Pike County Times
The Pike County Times, PO Box 843, Zebulon, Georgia 30295. You can donate through PayPal at the link on the bottom of the page. Becky Watts: Phone # 770-468-7583 editor(@)pikecountytimes.com
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Murder in Coweta Shown in the Pike County Courthouse
By Editor Becky Watts

ZEBULON - The J. Joel Edwards Public Library and Friends of the J. Joel Edwards Public Library hosted three screenings of the acclaimed movie, Murder in Coweta County, this past week. The movie is based on a book about a true story that happened in Meriwether and Coweta Counties in the 1940’s. Andy Griffith and Johnny Cash played the main characters in this movie under the direction of the movie’s director, Gary Nelson, and producer, Dick Atkins. Both Gary Nelson and Dick Atkins were present at the screenings on Saturday as well as Johnny Langley (born John William Turner) and his daughter Amy. Langley’s character in the movie was the baby.

The library released a press article that gives this description of the movie: “This film is the account of a true story that occurred in Meriwether and Coweta counties in the 1940s. When ruthless and powerful estate-owner, John Wallace (Andy Griffith), unwittingly follows a man across the Meriwether county-line to deliver a fatal and unjust punishment, Coweta County Sheriff, Lamar Potts (Johnny Cash), is on the case and refuses to let Wallace’s powerful position stop him from seeking out justice.”

The movie was filmed in Pike County in 1982 in the Pike County Courthouse. Chairman of the Pike County Commissioners Briar Johnson and Sheriff Jimmy Thomas were present to give an introduction to both Saturday screenings of the movie. Briar was a deputy for the Pike County Sheriff’s Office when the movie was filmed.

Briar said that he remembered the old cars parked around the square. He walked Cash and Griffith back and forth to the square. He said that he didn’t really understand how big of a deal it was until years later when he knew more about them. Sheriff Thomas spoke kindly about the director and producer saying that they are genuine and one of us (as in people in the community). He and Briar both thanked everyone for coming out to the 9:15 a.m. screening.

The producer and director spoke for a few minutes before the first screening as well. They loved being in Pike County and said that everyone was so nice and helpful.

There were a few seats open in the morning screening in the main upstairs courtroom. About 80 attended the morning screening. The afternoon screening had a few more people in it with about 100 people attending. Tickets were needed to get into the movie and question and answer session in order to ensure that there were enough seats for everyone who attended.

Question and Answer Session

The question and answer session was an interesting look into the movie and how it came to be. The screen writer relied on the book for the movie. At the time, no one knew that Johnny and his Mom were still around. Dick and Gary didn’t talk to anyone in the area about the movie because they didn’t want to be influenced as they filmed the story.

This is a true story so they stayed as close to the truth as possible with the characters because of real life. They were careful with the spirit of the characters and the story because of this. Monticello was used for Meriwether County, and Pike County was used to depict Newnan. Someone said that they had heard Meriwether County didn't want the movie to be filmed there, but Dick and Gary weren't told that outright. They stuck with the book and trial transcript and thought it was better not to stir up any tensions at the time because this is a real story with real people, and family members would still have been around when this was being filmed.

Gary had worked with many people over the years prior to this movie including Andy Griffith, Jim Nabors (Gomer Pyle), and Patty Duke to name just a few. Gary said that it wasn’t easy to get everyone on the same page with filming, but he said that June Cash was marvelous and hardly needed any direction. “She just had an instinct.” He also said that both Johnny and June were the epitome of Christian ethic and even if they didn’t know you, they treated you like you knew them.

Someone asked if it was difficult for Andy to be the bad guy. They agreed that Andy loved being the bad guy. It was pointed out that his first movie was him playing a bad guy. One of the extras from the film was present at the question and answer session and said that Andy was there at the church where they were filming. She said that everyone was just amazed at Andy because he didn’t talk to anyone and just walked back and forth down the road outside of the church.

Johnny Cash was an interesting part of this movie. Apparently his work ethic and Andy Griffith’s work ethic were very different. It was said that it was fortunate the Andy and Johnny didn’t have many scenes together because they had very different personalities. CBS had some concerns and talked to Gary and Dick about them, but Dick said that that they trusted them--and Gary specifically--to make it work. "And they were thrilled at the outcome!" he said. Dick and Gary are both very proud of the movie.

How did Cindi Knight (who played the wife of William Turner) and June Carter Cash (who played the part of Mayhayley Lancaster) get their parts? Andy called Gary and asked if Cindi could play the part. Gary said that he decided to let her play the part after initially saying it wasn't up to him. "Can I tell Cindi she's got the part? ... Go on, Gary, make an old man happy,” Andy said.

“Somebody always wants someone else to play a part,” Gary told the crowd. “Actors don't want to hear the word no.” And there was a relationship there since Gary had worked with Griffith before.

Johnny wanted June to play Mayhaley. CBS initially didn't want her in the part so Gary told them to tell Johnny that. Gary gave her the part and said that she'd never done anything like that before, but she was amazing! He said that he was glad we went against the network. Dick pointed out that the network had confidence in Gary, and that was a big part of why this movie came together like it did.

There was a discussion about scenes that were cut from the movie. Scenes from the courtroom with the two main witnesses were cut as well as a scene with Johnny and June. Dick and Gary said that it was a foregone conclusion about their testimony but trial hinged on whether the murder occurred in Coweta or Meriwether.

This was an emotional day for Johnny Langley (born John William Turner) who was present with his daughter Amy. He spoke toward the end of the question and answer session. Johnny told me after the session that he was named after his Dad and Granddad. What was the impact of this movie on him?

His Mom took him to Alabama to live. He knew nothing about his history until he was an adult. He actually hadn’t seen the movie until last year in a reunion. He said that his family moved a lot as he was growing up.

He said that he never asked about his history. He grew up with another last name. He found out later that he never had a birth certificate because he was born on a share cropper’s farm. The doctor died on the way to the house, and he was born with the help of a woman down the road. He was born in 1946 and his sister (his mother was pregnant with at the time of the murder) was born in 1948. He grew up with a half brother and sister too.

He found out later that the Turner side of the family was trying to find them the entire he was growing up, but even hired detectives couldn’t find him and his Mom because he didn’t have a birth certificate. The Turner side of the family finally found him when he was in the service years later.

Amy said that she learned about their history when the Atlanta Journal Constitution called for an interview around an anniversary after she had graduated from high school. She had questioned why they were calling her Dad about it!


This question and answer session as well the showing of the movie in the courthouse where the movie was filmed was a historic event for Pike County. Thank you to everyone who came out to support this event as well as the volunteers who helped who worked so hard to make this event happen. Special thanks to the school system for the use of the projector and sound equipment. And thank you to Gary Nelson, Dick Atkins, Johnny and Amy for sharing your stories with those who attended.

The Friends of the J. Joel Edwards Public Library will be selling t-shirts and any other merchandise that was left over at the library after the event.