Documents Raise Doubts About In Cold Blood Accuracy

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Feb. 9 2013 11:37 AM

Documents Raise Fresh Doubts About In Cold Blood Accuracy

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Truman Capote, host of a private party for 450, arrives 29 November 1966 at the Hotel Plaza in New York, holding hands with Katherine Graham

Photo by /AFP/Getty Images

Truman Capote’s beloved classic is coming under renewed scrutiny after new evidence appears to at the very least put into question several key sections of the book as well as the image of the detective Alvin Dewey Jr. as the unquestioned hero in the story. The Wall Street Journal writes that “a long-forgotten cache” of Kansas Bureau of Investigation documents makes it pretty clear that two critical chapters of In Cold Blood are far from accurate. Significantly, Capote didn’t just make up the whole scene of how the KBI reacted when it got a tip of who killed the Cuttlers, but also played down Dewey’s doubts about the tip in the first place. Plus, a contract has recently been unveiled that reveals Capote demanded that Columbia Pictures hire Dewey’s wife for a well-paying job as a consultant for the film version of the book.

Debating the factual accuracy of the beloved book is nothing new, of course. But these new details are particularly relevant because they seem to put into question why the KBI in general, and Dewey in particular, would have long described the book as accurate. That was once seen as one of the strongest defenses of the book, particularly because Dewey had often insisted he never showed any favoritism toward Capote. The truth is though Capote had lots of reasons to be grateful to Dewey. He was the one who opened up the KBI files to Capote and even pressured locals to talk to Capote. Ultimately, the files appear to illustrate how the treatment people received in the book depended on whether Capote liked them.

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The documents are now part of ongoing litigation as KBI is claiming ownership while the son of a now-deceased agent from publishing or selling them.

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the "Today's Papers" column from 2006 to 2009. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoliti.

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