, accepted the task with resigned grace: “Someone has to do it. And I’ll do my best. Though I doubt that’ll make me too popular around here.”

  Friday 15 January. Mrs. Meier playing radio in her kitchen and I heard man say the county attorney will seek Death Penalty. “The rich never hang. Only the poor and friendless.”

  In making his announcement, the county attorney, Duane West, an ambitious, portly young man of twenty-eight who looks forty and sometimes fifty, told newsmen, “If the case goes before a jury, I will request the jury, upon finding them guilty, to sentence them to the death penalty. If the defendants waive right to jury trial and enter a plea of guilty before the judge, I will request the judge to set the death penalty. This was a matter I knew I would be called upon to decide, and my decision has not been arrived at lightly. I feel that due to the violence of the crime and the apparent utter lack of mercy shown the victims, the only way the public can be absolutely protected is to have the death penalty set against these defendants. This is especially true since in Kansas there is no such thing as life imprisonment without possibility of parole. Persons sentenced to life imprisonment actually serve, on the average, less then fifteen years.”

  Wednesday 20 January. Asked to take lie-detector in regards to this Walker deal.

  A case like the Clutter case, crimes of that magnitude, arouse the interest of lawmen everywhere, particularly those investigators burdened with unsolved but similar crimes, for it is always possible that the solution to one mystery will solve another. Among the many officers intrigued by events in Garden City was the sheriff of Sarasota County, Florida, which includes Osprey, a fishing settlement not far from Tampa, and the scene, slightly more than a month after the Clutter tragedy, of the quadruple slaying on an isolated cattle ranch which Smith had read about in a Miami newspaper on Christmas Day. The victims were again four members of a family: a young couple, Mr. and Mrs. Clifford Walker, and their two children, a boy and a girl, all of whom had been shot in the head with a rifle. Since the Clutter murderers had spent the night of December 19, the date of the murders, in a Tallahassee hotel, Osprey’s sheriff, who had no other leads whatever, was understandably anxious to have the two men questioned and a polygraph examination administered. Hickock consented to take the test and so did Smith, who told Kansas authorities, “I remarked at the time, I said to Dick, I’ll bet whoever did this must be somebody that read about what happened out here in Kansas. A nut.” The results of the test, to the dismay of Osprey’s sheriff as well as Alvin Dewey, who does not believe in exceptional coincidences, were decisively negative. The murderer of the Walker family remains unknown.

  Sunday 31 January. Dick’s dad here to visit Dick. Said hello when I saw him go past [the cell door] but he kept going. Could be he never heard me. Understand from Mrs. M [Meier] that Mrs. H [Hickock] didn’t come because she felt too bad to. Snowing like a bitch. Dreamed last night I was up in Alaska with Dad—woke up in a puddle of cold urine!!!

  Mr. Hickock spent three hours with his son. Afterward he walked through the snow to the Garden City depot, a work-worn old man, stooped and thinned-down by the cancer that would kill him a few months hence. At the station, while waiting for a homeward-bound train, he spoke to a reporter: “I seen Dick, uh-huh. We had a long talk. And I can guarantee you it’s not like people say. Or what’s put in the papers. Those boys didn’t go to that house planning to do violence. My boy didn’t. He may have some bad sides, but he’s nowhere near bad as that. Smitty’s the one. Dick told me he didn’t even know it when Smitty attacked the man [Mr. Clutter], cut his throat. Dick wasn’t even in the same room. He only run in when he heard them struggling. Dick was carrying his shotgun, and how he described it was: ‘Smitty took my shotgun and just blew that man’s head off.’ And he says, ‘Dad, I ought to have grabbed back the gun and shot Smitty dead. Killed him ’fore he killed the rest of that family. If I’d done it I’d be better off than I am now.’ I guess he would, too. How it is, the way folks feel, he don’t stand no chance. They’ll hang them both. And,” he added, fatigue and defeat glazing his eyes, “having your boy hang, knowing he will, nothing worse can happen to a man.”

  Neither Perry Smith’s father nor sister wrote him or came to see him. Tex John Smith was presumed to be prospecting for gold somewhere in Alaska—though lawmen, despite great effort, had been unable to locate him. The sister had told investigators that she was afraid of her brother, and requested that they please not let him know her present address. (When informed of this, Smith smiled slightly and said, “I wish she’d been in that house that night. What a sweet scene!”)

