A GEORGIA SHERIFF WHO ALSO WALKED TALL.
- Sheriff Lamar Potts of Coweta County Georgia, south of Atlanta, was
the county's chief law enforcement officer for 32 years. He was
reported to be honest and incorruptible to a fault. He also has two
other distinctions, one that there wasn't a single unsolved capitol
crime during his tenure, and the other being his investigating,
arresting and helping to convict land baron John Wallace for the 1948
murder of an itinerant sharecropper, a case made famous by the book
and movie, "Murder in Coweta County."
The movie, though in my opinion high drama, especially the maniacal
Wallace portrayed in an alarming performance by Andy Griffith, does
little justice to the book which is usually the case. The brooding,
quiet, Sheriff Potts was played by the late Johnny Cash who was also
well cast for the film. As is usually true with me the most poignant
scenes of the film are the opening ones, Wallace (Griffith) going
early on a Sunday morning to check on his moonshine operation, a Colt
45 strapped to his waist in full view and then proceeding to sing in
the choir at the local church, gun immodestly covered by his sport
jacket, and the closing one of him going to the electric chair still
thinking that his friend, the Georgia Governor was going to pardon
John Wallace owned neighboring Merewether County lock, stock and
barrel, including the county Sheriff. It had for 100 years been
nicknamed the "kingdom of Jones" after his great uncle who had once
ruled the county with an iron fist, the twin Colt 45's he always wore
at the ready to enforce what he said and did.
In 1948 John Wallace threw a young sharecropper off of his land and
out of the house he lived in with his pregnant wife, beating him out
of some of his pay. the man, feeling cheated, stole one of Wallace's
cows, both out of necessity and revenge and put it up in neighboring
Carrollton, Georgia, He was arrested there and in an act of which its
legality is still in question, Wallace and his friend the Merewether
Sheriff, came and got him and took him back to Merewether County.
A few days later, he was unexpectedly released without explanation.
As soon as he left the courthouse square he saw that he was being
followed. He began to run in his truck but his pursuers hung in tight
behind him. Not long after he crossed into Coweta County. The
testimony at trial, and the dialogue of the movie, was that Wallace
argued with his friend the sheriff about crossing into Coweta and
that he said that he "didn't give a d*** if it was Lamar Potts
county" he was going to have his revenge.
The young man stopped at a roadside tavern/restaurant type place and
began screaming "Help! Help! They're gonna kill me! John Wallace is
gonna kill me!
Wallace and his friend pulled in soon after, caught the man and
dragged him over to their car and with the man still screaming,
Wallace struck him over the head with the butt of his gun, fracturing
his skull, while yelling at the onlookers, "police business, stay out
of it, don't worry about it, police business."
Though the body was at first hidden in a well, then retrieved and
burned in a huge pit, Coweta County officials were able to gain
enough evidence to prove that he had been murdered in Coweta and not
Merewether and convicted Wallace. Also this is one of the first cases
where the testimony of two black witnesses helped to send a white man
As I stated earlier Wallace remained convinced till his death he
would be freed. The Merewether Sheriff died of heart disease before
he could be tried. Sheriff Lamar Potts retired to relative obscurity
until the book and the movie came out.
Anyone who says that all southern sheriffs were corrupt and
that "that was the way it was then" never met Sheriff Lamar Potts,
and that statement only proves my belief that ignorance can be
arrogance, as well.
A link about this story.