William Marvin Lindley

Sutter County, California
Date of Crime:  August 18, 1943

William Marvin Lindley was sentenced to death for the murder of Jackie Marie Hamilton, a 13-year-old girl. On the day of the crime, the victim had been swimming in the Yuba River with other girls around her own age. Lindley, a redhead, operated a boathouse on the banks of the river. After finishing her swimming, the victim went to her house, changed her clothes, spoke to her father, and went out again. She was found 20 minutes to a half-hour later in a dying condition. According to trial testimony, she was able to sob out to her father that her assailant was “that old red-headed liar in the boathouse, the old-red-headed liar.” She later died without clarifying her statement.

Evidence indicated that Jackie knew Lindley as "Red," so it was curious why she did not directly name him as her assailant.  Also, in early pre-trial statements, witnesses only related Jackie saying her assailant was the "old-red-headed liar."  There was no mention of the boathouse, which was an obvious connection to Lindley.

A sheepherder, a young boy, had been watching the girls swimming from the opposite side of the river, a distance of some two hundred yards. He described a man watching the girls from the willows, and later saw him struggling with one of the girls and then go down with her beyond the willows. Following the murder, he identified Lindley as the assailant by the tan clothes he had been wearing. However, the sheepherder was completely color-blind and apt to describe every color as tan.

Following Lindley's conviction, evidence emerged that another red-headed man had been in the vicinity on the day of the murder. This man was a hop-picker, and had not been working the day of the murder. He was seen later with marks on his face, which could have been caused by the girl's fingernails. The hop-picker reportedly confessed to the murder during a drunken brawl that night. He mysteriously disappeared from the area the next morning without even calling for his paycheck.

A lawyer named Erle Stanley Gardner was referred the case due to publicity Gardner received for his spectacular and unorthodox methods. With Lindley's execution just days away, Gardner reviewed Lindley's trial transcripts and made a case timeline. Since the actual clock time of events was little known, the timeline referenced the sequence of events based on distances traveled and witnesses' contacts with each other. Although Lindley did not appear to have an alibi for the time of the murder, Gardner's analysis showed that at the time witnesses saw the murderer standing in the willows, Lindley was miles away riding in an automobile with the victim's father. Thus Gardner showed that Lindley could not have been the murderer.

Governor Earl Warren commuted Lindley's sentence to life imprisonment. Lindley was eventually exonerated and released after 20 years in prison. The Lindley case led Gardner to begin a program called “The Court of Last Resort” in which individual cases were studied and those deemed to be wrongly convicted were published in Argosy magazine. The program, which lasted about a decade, led to the release of numerous wrongly convicted persons. Gardner was also a mystery writer and the author of Perry Mason books.  [5/08]

References:   The Court of Last Resort, FJDB1945 Appeal, 1947 Appeal

Posted in:  Victims of the State, Northern California Cases, Timeline Discrepancies