Published Saturday, January 03, 2009
The Newnan Times-Herald
Dot Moore knows John Wallace has a story, but she is trying to figure out if his story is enough for a book.
Moore, a retired educator turned writer who penned an acclaimed book about soothsayer Mayhayley Lancaster, has been poking into the story of convicted killer John Wallace for several years. A recent trip took her to Emory University's main library, where she sorted through boxes left to Emory by Margaret Anne Barnes.
Barnes, a former writer for The Times-Herald, wrote a best-selling book, "Murder In Coweta County," which was published in 1976 and made into a television film in 1983. Barnes' book told the true story of Wallace's killing of his farmhand, William Turner, and the trial -- held in the historic 1904 Coweta County Courthouse -- that sentenced Wallace to die. Lancaster, an eccentric fortuneteller from Heard County, testified against Wallace in the trial.
Moore wrote "Oracle of the Ages," published in 2001, which recounted Lancaster's story. Moore has been collecting information on Wallace since "Oracle" hit the bookstore shelves.
In the summer of 2007, she visited Newnan -- examining Wallace-related items belonging to local businessman Joe Crain. Crain owns the cell in which Wallace was held, the grappling hooks used to search for remains on his south Meriwether County farm and a witness chair that was in the courtroom when Wallace was convicted.
Records show Wallace died in the electric chair in 1950, although local legend maintains a mysterious Christmas card signed "John Wallace" was sent to the Coweta County Courthouse for several years afterward.
Wallace was a successful dairy farmer, with a spread near Durand. He also made and sold moonshine. Before he stood trial in Newnan in 1948, Wallace had already served two terms in the state penitentiary for bootlegging.
Moore searched and searched for Wallace in 1930 census records, but had no luck in Meriwether or nearby counties. Finally, on a whim, she checked the Fulton County census and found Wallace and his uncle, Mozart Strickland, as cellmates at the federal penitentiary in Atlanta.
Moore said she has been told that Wallace had whiskey transported to Newnan -- in prohibition days -- for transport by train to Chicago.
Moore found some clue to Wallace's mixture of gentility and violence in his childhood. His father, who came from a farm family in Alabama, died when Wallace was 7 years old. The farm was lost, and Wallace's mother, Myrt, temporarily lost custody of her son.
All along, Moore felt that Barnes might have some clues to Wallace's personality. The two authors did meet, and both served on a panel, along with local author John Hickman, when Erskine Caldwell's 100th birthday was celebrated in Moreland in 2003.
When Barnes died on Oct. 11, 2007, she left her papers to Emory. After a few months, Moore made the trek from Montgomery -- she also has a log cabin in her native Heard County -- to Emory and the Barnes' files.
There were some gems in the Barnes material. One box contained information Barnes obtained in interviews with Albert Brooks, a Wallace farm worker who moved to Coweta County after Turner's murder; Merle Hannah, a Moreland woman who witnessed Wallace assaulting Turner at a restaurant near Moreland; and Walt Sanders, a prominent Newnan attorney.
Numerous photographs of Wallace -- dating from the time of the trial -- were also in that box. Moore examined notebooks Barnes kept while researching "Murder" and copied clippings from newspapers, magazines and books that shed light on the Wallace case.