Author of Southern Stories



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My latest book, Crypto, is now available from your local bookseller or from multiple sources online.  It is the second in the John Wesley O'Toole mystery/suspense series.  The protagonist, O'Toole, was introduced in The Girl with Kaleidoscope Eyes, a novel that takes place in Savannah.  Although I have been writing nonfiction--true crime most recently--I have had numerous readers request another mystery novel, especially one starring the O'Toole character.  He is a disbarred former attorney turned art dealer, a good guy with good intentions who just seems to get into trouble.  

The book opens as Don Moule, a multimillionaire cryptocurrency trader, shows up at O'Toole's gallery interested in purchasing investment-grade art.  O'Toole, leery of what seems to be the perfect opportunity to solve his financial worries, investigates Moule and finds him to be legitimate and quite wealthy.  But the would-be art purchaser has other connections that soon complicate matters and in the process put O'Toole in mortal danger.  It's a fast-paced story that zigs and zags to another shocking ending.  

The manuscript for the next novel in the John Wesley O'Toole series has been finished and is at the publishers.  It's titled The Garden of Earthly Delights, and is--I think--one of my better pieces of writing.  It will be released during the summer of 2024.

The Columbus Stocking Strangler
My latest book, The Columbus Stocking Strangler, is now available through booksellers and online in print, digital, and audiobook versions.  This is a nonfiction story of true-crime and certainly one of the most convoluted and complicated books I have ever tried to write.  Here's a brief description from Mercer University Press's catalogue: 

During an eight-month period in 1977 and 1978, the city of Columbus, Georgia, was terrorized by a mysterious serial killer who raped and ritualistically strangled seven elderly women in one of the community’s finer neighborhoods. Despite intensive efforts on the part of police the Stocking Strangler, as he came to be known, managed to elude capture. After the last murder in April 1978, the case went cold.

In the spring of 1984, a series of fortuitous events connected to an unrelated murder and a stolen pistol led to the capture of Carlton Gary, who had recently escaped from a South Carolina prison. Following a dramatic trial in August 1986, Gary was convicted of three of the seven Columbus murders and sentenced to death, a penalty that would not be carried out until March 2018.

This convoluted tale of crime and punishment is punctuated by dramatic and unexpected twists and turns including issues of race, alleged conspiracy and misconduct on the part of the police and the judiciary, a second serial killer active in Columbus during the time of the Strangler murders, the Ku Klux Klan, errors in DNA analysis, and a vigorous and prolonged struggle by attorneys and death penalty opponents who believed in Gary’s innocence.

The Columbus Stocking Strangler is Now Available in Audiobook Editions
In addition to Audible.com, downloads are available from multiple sources.  A Google search will provide links.
Lighthouses of the Georgia Coast

Once an essential part of nautical navigation and commerce, the world's lighthouses have become historical relics of days past, their primary function now replaced by modern technology. Yet these magnificent structures continue to fascinate us, not only for their intrinsic beauty, but also as monuments to our shared history, and as symbols of hope and salvation to those cast adrift on the stormy seas of life. From the mid-eighteenth through the early twentieth centuries, the waterways of coastal Georgia from the St. Marys River in the south to the Savannah River in the north were an integral part of the state's economy, vital to the trade in cotton, rice, timber, naval stores, and other products shipped to ports in America and around the world.

Georgia's barrier islands are today the site of five existing lighthouses, each with its own unique style, history, and role in events over the past decades and centuries. In addition, focusing on these beacons, Lighthouses of the Georgia Coast reviews the basics of lighthouse design and construction, the role, lore and legacy of lighthouse keepers, the significance of lighthouses as strategic structures during the turbulent days of the Civil War, and more.

Richly illustrated with both contemporary and historical photos, the reader or visitor will gain a deeper and more comprehensive understanding of Georgia's lighthouses and of similar structures on coasts and waterways around the world.

I am exceptionally pleased that my 2021 book, Lighthouses of the Georgia Coast, was named as the Finalist for the 2022 Georgia Author of the Year Awards.

To quote the judge's statement in commenting on my book: William Rawlings continues to be the premier Georgia narrative historian. After several titles exploring Georgia’s history, Lighthouses of the Georgia Coast does not disappoint. This beautifully designed book draws the reader into the historical significance of Georgia’s coastal lighthouses. His narratives of shipwrecks explain why lighthouses popped up across our coastlines. The solid stories draw us into the engineering details and captivate readers to go deeper. He does not ignore the mystical quality and symbolism of lighthouses while offering encouragement in these difficult days: "Over the centuries the lighthouse has become more than a physical object. For many, it is seen as a powerful symbol of hope, a metaphysical beacon of guidance for those tossed about on the stormy seas of life, a psychological landmark pointing the way to a place of shelter."

Want to See All My Books?

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Six Inches Deeper 

On August 31, 1972, Hellen Hanks, a pretty thirty-four-year-old mother of three disappeared from her place of employment at Wilcox Advertising in Valdosta, Georgia. After a brief investigation by local and state authorities, the case went cold. in the fall of 1980, a farmer clearing a field south of town discovered a buried object, a box containing the dismembered remains of the missing woman. 

