In Brief

Harper Lee article on the 'In Cold Blood' murders found in FBI magazine

Unsigned piece discusses notorious Clutter killings at the heart of Truman Capote's famous book

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A forgotten Harper Lee article, published months before To Kill a Mockingbird, has been discovered by her biographer.

The unsigned piece, written about the Kansas quadruple murder that inspired Truman Capote's novel In Cold Blood, was published in FBI magazine The Grapevine in March 1960.

Herbert and Bonnie Clutter and their teenage children, Nancy and Kenyon, were brutally killed at their farmhouse in 1959.

In the article, Lee wrote of "the most extraordinary murder case in the history of the state", reporting that the victims had been "bound hand and foot, and shot at close range".

She focused on the FBI investigation, specifically the work of detective Alan Dewey, who was a close personal friend of the murdered family.

"The clues Dewey and his colleagues worked on in the beginning were meagre [sic]. The killers took with them the gun and shells used to murder the family; adhesive tape used to gag three of the victims could have been bought anywhere," she wrote. "However, in the basement furnace room where Clutter's body was found, investigators discovered a clear footprint etched in blood."

Lee accompanied Capote, a childhood friend, to Kansas while he gathered material on the murder for the New Yorker magazine, although he later downplayed her contribution, describing her as his "research assistant", says The Guardian.

Writer Charles Shields found the article while revising his 2006 biography of the author. He told the Guardian he was "looking for any clues" he might have previously missed when he came across a column by Dolores Hope, who he already knew was a friend of Lee, while searching through old Kansas newspapers.

The article said: "The story of the work of the FBI in general and KBI Agent Al Dewey in particular on the Clutter murders will appear in Grapevine, the FBI's publication.

"Nelle Harper Lee, [a] 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."

That, as it turned out, was something of an understatement.

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