Truman Capote’s 1966 novel In Cold Blood depicts the real-life murder of the Clutter family, a bizarre and gruesome act of violence. After learning about the senseless killing, Capote journeyed to Holcomb, Kansas with friend and famed author of To Kill a Mockingbird Harper Lee to investigate the source material for what would become his professional success and his personal downfall. Together, they logged thousands of pages of notes about the “quadruple murder” as the basis for Capote’s work. Literary critics describe this true (if sensationalized) novel the pioneer work of both the non-fiction and true crime genres. Serial killer fanatics- this story is for you!
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The real-life murder took place in Holcomb, KS, the sleepy sort of town where nothing bad ever happens… until, of course, it does. Holcomb was a town built on trust, a place where no one locked their doors and everyone acted like neighbors. (That door locking thing is going to matter later.) Not only did the Clutter family’s murder destroy the four lives it claimed, but it also shattered the town’s sense of community and friendship. On November 15th, 1959, the killers entered the Clutter’s home in search of cash they never found- $10,000 the Clutters allegedly kept in a safe. But the family would die for money they didn’t even have. Dissatisfied with Mr. Clutter’s confusion about their demands for the safe, the murderers cut his throat and shot him in the head. Chillingly, Mr. Clutter’s killer stopped to listen to his blood “gurgling” out.
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When the killers realized there was no money in the home, things got messy. Maybe the killers didn’t want any witnessed to their botched break-in; maybe they were angry. The result was the brutal, execution-style murder of Mrs. Bonnie Clutter, as well as children sixteen-year-old Nancy Clutter and fifteen-year-old Kenyon Clutter. The men bound the terrified family with rope and duct tape before the killing. Since each victim was taken to a different room for the murder, all of them died alone. And what did these murderers make off with? Fifty dollars, binoculars, and a radio. The Clutters died horribly and for nothing.
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When Capote told their story, the medium of non-fiction as we know it did not exist. Initially, many believed his efforts were an attempt to combat writer’s block. Capote assured the naysayers that “reporting can be made as interesting as fiction, and done as artistically.” Though his efforts brought him wild success, the psychological toll was immense. He felt a kinship with one of the murderers who had a troubled childhood similar to his own- a feeling so strong Capote considered him “the man he might have been.” When the murderers eventually got the death penalty, Capote was torn apart. Following the execution, Capote began a lifelong battle with alcohol and drugs, even appearing for televised interviews seriously inebriated. Though he would die of his addiction just six years later, Capote’s leaves behind a much brighter legacy. Openly homosexual, Capote stands as a prominent LGBT historical figure for writers, readers, and members of the LGBT community. And as a pioneer of two widespread and beloved genres, Capote will command respect and admiration so long as there are books to read.
Still wondering who the murderers were? You know what to do! Read the book.
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