New Yorker:

Harper Lee's Abandoned True Crime Novel

The Reverend Willie Maxwell was on the phone. 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.
The rest at the links.


Whatever happened to Harper Lee's true-crime novel based on Alabama murders?
Harper Lee, famed author of To Kill a Mockingbird, spent time in rural Alabama in
the late 1970s doing research for a book based on the tale of a possible serial killer

Pulitzer prize-winning novelist Harper Lee politely knocked on truck driver Robert Louis Burns’s door in rural Alabama one day more than three decades ago and asked him about the preacher he killed.

The plainly dressed writer wanted to meet the man who had stood up in a crowded Alexander City funeral home in 1977 and put a bullet in the brain of a preacher who was rumored to have dabbled in voodoo and suspected in a string of deaths in this riverside county.

“She came up out of the blue. She said, I’m Harper Lee; she said, I’m interested in writing this book about the reverend,” Burns, now 74, recalled.