Harper Lee Not Fraud Victim, but Elder Abuse Claim Still Open


After news surfaced last month that the reclusive author of To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee, had agreed to publish another book at the age of 88, many who knew her wondered if the author’s advanced age had limited her ability to make a sound decision. Other friends of Lee disagreed with that assessment, telling the New York Times that the author knows exactly what she is doing. An investigation by Alabama officials has determined that Lee was not the victim of financial fraud and that she does indeed want the book to be published, but an investigation into an anonymous elder abuse complaint by the Alabama Department of Human Services remains open.

Although To Kill a Mockingbird was critically acclaimed, after writing the book in 1960, Lee stood firm in her decision to never release another book. This stance, coupled with what her friends say is Lee’s forgetfulness and age, led them to believe Lee was unable to give informed consent to publish the upcoming book, Go Set a Watchman.

After the abuse complaint was made to the state,  investigators from the Alabama Securities Commission were sent to Monroeville, Ala. to look into the possibility that Lee had been a victim of financial fraud by those she trusted. After visiting with her and with those who interact with her, the investigators determined that no fraud had been committed regarding her decision to publish the new novel.

The director of the Alabama Securities Commission, Joseph Borg, told CNN that investigators clearly determined that Lee had completely understood the questions posed to her and had told them that she wanted to have her book published. Borg added that during the interview, Lee voiced her own opinions. The agency concluded that “she certainly knew what was going on.”

The literary agent for Lee, Andrew Nurnberg, agrees with that finding. In a statement released on Friday by Lee’s publisher, HarperCollins, Nurnberg admitted being “surprised” when he learned of the abuse complaint. He added that Lee was in “full possession of her mental facilities” and described her as “delighted” that Go Set a Watchman would be published this summer.

Go Set a Watchman was written by Lee before she penned the now-classic To Kill a Mockingbird, which is set in the 1930s, but the two novels share some of the same characters. Although Go Set a Watchman was written first, it actually occurs later in time – during the 1950s – when Scout is an adult and is going home to Monroeville to visit her father.

The draft for Go Set a Watchman was discovered by Lee’s lawyer, Tonja B. Carter, in August among some of the author’s other belongings. Carter then arranged the deal between Lee and HarperCollins to publish the novel. Because of the doubts surrounding the discovery and subsequent decision to publish Go Set a Watchman, scholars of Lee remain skeptical, and are concerned that the book will not prove to have the quality of her classic first release.

HarperCollins plans to release Go Set a Watchman in July, and pre-orders of the novel are already in great demand. Should an incident or another complaint come in, Borg said his agency would certainly re-open the case, but for now, “since we had no complaint from the person in the middle of it all,” the case has been closed. The investigation into claims of elder abuse by the Alabama DHS is still open.

By Jennifer Pfalz


Image by Eric Draper courtesy of The White House

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