As It Happens

Harper Lee magazine article on 'In Cold Blood' murders uncovered

A Harper Lee biographer has unearthed another previously-unknown work of the late author: a true crime article about the same murders detailed in Truman Capote's book 'In Cold Blood.'
Blurb provides proof that Harper Lee wrote a piece for "Grapevine" magazine on the infamous Clutter murders featured in Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood." (Charles J. Shields)

When Go Set A Watchmen was unearthed, the literary world was thrilled. Many were eager to read the novel by Harper Lee, who, prior to Watchmen's release in 2015, had only published one other book, To Kill A Mockingbird.

Now, Lee's biographer Charles J. Shields, has uncovered another previously-unknown work by the late writer: a magazine article about the Clutter murders — the quadruple homicide that inspired her friend Truman Capote's In Cold Blood.   


Charles J. Shields, Harper Lee biographer. (Charles J. Shields)

"When I first did the research on my 2006 biography of Harper Lee, I didn't find this mention of an article by her that was submitted to the FBI magazine the Grapevine," Shields tells As It Happens host Carol Off. "I looked high and low in those years, but I didn't see any clue that she had written anything like that."

But last year, while working on a revision, Shields says he retraced his steps and discovered a reference to the article on an online database for the Garden City Telegram.

"I missed it ten years ago," Shields admits, adding that a Russian Truman Capote specialist recently told him Lee's article is also referenced in Gerald Clarke's edited collection of Capote's letters.

Harper Lee's feature article on the Clutter quadruple homicide. (Grapevine/Charles J. Shields)

"He sends a letter to Alan Dewey, the detective on the case, and adds a postscript, 'So glad the Grapevine article worked out well,'" Shields explains. "You know, I read that ten years ago and I didn't know what the heck he was referring to, so finally I ran it down."

Grapevine magazine was read by police and Shields says it's clear Lee knew her audience.

"It's her purpose in the article to make a kind of Gary Cooper in High Noon out of the lead detective, Alvin Dewey," Shields argues. "The reason for this is that Lee and Capote needed access to him for inside information on the Clutter murders."
American writer Truman Capote in Milan negotiating a contract for his non-fiction novel 'In Cold Blood.' ( Keystone/Getty Images)
The book rightfully should have been called 'In Cold Blood' by Truman Capote with Harper Lee.- Charles J. Shields, Harper Lee biographer
According to Shields, the article confirms that Lee was instrumental in persuading Dewey to provide Capote with the necessary access and intimate details required to write In Cold Blood.

Pulitzer Prize winner and "To Kill A Mockingbird" author Harper Lee smiles before receiving the 2007 Presidential Medal of Freedom. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

"This article, on the one hand, curries favour with Alvin Dewey. Secondly it stakes out a kind of claim for Lee and Capote that this is their project," Shields explains. "The book rightfully should have been called In Cold Blood by Truman Capote with Harper Lee."

Shields says Capote "craved attention" and ultimately downplayed Lee's contribution. His latest revision of Lee's biography includes a summary of the article and pays back some of that outstanding credit.

"Harper Lee was a good journalist. She could have gone right into feature writing had she chosen."

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