The prominent and respected owner and proprietor of River Valley Farm, Herb is the patriarch of the Clutter family, husband to Bonnie Clutter and father to four children: Eveanna, Beverly, Nancy and Kenyon. He is a generous employer, and an active churchgoer and “die-hard community booster” (21). He runs a disciplined household, and keeps himself to a strict day-to-day regimen. Ultimately, however, his righteous and well-to-do lifestyle plays him into the hands of his killers, who make him first the target of their attempted robbery and, later, a scapegoat for their own resentments.
Herb’s wife and mother to Nancy and Kenyon, Bonnie is a slight, nervous, apologetic woman who suffers from chronic postpartum depression, which leaves her bedridden on many days. Having lived a sheltered childhood, she gave up her training as a nurse to marry Herb and settle into her responsibilities as a housewife. Her depression has gradually isolated her from many of her close friends, and she spends her last afternoon locked away in her room, regretting her inability to socialize or be a stronger mother to her children.
Nancy, who is sixteen years old, is a model student, the president of her class, and a leader in a number of community activities, including the Young Methodists League and the local 4-H club. She also devotes time to teaching younger girls music, sewing, and baking; in fact, her only shortcoming seems to be her tendency to over-commit herself to helping others. She is dating – and claims to be in love with – Bobby Rupp, the star of the high school basketball team. This is a point of contention between Nancy and her father, who wishes she would break off the relationship, since Bobby is Catholic, and the Clutters are Methodist. Nancy spends her last day baking a cherry pie with her young neighbor, instructing another girl in music, and caring for her horse, Babe. During the attempted robbery, prior to her murder, she manages the situation by chatting with the intruders in a cool and friendly fashion; Perry later claims to have liked her, in spite of what he later does to her.
Kenyon, who is fifteen, is more solitary than his sister, and uninterested in dating, preferring to spend his time in the Clutters’ basement workshop, where he does carpentry and mechanical projects. He also hunts rabbits, and spends time in his pickup truck with his best friend Bob Jones.
Perry is responsible for the deaths of all four members of the Clutter family. Although he originally resists even the idea of the robbery, the charged atmosphere of the Clutter home prompts him to a frenzy of frustration and resentment, and the Clutters become the unfortunate targets of his fury. Prior to this revelation, however, we learn that he is sensitive, thoughtful, creative, and highly intelligent. He comes from a troubled background, and he harbors escapist fantasies of grand adventures in exotic locales, and of being rescued from his woes by beautiful yellow parrots. His demure, reflective presence is a sharp contrast to Dick’s bombastic personality, and the pair spend much of their time at friendly odds with one another.
Dick initiates the plan to rob the Clutters, but wavers when the time comes to carry out the murders, and instead becomes a bystander as Perry executes all four members of the family. Dick is a self-assured, smooth-talking petty criminal, who is always scheming to make a quick buck, but at times his bluster outstrips his real commitment to the plans he initiates. According to Perry, Dick is a “real masculine type,” a charismatic and commanding individual whom Perry feels compelled to “stick by,” in spite of his disapproval of some of Dick’s behaviors. By the end of the book, however, we become aware of some of Dick’s own insecurities: his failure to achieve financial security and support his first wife, Carol, and their three children, and his sexual interest in young girls, both of which he compensates for with bravado and reckless criminal actions.
Dewey is the lead investigator on the Clutter case, and, as a former friend of Herb and Bonnie, he develops an obsessive interest in tracking down the perpetrators, sacrificing his physical and mental health for the six weeks they are at large. He lives in Garden City with his wife and two sons, and through Dewey we experience the many of the mixed emotions circulating in the town pertaining to the search, arrest, and trial of the two killers.
Susan (or “Sue”) Kidwell is Nancy’s closest friend and confidante, and is one of two girls to discover the murders on the morning of November 15th. Throughout the novel, she reflects fondly on her friendship with Nancy and her childhood memories at the Clutters’, becoming a symbol of graceful and forgiving resilience in the wake of unspeakable tragedy.
