Study Guide

In Cold Blood Chapter 3

By Truman Capote

Chapter 3

Answer

  • Short, chinless Floyd Wells cannot believe his eyes.
  • Here he is in the Kansas State Penitentiary, and there in the paper is an account of the Clutter murders—just as Dick described them to Wells.
  • Wells had bragged about a safe with a ton of cash in the Clutter place, back when Wells worked for Clutter.
  • Wells liked Herb Clutter a lot—he paid good wages and was always willing to front you some money before payday if you were short.
  • Dick had badgered him about the Clutter family—were they really rich? How many people lived in the house? How was the house laid out? Where was the safe?
  • Dick told Floyd he'd hatched a plan to steal the money in the alleged safe and leave no witnesses.
  • Floyd had never believed Dick would do it. People in prison are always bragging about stuff like that.
  • Floyd wonders two things: Would he be considered a snitch if he snitched, and what can he get out of it.
  • Finally he finds his answer: The Hutchinson News is offering $1,000 for news leading to the capture and conviction of the Clutter killers.
  • It takes Floyd 10 days to decide it's worth possibly being an accessory to the murder: he calls the prison deputy.
  • Floyd's confession reaches Alvin Dewey, who takes mug shots of Dick and Perry home to show the wife.
  • She's not pleased. Maybe he should try jewelry next time.
  • The parents of Dick Hickock get a visit from Agent Nye, KBI. No relation to Bill Nye, Science Guy.
  • Like all cliché parents, Dick's mom and pop defend their boy—sort of: "We love him…oh, I realized. I realized he wouldn't have just packed up. Run off […] Unless he was in trouble again. What makes him do it? Why?" (3.18)
  • Dick's father recounts Dick's childhood. He was doing fine and was a hard worker until his auto accident, when he got a concussion.
  • After the accident, "he wasn't the same boy" (3.21).
  • Dick's father insists that "That boy has plenty of good inside him" (3.23). But his parents hope they find him.
  • Agent Nye, now hot on the trail of Perry and Dick, shows photos of the two to some shopkeepers in Kansas City. Several of them recognize Dick as the writer of the bad checks.
  • One of Dick's former employers remembers him as a likable guy and remembers his friend Perry.
  • Some neighbors of the Hickocks don't have such great memories of Dick, though. They think he'd "Steal the weights off a dead man's eyes" (3.28).
  • Nye returns to interview the Hickocks in more depth. He learns that they could never stand Dick's friend Perry and wouldn't let him in the house.
  • They knew Dick met him in prison, and parolees weren't allowed to associate with other ex-cons.
  • They recount the events of November 13-15, when their son was, unbeknownst to them, busy murdering the Clutter family.
  • They didn't notice anything unusual when Dick got back, except that he was especially hungry and very, very tired.
  • We bet.
  • Eagle-Eye Agent Nye (sorry, we'll stop, we promise) notices a 12-gauge shotgun leaning against the wall. He's sure it's the murder weapon.
  • Cut to the road, where Perry and Dick are still trying to hitch a ride.
  • One unlucky guy whom Capote calls "Mr. Bell" picks up Dick and Perry.
  • But instead of immediately beating Bell's brains out with a rock Perry has hidden, the pair tell stupid joke after stupid joke, waiting for the perfect time to kill Bell.
  • Just as Dick gives Perry the signal to bash in Bell's skull, Bell stops to pick up another hitchhiker, making him one lucky dude indeed.
  • Special Agent Nye's investigation takes him to Las Vegas, one of the places Perry Smith was known to have visited.
  • He conducts an interview in what he describes in his report as "the lowest type of hotel or rooming house" (3.79).
  • The woman who runs the boarding house is 74, but looks, as Nye describes in a rare burst of wit, "younger—maybe ten minutes younger" (3.79).
  • Dick and Perry had been her tenants, and she assures Nye his targets will be back: Perry left all his stuff with her, after all.
