About Charles G. Rawlings
In a fascinating and detailed article A Killing on Ring Jaw Bluff, Georgia physician and author William Rawlings, right, explores the circumstances surrounding the 1925 murder trial and conviction of his great uncle, Charles G. Rawlings. "I grew up hearing whispered tales of my Uncle Charlie, my grandfather's brother. Whenever I'd want to know more, my grandmother would change the subject, saying simply that he was a bad man who did bad things."
Perhaps the mystery in his heritage inspired William Rawlings, M.D. and businessman, to also become William Rawlings, author of four entertaining mystery novels with well-drawn characters cavorting in small-town and coastal Georgia as well as Paris, France and other exotic locales.
William's great uncle Charlie was indeed a very wealthy and powerful man in his day. Barry Gordy Sr., father of Motown Records founder Barry Gordy Jr., refers to him in his autobiography by saying, "He wasn't the mayor, but he was a millionaire, and whatever he said was always done."
Charlie's parents had raised Charlie's orphaned first cousin, Gus Tarbutton. Charlie became his guardian, and later his mentor and advisor. When Gus was charged with murder in 1906, Charlie Rawlings and his legal team arranged to have the county line surveyed, thus proving the crime took place in a friendlier county -- where it never came to trial. Nearly two decades later, Charlie himself was charged with murder. Supposedly he had arranged to murder Gus, to reap insurance proceeds that might save him from bankruptcy.
The 1925 trial was a spectacle, attended by hundreds eager to hear the State's surprise eyewitness, an elderly farm worker who testified he'd witnessed the actual murder and then fled, fearing for his life. The author says, "I set out to write a story about a successful man whose greed pushed him over the edge. And then I read the transcript of the trial, and was stuck by the realization that at least one of the witnesses was lying. It changed the whole story…."
The book is a both a work of history--detailing the crash of the cotton economy in rural Georgia in the early 1920s--and a bit of biography of the life of Charles Graves Rawlings, my great uncle. Charlie was a larger-than-life figure who became very wealthy during the Golden Age of Georgia's small towns, only to spend his final years in prison convicted of the murder of his first cousin. If the topic sounds a shade boring, it's not! Read it and you will learn a lot (as I have) about how and why the rural South changed in the 1920s, about the Ku Klux Klan, about the Great Oil Discovery that didn't exist, about arson and murder and bought juries, and many other similar dark secrets that make life interesting.
The book tracks the rise of Charlie Rawlings from his younger days as a livery stable owner to his peak as bank president, railroad president, owner of tens of thousands of acres of land, planter, husband, father and philanderer to his later years serving a life sentence for the murder, a crime he likely didn't commit.