Georgia Center for the Book

Margaret Anne Barnes

Georgia Connections

  • Newnan, Coweta County

Notes of Interest

Margaret Anne Barnes wrote three nonfiction books and is best known for her first, "Murder in Coweta County" (1976). A true story of a brutal 1948 murder and the sheriff who solved the crime in her native Coweta County, the best-selling book was made into a popular 1983 television movie that starred Johnny Cash and Andy Griffith. A woman with a quiet Southern demeanor, she faced death threats yet wrote eagerly about murder, prostitution, brutality and deception in the region she loved.

Margaret Anne Barnes was born July 24, 1927, in Newnan. She attended Georgia College and studied journalism at the University of Georgia. She lived on a Virginia farm for a time and was employed as a reporter for the Newnan Times-Herald. "Murder in Coweta County" resulted from her interest in the bloody murder of a poor tenant farmer by a powerful local figure, John Wallace, so unmindful of the law that he committed the crime openly in front of other farmers. The courageous Coweta Sheriff, Lamar Potts, pursued the case in spite of threats, and at the trial, for the first time in Georgia history, a white man was convicted on the testimony of blacks, the original witnesses to the crime. Her book received an Edgar Allan Poe Special Award for an outstanding fact-crime study from the Mystery Writers of America, and a newspaper critic called it, "One of the best crime trial recreations ever written." The book has been used in a number of sociology and criminal law courses at schools throughout the United States.

She wrote two other books: "A Buzzard is My Best Friend" (1981), much of which took place in Virginia, and which won her a Georgia Author of the Year Award, and "The Tragedy and the Triumph of Phenix City, Alabama" (1998) which examined a true story of unchecked corruption and crime in the city across the state line from Columbus. She died October 11, 2007. Newspaper obituaries quoted her son as saying that his mother "had a real appreciation for Southern justice," which is what led her to write about Coweta and Phenix City. He said that in the process of writing her books, she was threatened, and one late-night caller warned he would "dump her body in the Chattahoochee River." A friend said of her, "She was as Southern as could be, but when she had to be tough, she was."

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