PHILADELPHIA – The woman who found the manuscript of Pearl S. Buck's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel "The Good Earth" among her deceased parents' belongings said she is certain her mother did not steal the document for personal gain.
Susan Dempster, 59, was following the scent of a dead rodent when she found the manuscript in her cluttered basement about a month ago.
When the FBI announced the recovery of the manuscript, officials said a daughter of one of the author's former secretaries tried to put it up for auction. Many people quickly figured out that the unidentified daughter was Dempster; her mother, Helen Shaddinger, who died in 1995, was Buck's secretary for 25 years.
"My mother is not a thief," Dempster told people.
The 400 pages were found in excellent condition in a suitcase. Dempster took the papers to a Philadelphia auction house, which contacted authorities after discovering that Buck had reported them stolen four decades earlier.
U.S. Attorney Patrick Meehan said no charges would be filed.
The 1931 novel on life in rural China won the Pulitzer Prize in 1932 and helped earn Buck the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1938.
The original typed manuscript, complete with Buck's handwritten edits, went missing from her family farm around 1966.
Some who remember Shaddinger believe she might have been trying to guard her employer's valuable documents from Theodore F. Harris, a dance instructor who met the widowed writer in 1963 and quickly became the center of her life.
By the time Buck died in 1973, she had signed over her fortune to Harris, disinherited her children and left longtime employees without pensions or severance.
Shaddinger had expressed suspicions about Harris and might have taken it upon herself to safeguard the manuscript, said Edgar S. Walsh, Buck's son and administrator of her estate.
"She may have said to herself, 'Someone has to protect this manuscript,' and never got around to mentioning to anybody that she took it," Walsh said.
Federal authorities said the manuscript could be worth at least $150,000, but officials at the auction house said there is no way to know the actual value.
Dempster said she has no other belongings of Buck's.
"If they want to search my house, fine," she told The Philadelphia Inquirer.