  • The woman shows Nye the box of Perry's belongings. It doesn't yield any useful clues but it tells him a lot about the kind of guy Perry is.
  • Nye engages all the local law-enforcement agencies in the search for Dick and Perry.
  • The next day, Nye sets out in search of "Texas" John Smith, Perry's father.
  • He's told that the elder Smith looks Irish, with thin lips and light skin, dresses like a cowboy, and calls himself the Lone Wolf. Guy has kind of an elevated idea about himself, no?
  • At the post office, a clerk tells Nye that Perry stopped by in August, looking for his dad.
  • The day after that, the Lone Wolf came in and confirmed that his son had just gotten out of the army and that the two were going to Alaska.
  • The post office clerk hadn't seen either Smith since.
  • Next up for our lawman is Mrs. Johnson, which is what the narrator insists on calling Perry Smith's sister. Nye interviews her in her middle-class San Francisco home while she's waiting for women friends to come by for cake and cards.
  • Mrs. Johnson tells Nye she hasn't seen her brother for four years, that she's afraid of him, and that she wrote to him because she wanted to help him.
  • She thinks Perry might be staying with Joe James, an Indian logger who lives in Washington—and that her brother can seem so gentle but don't let that fool you.
  • She denies they have a sister in Fort Scott, which had been Dick and Perry's cover story for the night of the murders.
  • After Nye and his officer Guthrie leave, Mrs. Johnson settles in for a nice, informative flashback.
  • She remembers her early life as the child of Tex Smith and Florence Buckskin, two rodeo performers.
  • She recalls her mother's slide into alcoholism, her father's outdoorsman's skills, and the fates that awaited the mismatched pair's four children: the eldest boy a suicide by gun; the oldest girl a suicide by defenestration (an awesome word but a terrible way to kill yourself); herself, the exception to the rule; and Perry, a criminal.
  • She's three years older than Perry and, as a child, she adored him.
  • After he went to live with their father the adoration faded, and he became a stranger to her.
  • The last time she saw him, Perry got drunk and pushed her against a wall, yelling that he could have been somebody but that he wasn't allowed to go to school and that's the only thing that held him back from being a brilliant success.
  • Sounds like somebody's just a little bitter.
  • After Nye leaves, Mrs. Johnson gets up and locks the outside gate against the dead and the living.
  • A deluge hits the hitchhikers, who are again on foot.
  • They make it into a dark barn.
  • Their problem, aside from being mass murderers? They're broke.
  • They're down to regarding spearmint gum and Hershey Bars as food groups.
  • They're so broke that Dick gets the craziest idea of all—returning to Kansas City, to the scene of the crime, to pass some more bad checks.
  • He's convinced that they've committed the perfect crime, and that going back to Kansas is completely safe. Evidently, he hasn't read…never mind, I guess we've worn that one out.
  • The two notice a big dark something in the corner of the barn. It's a 1956 Chevrolet with the key in the ignition.
  • Meanwhile, Dewey is determined to keep people ignorant of the possible break in the Clutter case, based on the now obsolete idea that the alleged criminals might be innocent.
  • He tells the editor of the Garden City Telegraph and the manager of local radio station KIUL to keep the lid on things.
  • After all, the informant Wells, himself a habitual criminal, might be lying.
  • Dewey, however, is privately convinced Dick and Perry are the killers.
  • But the only clues he has are a pair of boot prints, one with a diamond pattern and one with a cat's paw design.
  • He knows they'll need a confession to solve the crime in the absence of other evidence.
  • Dewey believes the killers think they got away with the murders, and he wants to keep them thinking that.
  • Dick and Perry are back in Kansas, and Perry is literally sick as he waits for Dick at the Laundromat.
  • Dick's late, as usual.
  • Maybe he went to see his parents.
  • Suddenly Perry can think of a million awful reasons for him to be late this time:
  • Dick is being arrested.
  • Dick is telling the Kansas police all about Perry and the Clutter murder.
