Will new novel help solve one of the state's most tragic mysteries?
This is not a whodunit.
We know from the book jacket that a Charleston tailor met a tragic end and a young black man was wrongly accused, tried and hanged.
But on the fast-flipping pages of "Dead Weight" -- a new novel based on a true story that gripped the Lowcountry almost a century ago -- other mysteries are unearthed.
Who did do it? Who crushed the skull of Max Lubelsky in the "Little Jerusalem" section of King Street? Who would return weeks later to savagely attack his widow?
Author Batt Humphreys offers some speculation, but we don't know for sure today because no one bothered to find out in 1910.
And that peels us back to the real mystery.
Why would we, as a society, grab the black man simply because he was black? Why would we nearly lynch him on the street, then drag him through a sham of justice to wooden gallows and a hanging so botched it became South Carolina's last?
This is not merely an intriguing old tale, yellowed as the pages of the News & Courier that blared its sordid details, often through the eyes of the ambitious prosecutor. Even today, America is bogged down in a media-hyped story of racial profiling in the shadows of old abolitionist Boston.
Humphreys, a former CBS News senior producer, sees to it that no moss clings to the Charleston murder story. He reveals it to be a Shakespearean love story for the accused, an intelligent, hard-working bridegroom-to-be named Daniel Cornelius "Nealy" Duncan. And through a fictitious New York City reporter who falls in with a beautiful woman and a little hustler from the Jenkins Orphanage, the tale strays well beyond court transcripts. It's not every book that includes a torrid cemetery scene, but somehow it fits the flirtatious grande dame we still know and love as Charleston. The scenarios are as true to the Lowcountry as alligators sunning on rice dikes and the clearly defined racial boundaries that survived the Civil War.
Humphreys told me from his 40-acre farm near Moncks Corner that he hopes "Dead Weight" spurs a constructive dialogue about racial issues in South Carolina. He has petitioned the governor and the S.C. Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services to posthumously pardon Nealy Duncan. Earlier this week, an online petition at www.deadweight.us had garnered fewer than a dozen names.
Humphreys believes it's up to the state to do the heavy lifting on the case. It could show how far we've come in a century. Will the record be examined? Will wrongs be corrected? Will we do nothing?
It remains a mystery.