May 2

Murder in Savannah Inspires Bestselling Book

May 2, 1981 - Savannah

In Savannah it’s “the book.” John Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil was published in January 1994. The non-fiction account of antiques dealer Jim Williams’ trial for murdering Danny Hansford became a major bestseller.

Waves of welcome tourists flooded Savannah, searching for the places and characters Berendt made famous: the Mercer House on Monterey Square; the Bird Girl statue in Bonaventure Cemetery; Emma Kelly, the lady of 6,000 songs; smooth-talking Joe Odom, inventor Luther Driggers, who kept flies tied to a string; Williams’s defense lawyer Sonny Seiler; and drag queen extraordinare Lady Chablis.

The book sold more than 3 million copies and spent a record 216 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. It — and Clint Eastwood’s 1997 movie — have helped power Savannah’s $1 billion annual tourist industry.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil all began with Danny Hansford’s homicide on May 2, 1981, Today in Georgia History.