A Long, Lost Article By Harper Lee Has Been Discovered
Biographer Charles J. Shields has discovered a new Harper Lee article. Titled "Dewey Had Important Part in Solving Brutal Murders," the piece regards the infamous Clutter family murders, which Lee's friend, Truman Capote, covered in his 1966 bestseller, In Cold Blood . The article appeared unattributed in the March 1960 issue of Grapevine, an FBI trade magazine.
That year, Capote was sent to Kansas on assignment to cover the quadruple homicide for The New Yorker. Lee accompanied him, but her contributions to In Cold Blood are reduced; Capote's masterful work of non-fiction "decrib[es] her as his 'research assistant.'"
Research assistant or not, Lee's Grapevine article doesn't shirk away from recounting the gory details of the Clutter family murders, nor does it fail to tug at the heartstrings as it recounts the difficulties detective Alvin Dewey had during the investigation, describing victim Herbert Clutter as his "close personal friend."
Shields uncovered the lost Lee article by accident. While revising his 2006 biography, Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee , he stumbled across a February 1960 Garden City Telegram column by the author's friend, Dolores Hope, who gushed:
The story of the work of the FBI in general and [Kansas Bureau of Investigation] Agent Al Dewey in particular on the Clutter murders will appear in Grapevine, the FBI’s publication.
Nelle Harper Lee, young writer who came to Garden City with Truman Capote to gather material for a New Yorker magazine article on the Clutter case, wrote the piece. Miss Harper’s first novel is due for publication … this spring and advance reports say it is bound to be a success.
Lead in hand, Shields contacted Grapevine in Washington, where someone told him that "there’s been a rumour [sic] in the office for years that Harper Lee submitted something, but we don’t see anything with her byline." He asked them to check their February and March issues for 1960, and Grapevine presently uncovered Lee's "very well-written feature story about the Clutter case."
Although the story doesn't carry Lee's name with it, Shields is convinced of its authorship. Not only does Hope's column point directly to Lee as the author, but there's also the not-insignificant fact that the Grapevine article includes "details [of the case] to which only she and Capote were privy."
Grapevine plans to reprint "Dewey Had Important Part in Solving Brutal Murders" in its next issue, with an introduction from Shields, who says that Lee's lack of a byline was a friendly endeavor to avoid "crowd[ing] her friend Truman." Shelds will also include his new research in the April 26 re-release of his biography, Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee: From Scout to Go Set a Watchman .