First published in 1965 as a four-part serial in The New Yorker, Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood" details the grisly murder of a family of Kansas farmers by two enigmatic (and misinformed) ex-cons who expected a quick score with a safe full of cash, but instead found themselves as the centerpiece of this pioneering masterwork of the true crime genre. Filled with the kind of gory, detailed violence that we find commonplace today, the book was an immediate sensation.
After reading about the murders, Capote traveled to Kansas with his childhood friend Harper Lee (who would go on to win the Pulitzer Prize for her novel To Kill A Mockingbird) to interview the locals about the crime.
After the criminals were captured, tried, and convicted, Capote continued his copious research, conducting personal interviews with both killers in a book writing process that would ultimately last six years and outlast both Perry Smith and Dick Hickock, who were hung in April of 1965 at the Kansas State Penitentiary.
Rumors persist to this day of a sexual relationship between Capote and Smith, for whom the author expressed a complicated and nuanced empathy. Three film adaptations did little to dispel the rumors and added to the rich pedigree of the book by garnishing a slew of Academy Award nominations.
Despite the acclaim he received for In Cold Blood and his earlier novella Breakfast At Tiffany's, Capote -- the outwardly gay, substance-abusing writer -- was arguably more famous than his work. He spent his last years maintaining his celebrity status by appearing on talk shows -- sometimes intoxicated -- and at one point publicly threatened suicide. His struggle with drugs and alcohol led to multiple stints in rehab and his untimely death from liver cancer in 1984.