The book details the brutal 1959 murder of Herbert Clutter, a wealthy farmer from Holcomb, Kansas; his wife, and two children. When Capote learned of the quadruple murder before the killers were captured, he decided to travel to Kansas and write about the crime. Bringing his childhood friend and fellow author Harper Lee along, together they interviewed local residents and investigators assigned to the case and took thousands of pages of notes. The killers, Richard "Dick" Hickock and Perry Smith, were arrested not long after the murders, and Capote ultimately spent six years working on the book. It is considered the originator of the non-fiction novel and the forerunner of the New Journalism movement.
Herb Clutter was a dedicated Methodist and a widely respected self-made man, who had established a successful farm from modest beginnings. He employed as many as eighteen farm hands, and former employees reportedly admired and respected him for his fair treatment and good wages. His four children, three girls and a boy, were widely respected in the community. The two eldest, Eveanna and Beverly, had moved out of their parents' home and started their adult lives. The two younger children, Nancy, 16, and Kenyon, 15, were high school students still living at home. Clutter's wife, Bonnie, a member of the local garden club, had been incapacitated by clinical depression and physical ailments since the births of her children, although this characterization of her has been disputed by surviving family members.
Two ex-convicts on parole from the Kansas State Penitentiary, Richard "Dick" Hickock and Perry Edward Smith, committed the robbery and murders on November 15, 1959. Richard Hickock had heard from a fellow prisoner, Floyd Wells, who had once worked for the Clutters, said that he thought there was a safe at the ranch where Herb Clutter kept large amounts of cash, but he couldn't be sure. Hickock later contacted Smith about committing the robbery with him. Hickock hatched the idea in prison to commit the robbery, leave no witnesses and start a new life in Mexico with the cash from the Clutter home. Hickock described his plan as "a cinch, the perfect score." The information proved to be false, since Herb Clutter did not keep cash on hand, had no safe, and did all his business using checks to better keep track of transactions.
After driving across the state of Kansas on Saturday, November 14, 1959, and discovering that there was no money to be found at the Clutters' home, Smith slit Herb Clutter's throat and then shot him in the head. As Smith recounted later, "I didn't want to harm the man. I thought he was a very nice gentleman. Soft spoken. I thought so right up to the moment I cut his throat." Kenyon, then Nancy, and then Bonnie were murdered, each by single shotgun blasts to the head.
Smith claimed in his oral confession that Hickock murdered the two women. When asked to sign his confession, however, Smith refused. He wanted to accept responsibility for all four killings because he said he was "sorry for Dick's mother." Smith added, "She's a real sweet person." Hickock always maintained that Smith did all four killings.
Hickock and Smith were ultimately arrested in Las Vegas about six weeks after the murders. They pleaded temporary insanity during the trial, but local GPs evaluated the accused and pronounced them sane. After five years on death row, Smith and Hickock were executed by hanging just after midnight on April 14, 1965, in Lansing, Kansas, at the Kansas State Penitentiary (now known as Lansing Correctional Facility). The gallows from which they were hanged is now part of the collections of the Kansas State Historical Society. 
approved by stovokor