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More Harper Lee puzzles: another lost book and an investigation closed

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Rob Carr/AP

(Read caption) 'To Kill A Mockingbird' author Harper Lee appears at a ceremony honoring the four new members of the Alabama Academy of Honor, at the state Capitol in Montgomery, Ala. in 2007.

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As the state of Alabama conducted an investigation into the release of a new novel by “To Kill a Mockingbird” author Harper Lee, news of another project by the writer has come to light. 

According to The New Yorker, Lee was acquainted with a lawyer named Tom Radney with a legal practice based in Alexander City, Ala. Radney had a client named Reverend Willie Maxwell, whose wife, brother, second wife, nephew, and stepdaughter were all found dead at different times in the 1970s. Radney represented Maxwell as each of these deaths was investigated. Finally, an uncle of Maxwell’s stepdaughter killed Maxwell. He too was represented by Radney. 

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Radney convinced Lee to write a book about the bizarre cases and gave her all the information he had on them. For her part, Lee conducted various interviews and chose a possible title for the book: “The Reverend.” She even sent what appears to be a chapter from the book to Radney.

As the literary world knows, no such book ever appeared. But after Lee went to Alexander City, Ala., where Radney lived to conduct research, she wrote a letter to a family in the city thanking them for letting her stay with them. “If I fall flat on my face with this book, I won’t be terribly disappointed because of knowing that the time I spent with you was not time lost, but friends gained,” part of the letter read. A woman named Sheralyn Belyeu recently found this letter – dated 1978 – and contacted Lee’s sister, Alice, who often took care of Lee’s business. Alice Lee wrote Belyeu a letter in June, 2009, saying that Lee “had collected quite a mass of material” but had “never actually prepared anything for publication.”

Now, the Radney family wants the material Lee had back. They told The New Yorker that when they heard earlier this year that the manuscript of Lee's unpublished work "Go Set a Watchman" had been found in a “secure location” they hoped Radney's papers and case notes might be there as well. But Lee’s lawyer Tonja Carter told the family Lee doesn't remember anything about Radney or the case in which he was involved. “Miss Lee does not have your grandfather’s files,” Carter wrote in a letter to Radney’s granddaughter Madolyn Price.

It’s another strange story in the recent events surrounding Lee. According to the Alabama newspaper the Huntsville Times, the Alabama Securities Commission recently closed an investigation about the author. A lawyer with the securities commission, Steve Feaga, told the Huntsville Times that they were asked to go speak with Lee by the Alabama Department of Human Resources. As noted by Huntsville Times writer John Archibald, the Department of Human Resources would normally take this step if there were worries about whether an elderly person could take care of finances or if financial abuse was a possibility. 

“We have since closed out files on the matter,” Feaga told the Huntsville Times.