Documents cast doubt on accuracy of ‘In Cold Blood’

Recent documents released by the Wall Street Journal cast doubt on the accuracy of events portrayed in Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood,” which recounted the 1959 murders of the Clutter family near Garden City.

The documents, which are a Kansas Bureau of Investigation report, question the timeline of the investigation into the murders reported by Capote in his book and the role the lead investigative agent played in the case.

In the report, KBI agent Wayne Owens details a Dec. 4, 1959, interview with Kansas inmate Floyd Wells.

Wells reports that Richard Hickock, a cellmate of Wells’ in a Kansas prison, told Owens that Hickock spoke of teaming up with friend Perry Smith once he was released from prison in order to rob the Clutters. Wells had previously worked with the Clutter family on their farm just outside of Holcomb, and provided Hickock with inside knowledge of money the family possessed.

In Capote’s 1964 book, which Capote long contended was “immaculately factual,” Alvin Dewey, the KBI detective who investigated the case, acted immediately on the tip, leading to the arrest and later conviction of Smith and Hickock.

In Capote’s book, Dewey gets much of the credit for an investigative effort that involved law enforcement agents from Washington, D.C., to Nevada.

But the documents suggest that Dewey didn’t act immediately, and it took several days before KBI agents acted on the tip. According to the Wall Street Journal:

“The documents show that the agency waited five full days after Mr. Wells’ statement to visit the Hickock farm, the last known whereabouts of Richard Hickock. When the visit did occur, the documents show, it didn’t involve a lone agent venturing in the dark of night to the farm, and being served coffee. The documents show that four lawmen — three KBI agents and a local sheriff’s deputy — converged midday on the farm.”

The case and Capote’s book have recently been again thrust in the spotlight. In December, the KBI exhumed the bodies of Hickock and Smith, who were executed in Kansas, in an effort to assist Florida authorities with an unsolved double murder that occurred just weeks after the Clutter killings.

In October, a Shawnee County judge blocked the sale of investigative records and photographs related to the Clutter murders. A temporary restraining order was issued to stop the sale until their legal ownership can be determined.