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In Cold Blood | Study Guide

Truman Capote

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In Cold Blood | Discussion Questions 41 - 50


In In Cold Blood, Answer (Part 4) how do Harold Nye and Roy Church elicit a reaction from Dick Hickock about the Clutter murders while questioning him?

Harold Nye and Roy Church first tell Dick Hickock they want to discuss his parole violation and his activities since his parole. They ask about his check spree in Kansas City, and then ask him to talk about his family background. Dick does so, ending with how he and Perry Smith connected after they were both paroled. When Dick talks about their trip to Fort Scott, Nye and Church make Dick feel they believe him, thus urging him to reveal what he and Perry did after they failed to locate Perry's sister. Nye then suggests Dick knows why they are there—the agents wouldn't have come all the way to Las Vegas just to talk with small-time "check chiselers"—and asks if Dick heard about the Clutter murder case. Dick reacts by turning gray; his eye twitches and he blurts out, "I'm no goddamn killer." Church reminds him he has only been asked if he had heard of the case. When Nye tells him he left behind a living witness, Dick declares, "There can't be!" and turns red. Dick's reactions indicate his guilt.

In In Cold Blood, Answer (Part 4) whom does Dick Hickock think he should have killed, and why?

Dick Hickock knows the witness the investigators mentioned couldn't be an eyewitness and must be someone who was able to connect him to the Clutter case. Dick also knows this person has to be Floyd Wells, his former prison cellmate, who had told him all about Herb Clutter, his family, and his money. While serving the last weeks of his sentence, Dick had planned to kill Floyd with a handmade shiv—a blade—but he didn't do so. Dick realizes Floyd has talked, but Floyd hasn't given the investigators any real proof; in prison, convicts spin tales and talk big all the time. The person Dick suddenly realizes he should have killed after the Clutter murders is Perry Smith, because Perry could lose "his nerve and let fly," and is a true eyewitness to the Clutter crime.

In In Cold Blood, Answer (Part 5) how do the people of Holcomb react to Dick Hickock's confession, and why do they react in such a way?

When arrests are finally made in the Clutter case, some people in Holcomb are deeply relieved—to the point of tears—although some still believe other individuals might be involved in the crime and are still on the loose. Others in Holcomb cannot believe two complete strangers had committed the crime and continue to think the murderer is "someone among themselves," or someone who had a personal reason for getting rid of Herb Clutter. It has taken seven weeks for the investigators to find the killers, during which time the people of Holcomb have lived with fear, suspicion, constant rumors, and distrust of one another. It is almost anticlimactic for them to learn the crime has been solved, that the killers are complete strangers to Holcomb, and the suspicions of those in Holcomb were simply wrong.

In In Cold Blood, Answer (Part 5) how do the investigators get Perry Smith to confess, and which murderer's confession is closest to the truth?

On the drive from Las Vegas to Garden City, Perry Smith realizes Dick Hickock has confessed, but he doesn't know what Dick actually said until the investigators reveal Dick has pinned the murders on Perry. Knowing Dick has turned on him, Perry decided to confess everything in as detailed a fashion as he can. He makes it clear he had not wanted to kill the Clutters and tried several times to get Dick to agree to wearing masks just to rob the family, but Dick insisted on leaving no witnesses. Unlike Dick, Perry admits to his part in the crime, telling the investigators about Dick's need for power and his own near-blackout state when he slit Herb Clutter's throat. He tells the investigators Dick shot the women and had planned to rape Nancy Clutter before killing her, but Perry stopped him from doing so. Because Dick has not revealed any of this, Perry's confession is the closest to the truth.

In In Cold Blood, The Corner (Part 1) what does Dick Hickock tell his father about the murders, and why does he do so?

Dick Hickock tells his father he never intended any violence toward the Clutters and wasn't even in the room when Perry Smith attacked Herb Clutter. Dick says he heard struggling and, carrying his shotgun, ran into the room. Dick also says Perry grabbed the gun from him and shot Herb Clutter, whose throat he'd already cut. As Dick continues this tall tale, he adds that he should have grabbed the gun and shot Perry before his partner killed the rest of the family and landed Dick in this terrible situation. Although Dick is possibly ashamed to tell his father the truth, he is also covering himself and making himself look like a victim, hoping his father will repeat the story and thus help Dick's case. Dick has no problem lying to anyone in order to look out for himself.

In In Cold Blood, The Corner (Part 2) why don't Perry Smith's and Dick Hickock's lawyers have an issue with holding their clients' trial in Garden City?

