New Documents Cast Doubt on ‘In Cold Blood’

Newly reexamined documents from the Kansas Bureau of Investigation have brought in to question the validity of Truman Capote’s 1966 bestselling account of the murder of the Clutter family, “In Cold Blood.”

“In Cold Blood” solidified Capote’s reputation as a literary innovator and portrayed Alvin Dewey Jr., the lead detective on the case, as a “brilliant, haunted hero,” reported Kevin Helliker of The Wall Street Journal.

The KBI assisted Capote in reporting the book, offering him access to their case file, but the relationship between the authorities, Capote, and the reliability of his reporting have now been called in to question.

A long-forgotten cache of KBI documents from the investigation have revealed contradictions to Capote’s depiction of crucial events in his book, which he claimed to be “immaculately factual.” Also, an independently unearthed contract shows that Capote required Columbia Pictures to offer Dewey’s wife a job in 1965 as a consultant to the film version of his book for a fee far greater than the U.S. median family income that year.

The documents state that the KBI waited five days after an informant stepped forward to reveal the names of the killers to dispatch an agent to the Kansas farmhouse where one of the suspects had been living with his parents. In “In Cold Blood,” the KBI sent someone as soon as they heard the news.

Why would Capote change this blatent fact in his book?

Duane West, the prosecutor who ultimately convicted the killers, said this gap is no mystery to him. West, 81, remembers when he first heard the names of the killers, Perry Smith and Richard Hickock, on Dec. 5, 1959 at a morning meeting of the investigators. “Dewey said it wasn’t them,” Mr. West recalls. “Dewey was convinced it was somebody local who had a grudge against Herb Clutter.” However, Dewey’s “In Cold Blood” character never spoke his lines conveying his doubt at this point in the book.

This latest discovery is only the latest of criticism of “In Cold Blood,” the accuracy of which has been questioned for years.

“Capote blurred the line between truth and untruth, despite his claims of impeccable accuracy. His embellishments — which vary from allegedly misquoting people to making composite characters to ending the book with a scene that never happened — have bred ill will,” Van Jensen of the Lawrence Journal-World said.

Did Capote embellish Dewey’s character in exchange for inside information? What is considered “crossing the line” in regards to journalists and their sources in terms of friendship? How closely  involved should journalists be in the process of  official investigation?


One Comment on “New Documents Cast Doubt on ‘In Cold Blood’”

  1. askinneruga says:

    In Cold Blood remains on my bookshelf unread, unfortunately, although the cast of doubt sounds akin to other popular ‘non-fiction’ books. James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces was later revealed to contain lies and half-truths and John Krakeur’s Into Thin Air contains a highly debated ‘version’ of the Mount Everest tragedy. Truman Capote may have adjusted the timeline or slightly changed a few quotes, but I do not think that makes him a fraud, liar, or unworthy of literary praise. That is because Capote identified himself foremost as a writer, and elements such as plot progression and succint, clear dialogue are paramount in the literary world. I doubt the climax of the book would have much significance if the KBI waited 5 days to reveal the killers’ names. Or, I doubt the book would have become an American classic if Capote included every ill-spoken and inane word of the subjects he interviewed. I do believe non-fiction writers face a difficult dilemma in providing 100% truth or creating a compelling and true story (save for a few conflicting details). Ultimately, those who identify as writers should adhere to the significance of the story and those who identify as journalists should adhere to the obligation of truth.

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