On November 16, 1959, The New York Times published an account of murders, which began:
Holcomb, Kan., Nov. 15  (UPI) — A wealthy wheat farmer, his wife and their two young children were found shot to death today in their home. They had been killed by shotgun blasts at close range after being bound and gagged… There were no signs of a struggle, and nothing had been stolen. The telephone lines had been cut.
—The New York Times
This article was an inspiration for Truman Capote to do extensive research and write ‘In Cold Blood’. Critics said that the book started a new genre, nonfiction novel.
Capote began the book with a chapter titled ‘The Last to See Them Alive’, a day before the murders happened. The chapter started with The Clutter family morning routine. Mr. Clutter’s breakfast (apple and a glass of milk), Nancy, the 17 year-old daughter, rushed down to pick up a phone call after Kenyon, her 15 year-old brother, hollered to her downstairs. A friend was coming to learn to bake cherry pie. Mrs.Clutter came downstairs for coffee.
The first few pages made me forget that this was real family and dreaded the event that would take their lives. Capote also introduced the killers, Dick and Perry, in this chapter. Detailing their activities towards the events, places they went, people they met, and things they bought to accomplish their mission.
Capote also built the story by adding more characters into it. Nancy’s best friend and boyfriend, the family’s neighbours, the town postmistress, the farmers, Mr.Clutter’s employees, Perry’s father and sister, Dick’s family, the inmates they had in the penitentiary, and also the Kansas Bureau of Investigation agents, Agent Dewey, Agent Nye, Agent Church, and Agent Duntz. Capote gathered 8000 notes in his research and it took him six years to complete the book.
All in all, this true crime, in Capote’s book, feels like a fiction. There are just too many dialogues and details that, even the facts I’m sure remain unchanged, seem too real and too detailed. Critics believed that some dialogues and events were made-up for dramatisation. However, Agent Dewey stated that most of the book was factually accurate. I haven’t read many true crime nonfictions, but one I have was written by Professor Keith Simpson, Forty Years of Murders. The book is an autobiography and reading it, I knew that I was reading a nonfiction. The facts were told in matter-of-factly way. The only thing that felt personal was the author’s point of view which, of course understandable as he was the police pathologist himself.
In contrast with Keith Simpson’s book, In Cold Blood was told in a third person point-of-view. The readers were the ghosts that hover into the Clutters homes, the murderers’ thoughts, the investigation, the hunts, the trials, the execution. We have beautiful and dreadful quotes that illustrated the brutal nature of men, the irony of life itself, and the sadness (not just the gory details) of the crime.
Just remember: If one bird carried every grain of sand, grain by grain, across the ocean, by the time he got them all on the other side, that would only be the beginning of eternity.
Imagination, of course, can open any door – turn the key and let terror walk right in.
Once a thing is set to happen, all you can do is hope it won’t. Or will-depending. As long as you live, there’s always something waiting, and even if it’s bad, and you know it’s bad, what can you do? You can’t stop living.
I thought that Mr. Clutter was a very nice gentleman. I thought so right up to the moment that I cut his throat.
In Cold Blood was not just a book that records a crime, but also brought back those who are dead. The Clutters were not just ‘the victims’ and Perry and Dick were not just ‘the murderers’. There were some chilling moments when I realised I felt sorry for their childhoods and at the same time, frightened by remarks and comments they made regarding the murders. It was a melancholy true crime nonfiction, one that was well-written.