The book talk that drew more than 60 members of the Washburn and Topeka communities to Mabee Library on Monday afternoon started with a happy accident.
Lynn Wilkerson, who last spring took Kansas Literature through the 65 and over audit program, took seriously Professor Tom Averill’s encouragement to donate books to the library’s collection of Kansas literature. She combed through three boxes of books and hauled one full box to campus. One of those books is now in a place of honor in the collection.
They were books she had collected at estate sales over the years and never paid more than $5 for. She knew the books fit the bill of the Thomas Fox Averill Kansas Studies Collection, and she knew there was one copy of Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood” that she got at a College Hill estate sale.
Wilkerson remembered that book because she was a child in Dodge City, Kan. in November, 1959 when four members of the Clutter family was murdered in Holcomb, a mere 60 miles away. Capote’s “nonfiction novel” immortalized the Clutter family – Herb, Bonnie, Nancy and Kenyon -- by tracing the steps of their killers. Wilkerson remembers purchasing that book clearly. It had “a lot of old people’s signatures in it. I wished it was white paper instead of cream so I could have used White-Out on it.”
Later, in another class, Averill asked to speak with Wilkerson. She recalled their exchange: “He said ‘I can’t keep this book.’ I asked why, he said ‘It’s just too valuable.’”
What she had in that box was a seventh-printing of the first edition of one of the most purchased books in America, even more than 50 years after it was published. It was autographed by not just Capote, but six members of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation who had been involved in the case. It likely is worth thousands of dollars.
“When Lynn brought that book in I thought ‘Oh, my goodness!,’” Averill recalled. “I recognized several of the signatures as officers who are mentioned in the book.”
In addition to Capote’s, the included signatures are Alvin Dewey, the Kansas Bureau of Investigation’s lead investigator on the case; Clarence Duntz, Harold Nye and Roy Church, KBI assistant investigators, and Logan Sanford, KBI director and Roy Dryer, KBI assistant director at the time.
The book will be displayed in a special case in the Kansas collection in Mabee Library’s lower level.
Wilkerson and Averill set the scene for two authors, Ralph Voss and Larry Welch, who recently have written books related to In Cold Blood. Voss’s book, “Truman Capote and the Legacy of In Cold Blood”, studies Capote’s work and its influence on American culture and literature. Welch’s book, “Beyond Cold Blood”, is a history of the KBI.
For more information about how to contribute to the Thomas Fox Averill Kansas Studies Collection, please contact Mabee Library.