In Chapter 1 of Harper Lee's novel, Scout describes Boo Radley initially as a "malevolent phantom" because he is credited with acts of vandalism committed in the night. Superstitions about him exist; he has a mysterious history that leads to his reclusive life.
Here are some details:
- Jem and Scout have never seen him. They hear the "neighborhood legend" that Boo once ran around with the Cunninghams from Old Sarum, "the nearest thing to a gang" Macomb has ever had.
- One night this group were loud and chaotic around the town square; after their arrests, the judge charged them with disorderly conduct, disturbing the peace, assault, and other minor offenses.
- They were sentenced to the state industrial school, but Mr. Radley felt that such a sentence was a disgrace. So, after pledging that his son would be no more trouble, the father was allowed to take Boo home "Mr. Radley's boy was not seen again for fifteen years."
- According to Miss Stephanie Crawford, the neighborhood gossip, when Boo was thirty-three years old, he stabbed his father in the leg as the man passed by him while he was cutting out articles for his scrapbook. Calmly, Boo wiped the scissors on his pants and continued his activity. When Mr. Radley ran screaming into the street, the sheriff came, only to find Boo calmly cutting The Maycomb Tribune. Nevertheless, the sheriff locked Boo in the courthouse basement, away from the men in the jail, where he remained for some time.
- Finally, some men in the community told Mr. Radley that Boo would die from the mold in that basement. So, somehow Mr. Radley secured Boo's release. After Boo finally returned home, he became "a ghost"; he was not seen or heard from.
- When Mr. Radley died, his son Nathan came from Pensacola and took his place. The house remains one that no one goes near.
- Miss Stephanie claims that Boo comes out at night and peers into windows and performs other clandestine activities.
- According to what Jem has heard, rumor has it that Boo is six-and-a-half feet tall, he eats raw squirrels and cats. His hands are bloodstained and his teeth are yellow and rotten-looking; furthermore, his eyes are popped, and he drools constantly.