After several months of investigation, police arrested “Foxy” Wilcox, his son Keller Wilcox, and two long-term African American employees of Wilcox Advertising. Keller was charged with Hanks’s murder, and the others with concealing a death. The Wilcoxes were members of a prominent and wealthy Valdosta family.  To defend their case, they hired famed defense attorney Bobby Lee Cook.  Keller Wilcox’s murder trial in January 1982 pitted Cook against a local prosecution team led by district attorney Lamar Cole. The case against Wilcox was entirely circumstantial, making the outcome uncertain. After a trial marked by controversy and conflicting testimony, Wilcox was convicted and sentenced to life in prison, all the while proclaiming his innocence. in 1985 he was freed by a federal judge based primarily on the harsh interrogation of the black witnesses.  Reimprisoned after an appeal by the state Attorney General, he remained incarcerated until 2008.

 The true story of this horrific murder has all the elements of a work of suspense fiction: money, power, sex, race, and the haves vs. the have-nots. Multiple lives were forever changed. The outcome would have been totally different if the box had been buried only Six Inches Deeper.

The Girl with Kaleidoscope Eyes

Returning to my roots as a writer of suspense fiction set in my home state of Georgia, The Girl with Kaleidoscope eyes is a fast-moving tale of deception, intrigue and murder that takes place in Savannah.  The protagonist, John Wesley O'Toole is a disbarred attorney trying to get his life back together after being release from prison.  Having inherited an art gallery from his grandmother, O'Toole is struggling to  make ends meet when he is approached by Abraham Deign, a wealthy local businessman.  Deign wants O'Toole to recover a missing painting, one allegedly taken from his home by his estranged granddaughter, Lucy, and is willing to offer a substantial reward.  Seeing the possibility of financial light at the end of a dark tunnel, O'Toole takes on the quest.  All is going well until Lucy's body is found in a burned out car, and it appears that O'Toole may be the murderer.  Things go downhill from there--for a while at least.  Readers tell me this is one of my best fiction works to date, and it garnered great reviews.   I think you will like it!  Wm. R.

The Strange Journey of the Confederate Constitution
The Strange Journey of the Confederate Constitution, and Other Stories from Georgia's Historical Past. is a collection of 17 shorter pieces on Georgia and Southern history, ranging from the significance of the invention of the cotton gin and the Great Yazoo Fraud, to the true story of the Lost Confederate Treasure, to the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s.  Somewhat more than half of these have appeared in Georgia Backroads magazine over the last decade, but have been reworked for this book.   Two of the pieces ("A Killing on Ring Jaw Bluff "and "The Second Coming of the Invisible Empire") were expanded to become full length books.

The Second Coming of the Invisible Empire

The history of the various "Ku Klux Klans" since the Reconstruction Era of the 1860s and 1870s is a complicated one, and often misunderstood by historians and the public alike.  In 1915 William Simmons, a former minister and fraternal order organizer launched a new "beneficial fraternal order" that he named "The Ku Klux Klan," based almost solely on the popularity of the then-current blockbuster movie, The Birth of a Nation.  Started primarily as a money-making scheme, and borrowing the movie props of the burning cross and white-hooded gowns, Simmons's Klan grew from a few thousand members in 1920 in Georgia and Alabama to as many as 5 million members in all 48 states by 1925,  Promoted by a pyramidal marketing scheme, it enriched its founders while attracting members from all social classes nationwide. Attempting to turn its membership power into a political movement, the Klan failed, and was essentially defunct by the 1930s, finally declaring bankruptcy in 1944.  It's a fascinating tale of this vile organization, and one that will surprise you.

A Killing on Ring Jaw Bluff

A Killing on Ring Jaw Bluff is a saga of two inextricably intertwined tales, the infamous Rawlings-Tarbutton murder case of 1925, and the crash of the cotton economy in Georgia (and the South) of the same era.  Sound like a strange combination?  It's not.  From about 1795 until the 1920s, the entire life of many of the southern states was based on the production of cotton.  Men became rich.  And when it all fell apart, lives were forever changed.  It was a fascinating and little known era.   In this popularly written account, I integrate local and regional history and economics that forever changed the South and Southern small towns in particular. 

Event Schedule
Upcoming events for the next few months are
listed below.  If you or your book or social club
are looking for a speaker, please contact me.  I am available for "virtual" events on Zoom or other videoconferencing programs. 

Perry Book Festival
Perry, Georgia
Details TBA

3/14/2024 3:30 PM
Speaking to Jared Irwin 
   Chapter of Daughters of 
   American Revolution
Citizens Bank--Main Office
Sandersville, Georgia

3/26/24 6:30 PM
Speak to the Wilkinson Co.
  Historical Society
Gordon, Georgia

6/6/2024 7:00 PM
Speak to the Lincoln County
   Historical Society
Lincolnton, Georgia

News and Notes

There is always something happening.  Here are the latest odds and ends that may be of interest to you:

 What's Coming:  With my next book, Crypto, now available, I have finished and submitted the manuscript for my 2024 book, titled The Garden of Earthly Delights.  Both are suspense/mystery novels set in the beautiful city of Savannah, and are follow-ups--with the same characters--as my 2019 novel, The Girl with Kaleidoscope Eyes.  This newest book brings back John Wesley O'Toole, the art dealer, who decides he wants to marry his long-time girlfriend, Jenna.  But there are problems....

In O'Toole's world, everyone has problems.  He's a disbarred attorney, his would-be fiancée, Jenna, is a ex-stripper and drug abuser gone straight, etc.  The best-laid plans blow up when the body of Mindy, Jenna's close friend who had gone missing years before is found, but with no clues to how she died or her killer.  O'Toole sets out to solve the cold case but--as expected--finds it's not a simple task.  I'm really excited about the plot, characters and writing in this one, and am sure readers will enjoy it!