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Authors: Truman Capote

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In Cold Blood

BOOK: In Cold Blood
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In Cold Blood

Truman Capote was a native of New Orleans, where he was born on September 30, 1924. His first novel,
Other Voices, Other Rooms
, was an international literary success when first published in 1948, and accorded the author a prominent place among the writers of America’s postwar generation. He sustained this position subsequently with short-story collections (
A Tree of Night
, among others), novels and novellas (The
Grass Harp
Breakfast at Tiffany’s
), some of the best travel writing of our time (
Local Color
), profiles and reportage that appeared originally in
The New Yorker
The Duke in His Domain
The Muses Are Heard
) a true crime masterpiece (
In Cold Blood
), several short memoirs about his childhood in the South (
A Christmas Memory, The Thanksgiving Visitor
, and
One Christmas
), two plays
(The Grass Harp
House of Flowers
), and two films (
Beat the Devil
The Innocents

Mr. Capote twice won the O. Henry Memorial Short Story Prize and was a member of the National Institute of Arts and Letters. He died in August 1984, shortly before his sixtieth birthday.


Copyright © 1965 by Truman Capote
Copyright renewed © 1993 by Alan U. Schwartz

All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto. Originally published in hardcover by Random House, Inc., New York, in 1965.

The contents of this book appeared originally in
The New Yorker
, in slightly different form.

All letters and quotations are reprinted with the permission of their authors.

Grateful acknowledgment is made to The Rodeheaver Hall-Mack Co. for permission to reprint excerpts from “In The Garden” by C. Austin Miles. Words and music copyright The Rodeheaver Co. Copyright renewed. Reprinted by permission.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Capote, Truman, 1924–1984
In cold blood: a true account of a multiple murder and its consequences / Truman Capote.
—1st Vintage international ed.
p. cm.
Originally published: 1965
I. Murder—Kansas—Case studies. I. Title.
 [HV6533.K3C3 1994]
364.I’523’0978144—dc20 93-6282

eISBN: 978-1-58836-165-3

Cover design by Megan Wilson

Cover photograph by William Eggleston © Eggleston Artistic Trust. Courtesy Cheim & Read, New York


Jack Dunphy
Harper Lee



About the Author

Title Page





Part One: The Last to See Them Alive

Part Two: Persons Unknown

Part Three: Answer

Part Four: The Corner

Other Books by This Author


ALL THE MATERIAL IN THIS book not derived from my own observation is either taken from official records or is the result of interviews with the persons directly concerned, more often than not numerous interviews conducted over a considerable period of time. Because these “collaborators” are identified within the text, it would be redundant to name them here; nevertheless, I want to express a formal gratitude, for without their patient co-operation my task would have been impossible. Also, I will not attempt to make a roll call of all those Finney County citizens who, though their names do not appear in these pages, provided the author with a hospitality and friendship he can only reciprocate but never repay. However, I do wish to thank certain persons whose contributions to my work were very specific: Dr. James McCain, President of Kansas State University; Mr. Logan Sanford, and the staff of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation; Mr. Charles McAtee, Director of the Kansas State Penal Institutions; Mr. Clifford R. Hope, Jr., whose assistance in legal matters was invaluable; and finally, but really foremost, Mr. Wiliam Shawn of
The New Yorker
, who encouraged me to undertake this project, and whose judgment stood me in good stead from first to last.


Frères humains qui après nous vivez,
N’ayez les cuers contre nous endurcis,
Car, se pitié de nous povres avez,
Dieu en aura plus tost de vous mercis.
Ballade des pendus


The Last to See Them Alive

THE VILLAGE OF HOLCOMB STANDS on the high wheat plains of western Kansas, a lonesome area that other Kansans call “out there.” Some seventy miles east of the Colorado border, the countryside, with its hard blue skies and desert-clear air, has an atmosphere that is rather more Far West than Middle West. The local accent is barbed with a prairie twang, a ranch-hand nasalness, and the men, many of them, wear narrow frontier trousers, Stetsons, and high-heeled boots with pointed toes. The land is flat, and the views are awesomely extensive; horses, herds of cattle, a white cluster of grain elevators rising as gracefully as Greek temples are visible long before a traveler reaches them.

