New Scribd Original: The Devil and Harper Lee by Mark Seal


Now available exclusively on Scribd: The Devil and Harper Lee.

In this twisted tale, Vanity Fair’s special correspondent, Mark Seal, retraces legendary novelist Harper Lee’s return home to Alabama almost two decades after the massive success of her Great American Novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. In this new, uniquely American mystery, Seal weaves together the story of a reverend suspected of multiple murders and the legendary author who worked obsessively to uncover the truth — but was never able to publish her findings.

In 1978, Harper Lee was searching for her next book when the perfect story landed in her lap. A call from back home in Alabama lit the match: A reverend had allegedly murdered five of his family members. The reverend was “six-feet-four-inches of majesty and dread,” supposedly with the power to kill without detection. He got rich off their life insurance policies but was never convicted of a crime.

Harper Lee found a story that only she could do justice: a modern Southern Gothic tale of murder, of magic — and race in late 1970s Alabama. She spent approximately a year living in the small, tight-knit Southern town of Alexander City — getting to know its people, asking questions, slowly pulling at threads to unravel a tale stranger than fiction. What followed, as Seal tells it, was a journey down a dark rabbit hole uncovering details of dead wives, black magic, insurance policies, and the charismatic preacher at the center of it all: The Reverend Willie J. Maxwell.

Elegant and handsome, Maxwell was a respected leader in the black community — but rumors swirled. “Preaching on Sunday, killing on Monday,” some liked to say. Yet, despite the unspoken knowledge that Maxwell believed was responsible for multiple suspicious deaths, he seemed untouchable: Police couldn’t seem to catch him because, folks said, his Voodoo powers enabled him to kill without leaving a clear cause of death.

Seal interviewed numerous people for The Devil and Harper Lee, including people who knew the victims and the man who shot Maxwell dead inside a church in 1977, to capture this story — one that she never finished.

Where to find The Devil and Harper Lee?

The Devil and Harper Lee is part of the Scribd Originals program and is available exclusively on Scribd in ebook and audiobook format.