  • The Kansas police are heading straight for Perry.
  • Perry leaves the Laundromat and vomits on the sidewalk outside.
  • Suddenly Dick shows up.
  • He'd gone to the Markl Buick Company, where he used to work, and procured a set of Kansas license plates to replace the Idaho tags on the stolen Chevrolet.
  • Then he'd gone to a filling station where an old friend named Steve worked, and passed a bad fifty-dollar check to him.
  • Dick figures they'll hit a few more places with bad checks that night, then head to Florida.
  • Agent Dewey has a bad dream, in which he sees the dead Herb Clutter at a diner along with the killers. He chases the killers to a graveyard and shoots them again and again, but they just disappear.
  • He wakes up to a ringing telephone—Agent Nye, telling him that Perry and Dick are in Kansas City in a stolen car with stolen license plates.
  • Nye shares the info that Dick is writing bad checks and signing his own name to them all over town. One of the salesmen who took a bad check also took down their license plate number.
  • It's the big break both men are waiting for: They're dealing with idiots.
  • And yet, the idiots get away to Miami Beach for Christmas.
  • To get away from Perry and his endless comparison of every murder in the newspaper to the Clutter murders, Dick takes a walk down to the beach.
  • There he contemplates his endless envy, whether it's over the number of seashells another guy has or the number of blondes, until he tries and fails to seduce a girl who's probably twelve.
  • Perry, who sees this from a distance, is disgusted. He can't stand it when people have no sexual self-control.
  • Perry's contemplating suicide, since he doesn't see that he has a lot left to live for at this point.
  • It's Christmas in Garden City, too, and this particular Christmas, Bobby Rupp's family keeps urging him to eat, unable to understand that grief has made him sick.
  • He wants no one's company but Sue Kidwell's, and after a month, even that doesn't work. They remind each other of a grief that both want to forget.
  • Bobby remembers Mr. Clutter telling the story of being sent on horseback, when he was very young, to buy the family Christmas presents.
  • The young Mr. Clutter rode back to the farm in a blizzard, expecting a hero's welcome, but instead got chastised for being a fool for riding in a storm.
  • Bobby, on a run, comes unexpectedly up to Mr. Clutter's farm.
  • He remembers Mrs. Kidwell saying out of the blue recently that she kept seeing Nancy on Babe, headed towards them.
  • On their way to Kansas, Perry insists on giving a ride to two sad characters: a boy dressed in ratty overalls, and an old man who looks near death.
  • The old man is the boy's grandfather—they've been on the road trying to reach the town where the old man's sister lives.
  • The pair are honest and industrious at a dead-end pursuit: collecting soda-pop bottles for cash.
  • They get Dick and Perry involved in the search, which yields about twelve bucks—enough for a good meal.
  • They're polite and grateful when Dick and Perry drop them off 100 miles from their destination.
  • On December 30, Alvin Dewey's at home when he learns that Perry and Dick have been arrested in Las Vegas.
  • He leaves immediately to bring them back to Garden City.
  • Flashback to five that afternoon, when Perry goes to the Post Office in Las Vegas to claim a package that he'd sent to himself.
  • Dick waits for him outside and thinks of the ways in which he plans to rid himself of Perry.
  • Neither one, back in the stolen Chevrolet, notices the police car pulling up alongside them.
  • In the Las Vegas County Jail, Dick is interviewed by Nye and Church, while Perry's interrogated by Dewey and Duntz.
  • Dick's calm. He's been interrogated before.
  • When asked, he proudly lists the shops and restaurants where he's passed bad checks, tells the detectives about his early family life, all routine stuff.
  • Then Church says that they wouldn't come all that way after Dick for some bad checks, and Nye adds that Dick and Perry left a living witness at the Clutter house.
  • Dick's calm demeanor crumbles.
  • Dick says they couldn't have left a witness, which, if you think about it, wasn't a good idea. He's going down, dudes.
