Nancy Ewalt, a friend of Nancy Clutter’s, arrives at River Valley Farm early on Sunday morning to accompany the family to church. When, after repeated summons, the Clutters fail to answer the door, Nancy drives to town to consult Susan Kidwell, her closest confidante. Unable to arrive at a logical explanation for the Clutters’ curious absence, together the girls return to the farm, enter the house, and discover Nancy in her bedroom, dead from a shotgun blast to the head.
The sheriff, police, and town officials descend on the farm and uncover the rest of the family: Bonnie Clutter in her bedroom, also dead from a gunshot to the head; Mr. Clutter and Kenyon, bound and gagged in the basement of the house, the boy shot in the face and Mr. Clutter's throat slit.
The news sends shock waves through the small town, prompting all manner of speculation about the motivation for the crime and the identity of the perpetrator(s). Sue Kidwell and Bobby Rupp are both devastated by the loss of Nancy, and seek solace in each other’s company. The extended Clutter family makes the journey to Holcomb, including Beverly and Eveanna, the elder two daughters of Herb and Bonnie.
Meanwhile, having arrived back in Olathe, Perry retires to a hotel room, while Dick returns to his parents’ house in time for Sunday dinner and to watch the afternoon basketball game on TV...
The book's first real ellipsis (gap or chronological leap) occurs here, as Capote skips the details of the murders and presents the deaths from the point of view of the Holcomb residents discovering them. This strategy partly reflects the trajectory of Capote’s research – the events of the night of November 14th were among the last to be revealed to him, after he had befriended the killers on Death Row – but it also allows the motivation for the murders to remain obscure, and to be revealed gradually as the characters of Dick and Perry are themselves explored in greater depth. At this point, they are still “persons unknown,” to the reader as much as to the Kansas authorities, and Capote seems to be implying that no crime can be fully understood without a detailed and sensitive consideration of the persons involved.
The townspeople’s reaction to the news of the killings is one of “amazement, shading into dismay; a shallow horror sensation that cold springs of personal fear swiftly deepened” (70). The Clutters’ demise has larger significance for this sheltered little part of western Kansas: it amounts to the infiltration of an “other” – a “poor, rootless, misbegotten” other – into their peaceable and prosperous little universe (Clarke, 356). The Clutter killings symbolize a collision of the two sides of America: the prosperous, self-assured “haves” with the disappointed and destitute “have-nots.” The ideology of the American dream is forced to confront those it has left behind.