Music Literature Film Index About

In Cold Blood, Truman Capote

Random House, January, 1966

“I didn’t want to harm the man. I thought he was a very nice gentleman. Soft-spoken. I thought so right up to the moment I cut his throat.”

For the hardened criminal, robbing a fellow human of every precious second banked on earth transpires as mercilessly as stealing cash during a heist. Only someone with a cold heart pillages riches not his own, but the most frigid blood glaciates within the veins of creatures ruthlessly apathetic to the difference between tender and life.

Victims of murder, in contrast to their perpetrators, bleed a warmed vulnerability. Before extinction, they awake one final time absent the dread that accompanies anticipating a violent end. Innocence billows through bedroom curtains, which filter fetid scents from brisk morning air, and the day starts innocently enough—just like any other—with preparation and routine occupying every action in expectation of what comes next. Assumptions, though, turn out grotesquely misguided because the shocking reality of impending doom lurks hidden behind the mundane tasks in mind, while ticking moments pass without significance, grievously at a juncture when every gesture matters more than ever because each is the last.

The near-dead are so unsuspecting, carrying on as if impervious to depravity. Perhaps those jolted from sleep with a foreign hand clasped over their mouths, eyes sprung open in startled horror, sensing the press of barreled or sharpened steel to their flesh and killed in an instant, are fortunate. They are not afforded the opportunity to disappear into the ordinariness of a day. Sweet dreams are snuffed out by virtual darkness.

Mr. Herbert Clutter, a father slain in 1959 with three other family members in rural Holcomb, Kansas, was pulled from bed, hogtied, throat slashed and blasted by a shotgun, after an afternoon that passed inconsequentially enough:

Then, touching the brim of his cap, he headed for home and the day’s work, unaware that it would be his last.

Clutter’s wife, Bonnie, prepared for sleep oblivious to her fate:

Now, on this final day of her life, Mrs. Clutter hung in the closet the calico housedress she had been wearing, and put on one of her trailing nightgowns and a fresh set of white socks.

Their sixteen-year-old daughter, Nancy, naively readied for a tomorrow:

Tonight, having dried and brushed her hair and bound it in a gauzy bandanna, she set out the clothes she intended to wear to church the next morning: nylons, black pumps, a red velveteen dress—her prettiest, which she herself had made. It was the dress in which she was to be buried.

Kenyon, the youngest child and only son, harbored presumptions, too, but like the others, prospects traveled in procession to the grave. The two eldest girls, Eveanna and Beverly, were spared, since they had moved out of the house, before callousness descended upon the farm.

Details of the slaughter piece together in consequence. A police investigator seeks to arrest the culprit(s) and restore calm to a town that suddenly locks its doors. A New York writer, an outsider knocking on bolted entryways when even neighbors regarded each other suspiciously, assimilates with the townspeople, reporting on the crime with an insight and sensitivity that redefines journalism and the non-fiction novel. The police apprehend their man—in this case men—and the author explores the psychology of evil, uncovering the background of the killers and minutia like the all at once eerie verse printed upon a ribbon holding place in the Clutter family Bible at the scene of the massacre:

A bookmark lay between its pages, a stiff piece of watered silk upon which an admonition had been embroidered: “Take ye heed, watch and pray: for ye know not when the time is.”

Note the judgment in appreciation. A second chance is unlikely, given icy sanguine fluids oxygenate malicious impulses on the prowl outside. Hope for an address unknown. Go to work and prepare for bed at night. An attempt to rest in peace shall suffice.