An Australian film crew visiting Macon couldn’t help being captivated by the beauty of the cherry blossoms this week.
“You come into Macon and you think, ‘What a pretty Southern town,’ said Peter Leybourne, location director for Beyond Productions from Sydney, Australia. “Then you discover there’s a dark underbelly.”
Leybourne and two others came looking to expose the sinister side of one of Macon’s most charming restaurateurs, Anjette Lyles.
The first white woman to be sentenced to Georgia’s electric chair was convicted in 1958 of poisoning her 9-year-old daughter with arsenic. Forensic evidence showed Lyles’ two husbands and a mother-in-law also died of arsenic poisoning. Lyles pocketed insurance money along the way and bought herself a shiny, new luxury car.
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A declaration of insanity kept her out of the electric chair, and she died at Central State Hospital in 1977. But Lyles’ story lives on next season on the Investigation Discovery series “Deadly Women.” The series is shown on the Discovery network’s Investigation Discovery channel and its Web site states elaborate dramatizations will accompany first-person accounts.
The crew came bearing gifts for former Bibb County Sheriff Ray Wilkes, who was interviewed Tuesday at his home. A boomerang adorned with hand-painted Aboriginal dot designs and a pen set from Down Under sat on the coffee table along with stacks of Wilkes’ books about his colorful career in law enforcement.
“He painted us a word picture of Macon back in the 1950s as a sleepy little town with two cars to patrol the city. That’s how small it was,” Leybourne said.
The crew also talked to Judge J. Taylor Phillips, who as a young lawyer frequented Lyles’ restaurant. Jaclyn Weldon White, who authored the book “Whisper to the Black Candle” that chronicles the killings and Lyles’ affinity for voodoo and black magic, also shared her insight.
Three productions crews are on the road capturing stories of some of America’s most maniacal women.
The crew that stopped in Macon started in Chicago more than a month ago and will end their tour in Miami in about 10 days.
How does Lyles stack up in the mix of murderesses?
“Anjette ranks as one of the fascinating, sheerly bizarre stories in a quiet little town — killing four family members and almost getting away with it,” Leybourne said. “She only got caught because she tried to kill her second child. There’s plenty of arsenic poisoners, but not many that would kill her children, for money ... for a Cadillac.”
The second season of “Deadly Women” begins Aug. 20, which means the episode featuring Lyles could air later this year or early in 2011.
To contact writer Liz Fabian, call 744-4303.