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.
TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Peter Lik: The self-proclaimed 'fine-art photographer' whose work sells for millions
The best underrated Christmas movies from Love, Actually to While You Were Sleeping
Grace Dent on TV: The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies was a beautifully shot, immensely considered drama
The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies, review: Jason Watkins is brilliant, but real victim Joanna Yeates is reduced to a footnote
Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking Lana Del Rey rape video
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Shock poll shows voters believe Ukip is to the left of the Tories
Nigel Farage's approval rating hits 'record low' as popularity suffers in wake of Ukip sex scandal
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
Ukip candidate jokes about 'shooting peasants' in racist and homophobic rant
Pakistan school attack live: Taliban kill at least 132 children in 'horrifying' massacre