The trial of Perry Smith and Dick Hickock is to take place in Garden City. Perry's attorney believes the venue won't matter because people all over the state feel the same about the case. Garden City is, at least, a religious community; its ministers are against capital punishment, and preach that message from their pulpits. It is clear to the attorneys that Perry Smith and Dick Hickock will not get an unbiased trial. The day before the trial is to begin, an estate auction takes place at the Clutter homestead; signs about it and ads for it are all over town, reminding every citizen in the community about the Clutter murders. Out of that community, 150 people have been called as prospective jurors. Although 20 of the potential jurors are dismissed because they either have formed an opinion on the guilt of the defendants or oppose capital punishment, one man gets on the jury despite admitting he would not be opposed to the death penalty in this case. Both lawyers know all they can hope for is to save their clients from the death penalty.

In In Cold Blood, The Corner (Part 3) what does Don Cullivan's visit to Perry Smith in jail reveal about Perry?

When Don Cullivan, an old army buddy of Perry Smith's, comes to visit Perry and has dinner with him, he hopes to get Perry to ask God for forgiveness. However, Perry is not a believer and doesn't feel sorry about having killed the Clutters. In their conversation, Perry tells Don he killed all four people, though it was Dick Hickock's idea. Perry doesn't feel anything about what he has done—it was like "picking off targets in a shooting gallery"—because he didn't know the Clutters. If he had, he rationalizes, he might have felt something. Perry hypothesizes the Clutters took the hit for all of the anger he has had in his life toward people who hurt him. His musings are consistent with psychiatrist Dr. Jones's diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia; Perry's mental illness has caused him to act out his rage from earlier traumas without remorse.

In In Cold Blood, The Corner (Part 4) why does the author include the story of death row inmate Lowell Lee Andrews?

When Perry Smith and Dick Hickock are moved to death row, Lowell Lee Andrews is already there, awaiting his own hanging date for the crime of murdering his family. During his murder trial, his defense team tries to get around the M'Naghten Rule, which only allows someone to ask, "Did the defendant, at the time of the crime, understand the difference between right and wrong?" and to respond "Yes" or "No." The defense team could not use the Durham Rule, which would have allowed Andrews—a diagnosed schizophrenic—to be committed to a hospital for the criminally insane. If the defense had been able to convince Andrews's judge to allow the rule switch, a precedent would have been set, and Perry Smith, who would also have been diagnosed as schizophrenic, might not have been hanged for his crimes.

In In Cold Blood, The Corner (Part 5) how do Perry Smith and Dick Hickock each try to avoid the death penalty, and how successful are they?

Both Dick Hickock and Perry Smith try to fight for their lives, each in a way consistent with their characters. While on death row, Perry stages a hunger strike, getting down to 115 pounds and coming close to death. However, his father sends a postcard wanting to know what his son has done and if he can visit him in prison. Perry throws away the postcard, but all his love-hate emotions for his father came back. He decides he will stay alive for as long as possible and abandons the hunger strike. Both going on a hunger strike and ending it seem to be based in Perry's self-hatred and his hatred of his family. In contrast, Dick Hickock reads law books to research how he can overturn his conviction. He writes letters to different organizations—the American Civil Liberties Union, the Kansas State Bar Association—asking for help with getting a new trial, stating that the attorneys he and Perry were appointed did not defend them, and saying the trial was held in hostile territory. He succeeds in getting a hearing to determine if the first trial had been constitutional. While the verdict rules the trial had been constitutional, the execution date is postponed and Dick gains another two years. Dick is convinced he should not hang because he was not the shooter in the murders, but each time the case is appealed, the original verdict and sentence are upheld. Of course, neither man is successful. In Kansas at the time of their trial, once a death sentence was pronounced, it was usually carried out, even with a long delay.

In In Cold Blood, The Corner (Part 5) how does the author reveal his attitude toward capital punishment in the scenes detailing the day of the executions?

Before Dick Hickock is hanged, Alvin Dewey overhears disturbing, callous comments uttered by witnesses to the executions. Although Dewey expected to feel some kind of relief or catharsis regarding the Clutter murder case from the hangings, he does not, and Capote shows the hanging of Perry Smith affects him deeply. By describing what Perry said before he was hanged—"Maybe I had something to contribute"—Capote further shows that taking the life of a person who has suffered so much cannot make up for the wrong he has done. At the time, it was believed that victims of hanging felt nothing, but Capote reports the way in which Dick Hickock "gasp[s] for breath." The guard has said it is against the rules to give the condemned sedatives before the hanging; the victims thus feel everything. Finally, Capote reports that it takes 20 minutes for Dick to die and a similar amount of time for Perry.

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