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In Cold Blood | Study Guide

Truman Capote

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In Cold Blood | The Last to See Them Alive (Part 5) | Summary

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Summary

As he does every Sunday, Mr. Ewalt drives daughter Nancy to the Clutters so she can attend church with them; on the way to the Methodist church, they would always pick up Susan Kidwell. When no one answers Nancy's knocks on the Clutter door, Mr. Ewalt drives her to Susan's to see if she knows what is going on. After Susan phones the Clutters but no one answers, Mr. Ewalt drives both girls back to the Clutter house. The girls enter through the unlocked kitchen door and proceed to Nancy's room where they find Nancy dead and blood on the walls. When Mr. Ewalt tries to use the phone in the Clutter kitchen to call for help, he finds the wires are cut. Back at Susan's, Mr. Ewalt calls the sheriff, Earl Robinson.

Larry Hendricks, Susan's upstairs neighbor, goes along with Mr. Ewalt and Robinson to investigate, and they find a horrific scene at the Clutter house. Each member of the family is found bound, gagged with tape, and shot; Herb Clutter's throat is cut. But the bodies are positioned as if the killer wanted them to be comfortable as they died. The sheriff finds one bloody footprint on the mattress box on which Herb Clutter is found. The Clutter's hired man tells authorities he'd heard Bobby Rupp drive away the previous night between 10 and 11 p.m., but that's all he heard. The authorities tell Larry Hendricks to leave the premises, and when he begins his walk home he sees Kenyon's dog Teddy, standing terrified, silent, with his tail between his legs, outside the house.

Analysis

Part 5 skips over the actual murders and goes straight to the discovery of the bodies, one method Capote uses to heighten suspense. It works well, because the reader has been following the movements of Dick Hickock and Perry Smith as they prepare for the crime, amass supplies, discuss strategies, and head toward Holcomb. What is not revealed in this part—what actually happened to the Clutters at the killers' hands—holds the reader's interest.

Susan Kidwell's denial that her friend Nancy Clutter is actually dead and only suffered a nosebleed parallels the idea that Herb Clutter could not possibly be afraid of anything. Something this horrible and shocking cannot happen to people like the Clutters—except it did, as Earl Robinson, Mr. Ewalt, and Larry Hendricks discover when they arrive at the Clutter house. A "gentle" family with no enemies has been brutally murdered. The state of the bodies also leads to disbelief and confusion. Why did the killer or killers tuck Nancy and Bonnie into their beds before shooting them? Why were pillows placed under Kenyon's head? Why was Herb's body on the mattress box? The rope hanging from the pipe indicates he had been hung up, and the amount of blood suggests he was probably dead before he was shot—his throat had been cut—but his hands are not tied. Each of the four gruesome murder scenes includes odd touches of tenderness, which authorities could neither understand nor explain.

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