Study Guide

Dick Hickock in In Cold Blood

By Truman Capote

Dick Hickock

If we readers are left with some mixed feelings about Perry Smith, we sure aren't conflicted about Richard Eugene Hickock. His opening lines?

"A cinch," said Dick. "I promise you, honey, we're gonna blast hair all over them walls. (1.59)

Lovely.

Dick has loving parents, no poorer than anyone else in the neighborhood. By his parents' and his own account (we know, we know), he was a good kid, did well in school, lettered in nine sports. But like Perry, he feels life hasn't given him what he deserves and he feels entitled to get it by whatever means necessary. Plus, he's got zero insight on his warped perspective on life. While Perry wonders, "I think there must be something wrong with us" (2.114) to do what they did, Dick replies, "Deal me out, baby, I'm a normal" (2.116). Dick doesn't have a shred of respect for human life.

Can't Help Myself

Dick acts on his impulse of the moment. He's a good-time guy. He likes easy money and easy women. He seems to have no ability to think about the consequence of his actions, and he wants what he wants when he wants it. This leads to—well, we believe the politically correct term is "bad decisions." If he needs money, he passes bad checks. If he's broke again, he hitches a ride and plans to rob and kill the guy who picks him up. Any money he manages to get he blows on alcohol and women.

Dick's explanation to his prison psychiatrists about why he molests little girls:

I know it is wrong. But at the time I never give any thought to whether it is right or wrong. The same with stealing. It seems to be an impulse. (4.64)

He impulsively decides to go back to Kansas, where he's just participated in a mass murder, because he's broke and thinks he can pass some more bad checks there. Even Perry knows this is a crazy idea and tells Dick, "You oughta see a doctor." (3.142) Dick replies,

They never made any connection. They never will." (3.142)

It's not that he's stupid (remember that IQ of 130?) He plans all the details of the Clutter robbery in a way he thinks that will cover his tracks—the alibis, the hunting vest, the right amount of rope and tape. What he didn't keep in mind was the idea that they might get caught. He just can't imagine that might happen. A cinch.

Bad to the Bone

Dick has what his prison psychiatrist suggests is an attachment disorder (among a zillion other problems.) He can't experience any sense of emotional connection to another person or have concern for the effect of his actions on anyone else. This lets him do what he does without being particularly bothered by it.

He robs his friends. He claims to like his parents well enough, but that doesn't stop him from writing bad checks that they'll probably have to cover, or "borrowing" the shotgun that kills the Clutters from his parents' house. Oh, and in case you aren't convinced, his hobby is running down stray dogs with his truck whenever he gets the chance.

Apart from a former employer who thought Dick was reliable and hard-working, the only people who have anything good to say about him are—you guessed it—his parents. His father tells Agent Nye:

"Was nothing wrong with my boy, Mr. Nye," Mr. Hickock said. "An outstanding athlete—always on the first team at school. Basketball! Baseball! Dick was always a star player. A pretty good student, too, with A marks in several subjects. Lord, I wish the Lord could tell me what happened, because I don't know what happened." (3.19)

His wife said, "I do," resumed her darning, and was forced by tears to stop."That friend of his. That's what happened." (3.20)

(That time we put our neighbor's picnic table on the roof? I swear, it was my sister's idea.)

The neighbors don't have the same nice things to say about upstanding young Mr. Hickock:

One farmer's wife said "Dick Hickock! Don't talk to me about Dick Hickock! If I ever met the devil! Steal? Steal the weights off a dead man's eyes! […] Dick would've gone to jail more times than you can count, except nobody around here ever wanted to prosecute. Out of respect for his folks." (3.23)

As Agent Nye leaves the Hickock home, he asks Walter Hickock:

"One thing more. Have you any idea, any at all, where your son might have gone?"

"Open a map," said Mr. Hickock. "Point your finger—maybe that's it." (3.56-57)

Dick sees people in terms of what they can do for him. He decides to invite Perry along on his "score" because he knows it's more than a one-man job, but after a couple of weeks, he's thinking of ways to get rid of him.

That was half the plot; the second half was: goodbye, Perry. Dick was sick of him—his harmonica, his aches and ills, his superstitions, the weepy, womanly eyes, the nagging, whispering voice. Suspicious, self-righteous, spiteful, he was a like a wife that must be got rid of. And there was but one way to do it: Say nothing—just go. (3.262)

Don't you love that phrase—"like a wife that must be got rid of?" That tells you everything you need to know about Dick. When the State of Kansas also gets in the way of his future plans by planning to hang him—well, the solution's obvious:

Convinced that such a ceremony would be the outcome of any trial—certainly any trial held in the state of Kansas—he had decided to "bust jail. Grab a car and raise dust. But first he must have a weapon; and over a period of weeks he'd been making one: a "shiv," an instrument very like an ice pick—something that would fit with lethal niceness between the shoulder blades of Undersherriff Meier. (4.27)

Don't Look Back

What separates Dick from Perry is Dick's complete lack of remorse. We never hear a second thought from him about the Clutter murders. Perry obsesses over it, and Dick can't stand it. He just wants to forget about it. And this doesn't just seem like a defense mechanism—denial or repression or whatever. It's just not that big a deal to him. It's shocking how little he seems bothered by it. We'll see later that this lack of empathy and remorse are the major symptoms of the psychopathic person.

"Know what I think?" said Perry. I think there must be something wrong with us. To do what we did."

"Did what?"

(Days after the murder, and he's put it out of mind: "Did what?")

What is it, honey? That other deal? Why the hell can't you forget it? (3.142)

In the six weeks leading up to their capture, Dick's behavior doesn't give a single hint that he was even thinking about, let alone feeling bad about, the murders. The only regret he has, really, is that they got caught.

A One-Track Mind

We learn pretty early that Dick is a hypersexual kind of guy. He talks about getting as much "blond chicken" (1.209) as he can and Perry worries that whatever money they can steal, Dick will blow it on vodka and women. His first wife left him because he had an affair with another woman. Dick reports in his autobiographical essay for the court that he always had "lots of girls" (4.60).

And he does mean "girls." We learn that Dick's real sexual interest is in little girls of between twelve and fifteen. We get an account of one episode with a 12 year-old girl n the beach in Florida:

The child accepted the gift, whereupon Dick smiled and winked at her. He was sorry he felt as he did about her, for his sexual interest in female children was a failing of which he was "secretly ashamed"—a secret he'd not confessed to anyone and hoped no one suspected(though he was aware Perry had reason to), because other people might not think it was "normal." That, to be sure, was something he was certain he was—"a normal." Seducing prepubescent girls, as he'd done eight or nine times in the last several years, did not disprove it, for if the truth were known, most real men had the same desires he had. (3.109)

He doesn't fully 'fess up about his sexual deviance until he thinks it might help in his insanity defense.

Hey, What You Lookin' At?

Like Perry, Dick's had an accident that mutilated his appearance:

It was as though his head had been halved like an apple, then put together a fraction off center. Something of the kid had happened; the imperfectly aligned features were the outcome of a car collision in 1950—an accident that left his long-jawed and narrow face tilted, with the result that the lips were slightly aslant, the nose askew, and his eyes not only situated at uneven levels but of uneven size, the left eye being truly serpentine, with a venomous sickly blue squint […]. (1.101)

Dick's rearranged face has huge symbolic value for his personality—we'll get more into that later. And eventually, it's also one of his only hopes for a psychiatric defense once he's captured. Other than the possibility that brain damage made him do it, there's not much sympathy to feel about Dick Hickock.