Sunday 15 November 2020

in cold blood

First appearing as a four-part serial in The New Yorker first in its September 1965 issue, the gruesome quadruple murders of a farm family, the Clutters of Holcomb in the state of Kansas, on which Truman Capote’s sensationally popular and genre defining true-crime novel, occurred on this day in 1959, when two recently paroled ex-convicts from the penitentiary travelled across the state to the small farmstead on a jailhouse tip that the head of the household kept a vault of cash on the premises to pay the day labourers they employed (some being drifters finding their footing after being released from prison). Capote compiled press coverage and conducted many interviews of the investigators, members of the community and court (his friend and Kansas native, author Harper Lee helped research and ingratiate Capote) and prompted national discussion on mental health, incarceration and the death penalty, seen as a challenge to traditional thinking on the nature of the premeditated and criminal culpability referred to as the M’Naghten rules, a series of protocols—instructions to the jury dated to 1840s Britain formulated in react to the acquittal of an individual due to insanity over. M’Naghten had in fact killed a man but was only motivated to do so under the delusion that his victim was the Prime Minister and once disabused of his misconception was quite paralysed with guilt for having taken an innocent life.