Holcomb is a small town on the high plains of western Kansas. Herbert Clutter owns a farm in the area, River Valley Farm. On November 14, 1959, he wakes up, eats a light breakfast, and begins the day's work. It will be his last.
On the other side of the state, Perry Smith eats a breakfast of aspirin and cigarettes. His friend Dick Hickock comes to pick him up.
Back at the Clutter household, a phone call wakes Nancy Clutter. A local girl wants to learn how to make cherry pies. Nancy rearranges her schedule to make time. Her friend Susan also calls. They talk about Nancy's date with Bobby the previous night and how Herb Clutter wants Nancy to slow down their relationship. Nancy also mentions that, inexplicably, she has been smelling cigarette smoke. Also, her father seems to be worried about something.
Dick is driving a black Cadillac. He and Perry take it to the shop where Dick works, where they tune the car, preparing for a long drive.
Nancy has finished teaching Jolene Katz how to bake cherry pies. She leaves, and Bonnie Clutter talks with the girl. She shows Jolene her collection of miniatures. After Jolene leaves she goes to bed, very depressed, as usual.
Perry and Dick are getting cleaned up for their drive. Dick is athletic but small; Perry has a muscular upper body, but his legs were badly damaged in a motorcycle wreck. They are both tattooed--Dick in many places, Perry only in a few places, but his tattoos are polished and intricate.