Perry | Well-read Misfit, Damaged Orphan, Killer, in Capote’s In Cold Blood, 1965

The "In Cold Blood" Killers: Perry Edward Smith, and Richard "Dick" Eugene Hickock.
The “In Cold Blood” Killers: Perry Edward Smith, and Richard “Dick” Eugene Hickock.

On November 16, 1959, The New York Times published an account of the murders, which began:

Holcomb, Kan., Nov. 15 [1959] (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 300-word article interested Capote enough for him to investigate the murders.

In Cold Blood: A True Account of a Multiple Murder and Its Consequences, Truman Capote, 1966

The Murders
The Murders

Capote gradually draws us into the tragic nature of this crime by setting the sights and sounds of a small rural village where it took place.

“Until one morning in mid-November of 1959 [close to two months after I was born], few Americans – in fact, few Kansans – had ever heard of Holcomb. … But then, in the earliest hours of that morning in November, a Sunday morning, certain foreign sounds impinged on the normal nightly Holcomb noises … four shotguns blasts that, all told, ended six human lives.”

1967 May 12 LIFE Magazine - Truman Capote - In Cold Blood
1967 May 12 LIFE Magazine – Truman Capote – In Cold Blood

Then, he weaves the back stories to the quirky personalities behind the mayhem. Following the murder of Herb Clutter and his family in Holcomb, Kansas, the two culprits were sharing a booth in the Eagle Buffet, Kansas City, approximately 400 miles east of the Clutter Farm. Dick was a hungry as a wolf, Perry couldn’t touch a bite. Perry was reading and re-reading the report of the murders in the November 17 edition of the Kansas City Star. He seemed just as concerned with the grammatical errors as the content of the investigation.

As Perry sifts through the clues mentioned in the article, he questions their veracity. He has an overriding belief in his premonitions that doesn’t jive with the clues mentioned in the article. It is in the revelation of this premonition that we discover that bad chapter in Perry’s life that eventually brought him to this place. His vision involved snakes and a parrot that appeared to him “taller than Jesus, yellow like a sunflower,” a warrior- angel who blinded .. [his tormentors] … with his beak, fed upon their eyes, slaughtered them as they “pleaded for mercy,” then so gently lifted him, enfolded him, winged him away to “paradise.”

The parrot “… had first flown into his dreams when he was seven years old, a hated, hating half-breed child living in a California orphanage run by nuns – shrouded disciplinarians who whipped him for wetting his bed. It was after one of those beatings, one he could never forget [“She woke me up. She had a flashlight, and she hit me with it. Hit me and hit me. And when the flashlight broke, she went on hitting me in the dark”], …”

And so, Perry, the well-read misfit, the damaged orphan, went on in life to construct fantasies of adventure and escape, occasionally giving into his impulses to lash out, to explode in rage. He spent years in Kansas State Penitentiary. He lacked the self-esteem to avoid succumbing to the more charismatic Dick, and so his fortunes were set upon committing Dick’s plan to murder the Clutter family. (pp. 92-93)

Instead of being known as the well-read adventurer, Perry is forever known as the co-murderer of ‘honest old’ Herb Clutter, his ‘afflicted’ wife, Bonnie, A-type personality Nancy and dreamer son, Kenyon.

After five years on death row, Smith and Hickock were executed by hanging just after midnight on April 14, 1965, in Lansing, Kansas, at the Kansas State Penitentiary (now known as Lansing Correctional Facility).

In Cold Blood cover
In Cold Blood: A True Account of a Multiple Murder and Its Consequences / Truman Capote, 1966

About the Book.
Source: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

In Cold Blood is a non-fiction book first published in 1966, written by American author Truman Capote; it details the 1959 murders of Herbert Clutter, a farmer from Holcomb, Kansas, his wife, and two of their four children.

When Capote learned of the quadruple murder, before the killers were captured, he decided to travel to Kansas and write about the crime. He was accompanied by his childhood friend and fellow author Harper Lee, and together they interviewed local residents and investigators assigned to the case and took thousands of pages of notes. The killers, Richard “Dick” Hickock and Perry Smith, were arrested six weeks after the murders, and Capote ultimately spent six years working on the book.

The book is the second biggest selling true crime book in publishing history, behind Vincent Bugliosi’s 1974 book Helter Skelter on the Manson murders.

Some critics consider Capote’s work the original non-fiction novel, although other writers had already explored the genre, such as Rodolfo Walsh in Operación Masacre (1957). The book examines the complex psychological relationship between two parolees who together commit a mass murder. Capote’s book also explores the lives of the victims and the effect of the crime on the community in which they lived. In Cold Blood is regarded by critics as a pioneering work of the true crime genre.

Parts of the book, including important details, differ from the real events, but as Capote and Smith spent an inordinate amount of time talking together, it is likely that Smith’s orphanage background was not.

M.

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