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Thu Jul 25, 2019, 01:26 PM

"Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee" by Casey Cep

Reverend Willie Maxwell was a rural preacher accused of murdering five of his family members for insurance money in the 1970s. With the help of a savvy lawyer, he escaped justice for years until a relative shot him dead at the funeral of his last victim. Despite hundreds of witnesses, Maxwell’s murderer was acquitted–thanks to the same attorney who had previously defended the Reverend.

Sitting in the audience during the vigilante’s trial was Harper Lee, who had traveled from New York City to her native Alabama with the idea of writing her own In Cold Blood, the true-crime classic she had helped her friend Truman Capote research seventeen years earlier. Lee spent a year in town reporting, and many more working on her own version of the case.

Now Casey Cep brings this story to life, from the shocking murders to the courtroom drama to the racial politics of the Deep South. At the same time, she offers a deeply moving portrait of one of the country’s most beloved writers and her struggle with fame, success, and the mystery of artistic creativity.


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Reply "Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee" by Casey Cep (Original post)
left-of-center2012 Jul 2019 OP
marble falls Jul 2019 #1

Response to left-of-center2012 (Original post)

Thu Jul 25, 2019, 03:34 PM

1. If the book is as good as the story is quirky, its going to be a great book.


From 2016

Harper Lee’s Abandoned True-Crime Novel

By Casey Cep

March 17, 2015

In 1978, Lee travelled to Alexander City, Alabama, to research a murder trial that she planned to turn into a book. The family of a lawyer involved in the case still hopes that a manuscript might materialize.
Photograph by Donald Uhrbrock / Time Life Pictures / Getty

The telephone rang at two-thirty in the morning. Clients often called Tom Radney’s home, so the lawyer knew right away why Reverend Willie Maxwell was on the phone at that hour. This was the first time, but it would not be the only time that the Alabama preacher called Radney after being accused of murder.

Maxwell’s wife had been found beaten to death in her car. Two years later, his brother’s dead body was found on the side of a local highway. Then his second wife was found dead in her car. Four years passed, then his twenty-three-year-old nephew was found dead in his car. Finally, on June 11, 1977, seven years after that late-night phone call, a fifth relative, Maxwell’s step-daughter, was found dead under one of the front wheels of his car. His family was prone to automobile accidents, and the reverend was partial to taking out mail-order insurance policies in their names.

One by one, Tom Radney represented the self-ordained preacher as those deaths were investigated. The young lawyer ignored what some folks around Tallapoosa County whispered about his client having a secret “voodoo room,” and he paid no mind when others started calling his law office in Alexander City the Maxwell House. But before the final case closed, as the death of Maxwell’s step-daughter was still being investigated, the girl’s uncle fatally shot Maxwell in the head. Radney would represent the uncle, too, arguing that he was insane when he killed Maxwell in front of hundreds of witnesses at the girl’s funeral.

Tom Radney knew that the six murders, the two clients, and all their trials were the caseload of a lifetime, and less than a year after Maxwell’s death he convinced one of the most famous writers in America to write about them. Harper Lee moved to Alexander City to research the book, which she tentatively titled “The Reverend.” She had read about Maxwell in the newspaper, but it appears that Radney’s eagerness is what kept her on the case: he gave Lee all his files, and she evidently spent months interviewing everyone who knew anything about Maxwell.

Many gave up on Harper Lee ever publishing again, but the Radney family never did. Though Tom Radney died in 2011, his wife, children, and grandchildren continue to believe that “The Reverend” might appear. For almost forty years, they’ve been waiting for the nonfiction novel—perhaps something like “In Cold Blood,” the book Lee helped her friend Truman Capote write about the Clutter murders in Kansas. Last month, when HarperCollins announced that Lee would finally publish another book, the Radneys thought it might well be this one. It wasn’t, but they haven’t given up.


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