  Except for the squirrel, except for the Meiers and an occasional consultation with his lawyer, Mr. Fleming, Perry was very much alone. He missed Dick. Many thoughts of Dick, he wrot
e one day in his makeshift diary. Since their arrest they had not been allowed to communicate, and that, freedom aside, was what he most desired—to talk to Dick, be with him again. Dick was not the “hardrock” he’d once thought him: “pragmatic,” “virile,” “a real brass boy”; he’d proven himself to be “pretty weak and shallow,” “a coward.” Still, of everyone in all the world, this was the person to whom he was closest at that moment, for they at least were of the same species, brothers in the breed of Cain; separated from him, Perry felt “all by myself. Like somebody covered with sores. Somebody only a big nut would have anything to do with.”

  But then one mid-February morning Perry received a letter. It was postmarked Reading, Mass., and it read:

  Dear Perry, I was sorry to hear about the trouble you are in and I decided to write and let you know that I remember you and would like to help you in any way that I can. In case you don’t remember my name, Don Cullivan, I’ve enclosed a picture taken at about the time we met. When I first read about you in the news recently I was startled and then I began to think back to those days when I knew you. While we were never close personal friends I can remember you a lot more clearly than most fellows I met in the Army. It must have been about the fall of 1951 when you were assigned to the 761st Engineer Light Equipment Company at Fort Lewis, Washington. You were short (I’m not much taller), solidly built, dark with a heavy shock of black hair and a grin on your face almost all the time. Since you had lived in Alaska quite a few of the fellows used to call you “Eskimo.” One of my first recollections of you was at a Company inspection in which all the footlockers were open for inspection. As I recall it all the footlockers were in order, even yours, except that the inside cover of your footlocker was plastered with pictures of pin-up girls. The rest of us were sure you were in for trouble. But the inspecting officer took it in stride and when it was all over and he let it pass I think we all felt you were a nervy guy. I remember that you were a fairly good pool player and I can picture you quite clearly in the Company day room at the pool table. You were one of the best truck drivers in the outfit. Remember the Army field problems we went out on? On one trip that took place in the winter I remember that we each were assigned to a truck for the duration of the problem. In our outfit, Army trucks had no heaters and it used to get pretty cold in those cabs. I remember you cutting a hole in the floor-boards of your truck in order to let the heat from the engine come into the cab. The reason I remember this so well is the impression it made on me because “mutilation” of Army property was a crime for which you could get severely punished. Of course I was pretty green in the Army and probably afraid to stretch the rules even a little bit, but I can remember you grinning about it (and keeping warm) while I worried about it (and froze). I recall that you bought a motorcycle, and vaguely remember you had some trouble with it—chased by the police?—crackup? Whatever it was, it was the first time I realized the wild streak in you. Some of my recollections may be wrong; this was over eight years ago and I only knew you for a period of about eight months. From what I remember, though, I got along with you very well and rather liked you. You always seemed cheerful and cocky, you were good at your Army work and I can’t remember that you did much griping. Of course you were apparently quite wild but I never knew too much about that. But now you are in real trouble. I try to imagine what you are like now. What you think about. When first I read about you I was stunned. I really was. But then I put the paper down and turned to something else. But the thought of you returned. I wasn’t satisfied just to forget. I am, or try to be, fairly religious [Catholic]. I wasn’t always. I used to just drift along with little thought about the only important thing there is. I never considered death or the possibility of a life hereafter. I was too much alive: car, college, dating, etc. But my kid brother died of leukemia when he was just 17 years old. He knew he was dying and afterwards I used to wonder what he thought about. And now I think of you, and wonder what you think about. I didn’t know what to say to my brother in the last weeks before he died. But I know what I’d say now. And this is why I am writing you: because God made you as well as me and He loves you just as He loves me, and for the little we know of God’s will what has happened to you could have happened to me. Your friend, Don Cullivan.

  The name meant nothing, but Perry at once recognized the face in the photograph of a young soldier with crew-cut hair and round, very earnest eyes. He read the letter many times; though he found the religious allusions unpersuasive (“I’ve tried to believe, but I don’t, I can’t, and there’s no use pretending”), he was thrilled by it. Here was someone offering help, a sane and respectable man who had once known and liked him, a man who signed himself friend. Gratefully, in great haste, he started a reply: “Dear Don, Hell yes I remember Don Cullivan . . .”

  Hickock’s cell had no window; he faced a wide corridor and the façades of other cells. But he was not isolated, there were people to talk to, a plentiful turnover of drunkards, forgers, wife-beaters, and Mexican vagrants; and Dick, with his light-hearted “con-man” patter, his sex anecdotes and gamy jokes, was popular with the inmates (though there was one who had no use for him whatever—an old man who hissed at him: “Killer! Killer!” and who once drenched him with a bucketful of dirty scrubwater).

