Harper Lee Biographer Unearths Her Article on Killings

She wrote about 'Cold Blood' case for an FBI magazine, before Capote's book
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 27, 2016 8:51 AM CDT
Harper Lee Biographer Unearths Her Article on Killings
A 1963 photo of Harper Lee.   (AP Photo, File)

Harper Lee's biographer has dug up another piece of writing by the late author, but this time it's a magazine article instead of a controversial novel. Charles Shields has concluded that Lee is the author of an unsigned article about the notorious Clutter family murders in Kansas that appeared in the March 1960 issue of Grapevine, a magazine for FBI professionals, reports the Guardian. Lee and friend Truman Capote had been investigating the case, which would become the subject of Capote's best-seller In Cold Blood. In the article, Lee recounts the gory details of "the most extraordinary murder case in the history of the state" and gives particular focus to investigator Alvin Dewey of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation. His job "was doubly hard" because "the late Herbert Clutter was a close personal friend." So why no byline? "It was typical of Harper Lee to not try to crowd her friend Truman," says Shields.

But the 1960 piece may have had ulterior motives, Shields tells the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The piece is a "little unctuous," and he suspects Lee and Capote were trying to stay in the good graces of Dewey and the investigative team. Also, it was a sign to other writers to steer clear of the subject. "They were putting stakes in the ground, making it clear, 'This is our turf.'" Shields uncovered the article while revising his 2006 biography Mockingbird, when he came across a column in a Kansas newspaper by Lee's friend Dolores Hope in February 1960. She wrote that an article by the "young writer" Lee on the Clutter case would soon appear in Grapevine, and she adds that Lee's first novel was due out in the spring—"advance reports say it is bound to be a success." The FBI is sold on Shields' sleuthing: It will reprint the 1960 article by Lee next month, with an intro from the biographer. (More Harper Lee stories.)

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