Bobby Rupp is Nancy’s boyfriend, and the star of the high school basketball team. Immediately following the discovery of the murders, he is singled out as a suspect, adding personal indignity to the devastating loss of Nancy and her family.
Tex John Smith
Perry’s father, a former rodeo rider who now resides in Alaska. Perry has mixed emotions when it comes to his father, but mainly he resents Tex John for holding him back as an adolescent.
Perry’s sister, with whom he has a troubled relationship. She lives in San Fransisco with her husband and three children, and she and Perry rarely communicate.
Dick’s father, who lives in Olathe with his wife, Eunice and the Hickocks’ younger son.
Dick’s cellmate at the Kansas State Penitentiary, and a former employee at River Valley Farm, who told Dick that Herb Clutter kept ten thousand dollars in a safe in his house. Wells is the one to tip off the detectives about Perry and Dick, which eventually results in their arrest.
A detective at the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, part of the four-person team who tracks down the killers.
Another K.B.I. detective, also a member of the team.
Another K.B.I. detective, also a member of the team.
A friend of Nancy Clutter’s who, along with Susan Kidwell, discovers the murders on the morning of November 15th.
The sheriff of Finney county.
Perry’s pious and philosophic friend from the Kansas State Penitentiary, who called him “exceptional.” Perry considers Willie-Jay to be his “real and only friend.”
Reverend James Post
The Protestant chaplain in Lansing, where Perry was formerly imprisoned. While under Willie-Jay’s tutelage, Perry painted a portrait of Jesus which the Reverend now keeps in his office, as a testament to Perry’s character.
The groundskeeper at River Valley Farm.
The eldest daughter of Herb and Bonnie Clutter, who is married and lives in northern Illinois.
Beverly Clutter (later, Beverly English)
The Clutters’ second daughter, who is studying to be a nurse in Kansas City.
The insurance agent who sells Herb Clutter his life insurance policy.
A resident of Holcomb for two years, whom Herb Clutter has elected to honor at the 4-H Achievement Banquet. After the murders, she and her husband Hideo decide to move out of state.
Owner of Hartman’s Café, a local eatery (and rumor mill) in Holcomb.
The Holcomb postmistress.
Sadie (“Mother”) Truitt
The Holcomb mail messenger, and Myrtle Clare’s mother.
A motorist whom Perry and Dick almost murder and rob near Omaha, but they are thwarted at the last minute when Bell pulls over for another hitchhiker.
A boy who hitches a ride with Perry and Dick in Texas, along with his grandfather, and teaches them to hunt for discarded bottles to redeem for cash.
The Finney county undersheriff, who resides next to Perry’s cell in the Garden City jailhouse.
Wendle’s wife, who cooks for Perry and tries to make him as comfortable as possible.
Perry’s state-appointed defense attorney.
Dick’s state-appointed defense attorney.
A friend from Perry’s army days who testifies as a “character witness” for Perry. While in Garden City, Don dines with Perry and attempts to comfort him by telling him about God’s love and mercy (Perry is unconvinced).
The judge in the Clutter murder trial.
The prosecutor in the Clutter trial.
Dr. W. Mitchell Jones
A specialist in criminal psychology from the Larned State Hospital, who examines Perry and Dick in preparation for the trial. He prepares a comprehensive diagnosis of the two defendants, but is prevented from testifying in court.
Dr. Joseph Satten
A contemporary of Dr. Jones, who publishes an article with findings that resemble Dr. Jones’ conclusions about Perry, indicating that Perry’s psychosis is not an isolated or unique phenomenon.
Lowell Lee Andrews
Another prisoner on death row, who has been convicted of the cold-blooded murders of his parents and sister. Andrews, like Perry, suffers from a probable case of schizophrenia, but his plea of insanity is also shot down by the M’Naghten rule.
Ronnie York / James Latham
Two teenagers who join the row in 1961, having been convicted of a cross-country murder spree.
In Cold Blood Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for In Cold Blood is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.