  Outwardly, Hickock seemed to one and all an unusually untroubled young man. When he was not socializing or sleeping, he lay on his cot smoking or chewing gum and reading sports magazines or paperback thrillers. Often he simply lay there whistling old favorites (“You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby,” “Shuffle Off to Buffalo”), and staring at an unshaded light bulb that burned day and night in the ceiling of the cell. He hated the light bulb’s monotonous surveillance; it disturbed his sleep and, more explicitly, endangered the success of a private project—escape. For the prisoner was not as unconcerned as he appeared to be, or as resigned; he intended taking every step possible to avoid “a ride on the Big Swing.” Convinced that such a ceremony would be the outcome of any trial—certainly any trial held in the State of Kansas—he had decided to “bust jail. Grab a car and raise dust.” But first he must have a weapon; and over a period of weeks he’d been making one: a “shiv,” an instrument very like an icepick—something that would fit with lethal niceness between the shoulder-blades of Undersheriff Meier. The weapon’s components, a piece of wood and a length of hard wire, were originally part of a toilet brush he’d confiscated, dismantled and hidden under his mattress. Late at night, when the only noises were snores and coughs and the mournful whistle-wailings of Santa Fe trains rumbling through the darkened town, he honed the wire against the cell’s concrete floor. And while he worked he schemed.

  Once, the first winter after he had finished high school, Hickock had hitchhiked across Kansas and Colorado: “This was when I was looking for a job. Well, I was riding in a truck, and the driver, me and him got into a little argument, no reason exactly, but he beat up on me. Shoved me out. Just left me there. High the hell up in the Rockies. It was sleeting like, and I walked miles, my nose bleeding like fifteen pigs. Then I come to a bunch of cabins on a wooded slope. Summer cabins, all locked up and empty that time of year. And I broke into one of them. There was firewood and canned goods, even some whiskey. I laid up there over a week, and it was one of the best times I ever knew. Despite the fact my nose hurt so and my eyes were green and yellow. And when the snow stopped the sun came out. You never saw such skies. Like Mexico. If Mexico was in a cold climate. I hunted through the other cabins and found some smoked hams and a radio and a rifle. It was great. Out all day with a gun. With the sun in my face. Boy, I felt good. I felt like Tarzan. And every night I ate beans and fried ham and rolled up in a blanket by the fire and fell asleep listening to music on the radio. Nobody came near the place. I bet I could’ve stayed till spring.” If the escape succeeded, that was the course Dick had determined upon—to head for the Colorado mountains, and find there a cabin where he could hide until spring (alone, of course; Perry’s future did not concern
him). The prospect of so idyllic an interim added to the inspired stealth with which he whetted his wire, filed it to a limber stiletto fineness.

  Thursday 10 March. Sheriff had a shake-out. Searched through all the cells and found a shiv tucked under D’s mattress. Wonder what he had in mind (smile).

  Not that Perry really considered it a smiling matter, for Dick, flourishing a dangerous weapon, could have played a decisive role in plans he himself was forming. As the weeks went by he had become familiar with life on Courthouse Square, its habitués and their habits. The cats, for example: the two thin gray toms who appeared with every twilight and prowled the Square, stopping to examine the cars parked around its periphery—behavior puzzling to him until Mrs. Meier explained that the cats were hunting for dead birds caught in the vehicles’ engine grilles. Thereafter it pained him to watch their maneuvers: “Because most of my life I’ve done what they’re doing. The equivalent.”

  And there was one man of whom Perry had grown especially aware, a robust, upright gentleman with hair like a gray-and-silver skullcap; his face, filled out, firm-jawed, was somewhat cantankerous in repose, the mouth down-curved, the eyes downcast as though in mirthless reverie—a picture of unsparing sternness. And yet this was at least a partially inaccurate impression, for now and again the prisoner glimpsed him as he paused to talk to other men, joke with them and laugh, and then he seemed carefree, jovial, generous: “The kind of person who might see the human side”—an important attribute, for the man was Roland H. Tate, Judge of the 32nd Judicial District, the jurist who would preside at the trial of the State of Kansas versus Smith and Hickock. Tate, as Perry soon learned, was an old and awesome name in western Kansas. The judge was rich, he raised horses, he owned much land, and his wife was said to be very beautiful. He was the father of two sons, but the younger had died, a tragedy that greatly affected the parents and led them to adopt a small boy who had appeared in court as an abandoned, homeless child. “He sounds soft-hearted to me,” Perry once said to Mrs. Meier. “Maybe he’ll give us a break.”

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