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Why Harper Lee Never Finished Writing Her True-Crime Book

What lessons can the now-deceased Harper Lee teach a modern-day investigative journalist? Writer Casey Cep retraced Lee’s footsteps to a small town in Alabama to find out. She reopened a 1970s murder case that Lee had once obsessively followed: a rural preacher named Reverend Willie Maxwell who was accused of killing five of his family members for insurance money.

Cep implanted herself in Coosa County and set out to retrace Maxwell’s trial. Like Lee, Cep interviewed townspeople about the case, but she also sought out anecdotes about Harper Lee herself.

Image of author Casey Cep.
Credit Kathryn Shulz
Casey Cep is an investigative journalist and the author of "Furious Hours".

Who was the brilliant and private woman behind“To Kill A Mockingbird,” and what were her personal politics and literary ideals?

Host Frank Stasio talks with Casey Cep about her book “Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and The Last Trial of Harper Lee” (Knopf/ 2019) which contextualizes Maxwell’s trial with modern sensibilities and brings to light new information about Harper Lee and her miserable perfectionism.

Note: This program originally aired August 14, 2019.

Grant Holub-Moorman coordinates events and North Carolina outreach for WUNC, including a monthly trivia night. He is a founding member of Embodied and a former producer for The State of Things.
Longtime NPR correspondent Frank Stasio was named permanent host of The State of Things in June 2006. A native of Buffalo, Frank has been in radio since the age of 19. He began his public radio career at WOI in Ames, Iowa, where he was a magazine show anchor and the station's News Director.