Category Archives: –JEFFERSON COUNTY GA–

General Store, Jefferson County

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Anjette Lyles, Georgia’s Most Infamous Female Serial Killer

Though largely forgotten today, the story of Anjette Lyles and her morbid crime spree was one of the most sensational in 20th-century Georgia. Lyles was born Anjette Donovan in 1925, to a relatively prosperous family. She married Ben Lyles in 1947 and soon after the birth of the couple’s first daughter, Marcia, went to work in the Lyles family’s popular downtown Macon restaurant with Ben’s mother, Julia. Ben, a veteran of World War II, apparently had a drinking and gambling problem and sold the restaurant far below market value in 1951 to pay off a gambling debt. Anjette, who had recently given birth to the couple’s second daughter, Carla, was furious that Ben hadn’t consulted her before the sale. Ben suddenly fell ill in December 1951. Doctors at the Veterans Administration ran a battery of tests but were unable to determine the cause of his sickness. He never recovered and died on 25 January 1952. After his death, Anjette moved in with her parents while learning the ins-and-outs of the restaurant business and saving money. She bought back the Lyles Restaurant in 1955 and renamed it “Anjette’s”. It quickly became one of Macon’s most popular eateries. She hired her mother-in-law, Julia, to help bring back some of the old Lyles customers.

In July 1955, Anjette went on a vacation with one of the restaurants new regulars, pilot Joe Neal [Buddy] Gabbert and upon their return to Macon, many were shocked to learn that they had been married on the trip. Rumors began to circulate almost immediately, as Buddy was gone most of the time. It didn’t help that Anjette was a big flirt and was known to dabble in “black magic”. Restaurant staff reported that she had been seen whispering to black candles when she thought no one was around. In October 1955, Buddy went to the hospital for a minor operation on his wrist. When he returned home to convalesce, he developed a fever and a rash which spread over his body. Doctors were at a loss as to explain the origin of the rash and after his condition continued to deteriorate, he died on 2 December 1955. Shortly after Buddy’s death, Anjette changed her name back to Lyles and bought a house and new car with the insurance settlement. This raised eyebrows in Macon. Julia Lyles moved in with Anjette to be with her grandchildren but the women did not get along well. Anjette wanted Julia to make a will but Julia refused. In 1957, Julia became ill and was hospitalized, dying on 29 September 1957.

In March 1958, Marcia became violently sick at the restaurant and people in Macon began to be suspicious about Anjette. Marcia remained hospitalized with hallucinations and failing kidneys. She died on 4 April 1958. A coroner’s inquest initially found no indication of foul play but an anonymous letter from a restaurant employee suggested that Anjette had kept ant poison on hand and perhaps this should be investigated. The ant poison contained arsenic and this led the coroner to order the exhumation of the prior victims, who all showed signs of arsenic poisoning. A month after Marcia’s death, while Anjette was in the hospital for varicose veins, she was arrested and charged with the murders of both her husbands, her mother-in-law, and Marcia. Her trial in October 1958 was a media frenzy. She was found guilty and sentenced to death but Governor Ernest Vandiver, unwilling to be responsible for executing a white woman, had her declared insane and placed in Central State Hospital in Milledgeville, where she died in 1977.

Ironically, she was buried alongside Marcia and Ben, in the Donovan family plot at Coleman’s Chapel United Methodist Church cemetery near Wadley.

Jaclyn Weldon White’s Whisper to the Black Candle is the most comprehensive book on the subject to date.

 

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Vernacular Tenant House, Jefferson County

This is a “marriage” of two vernacular styles. The left section looks to have been a central hallway house while the right section was a saddlebag.

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Saddlebag House, Jefferson County

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Bryant’s Gin & Warehouses, Bartow

Still going strong after a century, Bryant’s Gin was running full steam when I stopped in Bartow recently. Cotton remains one of Georgia’s most important crops.

The present gin in Bartow dates to the 1950s, replacing an earlier facility.


A number of related buildings also remain on the property, which is bisected by the Central of Georgia railroad tracks.

Several old warehouses remain.

Bartow Historic District, National Register of Historic Places

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Filling Station, Bartow

Bartow Historic District, National Register of Historic Places

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John McGahee Tenant House, 1870s, Jefferson County

Located in the vicinity of Wrens is this spectacular survivor, a tenant house that can be dated to at least 1879, with its original kitchen still intact. This description and identification was shared with me: an unpainted lap siding house…on the edge of a red clay embankment and very close to the right of way. It is what I would call a salt box style house with a similarly constructed detached kitchen structure close behind it. There is a front porch which is right on the edge of the embankment. The house looks like it has never had window sash and what may be original plain board shutters can be seen on the north side of the main house. The house has a tall look to it and the eave line at the front is higher than on the back side. The front faces west and there are no windows on the front, only the door. Using the 1879 Jefferson County map by L.F. Adkins…the saltbox house [is] shown on the Adkins map as occupied by John McGahee who is listed on the 1860 census of Jefferson County, Div. Pope Hill, age 21, occupation tenant, birthplace Georgia, wife Frances A. age 18, one child John E. age 1…

 

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