Holcomb, Kansas is a small town, but that does not mean that something big cannot happen there. November 14, 1959 seems like any other ordinary day for Herbert Clutter. Herbert owns a large farm and is fairly well-known and wealthy in his town. He works on the farm daily and does not bother anyone; therefore, he would have never expected anyone to commit such a crime against him and his family. But in life, it is impossible to know what day will be our last.
Clutter lives with his wife, Bonnie, and two of his younger children, Nancy and Kenyon. Each family member has their own problems and quirks, but both children seem to have a bright future. Unfortunately, on that brisk November day, Clutter and his family are brutally murdered. Their bodies are found the next day by one of Nancy's classmates.
The murder affects everyone in the town. No one is able to trust anyone anymore because they have no idea who committed the murder and believe it was someone living in the town. Investigators continue to search for evidence, but they are not very successful. Some people even become so paranoid about the murder that they decide to leave Holcomb altogether. "But afterwards the townspeople, theretofore sufficiently unfearful of each other to seldom trouble to lock their doors... those somber explosions that stimulated fires of mistrust in the glare of which many old neighbors viewed each other strangely, and as strangers," writes Capote (5).
Meanwhile, the murderers who came all the way across the state to kill the Holcolmb family travel to Mexico and then back to the U.S., stopping in many random places throughout the country. One of the murderers, Dick Hickock, has recently been released from jail. While in jail he met a man named Floyd Wells. Floyd worked for Clutter on his farm and told Dick about how rich the family was and how he wanted to steal their money. Unsuspectingly, Dick recruits his friend Perry into helping him committ the murder and steal the Clutter's money. Floyd is still in jail when he hears of the Clutter family being murdered, and he turns in Dick and Perry to the police.
The murderers are finally found in Las Vegas, and the investigators from Holcomb go to question them. Dick is the first to confess, and Perry does shortly after. The trial begins, and many witnesses are called to the stand. The defense tries to show that the murderers were not thinking straight when committing the murder, but this does not help their case. The murderers are sentenced to death. The local newspaper reports, "Richard Eugene Hickock and Perry Edward Smith, partners in crime, died on the gallows at the state prison early today for one of the bloodiest murders in Kansas criminal annals. Hickock, 33 years old, died first, at 12:41 A.M.; Smith, 36, died at 1:19..." (337). The town of Holcomb can finally stop living in fear.
1) In the story, the murderers ultimate motive for killing the Clutter family is money. What would you do for money, and why do you think so many people go crazy in order to be wealthy?
2) What is your opinion on the death penalty? Should it be legal in our country for certain crimes?