Truman Capote's tale of brutal killings 'glossed over failings of lead investigator'


Truman Capote is no longer around to care, but newly unearthed evidence in the case of the Kansas farmhouse murders that became his blockbuster book In Cold Blood casts fresh doubt on his famous claim that it was “immaculately factual” from front cover to back.

A cache of documents originally held by the Kansas Bureau of Investigations (KBI) suggest that the author, who was acclaimed for pioneering the non-fiction novel and a new genre of long-form journalism, may have massaged the facts in at least two chapters, possibly to cast the lead investigator, Alvin Dewey, in a better light.

While critics and literary scholars have tried to pick at Capote’s version of the 1959 murder of Herb Clutter, a farmer in Holcomb, Kansas, and of his wife and two children, almost from the moment of its release in 1966, it was the KBI that consistently spoke up for its accuracy. Yet the debate has never quite died and will surely now be reignited by the discovery of the new papers, first reported by The Wall Street Journal.

Notably, they suggest that Capote was incorrect when he said that Mr Dewey and his team responded instantly when, after 14 days of stumbling in the dark, they received a tip-off that two drifters, Richard Hickock and Perry Smith, were responsible. The men were eventually convicted and executed. The book says an agent was dispatched immediately to investigate. The papers say Mr Dewey dithered for five days.

The former prosecutor in the case, Duane West, told the Journal that Mr Dewey was at first dismissive of the tip-off, which had come from a prison inmate named Floyd Wells, preferring to believe a local killed the Clutters. “Alvin Dewey pooh-poohed the Wells tip,” Mr West noted. “He said Wells was a no-good criminal who had made the whole thing up.”

It has long been known that Capote built a relationship with Mr Dewey that paid off handsomely in terms of access. He was given all the KBI files for a week along with his research associate Harper Lee and was allowed exclusively to interview the two killers as they awaited trial and execution. In return, it seems, he helped turn Dewey into the unimpeachable hero of the case. That that relationship may have strayed beyond modern boundaries of ethical journalism is further made clear by papers showing also that when he negotiated a contract with Columbia Pictures for what was to be the first of three Hollywood films, he insisted that Mr Dewey’s wife be hired by the studio as a consultant.

The new revelations come just weeks after the exhumation of the bodies of Smith and Hickock at the request of prosecutors in Florida, who believe that they may have been responsible for the killings of another family near Sarasota in the weeks between the Clutter killings and their arrest. Florida investigators are hoping to use DNA analysis to link the men with the case.

Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump


Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas