I saw the movie and read the Truman Capote masterpiece, In Cold Blood. This was Truman Capote’s attempt to create a new genre – a true story written in the style of a fiction novel. The book tells the disturbing story of two ex-con drifters who murder the Clutter family in Holcomb, Kansas in 1959.
Killed in that attack was Herb Clutter, a wealthy wheat farmer, his wife and two teenage children. I call the book a masterpiece because Capote’s gift for description is amazing; he puts you there. Of course “there” in this book, is often a place you wouldn’t want to be; but still the writing is profound.
The story of the Clutter murders and the perpetrators does, in large measure, what its author intended: leaves me sad, bewildered, angry and full of “if onlys.” But for all its power, In Cold Blood is missing something. I wish I knew what. I wish I could articulate that empty place that I perceive but cannot pinpoint in the journey through the story that begins and ends in the high plain wheat fields of Kansas. The soul of something.
I want to do mentally what Al Dewey did physically: walk away from that cemetery surrounded by those windswept fields of gold. But I cannot. It’s as if I’ve stepped off a dock and landed, not in the water I expected but in the most soggy, deep, dark, mushy mud. I come up spitting mud and wiping it from my eyes; unhurt but unsatisfied.
The Soul of Something
Undoubtedly the story of the Clutter tragedy haunts many – perhaps even the same aspect of the story that haunts me the most — who’ve read Capote’s book. After embracing that haunting and doing my own peculiar sort of prayer/meditation, I did find the answer to what was haunting me. The “soul of something” about the Clutter family tragedy. The answer is a sixteen year old girl named Nancy.
At least I filled the part of the emptiness that bothered me so much. Here is the bold statement that will make many call me crazy and even, I suppose, hate me for saying it: I know what happened in the Clutter house that night, and it is not entirely as Truman wrote it because it is not as Hickock and Smith said it was.
The story haunted me until one night the truth came to me. Say what you will about my contention, but Nancy Clutter deserves everyone who has read the book or seen the movie to know what the facts reveal; at least to my satisfaction. In my heart I believe I know the truth, and for Nancy, I’m going to tell it.
I saw the movie, read the book and then, much later, had a revelation. It was then that I went back to the story to see if the facts support my epiphany. They do.
Hickock was driving that night. He drove up the road to the Clutter home and stopped short of the house. For a long time they just sit there with the car lights off – just watching and listening. They saw the light in the bungalow close to the Clutter house come on and off. It was the home of an employee of the Clutters who lived there with his family. We now know that the light was coming on and off every few minutes because they were up many times that night checking on their sick baby.
Hickock and Smith had no clue why the light was coming on and it spooked them. Still, they stayed there. Watching…waiting. Finally, Smith had enough and wanted to call it off and leave. At first, Hickock agrees but then changes his mind and tells smith that he is going through with it.
Smith could not change Hickock’s mind. Remember this.
So, they entered the house. Fear of someone hearing and calling the police could not deter these creeps. And we now know it was not just the money they erroneously thought was in the house. We know that Hickock was a pedophile. At the same time he was told by one of his prison cellmates that Herb Clutter kept ten thousand dollars in the house, he also told him who would most likely be in the house, including sixteen year old Nancy. Hickock knew she was probably there that night. He even knew exactly where her room was at the top of the stairs. Remember this.
Smith would later say that he stopped Hickock from raping Nancy Clutter. Hickock was physically bigger than Smith and, by Smith’s own admission, had succeeded in convincing Smith that he (Hickock) was a real tough guy. Hickock would later admit that one of the reasons he wanted to go to the Clutters in the first place was that he wanted to rape Nancy. And he said that was another reason he went ahead even after they saw the light from the nearby home and even after Smith had wanted to leave.
So did this sorry excuse for a human named Perry Smith really stop Hickock from raping Nancy just to then shoot her in the head? Did he stop the man so determined that he ignored the presence of a possible witness to enter that house? Did he stop the pedophile with a long history of not caring about anyone but Hickock? Of course not. But Nancy was not raped. Why not?
What really happened that night? Both bastards later admitted much of what occurred, and much of it jelled with the evidence that Al Dewey and the other dedicated investigators found in the case. But what is it that Smith and Hickock would never admit – even after admitting to murder? I’ll tell you what it was: They would never admit that they were successfully scorned, defeated, deflated and brought down by a sixteen year old girl’s resolve, courage and tenacity.
Every member of the Clutter family was unable to speak because their mouths were duck taped shut – everyone that is except Nancy. The killers would later come up with a lame reason why she didn’t have her voice silenced by tape along with the others. What’s the real reason? It was I believe, in part, a thought that occurred in the twisted mind of the killers. They were in a hurry and If her mouth was not taped it would be much easier to facilitate the oral sex that Hickock, and probably Smith as well, planned to force on her as part of the impending rape.
Nancy was tied up and in her bed – brutally murdered but not raped. In fact, there was no evidence of any kind of sexual assault. Why not? Was there something more about Nancy that pushed these two perverts away as if a strong wall surrounded her? Did she possess an especially deep spiritual connection that she used to repel them?
Hickock admits that he went to the room to rape her but then says Smith – the same Smith who couldn’t keep him out of the house – stopped him. They both agreed on that story because they would never want anyone to know that it was Nancy who stopped them with her words. They tried to reassert their power over her by claiming that she begged for her life saying, “No, no, no, please don’t….” But that did not stop her murder and surely would not stop her rape. What did? Was there something else she said?
Nancy, like the rest of the Clutters — was a loyal member of the Methodist Church and a strong believer in God. I believe she told Hickock right there in her bed that God was watching and would deal with him and his partner. And with a resolve in her voice that took Hickock’s feeling of power away, she told him that she would rather die than be touched by either of them. Taken aback and pressed for time, Hickock knew that he would have to fight her if he were going to assault her. He left her and joined Smith as they went to the basement.
After they killed Herb and Kenyon, the murdering duo went back up the stairs. She heard them coming and she had heard the shots, including the one that killed her mother. She knew.
She was the only one killed who was found with her back to the killers. As they entered her room she undoubtedly took advantage, once again, of her ability to talk to them – reminding them that God was watching as she turned her back to the wall and said something like, “Go ahead.” This infuriated the killers – Hickock because his desire to have power over the Clutters was taken away by this young girl, and Smith because her words about God watching were too reminiscent of what those “nun bitches” had said to him as they beat him for being a bed wetter when he was so much younger than Nancy.
So Smith, this incredibly vicious animal, shot her in the back of the head like the coward he was. And like the coward they both were, they later made up an ending for Nancy to hide the extent to which she had won.
Call my contention conjecture; call it just a story. Say that I’m wrong to even bring all this up so many years later. Say what you will; this much I know is true: It was not Smith but Nancy who prevented what would have been, as far as she was concerned, worse than death for her that night.
R.I.P. Nancy Clutter and the Clutter family.