Harper Lee’s article for FBI magazine on infamous killings find

Biographer of To Kill a Mockingbird author finds unsigned piece on quadruple slaying at centre of Truman Capotes In Cold Blood

The discovery of an earlier manuscript from the US novelist Harper Lee was the publishing sensation of last year but now her biographer, Charles J Shields, believes “hes having” found another previously unknown Lee text a feature article about a notorious real-life quadruple murder.

The piece was written for the March 1960 issue of the Grapevine, a publication for FBI professionals, merely months before she was to publish her classic novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. It was unsigned, but Shieldss detective work uncovered proof which appears to confirm its true authorship.

The article was about the gruesome slaying of Herb and Bonnie Clutter, and their teenage infants Nancy and Kenyon at their farmhouse in Kansas. Lee accompanied her childhood friend Truman Capote on his assignment for the New Yorker, reporting on how the community was reacting to the brutal murders.

Harper Lees feature article about a notorious real-life quadruple slaying of the Clutter family in Kansas, published in the March 1960 issue of the Grapevine Photograph: The Grapevine

Their interviews included detective Alvin Dewey of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation and they later returned for the trial of the killers. Capote would later use the material in his non-fiction account, In Cold Blood, downplaying Lees contribution in describing her as his research assistant. The events, in turn, were depicted in two films, Capote and Infamous.

In her article, Lee wrote of the most extraordinary slaying suit in the history of the state. She reported that the murder victims prominent Methodists and leaders in community activities had been bind hand and foot and shot at close range Clutters throat had been cut.

She continued: Deweys role was doubly hard; the late Herbert Clutter was a close personal friend The clues Dewey and his colleagues worked on in the beginning were meagre[ sic ]. The murderers took with them the gun and shells used to slaying the family; adhesive tape used to gag three of the victims could have been bought anywhere However, in the cellar furnace room where Clutters body was received, researchers detected a clear footprint etched in blood.

Harper Lee died last February aged 89. Photograph: Lee Celano/ WireImage

She reported that two men later confessed to the murders and that their activities netted them between $40 and $50 in cash.

Shields observed the article while revising his 2006 bestselling biography, Mockingbird: a Portrait of Harper Lee. He told the Guardian that he was looking for any clues he might have previously overlooked. He began poring over Kansas newspapers and, in the Garden City Telegram, began reading a column by Dolores Hope, who I already knew was a friend of Harper Lee, he said.

Hopes folksy columns were never very newsy, but he was astonished by an extraordinary couple of paragraph alerting readers to a forthcoming article.

Hope wrote: The narrative of the work of the FBI in general and KBI Agent Al Dewey in particular on the Clutter murders will appear in Grapevine, the FBIs publication.

Nelle Harper Lee, young writer who came to Garden City with Truman Capote to gather material for a New Yorker publication article on the Clutter case, wrote the piece. Miss Harpers first novel is due for publication this spring and advance reports say it is bound to be a success.

How right she was. Lee became one of Americas most revered writers. To Kill a Mockingbird a narrative of race relations and legal injustice established in the American south in the 1930 s has been described as one of the great bestselling fictions of the 20 th century. In 1962, it inspired the Oscar-winning film starring Gregory Peck as lawyer Atticus Finch. When Lee was asked why she did not write another novel, she replied: I have said what I wanted to say, and I will not say it again. Go Defined a Watchman, which features characters from Mockingbird about 20 years later was published last year to mixed reviews. Lee died in February aged 89.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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