In Cold Blood

In Cold Blood Summary and Analysis of Persons Unknown, Part 1 (77-123)

A team of detectives from the Kansas Bureau of Investigation (KBI) assembles under the leadership of Alvin Adams Dewey, who takes charge of the case at the special request of the Finney County sheriff. The team also includes Special Agents Harold Nye, Roy Church, and Clarence Duntz. The crime scene provides little in the way of physical evidence – only a few footprints, as well as the materials used to bind the victims – and the team begins to comb the surrounding area for witnesses. The initial investigation yields a few suspects, among them Bobby Rupp, but they are soon dismissed.

The town of Holcomb, following the initial trauma of the grim discovery, begins to confront the longer-term implications of the murders: “This hitherto peaceful congregation of neighbors and old friends had suddenly to endure the unique experience of distrusting each other” (88).

In a Kansas City diner, Perry and Dick read a newspaper report about the crime. Dick is confident that the murder cannot be traced to them, but Perry makes reference to a possible connection – someone by the name of “Floyd” – which flusters Dick.

Perry recalls a recurring dream, in which he is rescued from danger by yellow parrot, who “wings him away to paradise.” In the course of his retelling, the narration offers hints of a troubled childhood. Dick ridicules the dream and Perry, whom he recalls from their early days in prison to be overly fretful, sensitive and romantic, “such a kid.” Perry, on the other hand, regards Dick’s cavalier machismo with a mixture of awe and disdain. In prison, Perry recalls, “he’d wanted Dick’s friendship, wanted Dick to ‘respect’ him, think him ‘hard,’ as much the ‘masculine type’ as he had considered Dick to be” (111). For this reason, Perry invented a story about murdering a black roommate with a bicycle chain, after which, sure enough, Dick began to regard him as a possible accomplice, and perhaps even someone to be “afraid of” (109).

The Clutter funeral is well-attended, and Beverly Clutter, the second eldest of the two surviving Clutter children, is married in Holcomb several days later. The investigation begins to take its toll on the family of Alvin Dewey, who develops an obsessive interest in tracking down the perpetrators. In the absence of any real breaks in the case, rumors continue to circulate in the small town, and several prominent families announce their decision to pack up and move out of state.

Perry and Dick begin dropping bogus checks in Kansas City, a spree which affords them enough cash to drive to Mexico. Once there, they briefly team up with a rich German man named Otto and his Acapulcan compatriot, “The Cowboy.”

On a December afternoon, Paul Helm, the groundsman at River Valley Farm, discovers an intruder inside the Clutter home. The sheriff apprehends the man, who is identified as Jonathan Daniel Adrian, and who has in his possession a 12-gauge shotgun and a hunting knife. He becomes the principal suspect in the case.


For the first time in the book, Capote foregrounds the relationship between Dick and Perry, and offers clues about Perry’s upbringing. The two quibble over the question of whether the crime can be traced to them; in the course of the argument, Perry is hyper-aware of the circumstances and the possibility of rebuke, whereas Dick is self-assured, almost to the point of recklessness. This marks a fundamental point of difference between the two men: Perry, always sizing up the opposition and measuring himself against a persecuting world, and Dick, carefree, barely cognizant of the potential consequences of his actions.

Perry’s dream of the yellow parrot – which offers him salvation from the abusive nuns of his childhood, and later from other “tormenting” figures in his life – gives us reason to believe that all of his dreams (of treasure-hunting, of becoming a famous musician) are a kind of coping mechanism, a way of compensating for misfortunes he has suffered. There is a point at which Perry’s self-protecting mechanisms become a kind of self-pitying self-aggrandizement, such as when he leaves the poem for Cookie explaining why he must hurt them both by leaving her: “There’s a race of men that don’t fit in, / A race that can’t sit still; / So they break the hearts of kith and kin, / And they roam the world at will…” (98). A tension begins to emerge between Perry’s perception of himself as exceptional (even “artistic”), misunderstood, unsuited for conventional living, and the fact that others have, throughout his life, looked down on him, viewed him as inferior or inadequate.

Wanting Dick to think of him as “hard,” or “masculine,” he has invented a story about murdering a stranger, which, sure enough, impresses Dick. Nevertheless, Dick uses Perry as a foil for his own self-image, belittling him for his superstitions and sensitive outlook, his “childish” fantasies of adventure, and his friendship with the eccentric Willie-Jay. Next to Perry, Dick considers himself to be “a normal.” Moreover, Dick has been pretending to go along with Perry’s treasure-hunting schemes, not actually believing a word of them or intending to follow through, creating a potentially volatile scenario in which Perry will feel slighted or betrayed when he realizes Dick’s true feelings.

The encounter with Otto and the Cowboy has fairly explicit homoerotic overtones. The narrative relates that: “Dick had ‘picked him up.’ But the gentleman, a vacationing Hamburg lawyer, ‘already had a friend’—a young native Acapulcan who called himself the Cowboy” (118). Otto sketches a series of portraits – an act that has implications of sexual voyeurism – including several “nude studies” of Dick. While it is never made overtly clear whether Dick and Perry’s relationship is romantic – Capote argued emphatically that it was not – the reader is meant to deduce some sort of erotic tension fueling their interactions.

The episode with Otto also foregrounds the theme of self-image in relation to homoerotic attraction. Freud argued that “a man who seeks other men may be yearning, on some deeper level, to embrace his own self-reflection” (Smith, 232). If Perry and Dick are indeed drawn to one another in this way, it may be the case that, on some level, each wishes narcissistically to see himself in the other person (the book has demonstrated how each admires and envies qualities of the other). Such a vision would be, in a way, self-validating. The same may be said of the relationship between Perry and Truman Capote, although of course this is not featured in the book: that each man saw, in the other, a distorted self-image, a picture of what he might have been.

That the town of Holcomb has experienced a loss of innocence is a point that Capote continues to explore in this section. Disillusioned by the crime, the residents are fraught with feelings of fear and mistrust, and many set off to settle elsewhere, hoping to regain their sense of security and well-being.

In Garden City, Agent Dewey continues to obsess over the materials of the crime, and we are given the first glimpse into the manner in which the killings transpired: the mattress-box underneath Mr. Clutter, the pillow under Kenyon’s head, and the fact that Nancy all indicate that the killers felt some sort of empathy for – or personal responsibility toward – their victims.