Archive for Sunday, February 10, 2013

Documents cast doubt on accuracy of ‘In Cold Blood’

February 10, 2013


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.


Centerville 5 years, 1 month ago

Good grief! "In Cold Blood" is fiction. Never has been purported to follow the facts of the case, the murderers, or the victims. Yowsa. When entertainment and reality collide. 50 years later.

mom_of_three 5 years, 1 month ago

real enough that the people who knew them, who lived in the area, never want to read the book or even see it.

Boston_Corbett 5 years, 1 month ago

The so-called "new" information, which are really just nuances, contained in the Wall Street Journal article is not so significant to justify the headline of "new documents cast doubt on accuracy of 'In Cold Blood.'"

It has always been recognized that the book was an entirely new literary style which strayed from the norms of documentary and non-fiction of the time. And as we all know, film treatments stray even more. Hence, "In Cold Blood," and the two biopics "Capote," and "Infamous," stray even farther. The thread of the book "In Cold Blood" remains as accurate now as it was as originally written.

Some of this new contention rises from documents held by the Nye family over the decades, which were recently put up for commercial sale. The State of Kansas objected to this, and some of these documents were returned to the state as public property.

Previously existing documents in the public domain include a great amount of correspondence between Capote and the Dewey family showing fondness and exchange of favors between them, during the writing of Capote's book, and after. If the treatment of the Dewey's in the book regards them in a warm light, I don't find it either material or significant. (The Capote-Dewey correspondence is open to the public at the New York City Public Library special collections department, along with many other personal writings of Capote.)

I am more concerned about the motives of those who have secreted government materials for decades and now wish to financially profit from them through a campaign including the creation of articles in the Wall Street Journal, which result in headlines like the one attached to this article.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 1 month ago

Not surprising that many would believe the novel's version of history, or the movie, given that more Americans believe Oliver Stone's version of JFK, rather than the Warren Commission.

FlintlockRifle 5 years, 1 month ago

Most of hollywoods crap is not even close to the truth, it's called movies to sell

leonardpike 5 years, 1 month ago

I know someone who was sitting in a hearing in the case in Topeka and it is my understanding that the son who has the documents only has copies and wants to write a book that contradicts the official KBI story, not sell the documents.

Boston_Corbett 5 years, 1 month ago

leanardpike: If so, what documents did the Nye son commission the Seattle auction house to sell some months ago that sparked the original articles, and the letter from the Kansas Attorney General's office. Photocopies? And if his original intent was to write a book, why did he commission the auction house?

Bob Forer 5 years, 1 month ago

If that is the only factual error Capote made, I'd say he did a fine job.

The real story here is that the papers don't belong to the Dewey family; they belong to the people of the State of Kansas. I hope they are recovered.

Boston_Corbett 5 years, 1 month ago

Sychophant. It is the Nye family, not the Dewey family, who was sitting on public documents and attempted recently to sell them for profit. The Dewey family decades ago contributed all their private correspondence to be available to the public.

fu7il3 5 years, 1 month ago

They've been saying that it isn't entirely accurate for years. The information is nothing new. It is just the release of another document pointing at inaccuracies.

Capote was primarily a fiction writer. He wrote the story the way a fiction writer writes. He manipulated fact and structure in order to maximize his story's effect. Even his assertion that it was accurate was for effect. The truth is that a majority of the research for In Cold Blood, particularly the interviews, was done by Harper Lee. Capote did not have the small-town social skills to connect with the locals. Harper Lee did.

Ironically, neither of them wrote much after In Cold Blood. Harper Lee didn't publish another novel after To Kill a Mocking Bird. Capote was finished after In Cold Blood.

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