Holcomb, too, can be seen from great distances. Not that there is much to see—simply an aimless congregation of buildings divided in the center by the main-line tracks of the Santa Fe Railroad, a haphazard hamlet bounded on the south by a brown stretch of the Arkansas (pronounced “Ar-kan-sas”) River, on the north by a highway, Route 50, and on the east and west by prairie lands and wheat fields. After rain, or when snowfalls thaw, the streets, unnamed, unshaded, unpaved, turn from the thickest dust into the direst mud. At one end of the town stands a stark old
stucco structure, the roof of which supports an electric sign—DANCE—but the dancing has ceased and the advertisement has been dark for several years. Nearby is another building with an irrelevant sign, this one in flaking gold on a dirty window—HOLCOMB BANK. The bank closed in 1933, and its former counting rooms have been converted into apartments. It is one of the town’s two “apartment houses,” the second being a ramshackle mansion known, because a good part of the local school’s faculty lives there, as the Teacherage. But the majority of Holcomb’s homes are one-story frame affairs, with front porches.

Down by the depot, the postmistress, a gaunt woman who wears a rawhide jacket and denims and cowboy boots, presides over a falling-apart post office. The depot itself, with its peeling sulphur-colored paint, is equally melancholy; the Chief, the Super-Chief, the El Capitan go by every day, but these celebrated expresses never pause there. No passenger trains do—only an occasional freight. Up on the highway, there are two filling stations, one of which doubles as a meagerly supplied grocery store, while the other does extra duty as a café—Hartman’s Café, where Mrs. Hartman, the proprietress, dispenses sandwiches, coffee, soft drinks, and 3.2 beer. (Holcomb, like all the rest of Kansas, is “dry.”)

And that, really, is all. Unless you include, as one must, the Holcomb School, a good-looking establishment, which reveals a circumstance that the appearance of the community otherwise camouflages: that the parents who send their children to this modern and ably staffed “consolidated” school—the grades go from kindergarten through senior high, and a fleet of buses transport the students, of which there are usually around three hundred and sixty, from as far as sixteen miles away—are, in general, a prosperous people. Farm ranchers, most of them, they are outdoor folk of very varied stock—German, Irish, Norwegian, Mexican, Japanese. They raise cattle and sheep, grow wheat, milo, grass seed, and sugar beets. Farming is always a chancy business, but in western Kansas its practitioners consider themselves “born gamblers,” for they must contend with an extremely shallow precipitation (the annual average is eighteen inches) and anguishing irrigation
problems. However, the last seven years have been years of droughtless beneficence. The farm ranchers in Finney County, of which Holcomb is a part, have done well; money has been made not from farming alone but also from the exploitation of plentiful natural-gas resources, and its acquisition is reflected in the new school, the comfortable interiors of the farmhouses, the steep and swollen grain elevators.

Until one morning in mid-November of 1959, few Americans—in fact, few Kansans—had ever heard of Holcomb. Like the waters of the river, like the motorists on the highway, and like the yellow trains streaking down the Santa Fe tracks, drama, in the shape of exceptional happenings, had never stopped there. The inhabitants of the village, numbering two hundred and seventy, were satisfied that this should be so, quite content to exist inside ordinary life—to work, to hunt, to watch television, to attend school socials, choir practice, meetings of the 4-H Club. But then, in the earliest hours of that morning in November, a Sunday morning, certain foreign sounds impinged on the normal nightly Holcomb noises—on the keening hysteria of coyotes, the dry scrape of scuttling tumbleweed, the racing, receding wail of locomotive whistles. At the time not a soul in sleeping Holcomb heard them—four shotgun blasts that, all told, ended six human lives. But afterward the townspeople, theretofore sufficiently unfearful of each other to seldom trouble to lock their doors, found fantasy re-creating them over and again—those somber explosions that stimulated fires of mistrust in the glare of which many old neighbors viewed each other strangely, and as strangers.

BOOK: In Cold Blood
10.13Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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