The Newnan Times-Herald

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“Murder in Coweta” still draws a crowd


  • By The Newnan Times-Herald
  • |
  • Jul. 16, 2018 - 7:03 AM

“Murder in Coweta” still draws a crowd

NTH file photo

Dick Atkins, right, producer of "Murder in Coweta County," listens to Carol Chancey along with Gary Nelson, director of the movie, during a 2015 visit to the Hometown Heritage Museum in Moreland. Atkins will be back in Coweta for events this week.

In the summer of 1948, crowds came to Newnan to attend the trial of Meriwether County landowner John Wallace, who was accused for murdering his farmhand, William Turner.

Seventy years later, the story still fascinates people.

 Events this week marking the 70th anniversary of the crime and trial are filled to near capacity. Dick Atkins, the producer of the 1983 television movie, “Murder in Coweta County,” is expected to arrive in Newnan on Monday.

The film will be screened in the upper floor of the Newnan Carnegie Library on Tuesday and on Thursday at 6 p.m. The Thursday showing was added after Tuesday’s reservation list quickly filled up.

To reserve a spot for the Thursday movie screening, call the Carnegie at 770-683-1347.

Both movie programs will be preceded by a short interview of Atkins by Winston Skinner, news editor at The Newnan Times-Herald. Atkins will talk about making the film and share memories from his visit to the area in the 1980s.

There will also be a panel discussion in the second floor courtroom of the historic Coweta County Courthouse. The Wallace trial, which included testimony from Heard County fortuneteller Mayhayley Lancaster, took place in that courtroom.

The Wednesday panel discussion, which is booked to capacity, will be led by Atkins and Skinner. Panelists are expected to include John William Turner, son of the murdered man; Sam Collier, grand-nephew of Meriwether County Sheriff Hardy Collier and Alice Robertson, daughter of Judge Henry Boykin, who presided over the trial. 

Members of the family of Henry Mobley, one of the accomplices charged with aiding Wallace; Steve Smith, who ran the Sunset Tourist Camp in Moreland, where Wallace attacked William Turner; and one of the black farmhands who testified against Wallace at the trial are also expected to be present.

William Turner and his wife, Julia, lived for a time on Wallace’s Meriwether County farm outside Chipley, now Pine Mountain. Wallace accused Turner of stealing cows from him, and Turner was killed in April 1948 after being chased by Wallace and some friends.

There was a question whether Turner was killed in Coweta or in Meriwether, but officials – including Coweta Sheriff Lamar Potts – proceeded to try Wallace in Coweta. Bone chips found in a stream on Wallace’s farm were identified as Turner’s remains.

Trial testimony showed Wallace directed two farm workers to help him burn Turner’s body.

The courtroom was packed for the trial, with some local boys “renting” and holding seats until they were told to stop. 

Lancaster, who had been consulted by both Wallace and Potts after the murders, added color to the proceedings with her “fortune telling.”

Wallace took the stand and made a statement in his behalf. He was convicted of murder and was executed in the electric chair at the state prison in Reidsville in 1950. He is buried in Pine Mountain.

Margaret Anne Barnes, a former staff member of The Newnan Times and The Newnan Times-Herald, wrote the bestselling book, “Murder in Coweta County.” The book was published in 1976 and won the Edgar Allan Poe Special Award as an outstanding fact-crime study from the Mystery Writers of America.

The story has continued to create interest. In addition to the 1983 television movie, there have been other books. Award-winning Alabama writer Dot Moore wrote “Oracle of the Ages: Reflections on the Curious Life of Fortune Teller Mayhayley Lancaster” and “No Remorse: The Rise and Fall of John Wallace.”

Moore and Ivey Nance, who wrote “From the Farm to the Electric Chair: The John Wallace Story,” both concluded the shooting of Turner likely happened on Wallace’s farm in Meriwether.

More recently, local writer and historian W. Jeff Bishop wrote “Flies at the Well,” a play based on the story. The play was commissioned by the Newnan Theatre Company.