  • Dewey and Duntz spend three hours interviewing Perry on his life story, then finally get to the events leading up to the Clutter killing.
  • Perry sticks to the story of visiting his sister in Fort Scott.
  • Duntz tells Perry that, instead of doing the things he claims to have been doing, he was in fact killing the Clutter family.
  • He also tells Perry that tomorrow would have been Nancy's seventeenth birthday.
  • Dewey then deliberately and abruptly ends the interview to let Perry stew about that info.
  • That night, Perry wishes he could talk to Dick, but he knows that the two of them are being kept apart for a reason.
  • Dick's positive that the living witness is Floyd Wells, and he wishes he'd silenced Wells when he had the chance.
  • Then he thinks about the other living witness, Perry, and suddenly wishes that he'd also silenced Perry in some solitary place.
  • He wonders why he never thought of it before. So does the reader.
  • Perry ultimately admits the "meeting his sister in Fort Scott" story is just that—a story—something they used with Dick's parents to cover a drinking spree with Perry.
  • When Church tells Dick that he'll be charged with four counts of first degree murder, Dick tells him that Perry killed the Clutters. "It was Perry. I couldn't stop him. He killed them all." (3.409)
  • In Hartman's Café, Postmistress Clare hears the latest account of the confessions.
  • The majority of Holcomb residents believed that the murderers were townspeople, and they refuse to believe that Perry and Dick are actually the killers.
  • When a woman in the Café says that she's afraid of the killers, a young farmer says that the killers are now more afraid of the townspeople than the townspeople are of the killers.
  • That thing about snakes being more afraid of people than vice versa? It still doesn't ring true.
  • Dick and Perry are escorted down the Arizona highway by the KBI agents.
  • Dewey drives the lead car with Perry and Duntz, who are trying to wring a confession out of Perry.
  • Nothing works until Dewey mentions that Hickock said Perry was a "natural born killer" (3.425) and repeats the story about Perry beating the African-American man to death with a bicycle chain.
  • It works. Perry collects himself and begins a detailed description of the Clutter massacre, starting with the letter from Dick telling him about a big score he was planning. We readers are finally witness to the gruesome events of that night.
  • Methodically and unemotionally, he describes arriving in Holcomb, entering the house, and systematically tying up and shooting each of the Clutters.
  • Their intent, he says, was to rob Herb Clutter's safe.
  • He claims that up until the second he did it, he didn't intend to kill Herb Clutter. He thought he was a "very nice gentleman" (3.486).
  • Some parts of his account confirm what Dewey suspected—that the mattress box and the pillow were to make the victims more comfortable in some warped kind of way before he blew their heads off.
  • Perry says that Dick had planned to rape Nancy Clutter but that he wouldn't allow it. He bets that's something Dick never admitted to the interrogators.
  • He says that he spent a few minutes talking with Nancy in her bedroom and that she was trying to be calm and friendly.
  • He claims that he killed Herb and Kenyon, and that Dick killed the women.
  • Agent Dewey is left to imagine the terrible details of the Clutters' last hours—Nancy begging for mercy, Kenyon paralyzed with fear, Herb fighting for his life, Bonnie tied up in the bathroom hearing the three shots and knowing they'd be coming for her.
  • Perry says he wishes he'd killed Dick after they left the Clutter home.
  • Dewey is silent on the ride back to Garden City.
  • He now knows what happened but can't figure out what would drive someone to commit murder in such an impersonal way.
  • After killing four people, Perry and Dick got away with about fifty dollars.
  • A pair of cats search the grilles of cars for dead birds (nice touch, Capote) as people collect in the Garden City Square to see the Clutter murderers arrive.
  • It's a weird festival atmosphere, full of high school students, newspapermen, hot dog eaters, mothers holding babies, and people shouting Biblical verses.
  • But on sighting the murderers, the crowd goes oddly silent, as though surprised to see them "humanly shaped" (3.499).
  • As the crowd disperses, the first snow of the year begins to fall.