I have been a fan of Jaclyn Weldon White’s writing since I read Whisper to the Black Candle (Mercer University Press), so I was delighted when I learned she had put out a new book. Pure Evil is the riveting and often shocking account of Rebecca Akins, formerly the only woman on Georgia’s death row, who ordered a New Jersey hit man to kill her ex-husband and his new wife in 1974. I had the pleasure of chatting with Jaclyn about this compelling new work. I hope some producer is reading because Pure Evil really should be optioned for a movie.
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Karen: How did you first learn about Rebecca Akins?
Jaclyn: I find my true crime subjects because people bring them to my attention. At any book signing or appearance, I usually have several people telling me about a case. I make notes and check on them later.
Karen: Why of all the books you could have written did you feel most compelled to write PURE EVIL?
Jaclyn: I checked into it when I was told about the 1974 case. Then as the facts were revealed, it was so bizarre that I just had to write it. My biggest concern was that people wouldn’t believe it happened. All the Mafia make believe was just too strange to be true. But it was!
Karen: I marveled over the amount of research you put into the story. Can you tell us how you went about digging up this story? Your research methods?
Jaclyn: I love research! Actually I like research more than writing. I tackled this book the way I did my previous true crimes. I began with the newspaper coverage (there was a lot!) and then constructed a list of people mentioned.
Then I set about finding them, contacting them and, if they were willing, interviewing. I also went through court records, police records, and requested the District Attorney’s file. I did a lot of interviews, not just for the facts of the case, but to learn what was going on at the time. My greatest asset was Valerie Akins, Rebecca and Ronny’s middle daughter. Valerie really wanted her father’s story to be told and we spent countless hours on the phone. Valerie has since become a good friend and we talk every week.
Karen: What was the moment or incident that caused you to rock back on your feet?
Jaclyn: I’m not sure there was a single moment that rocked me on my heels. There were so many odd things – from the years of mistreatment of the girls to the planning of the murders – that I can’t pick out one in particular.
Karen: I’ve been doing so research on the connection between violent offenders and DNA. Do you think Rebecca was born to evil or do you think it was something she cultivated?
Jaclyn: Ah, yes, nurture or nature. I really don’t have an explanation for Rebecca. I didn’t find anything in her childhood that could account for how she acted. I believe that some people are just born like that. As for the DNA studies we are hearing about, I’m not sure I believe in that cause. Otherwise, all the children in a family would turn out to be psychopaths, not just one.
Karen: One of the things that troubled me most was the ease with which Rebecca could get others to go along with her schemes. You were very generous in your writing toward her daughters, but did you ever question why the girls went to such extremes to comply with their mother’s demands and to continually cover for her?
Jaclyn: Those girls were hostages to Rebecca from the day they were born. They were terrified of her. Have you ever heard of the Stockholm Syndrome? I think that was this, greatly multiplied. They believed her threats – just consider the beatings they got. She threatened to kill them if they talked after their father’s death. Since she’d already killed Ronny, they certainly believed her
Karen: Did Sara ever suspect that Rebecca had killed her brother and father? Did her daughters know about that story before you wrote the book?
Jaclyn: I don’t know. However, family members did suspect it.
Karen: One of the most horrific parts of this story was the murder of Ronny’s new wife. She was completely innocent.
Jaclyn: I think Juanita was the most tragic figure in the book. She was a good person from a good family who had nothing to do with Rebecca. But, because of Rebecca’s obsession, she was murdered.
Karen: Another thing that rattled me was the way the girls were manipulated into giving up the life insurance money to Ronny’s parents. It really seems like no one put the interests of the girls ahead of their own. How are the girls today? Did that surprise you, the way the girls were treated by families on both sides?
Jaclyn: Yes, I thought it was strange that the money for the girls went to Ronny’s parents, but I assume that was because they were expected to take care of the girls. The girls all grew up on their own. Victoria married and had children. She died of cancer in 2019. Valerie is married and lives in Florida. Vanessa married and lives in Missouri.
Karen: Do you think we will ever know if Rebecca killed her father and brother?
Jaclyn: I don’t think we’ll ever know if Rebecca killed her brother and father.
Karen: One of the reasons I love your writing so much is that you manage to move beyond just a true crime account to actual storytelling. Your crime books read like mystery novels. What was the journey you took to becoming a crime writer?
Jaclyn: My journey to writing true crime was a fluke. I don’t read it and had no interest in it, until a friend suggested I write the story of Anjette Lyles. I found it an interesting case, researched it and it became Whisper to the Black Candle. I guess I keep coming back to true crime is because I enjoy the research so much.
Karen: Who are some of the writers you love to read?
Jaclyn: My favorites are Lee Child, Michael Connelly, Karin Slaughter.
Karen: Do you think justice was served by the state of Georgia in regards to Rebecca Akins?
Jaclyn: Yes, I guess I do. She spent 36 years in prison. And when she got out she was too old to do much of anything.
Pure Evil by Jaclyn Weldon White can be purchased through Mercer University Press or through your local Indie Bookstore.
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