In Cold Blood

In Cold Blood Summary and Analysis of Answer, Part 2 (215-248)

Interrogation of the two suspects begins. The detectives initially withhold any mention the Clutter case, and allow Dick and Perry to assume they are being held for parole violation. The pair have agreed upon an alibi for the night of November 14th, which they confidently present to the questioning parties. After several hours, the detectives come forth with the real reason for the questioning: that Perry and Dick are wanted for quadruple homicide, an accusation which catches both men off guard (Dick more so than Perry). They are relegated to jail cells at opposite ends of the building.

In subsequent rounds of interrogation, the detectives present the evidence against the two men: Floyd Wells’ testimony, along with the two sets of footprints found at the crime scene, which perfectly match two pairs of boots in the duo’s possession. In a panic, Dick accuses Perry of the murders: “It was Perry. I couldn’t stop him. He killed them all.”

The residents of Holcomb receive the news of the arrest with ambivalence. Feelings of relief are mitigated by doubts as to whether Dick and Perry are solely to blame for the murders: “Some day they’ll get to the bottom, and when they do they’ll find the one behind it. The one wanted Clutter out of the way. The brains” (231).

On the way from Las Vegas to Garden City, Dewey mentions to Perry the story of the bicycle-chain killing, whereby Perry realizes that Dick has confessed all: “I thought it was a stunt. I didn’t believe you. That Dick let fly. . . .I always knew if we ever got caught, if Dick ever really let fly, dropped his guts all over the goddam floor—I knew he’d tell about the nigger” (232). Perry makes a lengthy confession of his own, but claims that Dick was responsible for two of the four killings.

According to Perry, the duo had arrived at River Valley convinced – on the basis of Floyd Wells’ testimony – that Herb Clutter kept a safe loaded with ten thousand dollars inside the house. Upon entering the house and finding no such safe, they roused Mr. Clutter from his ground-level bedroom, demanding to know where the cash was kept. Mr. Clutter denied the existence of the safe or of any large sum on the premises, offering a scant thirty dollars to the robbers.

Making their way upstairs, Perry continues, the men demanded whatever money the other members of the family had. After binding and taping the family members in the rooms where they were eventually found, Dick continued to search for a safe, while Perry chatted in a friendly manner with the hostages. At one point, Dick proposed to rape Nancy Clutter, to which Perry responded, “Uh-huh. But you’ll have to kill me first.”

At this point Perry describes the exchange that led to the eventual killing spree:

“He was holding the knife. I asked him for it, and I said, ‘All right, Dick. Here goes.’ But I didn’t mean it. I meant to call his bluff, make him argue me out of it, make him admit he was a phony and a coward. See, if was something between me and Dick. I knelt down beside Mr. Clutter, and the pain of kneeling . . . the shame. Disgust. . . . But I didn’t realize what I’d done till I heard the sound. Like somebody drowning. Screaming under the water” (244).

The three other murders, Perry relates, transpired in quick succession in a blind frenzy on the part of the killers. All told, the pair made off with “between forty and fifty dollars.”

The motorcade transporting Dick and Perry arrives in Garden City. A large crowd has been waiting throughout the day to see them into the courthouse, and the town officials expect the congregation to be rowdy and abusive to the men. However, “when the crowd caught sight of the murderers, with their escort of blue-coated highway patrol-men, it fell silent, as though amazed to find them humanly shaped” (248).


Perry’s confession is in some sense the climactic sequence of In Cold Blood, in spite of the fact that it refers to events that have already taken place. All the narrative threads of the book up to this point have anticipated this release of information: it satisfies the KBI investigators’ search for an explanation of what happened on the night of the killings, and in a subtler way, it completes the picture of Dick and Perry that the narrative has so carefully traced throughout the book.

Perhaps the most important fact that emerges is that the killings were not determined by either man acting of his own resolve, but by a dynamic exchange between Dick and Perry’s competing personalities. Perry puts a stop to Dick’s sexual conquest of Nancy, which adds to the frustration of the moment and heightens the stakes of finding the safe. Perry almost leaves the scene at several points, but Dick urges him to remain, even after it becomes clear that there is no safe in the house. Yet, in spite of Dick’s persuasion, we learn that Perry is the one who finally initiates the murders. Perry describes the final moments leading up to the killings as a kind of competitive show-down between himself and Dick: “I meant to call his bluff, make him argue me out of it, make him admit he was a phony and a coward” (244). We can be fairly certain that the decision to kill the Clutters would not have been made if the two men had not spent the evening at odds with each other, and if the situation had not produced more feelings of frustration and impotence than it alleviated.

If a decision to kill was made, it was clearly Perry who made it; yet his account gives us reason to believe that the action was somehow automatic or unconscious, carried out while Perry was deep in a reverie of shame and self-loathing. This point is formally recognized and explored in greater depth in Perry’s psychiatric evaluation for the trial; but what is most important to note is that the robbery, which was supposed to restore the men’s dignity and self-determination, in fact makes Perry feel more helpless and contemptible than ever. Momentarily, he assigns the blame for his self-loathing to Herb Clutter, and all four Clutters pay the ultimate price for his pain.

In Cold Blood is often described as highly cinematic or visually appealing, nowhere more pronouncedly than in this confession sequence, in which the narrative is operating on two levels at ones (the reader is, on the one hand, in the car with Agents Dewey and Duntz, and on the other, in the Clutter house on the fateful night). Capote’s attention to detail smoothes over the gaps that might have been present in a more traditional journalistic account, and does a lot of legwork to convince the reader of the truth of the facts being recounted. Yet, for much of this sequence, we are inside the head of Perry Smith, and our own experience of the events of that night is filtered through his subjective perceptions, just as the text of In Cold Blood is filtered through the perceptions of the Truman Capote. In spite of the book’s realism, it is important to remember the place of the author, and to consider that even the most straightforward sequence of facts may be rearranged to lend multiple shades of meaning.