On November 15, 1959, the whole nation was shocked by a ghastly murder involving four family members in the discrete farm town of Holcomb, Kansas. It was most shocking because a crime of this magnitude with no motive was rare. This was so discomforting a well known author, by the name of Truman Capote, moved to Holcomb to record the townspeople’s reaction to the tragedy.
The idea of how they responded to the crime gave Capote the idea to write a book. In Cold Blood was originally written to show how a small town is affected by a murder. But while Mr. Capote was writing the book they police caught the killers. This paved way to a second authorial intent. In Cold Blood start to shift to explain the idea of what makes a killer a killer. Truman Capote wrote In Cold Blood to show how a small town is affected by and responds to a murder and at the same time what makes a killer a killer.
Capote started writing In Cold Blood with the intent of showing how a small town is affected by and responds to a terrible murder, and uses this setting to his advantage. The horrifying murders of the Clutter family occur in Holcomb, Kansas. This location is the definition of small town America where everyone thinks they can trust each other. In this part of the country, “[t]he land is flat, and the views are awesomely extensive; horses, herds of cattle, a white cluster of grain elevators rising gracefully as Greek temples are visible long before a traveler reaches them" (Capote 3).
No one would expect such a tragedy to occur in a remote town like this Holcomb. One more fact helps Capote in achieving his first authorial intent. Holcomb, Kansas is located in the absolute center of the nation. By establishing such a vicious crime in such a previously peaceful and innocent setting, Capote demonstrates that there is no place in America that is truly safe. No one in the nation at this time had seen such a careless crime involving the death of four innocent family members before this event took place. The murders created a ripple effect not just in the area, but in the entire country. Throughout Holcomb, “lock and bolts [were] the fastest thing[s being sold]” (88).
There was a fear in the air that the killer was amongst them, and this fear “can open any door – turn the key and let terror walk right in” (88). The Clutter murders turned the town from a place that was very laid back into a town in which no one could trust each other. People would call in with fake leads just to try to receive the reward. It was also the only thing that was talked about at the coffee shops. Some of the community was even willing to “wager whoever did it was someone within ten miles of [Holcomb]" (92).
This sense of fear can turn any town upside down and can be even more detrimental to human life than the actual crime itself. It made one think if it could happen to the people in a random city such as Holcomb, then it could happen anywhere to any family. A thousand people showed up for the auction of the Clutter house, but not to buy it. They came just to suppress their wonders and imaginations. In fact one citizen said “ain’t nobody gonna buy that [land], [as] long as the mystery last” (120).
The town felt uneasy about buying a place where a well know family was murdered in cold blood. When Dick and Perry arrived at the county jail there were hundreds of people, but the reaction was not the expected one of hatred towards them. It was one of relief because the killers were now caught and locked up away from society. After Dick and Perry walked into the courthouse, the response that Capote was looking for from his first authorial intent was now revealed.
Amongst those hundreds of people, “[n]o one lingered, neither the press corps nor any of the townspeople…the miraculous autumn departed too; the year’s first snow began to fall” (248). It is the turning point for the town, and they feel like they can finally have some closure within their lives again. This feeling of normality is created when the fear that was originally spread throughout the town is destroyed after the murderers are captured.
Not everything is back to normal though. Many people moved away from the desolate town to more populated areas. Alvin Dewey never built his dream farm house. Instead, “[he] built a new house in town” (341). He did this because his wife was scared. This proves that no matter how much closure one can receive there will always be some fear left.
Throughout In Cold Blood, Truman Capote presents the idea of how one’s upbringing can shape what kind of person he becomes. This idea ultimately ends up showing what makes a killer a killer, which is Capote’s second authorial intent. As a child, Perry Smith was neglected by his parents, which ultimately leads to his psychological problems and him killer the four family members. All of his siblings went to school, but he was never allowed, and Perry never forgave his dad that they had the opportunity to get an education but he did not.
He always despises all well educated people because they got an opportunity that he did not. For example, while Perry was on death row, he did not get along with one of his fellow inmates named Lowell Lee Andrews. He would always correct Perry’s speech and this made him mad. Perry felt that he should keep his “mouth shut [rather] than to risk one of the college kid’s snotty lines” (318). While Perry was a child he was also abandoned at an orphanage that was run by nuns. While he was there, "[t]here was this one nurse... she [would] fill a tub with ice-cold water, put [him] in it, and hold [him] under till [he] was blue. Nearly drown[ing] [Perry]” (132). The nuns would do this to him for wetting the bed. Perry felt that his parents were the ones to blame because they would give him concentrated milk, “which is what weakened [his] kidneys –the sugar content – [made him] always [wet the] bed” (132).
These beatings, from people that should be looked at as saviors, turned Perry away from religion. When he was older he was going up to Alaska to see his dad, but on his way there he got into a motorcycle accident. This made him have very low self esteem because of his injured legs, making him feel as his people were always looking at him. Perry did not have anyone to help him cope with throughout these struggling times because “[h]is mother [was] an alcoholic [and] had strangled to death on her own vomit. Fern…jumped out of a window…and…Jimmy...[drove] his wife to suicide and killed himself the next [day]” (111).
The result of not having anyone in his family that was there for him was the fact that he became someone that clung on to people. As soon as Dick sent him the letter that contained the plan to rob and kill the Clutters he was in. He knew it was wrong at the gas station when “[h]is legs trembled” (55) and he threw up in the bathroom, but he couldn’t say no to Dick. All of these factors helped psychiatric investigators come to the conclusion that “Smith attacked Mr. Clutter [while] he was under a mental eclipse, deep inside a schizophrenic darkness” (302).
He had no control over his impaired thinking, emotions, and behaviors when he committed these terrible crimes. He even said, “I thought he was a very nice gentleman... up to the moment I cut his throat.” This shows that he truly did not have control because a man in his right mind would not commit this crime. The courts did not make much out of these claims, though. The reason for this is because, during the early 1960s, studying the psychology of criminals was just getting started, and many people did not believe in it or trust it yet.
This fact was very hurtful for Perry because, with this factor put into play, he might not have been sent to death row. In the end, how one is raised as a child ultimately shapes who that individual becomes later on in life. If one is heavily neglected like Perry Smith was, he could become overwhelmed with life and see no other way out except killing someone. This, then, shows what makes a killer a killer.
In Cold Blood was written by Truman Capote with the intent on showing people how a small town was affect by and responded to a vicious crime, but also to show what makes a killer a killer. Capote does this by recreating the murder and the investigation which led to the apprehension, trial, and execution of the two careless killers. The murders were so careless “[they were] a psychological accident, virtually an impersonal act; the victims might as well have been killed by lightning. Except for one thing: they had experienced prolonged terror, they had suffered” (245).
Insanity led to these murders and this idea of insanity is derived from Perry’s upbringing. He felt his only escape was to follow people because he didn’t have them there while he was a child. Being a follower resulted in him killing the entire Clutter family on the night of November 15, 1959. There are also many times within the book that one will receive townspeople’s reactions to the events at hand. By doing so, it drives home the intent of how a small town responds to fierce murders. This book can teach someone how dangerous one can become without even knowing the people that are affected. A dangerously free mentality is universal throughout the human race and needs to be contained.