John Wallace Murder In Coweta County, The murder in Coweta County was an April 1948 act of murder committed in Coweta County in the U.S. state of Georgia and involving the sheriff of neighboring Meriwether County. The events were the subject of two acclaimed works, both titled Murder in Coweta County: a 1976 book by Margaret Anne Barnes and a 1983 television movie on CBS starring Johnny Cash and Andy Griffith.
John Wallace was a wealthy landowner in Meriwether County, Georgia, with virtually unlimited power in the county, including having the sheriff, Hardy Collier, under his control. Wilson Turner, a sharecropper tenant, attempted to do extra bootlegging work without Wallace’s permission and was fired by Wallace. Turner retaliated by stealing two cows for compensation that Turner felt Wallace owed.
Turner was found and arrested in Carrollton, Georgia by Chief of Police Threadgill but was transferred from the Carrollton Jail to the Meriwether County jail in Greenville, Wallace arranged for the sheriff to release Turner. John Wallace and three other men were waiting outside the jail. Turner, already realizing that his release was a conspiracy, attempted to escape in his truck, with Wallace and his group in pursuit, two men each in two cars.
Turner’s truck, drained of its fuel earlier, ran out of gas just past the county line at the Sunset Tourist camp in Moreland, Coweta County, Georgia. Multiple witnesses reported seeing Wallace pistol-whip Turner so hard that the gun discharged, then Turner going limp and being put in one of the cars. The group then returned to Meriwether County, where Turner’s body was first hidden on Wallace’s property, then burned in a pit, the ashes and bone fragments scattered in a nearby stream. Wallace forced two black field workers, Albert Brooks and Robert Lee Gates, to assist him in destroying the victim’s body.
Because the act of murder, as witnesses testified, took place in Coweta County, the crime was under the jurisdiction of the Coweta County sheriff, Lamar Potts. Potts and his deputies searched for days and then an informant told them of Wallace burning the body and revealed the names of Brooks and Gates. Potts persuaded the two men to take him to the burn site. There were bone fragments found that the crime lab identified as human. Brooks and Gates also took the sheriff to the well where Turner’s body had originally been deposited. Ruptured brain tissue was found that was also identified as coming from a human being.
Wallace’s trial received wide press coverage in the rural community. It was reported that Wallace’s eccentric testimony led to his conviction. After several appeals, John Wallace was executed in the electric chair in 1950. His case was unusual because he was one of the richest men to ever be given the death penalty and his case was the first in Georgia where a white man was given the death sentence upon the testimony of two black men. Mayhayley Lancaster, a feared and respected local fortune-teller, also testified against Wallace.