Jaclyn White, 73, former Georgia author of the year dies

Credit: AJC

Credit: AJC

Used police experience to write true-crime books

Marc Jolley saw potential but also problems in a book manuscript that former Gwinnett County police detective Jaclyn White submitted to him years ago.

“Everything was told in advance, plus, it wasn’t written very well, and I thought ‘She’s not going to do it,’” said Jolley, the director of Mercer University Press.

But she listened to Jolley’s advice and sent him a rewritten version.

“She reversed the whole thing and was a solid writer after that,” he said.

Mercer published her initial book, “Whisper to the Black Candle,” in 2006 and followed with eight more books, building White’s reputation as the creator of gritty and compelling true-crime books and novels.

No niche scribe, she also wrote Civil War-era fiction, a book on Southern herbs, biographies and a book on her and a fellow writer Milam McGraw Propst’s exploration of offbeat spots in Georgia.

White also developed talents as an adept public speaker, accomplished guitarist and dedicated gardener who did things with style, grace, and an intense love for friends and family, friends said.

“She reminded me of a lady who could have been in the movie ‘Steel Magnolias’ — in a couple of different roles,” said Jolley.

She also has a whimsical side.

“One time we went to do a talk and she brought along beef jerky and Moon Pies,” said Propst. “Anytime anyone asked an interesting question that we had fun with we’d throw them a beef jerky or a pie.”

Jaclyn Weldon White, 73, died June 19 from cancer. She’s survived by children Shannon McDonald, Carl Dean White Jr. and Kimberly Ammons, seven grandchildren and one great-granddaughter.

She cut her writing teeth decades ago for newspapers and magazines. On one assignment, said Propst, she accompanied police on a stakeout. The incident propelled her to enter the police academy in the late 1970s.

After six years as a Gwinnett County Police patrol officer and detective and 16 years as a juvenile court administrator, she retired and focused on her writing. She toiled in a home office piled high with stacks of paper, said stepson Dean White.

During an interview on the “Classic City Crime” podcast she talked about a notable turning point.

“I hadn’t planned on writing true crime, but one day I went to lunch with one of our attorneys and a prosecutor with the DA’s offices. It had been a rotten week, and we were all trying to figure out what we could do to stop working for Gwinnett County. Someone suggested writing a book.”

Credit: Special

Credit: Special

Her determination to write became “Whisper to the Black Candle,” the true story of a popular Macon businesswoman charged in the 1950s with the poisoning murders of two husbands, one mother-in-law and her nine-year-old daughter.

Other books followed including her most recent, “Pure Evil,” following a woman hell-bent on mayhem in middle Georgia during the 1970s. Fascinated by organized crime, the woman conned two “hit men” into the murders of her ex-husband and his new bride.

“The simple word (for her style) was clear. She didn’t leave you questioning about what she had written,” said Jolley.

Lisa Doster, a close friend and artist echoed that sense of clarity, saying, “You could almost feel the muggy heat of Macon the way she was writing.”

Friends and family describe her as gentle, giving and radiant — a sharp contrast to the some of the stark, disturbing tales she put on paper.

Doster said she had a sick dog that needed an expensive specialized procedure. White, an animal activist, commissioned Doster to paint several portraits of her dogs, providing Doster the income she needed to get the veterinary help.

White was part of a close-knit group of four writers who met as often as schedules allowed to talk about writing and to toss ideas back and forth. White supplied valuable encouragement, said Propst.

She thinks White channeled the heartbreak of the losses of her husband, former Gwinnett County police chief Carl White, and a daughter into creativity.

She was lauded as Georgia Author of the Year, but friends said she eschewed the spotlight.

“She took the love of her job and turned it into something that everyone would know,” Dean White said. “She was very passionate about it.”