Wednesday, May 16, 2018

In Cold Blood

Finished re-reading Capote's 1965 "In Cold Blood" last night. I remember the first read was as a tween living out in the country (an RFD address 40 miles to the west of Fort Worth) in the mid '70s, a book from my parents' bookshelf. Unlike last night, when I finished the book and had the anodyne of TV and 10-ft-away neighbors to assuage the disturbance, the first read was especially scary. As a 12- or 13-year-old, I didn't yet fully understand the history of Perry Smith's psyche, but what I did understand was: I'm out in the country as that family was. I've put the book down now, and now I am alone in the dead of night listening to whatever sticks crackle outside my window...

Last night, at exactly 9:35pm, I was onto the last 50 pages or so, and then: BANG-BANG-BANG! on my apartment door. I was on edge anyway because of the subject matter, plus no one now comes to my door after dark... I leapt up and yelled out in my toughest voice, "WHO IS IT?" Turned out to be a DoorDash food delivery guy, meant for the complex next door. (That alter-ego chick, "Monica," has quite the after-hours life: I've had 3 errant deliveries for her, plus one police call, in the past 4 months.)

The Mader family bought the Clutter family house in 1990. Here are links (1) to a 2005 article page that includes photos of the house today and (2) to an interview with Donna Mader when the Maders were trying unsuccessfully to sell the house:

From the second link:

Three of the four upstairs bedrooms Herb Clutter designed for his family still remain as bedrooms. All but the biggest,
which was Kenyon Clutter's, bear a distinctly feminine touch. The smallest, formerly Nancy Clutter's, has been converted into a computer room.

"We used to have a bed in there, but the kids won't sleep in there," Donna says.

A practical woman, she is more interested in cabinet space than who used to sleep where. She can't help but wonder why, when the killers shut them in the bathroom, the Clutters didn't block the door with the cupboard drawers.

With the drawers pulled out, Donna says as she demonstrates, the killers couldn't have re-entered the bathroom, and the Clutters might have escaped through a window.


Top: Herb and Bonnie Clutter. Bottom: Nancy and Kenyon Clutter.

Donna Mader's latter-day, highly insouciant theory --- that a mere pulled-out-drawer in the bathroom could have saved the family --- is chilling for several reasons. (1) It's true. (2) Herb Clutter didn't think of such a simple thing at the time because he had no concept that his family was in danger of being murdered. It was a robbery, that was all. Don't make the intruders mad. (3) Donna Mader didn't put herself in the Clutters' place; her assumption that they could/should have saved themselves is an utterly dumb, but commonplace, fallacy. When we hear of bad things happening to innocent people, we almost always try to figure out what the VICTIMS (!) did wrong. It's too frightening to think that perhaps there is indeed an utter randomness to the universe --- that Evil (Chaos) strikes at will, and that there's no way in hell we can be prepared for it, unless we want to live a completely paranoid existence.

A p.s.: In October of 1977, my father, after coming home drunk from bar-hopping in his suede going-out jacket and gold chain, demanded that my mother have sex with him. When she refused, he grabbed her, and I was sent to my room. I waited a minute and then peered out of my room down the hall: My mother had pulled the gold chain from his neck and was kneeling at his feet on the carpet. My father then went for his gun, kept at the top of the hall closet, and my mother ran. I closed my door. I heard a gun-shot, then silence. After about a half-hour, I snuck out of my room into the dark house... My father was by then snoring in my parents' bedroom; I did not see my mother anywhere in the house. I peered out the back door, then opened the door to the garage: there my mother was, huddling. I told her that Daddy was asleep, she motioned me back into the house...

Point of the story? Anybody could have been murdered that night. My mother could have been shot, my father could have then shot me and/or himself. (My 6-year-old brother, long asleep at the time and a favorite of both my parents, was probably exempt.)

I was very lucky that I wasn't murdered that night. At that moment, I was thinking like Herb Clutter: "This type of thing doesn't happen." Later, I learned that it could have very well happened. It happens all the time.

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