Truman Capote, who became famous when his 1966 book In Cold Blood was published and claimed that his book was “immaculate factual,” was lying.
New information has been revealed in Kansas Bureau of Investigation documents that were kept by a KBI agent, Harold Nye, who died in 2003. Nye’s son Ron wants to publish or sell them, but there are those who feel the surviving family members of the Clutter family, whose father, daughter, son and daughter were brutally murdered in the events Capote described, should not be forced to suffer any more.
Capote’s book was hailed as innovative for being the first “non-fiction novel,” but it wasn’t all fact, much as Capote insisted. Not only did Capote fudge the facts in order to make detective Alvin Dewey Jr. the hero, Capote also made Columbia Pictures give Dewey’s wife a job as a consultant when the film of his book was made.
Dewey cooperated with Capote beyond the letter of the law. He let Capote have access to the murdered 16-year-old daughter Nancy’s diary, which logged her thoughts only moments before the killers struck. He pressured villagers who were normally reticent to speak to grant Capote interviews. He later gave Capote an excess of time interviewing the killers. Because Capote was a New Yorker, Dewey helped Capote get a Kansas driving license.
Capote, in return, played up Dewey and the KBI. Unlike actual events, when 19 days passed before an informant tipped the police off about the killers and it was another five days before a number of agents descended on the farmhouse where one of the killers lived with his parents, Capote wrote that once the informant revealed the information an agent was dispatched immediately. And when the informant did reveal who one of the killers was, Duane West, 81, who was the prosecutor in the case, quoted Dewey this way: “Dewey said it wasn’t them. Dewey was convinced it was somebody local who had a grudge against Herb Clutter.”
Capote never mentioned that. He also never mentioned the correspondence between him and Dewey, including letters like these:
Capote: “Alvin, something VERY important! Nancy’s diary had entries for the last four years. I need the entries for Sat. Nov 14th in 1958, 1957, 1956. Urgent!”
Two weeks later: “Dearhearts…Bless you for sending the diary entries.”
Capote also never mentioned going behind West’s back and asking Dewey to cajole the assistant prosecutor, Logan Green, into talking. One letter to Dewey included, “Dear Foxy: Bless you for your help with Logan Green; the result was excellent.”
Capote also used Dewey into persuading Nancy Clutter’s boyfriend 17-year-old Bobby Rupp to talk. Rupp has said of Dewey’s role, “I only did it because Al Dewey advised me to,” he said.
Dewey denied that he had shown Capote any special treatment; he said in 1987, “I never treated Truman any differently than I did any of the other news media. As far as showing him any favoritism or giving him any information, absolutely not. He went out on his own and dug it up.”
Harper Lee, Capote’s close friend, assistant and author of To Kill A Mockingbird, offered no comment on the evidence that in 1960 Dewey gave her and Capote exclusive access to the Clutter files for a week and after the murders, gave private interviews with the killers even though he told other reporters no interviews would be forthcoming.
Dewey once said that the portrayals of characters in the book were dependent on whether Capote liked them, adding, “I was the luckiest.” West, conversely, who loathed the villagers’ awe of Capote, treated Capote the same as every other reporter. Capote, in turn, was contemptuous of West, even going so far as to reverse the actual roles and make Logan Green West’s superior.