In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

  With these arguments, Jenkins and Bingham succeeded in carrying the case three times to the United States Supreme Court—the Big Boy, as many litigating prisoners refer to it—but on each occasion the Court, which never comments on its decisions in such instances, denied the appeals by refusing to grant the writs of certiorari that would have entitled the appellants to a full hearing before the Court. In March, 1965, after Smith and Hickock had been confined in their Death Row cells almost two thousand days, the Kansas Supreme Court decreed that their lives must end between midnight and 2:00 A.M., Wednesday, April 14, 1965. Subsequently, a clemency appeal was presented to the newly elected Governor of Kansas, William Avery; but Avery, a rich farmer sensitive to public opinion, refused to intervene—a decision he felt to be in the “best interest of the people of Kansas.” (Two months later, Avery also denied the clemency appeals of York and Latham, who were hanged on June 22, 1965.)

  And so it happened that in the daylight hours of that Wednesday morning, Alvin Dewey, breakfasting in the coffee shop of a Topeka hotel, read, on the first page of the Kansas City Star, a headline he had long awaited: DIE ON ROPE FOR BLOODY CRIME. The story, written by an Associated Press reporter, began: “Richard Eugene Hickock and Perry Edward Smith, partners in crime, died on the gallows at the state prison early today for one of the bloodiest murders in Kansas criminal annals. Hickock, 33 years old, died first, at 12:41 A.M.; Smith, 36, died at 1:19. . .”

  Dewey had watched them die, for he had been among the twenty-odd witnesses invited to the ceremony. He had never attended an execution, and when on the midnight past he entered the cold warehouse, the scenery had surprised him: he had anticipated a setting of suitable dignity, not this bleakly lighted cavern cluttered with lumber and other debris. But the gallows itself, with its two pale nooses attached to a crossbeam, was imposing enough; and so, in an unexpected style, was the hangman, who cast a long shadow from his perch on the platform at the top of the wooden instrument’s thirteen steps. The hangman, an anonymous, leathery gentleman who had been imported from Missouri for the event, for which he was paid six hundred dollars, was attired in an aged double-breasted pin-striped suit overly commodious for the narrow figure inside it—the coat came nearly to his knees; and on his head he wore a cowboy hat which, when first bought, had perhaps been bright green, but was now a weathered, sweat-stained oddity.

  Also, Dewey found the self-consciously casual conversation of his fellow witnesses, as they stood awaiting the start of what one witness termed “the festivities,” disconcerting.

  “What I heard was, they was gonna let them draw straws to see who dropped first. Or flip a coin. But Smith says why not do it alphabetically. Guess ’cause S comes after H. Ha!”

  “Read in the paper, afternoon paper, what they ordered for their last meal? Ordered the same menu. Shrimp. French fries. Garlic bread. Ice cream and strawberries and whipped cream. Understand Smith didn’t touch his much.”

  “That Hickock’s got a sense of humor. They was telling me how, about an hour ago, one of the guards says to him, ‘This must be the longest night of your life.’ And Hickock, he laughs and says, ‘No. The shortest.’ ”

  “Did you hear about Hickock’s eyes? He left them to an eye doctor. Soon as they cut him down, this doctor’s gonna yank out his eyes and stick them in somebody else’s head. Can’t say I’d want to be that somebody. I’d feel peculiar with them eyes in my head.”

  “Christ! Is that rain? All the windows down! My new Chevy. Christ!”

  The sudden rain rapped the high warehouse roof. The sound, not unlike the rat-a-tat-tat of parade drums, heralded Hickock’s arrival. Accompanied by six guards and a prayer-murmuring chaplain, he entered the death place handcuffed and wearing an ugly harness of leather straps that bound his arms to his torso. At the foot of the gallows the warden read to him the official order of execution, a two-page document; and as the warden read, Hickock’s eyes, enfeebled by half a decade of cell shadows, roamed the little audience until, not seeing what he sought, he asked the nearest guard, in a whisper, if any member of the Clutter family was present. When he was told no, the prisoner seemed disappointed, as though he thought the protocol surrounding this ritual of vengeance was not being properly observed.

  As is customary, the warden, having finished his recitation, asked the condemned man whether he had any last statement to make. Hickock nodded. “I just want to say I hold no hard feelings. You people are sending me to a better world than this ever was”; then, as if to emphasize the point, he shook hands with the four men mainly responsible for his capture and conviction, all of whom had requested permission to attend the executions: K.B.I. Agents Roy Church, Clarence Duntz, Harold Nye, and Dewey himself. “Nice to see you,” Hickock said with his most charming smile; it was as if he were greeting guests at his own funeral.

