More Harper Lee puzzles: another lost book and an investigation closed

An Alabama family says Lee was working on another book based on true crime cases, while the state of Alabama says it recently closed an investigation about the author. Lee is publishing a new book, 'Go Set a Watchman,' later this year.

Rob Carr/AP
'To Kill A Mockingbird' author Harper Lee appears at a ceremony honoring the four new members of the Alabama Academy of Honor, at the state Capitol in Montgomery, Ala. in 2007.

As the state of Alabama conducted an investigation into the release of a new novel by “To Kill a Mockingbird” author Harper Lee, news of another project by the writer has come to light. 

According to The New Yorker, Lee was acquainted with a lawyer named Tom Radney with a legal practice based in Alexander City, Ala. Radney had a client named Reverend Willie Maxwell, whose wife, brother, second wife, nephew, and stepdaughter were all found dead at different times in the 1970s. Radney represented Maxwell as each of these deaths was investigated. Finally, an uncle of Maxwell’s stepdaughter killed Maxwell. He too was represented by Radney. 

Radney convinced Lee to write a book about the bizarre cases and gave her all the information he had on them. For her part, Lee conducted various interviews and chose a possible title for the book: “The Reverend.” She even sent what appears to be a chapter from the book to Radney.

As the literary world knows, no such book ever appeared. But after Lee went to Alexander City, Ala., where Radney lived to conduct research, she wrote a letter to a family in the city thanking them for letting her stay with them. “If I fall flat on my face with this book, I won’t be terribly disappointed because of knowing that the time I spent with you was not time lost, but friends gained,” part of the letter read. A woman named Sheralyn Belyeu recently found this letter – dated 1978 – and contacted Lee’s sister, Alice, who often took care of Lee’s business. Alice Lee wrote Belyeu a letter in June, 2009, saying that Lee “had collected quite a mass of material” but had “never actually prepared anything for publication.”

Now, the Radney family wants the material Lee had back. They told The New Yorker that when they heard earlier this year that the manuscript of Lee's unpublished work "Go Set a Watchman" had been found in a “secure location” they hoped Radney's papers and case notes might be there as well. But Lee’s lawyer Tonja Carter told the family Lee doesn't remember anything about Radney or the case in which he was involved. “Miss Lee does not have your grandfather’s files,” Carter wrote in a letter to Radney’s granddaughter Madolyn Price.

It’s another strange story in the recent events surrounding Lee. According to the Alabama newspaper the Huntsville Times, the Alabama Securities Commission recently closed an investigation about the author. A lawyer with the securities commission, Steve Feaga, told the Huntsville Times that they were asked to go speak with Lee by the Alabama Department of Human Resources. As noted by Huntsville Times writer John Archibald, the Department of Human Resources would normally take this step if there were worries about whether an elderly person could take care of finances or if financial abuse was a possibility. 

“We have since closed out files on the matter,” Feaga told the Huntsville Times.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to