Book of the Week 12/5/11

I’ve always been fascinated by unusual cases from earlier years, and the murders committed by Anjette Donovan Lyles is no exception. Her spree – which included two husbands, mother-in-law, and a daughter – spanned from 1952 to 1958. Anjette’s crimes and backstory are outlined in Whisper to the Black Candle: Voodoo, Murder, and the Case of Anjette Lyles by Jaclyn Weldon White (Mercer University Press, 2006).

The contents of this book must be read to be believed, and even then, some tales are shocking. In earlier days, arsenic was the poison of choice for murder. Anjette Lyles was a popular and well-known restaurant owner in Macon, Georgia, her attractive appearance and charming, ebullient personality masking a deadly secret – four deadly secrets, to be exact.

To this day, Lyles still remains both a fascinating and controversial figure, given the unusual punishment she received after being convicted of murder. Initially sentenced to death in the electric chair, several appeals and hearings to determine her sanity followed before Anjette was judged insane. She lived out the last several years of her life at Central State Hospital in Milledgeville, where she succumbed to natural causes at age 52 December 4, 1977.

In Whisper to the Black Candle, Jaclyn Weldon White portrays a side of Anjette hidden from the public for several years as she poisoned her victims for personal gain. Anjette almost got away with it – until the untimely death of her daughter, Marcia. While Anjette’s other victims were ill and infirm, Marcia was a healthy child, which raised questions about her death. An autopsy was performed, with arsenic discovered in the little girl’s system. It was that autopsy which marked the beginning of Anjette’s downfall.

Whisper to the Black Candle is one of a small handful of true crime books written in an unbiased, brilliantly researched and candid fashion, unfolding a story of a manipulative murderess, voodoo, black magic, and one of the most sensational cases of the 1950’s in the South. An excellent page-turner, Whisper to the Black Candle is difficult to set aside, even for those not actual true crime fans.