  The hangman coughed—impatiently lifted his cowboy hat and settled it again, a gesture somehow reminiscent of a turkey buzzard huffing, then smoothing its neck feathers—and Hickock, nudged by an attendant, mounted the scaffold steps. “The Lord giveth, the Lord taketh away. Blessed is the name of the Lord,” the chaplain intoned, as the rain sound accelerated, as the noose was fitted, and as a delicate black mask was tied round the prisoner’s eyes. “May the Lord have mercy on your soul.” The trap door opened, and Hickock hung for all to see a full twenty minutes before the prison doctor at last said, “I pronounce this man dead.” A hearse, its blazing headlights beaded with rain, drove into the warehouse, and the body, placed on a litter and shrouded under a blanket, was carried to the hearse and out into the night.

  Staring after it, Roy Church shook his head: “I never would have believed he had the guts. To take it like he did. I had him tagged a coward.”

  The man to whom he spoke, another detective, said, “Aw, Roy. The guy was a punk. A mean bastard. He deserved it.”

  Church, with thoughtful eyes, continued to shake his head.

  While waiting for the second execution, a reporter and a guard conversed. The reporter said, “This your first hanging?”

  “I seen Lee Andrews.”

  “This here’s my first.”

  “Yeah. How’d you like it?”

  The reporter pursed his lips. “Nobody in our office wanted the assignment. Me either. But it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Just like jumping off a diving board. Only with a rope around your neck.”

  “They don’t feel nothing. Drop, snap, and that’s it. They don’t feel nothing.”

  “Are you sure? I was standing right close. I could hear him gasping for breath.”

  “Uh-huh, but he don’t feel nothing. Wouldn’t be humane if he did.”

  “Well. And I suppose they feed them a lot of pills. Sedatives.”

  “Hell, no. Against the rules. Here comes Smith.”

  “Gosh, I didn’t know he was such a shrimp.”

  “Yeah, he’s little. But so is a tarantula.”

  As he was brought into the warehouse, Smith recognized his old foe, Dewey; he stopped chewing a hunk of Doublemint gum he had in his mouth, and grinned and winked at Dewey, jaunty and mischievous. But after the warden asked if he had anything to say, his expression was sober. His sensitive eyes gazed gravely at the surrounding faces, swerved up to the shadowy hangman, then downward to his own manacled hands. He looked at his fingers, which were stained with ink and paint, for he’d spent his final three years on Death Row painting self-portraits and pictures of children, usually the children of inmates who supplied him with photographs of their seldom-seen progeny. “I think,” he said, “it’s a helluva thing to take a life in this manner. I don’t believe in capital punishment, morally or legally. Maybe I had something to contribute, something—” His assurance faltered; shyness blurred his voice, lowered it to a just audible level. “It would be meaningless to apologize for what I did. Even inappropriate. But I do. I apologize.”

  Steps, noose, mask; but before the mask was adjusted, the prisoner spat his chewing gum into the chaplain’
s outstretched palm. Dewey shut his eyes; he kept them shut until he heard the thud-snap that announces a rope-broken neck. Like the majority of American law-enforcement officials, Dewey is certain that capital punishment is a deterrent to violent crime, and he felt that if ever the penalty had been earned, the present instance was it. The preceding execution had not disturbed him, he had never had much use for Hickock, who seemed to him “a small-time chiseler who got out of his depth, empty and worthless.” But Smith, though he was the true murderer, aroused another response, for Perry possessed a quality, the aura of an exiled animal, a creature walking wounded, that the detective could not disregard. He remembered his first meeting with Perry in the interrogation room at Police Headquarters in Las Vegas—the dwarfish boy-man seated in the metal chair, his small booted feet not quite brushing the floor. And when Dewey now opened his eyes, that is what he saw: the same childish feet, tilted, dangling.

  Dewey had imagined that with the deaths of Smith and Hickock, he would experience a sense of climax, release, of a design justly completed. Instead, he discovered himself recalling an incident of almost a year ago, a casual encounter in Valley View Cemetery, which, in retrospect, had somehow for him more or less ended the Clutter case.

  The pioneers who founded Garden City were necessarily a Spartan people, but when the time came to establish a formal cemetery, they were determined, despite arid soil and the troubles of transporting water, to create a rich contrast to the dusty streets, the austere plains. The result, which they named Valley View, is situated above the town on a plateau of modest altitude. Seen today, it is a dark island lapped by the undulating surf of surrounding wheat fields—a good refuge from a hot day, for there are many cool paths unbrokenly shaded by trees planted generations ago.

