Date of Alleged Crime


Blount County, AL Bill Wilson Late 1908

In 1908, Bill Wilson's wife, Jenny, divorced and left him.  She took their 19-month-old child with her.  In 1912, the skeletal remains of an adult and child were discovered by the Warrior River.  As news of the discovery spread, many area residents, presuming the remains to be ancient, visited the site in the hope of finding Indian relics.

When no relics were found, a farm worker named Jim House began speculating that the remains were not Indian but those of Jenny Wilson and her child, both of whom had disappeared shortly after Jenny's divorce.  House also belatedly asserted that, following the divorce, he had seen Jenny go into her former in-laws' home carrying a basket. The next day, House said, he noticed footprints leading toward the river and found what he described as a “child's cloth” and blood on a rock.  After hearing House's tale, the county solicitor charged Bill Wilson with murder.

At trial the prosecution presented this evidence, along with witnesses who alleged that Bill had made incriminating statements.  One claimed that Bill had vowed to kill Jenny if he ever saw her again.  The prosecution's medical expert acknowledged that the remains appeared too ancient to be that of Jenny and her child, though he left open the possibility that they were.  He acknowledged the skull of the child had second teeth, which usually do not develop before age four.

The defense presented six witnesses, including Jenny's sister, who testified that they saw Jenny at various times several months after the prosecution contended she was dead.  Four of Bill's relatives, and Bill himself, denied House's contention that Jenny had come to Bill's parents' home after the divorce.  The defense medical expert testified that the teeth in the adult skull were those of an elderly person and that a 19-month-old child would not have second teeth.

Despite this strong defense, Bill Wilson was convicted and the trial judge, Judge Blackwood, sentenced him to life in prison on Dec. 18, 1915.  After the trial, a curator from the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC examined the bones and declared them to be very old skeletal parts of four or more persons.  Judge Blackwood concluded that justice had miscarried, but he no longer had jurisdiction of the case.  He asked the governor to grant clemency to Bill, so that he could be released.  Before the governor took action, Bill's appellate lawyer located Jenny and her child, then 11, living in Vincennes, Indiana.  She returned to Blount County on July 8, 1918, and the same day, after authorities confirmed her identity, the governor granted Bill a pardon.  (CWC)  [1/07]



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