In Cold Blood Summary

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote depicts two separate narrations of the overall characters in the novel. Firstly, the novel portrays the Clutter family consisting of Herbert and Bonnie along with their teenage children, Kenyon and Nancy. The Clutter family lead a nice life full of prosperity and principle on their farm located in Holcomb, which is a small rural settlement in the west of Kansas City. The Clutter family, in the novel, is well reputed in not only their community but also their adjacent city which is known as Garden City. Herb Clutter is known to be a generous employer to his peers and surroundings. The narration tells the readers about the events which take place on the 14th of November, 1959, which is illustriously and ominously known as the Clutter family’s “last.” On the other hand, the narration follows two men who happen to be on parole from Kansas State Penitentiary, named Perry Smith and Dick Hickock who are planning to gather a few items planning for a “score” which include rubber gloves, black stockings, rope and most importantly a 12-gauge shotgun. As the story progresses the two gentlemen make their way in the direction of Garden City by car, stopping at various points throughout their journey. As they reach their destination at midnight, they immediately go up to the Clutter farm.

Two friends of Nancy Clutter arrive on the morning of 15th of November and find Nancy upstairs covered in a pool of blood with a headshot from a shotgun: dead. As the authorities are called, they stumble across three more dead bodies in the farmhouse as all the members of the Clutter family had been murdered, Herb Clutter brutally killed with a knife that slit his throat and the three other members killed with a shotgun. After the horrendous incident, the police, in spite of a thorough investigation don’t find much evidence; merely finding boot prints in sets of two along with the ropes which were used to tie up the ill-fortuned victims. The neighbors residing in Garden City are not only shocked but traumatized due to the incident and fear that the criminals might be among them. Led by Alvin Dewey, the police launch an investigation to find the people involved in the mass murder of the Clutters, the team is made of Clarence Duntz, and Harold Nye, along with Roy Church. While on the other side, Dick and Perry have already fled Garden City and are far away from Kansas City, keeping an eye on the reports that have been circulating across the city, reading them in newspapers and thinking of the possibilities if they get caught.

As the fugitives head towards Mexico, the detectives start their investigation for possible witness testimonials and physical evidence. The two men pause only for the time being to make some money quickly, drawing some bad cheques inside Kansas City. As the narration progresses, the readers get to know more about the stated fugitives. The two men are polar opposites, with Dick being the cocky, arrogant self-assured realist, who stumbled across a life of petty crime due to his financial irresponsibility. On the other hand, Perry is a philosopher who dreams that a parrot will relieve him of his troubles, with his share of memorable adventures; his escapist personality collaborating with his attitude being a way to cope up with his troubled past and a traumatizing childhood infused with his degraded life. While Perry holds a demure presence, Dick’s ambitions and his ruthless bravado are his way of cooping up with personality dysfunction.

As the story progresses further, the investigation team stumbles across their first lead; Floyd Wells, who happened to work for Herb Clutter, who was also locked up with Dick. Floyd confesses to the police that he informed Dick of the fact that a huge amount of money was stashed inside a safe in their farm. Following up on the testimony of Wells, the police soon find out that both men were traveling on the ominous night in which the mass murder took place. In the meantime, both Dick and Perry have arrived on United States soil, and continue to move around, hitchhiking. The police eventually find a car which was reported stolen earlier, and ultimately, they are traced by the stolen car. As the investigation moves forward the detectives reveal that Dick and Perry are under scrutiny for the infamous homicide of Garden City. Finally, the detectives succeed in getting ahold of Dick and Perry and after thorough questioning, the detectives are able to lure Dick into making crucial mistakes in a pile of repeated lies combined with false alibis and force Dick, one half of the murderers to confess. They are directed to Perry as Dick accuses Perry of all four homicides. On their way, Agent Dewey confronts Perry and convinces him that Dick confessed to all the murders and lures him into a state where Perry provides the detective with an elongated description of how the murders actually went about, as they were going back to Garden City.

In Perry’s words, their initial aim was not to cause any murder in the first place. As Perry says, after hearing from Floyd that the Clutters had stashed cash amounting to ten thousand dollars in their safe, the two men went over with the sole intention of robbing the Clutters without causing any more harm. But as the two men entered the house, they found no money whatsoever throughout the whole residence. Aggravated and immensely frustrated, Dick wanted to stick by the idea of murdering the Clutters while Perry, as he says, wanted to leave the house as quickly as he could. Stating that there were no witnesses, as Dick forced through with the plan of a quadruple homicide, Perry lifted a knife from the kitchen to call Dick’s bluff and before he himself knew it, he had slit Herb’s throat, as gunshots went all around in a frenzy and before he knew it, all four of the Clutters had collapsed. To his recollection, Perry insists that he didn’t want to commit the crime and it was an unfortunate accident which made them flee the scene right after.

After the investigation, the two men face the Jury as they are subjected to a trial in Garden City. During the whole procedure, the two men undergo a psychiatric examination for their mental evaluation from which it becomes apparent that both men suffer from a degree of emotional dysfunction along with their own mental illnesses. The case of the two men is different, as Perry is found to have paranoid schizophrenia, while Dick on the other hand actually suffers from a brain hemorrhage incurred from an accident in his childhood. When it comes to Perry, he confesses to all the four murders, yet the doctors provide the conclusion that the actions taken by the two men were a symbol of retribution in an unconscious state of mind infused with their mental illness and is relevant to their condition of sheer misfortune along with sufferings they had to incur in life starting from their early days. The lifestyle of the Clutters and their embodiment of an immaculate living symbolized everything that Perry was denied in his own life. As a form of an immediate instinctive response, Perry acted out in the form of killing the Clutters, beginning with Herb, the patriarch of the family.

The latter part of the novel states that along with these findings of the mental condition of both the men which had an immense role to play in the quadruple murders, the court follows the rule of M’Naghten. M’Naghten is a rule that says regardless of the situation, the mental illnesses of the criminals responsible for a certain criminal action is to be disregarded in case of the decision made by the Jury. Eventually, Perry and Dick are pronounced guilty to the quadruple murder, which is known to be the highest form of criminal act, in terms of found guilty being murder of the first degree. They serve their initial five years inside the prison on Death Row, leading up to their death sentence, with a few other men named James Latham, Lowell Lee Andrews, and Ronnie York, all of whom are known to be high end, first class murderers having high profiles.

The two criminals of the story are finally hanged on April 14th, 1965 withdrawing the allegations of a mistrial by Dick and numerous appeals from both the men. The two men, Dick and Perry were hanged in front of twenty people as spectators in the crowd.

As the scene closes to an end, Alvin Dewey comes into perspective, as he goes to the cemetery and dwells in his own thoughts as to the perseverance of life, after the occurrence of such a traumatizing and hopeless tragedy, near the grave where the Clutters have been buried. The story ends in a picturesque fashion as Alvin visits the cemetery to visit the initial characters; the Clutters.