In Cold Blood by Truman Capote


  Then, because Dr. Jones had told him he must have the statement that very afternoon, Smith skipped forward to early adolescence and the years he and his father had lived together, the two of them wandering all over the West and Far West, prospecting, trapping, doing odd jobs:

  I loved my father but there were times when this love and affection I had for him drained from my heart like wasted water. Whenever he would not try to understand my problems. Give me a little consideration & voice & responsibility. I had to get away from him. When I was sixteen I joined the Merchant Marine. In 1948 I joined the army—the recruiting officer gave me a break and upped my test. From this time on I started to realize the importance of an education. This only added to the hatred and bitterness I held for others. I began to get into fights. I threw a Japanese policeman off a bridge into the water. I was court-martialed for demolishing a Japanese cafe. I was court-martialed again in Kyoto, Japan, for stealing a Japanese taxicab. I was in the army almost four years. I had many violent outbursts of anger while I served time in Japan & Korea. I was in Korea 15 months, was rotated and sent back to the states—and was given special recognition as being the first Korean Vet to come back to the territory of Alaska. Big write up, picture in paper, paid trip to Alaska by air, all the trimmings. . . . I finished my army service in Ft. Lewis, Washington.

  Smith’s pencil sped almost indecipherably as he hurried toward more recent history: the motorcycle accident that had crippled him, the burglary in Phillipsburg, Kansas, that had led to his first prison sentence:

  . . . I was sentenced to 5 to 10 years for grand larceny, burglary and jailbreak. I felt I was very unjustly dealt with. I became very bitter while I was in prison. Upon my release I was supposed to go to Alaska with my father—I didn’t go—I worked for a while in Nevada and Idaho-went to Las Vegas and continued to Kansas where got into the situation I’m in now. No time for more.

  He signed his name, and added a postscript:

  “Would like to speak to you again. There’s much I haven’t said that may interest you. I have always felt a remarkable exhiliration being among people with a purpose and sense of dedication to carry out that purpose. I felt this about you in your presence.”

  Hickock did not write with his companion’s intensity. He often stopped to listen to the questioning of a prospective juror, or to stare at the faces around him—particularly, and with plain displeasure, the muscular face of the county attorney, Duane West, who was his own age, twenty-eight. But his statement, written in a stylized script that looked like slanting rain, was finished before the court adjourned for the day:

  I will try to tell you all I can about myself, though most of my early life is vague to me—up until about my tenth birthday. My school years went quite the same as most other boys my own age. I had my share of fights, girls, and other things that go with a growing boy. My home life was also normal, but as I told you before, I was hardly ever allowed to leave my yard and visit with playmates. My father was always strict about us boys [his brother and him] in that line. Also I had to help my dad quite a lot around the house. . . . I can only remember my mother and dad having one argument that amounted to anything. What it was about, I don’t know. . . . My dad bought me a bicycle once, and I believe that I was the proudest boy in town. It was a girl’s bike and he changed it over to a boy’s. He painted it all up and it looked like new. But I had a lot of toys when I was little, a lot for the financial condition that my folks were in. We were always what you would call semi-poor. Never down and out, but several times on the verge of it. My dad was a hard worker and did his best to provide for us. My mother also was always a hard worker. Her house was always neat, and we had clean clothes aplenty. I remember my dad used to wear those old fashioned flat crown caps, and he would make me wear them too, and I didn’t like them. . . . In high-school I did real well, made above average grades the first year or two. But then started falling off a little. I had a girl friend. She was a nice girl, and I never once tried to touch her anyway but just kissing. It was a real clean courtship. . . . While in school I participated in all the sports, and received 9 letters in all. Basketball, football, track and baseball. My senior year was best. I never had any steady girl, just played the field. That was when I had my first relationship with a girl. Of course I told the boys that I’d had a lot of girls. . . . I got offers from two colleges to play ball, but never attended any of them. After I graduated from school I went to work for the Santa Fe railroad, and stayed until the following winter when I got laid off. The following spring I got a job with the Roark Motor Company. I had been working there about four months when I had an automobile wreck with a company car. I was in the hospital several days with extensive head injuries. While I was in the condition I was in I couldn’t find another job, so I was unemployed most of the winter. Meantime, I had met a girl and fallen in love. Her dad was a Baptist preacher and resented me going with her. In July we were married. All hell broke loose from her dad until he learned she was pregnant. But still he never wished me good luck and that has always gone against the grain. After we were married, I worked at a service-station near Kansas City. I worked from 8 at night till 8 in the morning. Sometimes my wife stayed with me all night—she was afraid I couldn’t keep awake, so she came to help me. Then I got an offer to work at Perry Pontiac, which I gladly accepted. It was very satisfactory, though I didn’t make a lot of money—$75 a week. I got along good with the other men, and was well liked by my boss. I worked there five years. . . . During my employment there was the beginning of some of the lowest things I have ever done.

  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 personag
es 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?”

  “Well, 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.”

 
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