Totally Bonkers Coincidence

“Nelle [Harper Lee] told me about the time a young Truman took off on an adventure.  It was 1936.  Truman was twelve and Nelle was ten.  A girl named Martha was visiting the Rawls family across the street.  She was from Milton, Florida, and four years old than Truman.  Nelle said she noticed that the girl would sit out on the steps in her bathing costume.  ‘I was jealous,’ Nelle told me, ‘of all the time Truman was spending with Martha––the exotic older woman.’

“Nelle told me to ask Alice about the details of what came next.  I did.

“‘Truman and Martha got it into their heads that they would run away,’ Alice told me.  ‘So they hitchhiked to Evergreen and created a story about why they were traveling by themselves.  The clerk at the hotel realized that something was not right and called back here to have someone retrieve them.  It didn’t create that much attention around here.  It was two little kids up to mischief.  It was no big thing.  The only big thing about it came later when both of ’em became well-known, but not for the same reason.

“‘It turns out that years later she had been corresponding through one of those lonely hearts kind of things in a magazine and that was how she met this husband who ended up being her partner in crime.’

“In an uncanny twist of Nelle’s and Truman’s history, Martha turned out to be a murderer.  She was Martha Beck, who, with her husband, lured and robbed women who had placed personal ads in newspapers.  Posing as brother and sister in the late forties, they befriended the unsuspecting victims before killing them.  Known as the Lonely Hearts Killers, their crimes were sensationalized in the popular detective magazines of the day.

~The Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper Lee by Marja Mills

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