Tag: truman capote

Evidence of Harper Lee’s Unpublished True Crime Book Uncovered

Harper Lee is famous for her classic novel To Kill a Mocking Bird and her unshakeable commitment to justice continues to inspire us. Author and journalist Casey Cep has written for The Guardian about a discovery made while researching her book Furious Hours.

Though most people know much about Harper Lee’s work and her enlightening words, Lee was notoriously private. According to Cep, writing for The Guardian, “part of what she so despised about the press coverage of her own life was its many inaccuracies and distortions of the truth.” However, one thing that has come to light following Lee’s death in 2016, is a true crime book which was never released.


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The Guardian notes that Harper Lee had always been “intrigued with crime”. As a child, she would go to the local courthouse and observe trials from the balcony, and went on to study law at the University of Alabama, and even had a hand in the research and assembling of the first true crime book, Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood. Not to mention Lee’s own novel To Kill a Mockingbird, one of the finest tales of justice ever written.

Back in the late 70s, sixteen-year-old Alabaman teen, Shirley Ann Ellington, was one of several people murdered by her stepfather, Reverend Willie Maxwell. According to The Irish Times, Casey Cep “is one of just a few individuals who have read the only known chapter of Lee’s unpublished book, The Reverend, about the case of Reverend William Maxwell.”

Harper Lee heard about the Maxwell case in 1977,  when he was shot in the head at Shirley Ann’s funeral by a relative who suspected him of committing the murdder. The following year, Lee began interviewing anyone connected to the case, intending to write about it, however whether she intended to write a true crime book a la Capote, or a fictionalized version of events, as further evidence would suggest, remains unclear.

In 2015, after Lee’s controversial second novel, Go Set a Watchman, who announced, Casey Cep revealed that the family of Maxwell’s lawyer, Tom Radney, who had worked with Lee on her research were in possession of a chapter by Lee entitled ‘The Reverend,’ in which Radney was referred to as ‘Jonathan Larkin,’ implying that perhaps she was intending to fictionalize the case.



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Whether Harper Lee finished the book to the end is sadly a mystery in itself. According to Cep, many rumors circulated regarding what Harper Lee did with her manuscripts, with the Radney family insisting that every time he spoke with her, which was twice a year she would tell him she was still working on it. The family hoped that the rest of the manuscript would be released after the publication of Go Set a Watchman, but sadly this did not come to pass and her estate has been sealed. According to the Irish Times, “Cep believes whatever exists of The Reverend will remain unpublished until it is unsealed.”

Whether through for fiction or nonfiction, Harper Lee still reflects the importance of dedication to the truth, and nothing but the truth.



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The Last Impact of Truman Capote’s ‘In Cold Blood’, the First ‘True Crime’ Book,

Truman Capote’s 1966 novel In Cold Blood depicts the real-life murder of the Clutter family, a bizarre and gruesome act of violence. After learning about the senseless killing, Capote journeyed to Holcomb, Kansas with friend and famed author of To Kill a Mockingbird Harper Lee to investigate the source material for what would become his professional success and his personal downfall. Together, they logged thousands of pages of notes about the “quadruple murder” as the basis for Capote’s work. Literary critics describe this true (if sensationalized) novel the pioneer work of both the non-fiction and true crime genres. Serial killer fanatics- this story is for you!


'In Cold Blood' by Truman Capote

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The real-life murder took place in Holcomb, KS, the sleepy sort of town where nothing bad ever happens… until, of course, it does. Holcomb was a town built on trust, a place where no one locked their doors and everyone acted like neighbors. (That door locking thing is going to matter later.) Not only did the Clutter family’s murder destroy the four lives it claimed, but it also shattered the town’s sense of community and friendship. On November 15th, 1959, the killers entered the Clutter’s home in search of cash they never found- $10,000 the Clutters allegedly kept in a safe. But the family would die for money they didn’t even have. Dissatisfied with Mr. Clutter’s confusion about their demands for the safe, the murderers cut his throat and shot him in the head. Chillingly, Mr. Clutter’s killer stopped to listen to his blood “gurgling” out.


The Clutter family, still alive

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When the killers realized there was no money in the home, things got messy. Maybe the killers didn’t want any witnessed to their botched break-in; maybe they were angry. The result was the brutal, execution-style murder of Mrs. Bonnie Clutter, as well as children sixteen-year-old Nancy Clutter and fifteen-year-old Kenyon Clutter. The men bound the terrified family with rope and duct tape before the killing. Since each victim was taken to a different room for the murder, all of them died alone. And what did these murderers make off with? Fifty dollars, binoculars, and a radio. The Clutters died horribly and for nothing.


Truman Capote

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When Capote told their story, the medium of non-fiction as we know it did not exist. Initially, many believed his efforts were an attempt to combat writer’s block. Capote assured the naysayers that “reporting can be made as interesting as fiction, and done as artistically.” Though his efforts brought him wild success, the psychological toll was immense. He felt a kinship with one of the murderers who had a troubled childhood similar to his own- a feeling so strong Capote considered him “the man he might have been.” When the murderers eventually got the death penalty, Capote was torn apart. Following the execution, Capote began a lifelong battle with alcohol and drugs, even appearing for televised interviews seriously inebriated. Though he would die of his addiction just six years later, Capote’s leaves behind a much brighter legacy. Openly homosexual, Capote stands as a prominent LGBT historical figure for writers, readers, and members of the LGBT community. And as a pioneer of two widespread and beloved genres, Capote will command respect and admiration so long as there are books to read.


Still wondering who the murderers were? You know what to do! Read the book.



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