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Charles B. Sears Law Library SUNY Buffalo Law School

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In Cold Blood In Contention

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If you had the misfortune of running into me today, you became aware of two things: this week is Banned Books Week and, even though my love of Atticus Finch knows no bounds, I was desperate to find a banned book involving law that was not To Kill a Mockingbird. I took some comfort in the fact that no one else was able to immediately come up with an answer. There were some interesting suggestions, from Kafka’s The Trial (which was banned by the author’s homeland) to 50 Shades of Grey (an interesting instance of both the moralists and literary snobs joining together in bashing a book). If you happen to know of any other banned books that fit my criteria—involves the law, a lawyer, or a trial—please let me know.

 One particular banned book with a legal bent has been in the news, but the debate is over its place on the auction block, not the library shelf. In 1966 Truman Capote published his ground-breaking non-fiction novel, In Cold Blood, about the horrific 1959 murders of the Clutter family. The book has been challenged as recently as last year because of instances of violence and profanity.

This past July, Ron Nye, the son of Harold Nye, the lead investigator for the Clutter murders, put items he found that his father had kept from the investigation up for sale. The murderabilia items,  included Harold’s “notebooks, copies of investigative files from the Clutter case, crime scene photographs, hand-penned letters from Capote and an autographed first edition of “In Cold Blood” given to [Harold] Nye by the author.” Not long after word spread about the items, the Kansas attorney general claimed ownership to some of the cache of items, saying that the materials belonged to the state since they were created during the course of an official investigation for the Kansas Bureau of Investigation. Meanwhile, the Clutter family opposed the crime scene photos—many of which had never before been made public—being sold. Out of consideration to the Clutter family, Nye returned the crime scene photos to the state.

However, Nye’s father’s notebooks are still in contention. Kansas wants them back, claiming Harold Nye used them in his official work for the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, while Nye is holding firm that the notebooks were his father’s personal journals. In addition to the legal aspects of ownership is the moral question of whether or not one should be able to profit from the sale of muderabilia.


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