  One afternoon the previous May, a month when the fields blaze with the green-gold fire of half-grown wheat, Dewey had spent several hours at Valley View weeding his father’s grave, an obligation he had too long neglected. Dewey was fifty-one, four years older than when he had supervised the Clutter investigation; but he was still lean and agile, and still the K.B.I.’s principal agent in western Kansas; only a week earlier he had caught a pair of cattle rustlers. The dream of settling on his farm had not come true, for his wife’s fear of living in that sort of isolation had never lessened. Instead, the Deweys had built a new house in town; they were proud of it, and proud, too, of both their sons, who were deep-voiced now and as tall as their father. The older boy was headed for college in the autumn.

  When he had finished weeding, Dewey strolled along the quiet paths. He stopped at a tombstone marked with a recently carved name: Tate. Judge Tate had died of pneumonia the past November; wreaths, brown roses, and rain-faded ribbons still lay upon the raw earth. Close by, fresher petals spilled across a newer mound—the grave of Bonnie Jean Ashida, the Ashidas’ elder daughter, who while visiting Garden City had been killed in a car collision. Deaths, births, marriages—why, just the other day he’d heard that Nancy Clutter’s boy friend, young Bobby Rupp, had gone and got married.

  The graves of the Clutter family, four graves gathered under a single gray stone, lie in a far corner of the cemetery—beyond the trees, out in the sun, almost at the wheat field’s bright edge. As Dewey approached them, he saw that another visitor was already there: a willowy girl with white-gloved hands, a smooth cap of dark-honey hair, and long, elegant legs. She smiled at him, and he wondered who she was.

  “Have you forgotten me, Mr. Dewey? Susan Kidwell.”

  He laughed; she joined him. “Sue Kidwell. I’ll be darned.” He hadn’t seen her since the trial; she had been a child then. “How are you? How’s your mother?”

  “Fine, thank you. She’s still teaching music at the Holcomb School.”

  “Haven’t been that way lately. Any changes?”

  “Oh, there’s some talk about paving the streets. But you know Holcomb. Actually, I don’t spend much time there. This is my junior year at K.U.,” she said, meaning the University of Kansas. “I’m just home for a few days.”

  “That’s wonderful, Sue. What are you studying?”

  “Everything. Art, mostly. I love it. I’m really happy.” She glanced across the prairie. “Nancy and I planned to go to college together. We were going to be roommates. I think about it sometimes. Suddenly, when I’m very happy, I think of all the plans we made.”

  Dewey looked at the gray stone inscribed with four names, and the date of their death: November 15, 1959. “Do you come here often?”

  “Once in a while. Gosh, the sun’s strong.” She covered her eyes with tinted glasses. “Remember Bobby Rupp? He married a beautiful girl.”

  “So I heard.”

  “Colleen Whitehurst. She’s really beautiful. And very nice, too.”

  “Good for Bobby.” And to tease her, Dewey added, “But how about you? You must have a lot of beaus.”

  “Well. Nothing serious. But that reminds me. Do you have the time? Oh,” she cried, when he told her it was past four, “I’ve got to run! But it was nice to have seen you, Mr. Dewey.”

  “And nice to have seen you, Sue. Good luck,” he called after her as she disappeared down the path, a pretty girl in a hurry, her smooth hair swinging, shining—just such a young woman as Nancy might have been. Then, starting home, he walked toward the trees, and under them, leaving behind him the big sky, the whisper of wind voices in the wind-bent wheat.



  Maya Angelou


  Daniel J. Boorstin


  A. S. Byatt


  Caleb Carr


  Christopher Cerf


  Ron Chernow


  Shelby Foote


  Vartan Gregorian


  Charles Johnson


  Mary Karr


  Jon Krakauer


  Edmund Morris


  Michael Ondaatje


  Elaine Pagels


  David Remnick


  John Richardson


  Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.


  Carolyn See


  William Styron


  Gore Vidal

  Biographical note copyright (c) 1992 by Random House, Inc.

  Copyright © 1965 by Truman Capote

  All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by Random House, Inc., New York, and simultaneously in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto.

  Modern Library is a registered trademark of Random House, Inc.

  The contents of this book appeared originally in The New Yorker in slightly different form.

  All letters and quotations are reprinted with the permission of their authors.

  Grateful acknowledgment is made to The Rodeheaver Hall-Mack Co. for permission to reprint excerpts from “In the Garden” by C. Austin Miles. Words and music copyright The Rodeheaver Co. Copyright renewed. Reprinted by permission.


  Capote, Truman.

  In cold blood/Truman Capote

  p. cm.

  Originally published: New York: Random House, 1966, © 1965.

  1. Murder—Kansas—Case studies. I. Title

  HV6533.K3C3 1992

  364.1’523’09781—dc20 92-50211

  Modern Library website address:

  eISBN: 978-1-58836-165-3




  Truman Capote, In Cold Blood

  (Series: # )





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