who knew him was shocked by the sudden, senseless murder of Bill
McAllister. The young mill-hand was a popular, hard-working employee at
the Spaulding Lumber Mill near Selma, 20 miles south of Grants Pass.
McAllister also was a man to be reckoned with, the kind of guy who would
stand up for what he believed in and not back down from any fight. If a
friend, or even a stranger, was in peril, McAllister would be the first
one there to assist, his friends said.
fellow mill workers found it hard to believe anyone would want to shoot
McAllister. Josephine County Sheriff George W. Lewis, who knew and
respected McAllister, found the victim stretched out on a cot in a tool
shed when he arrived at the lumber mill site Aug. 10, 1917.
physician told Lewis that McAllister had been shot twice -- once in the
abdomen and once in the right arm -- and that the victim had lost a lot
of blood. McAllister was rushed to the hospital in Grants Pass. But
efforts to save him failed. He died that same day.
autopsy confirmed what Sheriff Lewis' trained eyes already had observed
-- that McAllister was shot twice with a .22-caliber revolver. He
rounded up his men and immediately began searching the area around the
tool shed for clues.
didn't have to look far. In the woods just behind the tool shed, the
Sheriff found the butts of four, hand-rolled cigarettes lying on the
ground. He was convinced the killer had smoked the cigarettes there
while waiting for McAllister to show up for the tool shed.
knew he would need more than this to catch McAllister's murderer and to
establish a motive for the shooting.
days and weeks that followed, Lewis and his men interviewed dozens of
friends and fellow workers of McAllister. Some told authorities of
previous run-ins McAllister had with local toughs. But further
investigation cleared all of these possible suspects.
Frustrated by their lack of progress, Lewis and his Deputies began a
countywide search for all persons owning .22-caliber revolvers who also
smoked hand-rolled cigarettes on the chance that someone might come up
with a name or two. Their luck suddenly turned.
of a small farm a few miles south of Grants Pass informed deputies that
a young man named Ralph Turpin had worked on his farm since early
spring, but had left on Friday -- the day McAllister's body was found --
to return to California. His parents wanted Ralph to come home, the
farmer told deputies.
farmer also recalled that Turpin had a .22-caliber revolver -- a
keepsake from his father.
enough of a lead to convince Lewis that a search of Grants Pass-area gun
shops and hardware stores might turn up some other valuable tips on the
young farmhand from Califomia. One storekeeper recalled selling
ammununition to a young man who also remembered seeing a long, jagged
scar on the back of his customer's neck as he turned to leave the store.
farmer who had hired Turpin, when questioned, told deputies that Turpin
did indeed have such a scar on his neck.
passed the information along to area newspapers which printed
information and a description of the young man with the deep, jagged
scar. Almost immediately, the sheriff's office was flooded with phone
calls from area residents who recalled seeing such a youth. All of the
callers generally agreed that the young man was bound for California,
based upon what he told them.
was suspicious. He figured the suspect would be traveling east, towards
Klamath Falls, to throw authorities off the track. Lewis notified
Klamath County Sheriff George Humphrey to have his men be on the lookout
for the suspect.
paid off. On Aug. 12, just two days after Bill McAllister's body was
found in the old tool shed, Klamath County Deputies arrested Turpin
after a traveling salesman dropped him off on a Klamath Falls street
immediately denied any involvement in McAllister's death. He claimed to
have left the farm where he had been working at 8 a.m. on Aug. 10 and
that he had been on the road, hitching rides all day. Questioned about
his revolver, Turpin said it had been stolen that night, along with his
money, while he was sleeping in a hobo jungle.
didn't believe Turpin's story, but he had little else to go on. He
consulted W. T. Miller, the Josephine County District Attorney. Both
agreed that the cigarette butts might be the best evidence they had.
That's when Miller came up with an idea.
one of the cigarette butts found in the woods, Miller pressed his right
thumb on a purple ink pad, and rolled it lightly around the cigarette
butt. Then they had Turpin fingerprinted.
minutes later, the prosecutor and sheriff confronted Turpin. They
claimed that by using a special, purple-tinted chemical they were able
to match Turpin's fingerprint sample with prints found on the cigarette
butt. Miller' s trick worked. Turpin confessed to the murder of
the subsequent interview, Turpin told Lewis and Miller that he had
worked for a time at the lumber mill with McAllister, that for the most
part they had gotten along well. But he said McAllister began
criticizing his work. Turpin said he was laid off and felt McAllister
had something to do with it.
he confronted McAllister and accused him of telling the mill foreman
about his sub-par work. McAllister denied it. The two argued bitterly.
McAllister knocked Turpin down after the youth threw a wild, roundhouse
punch at him.
seeking revenge, watched and waited in the woods, chain-smoking his
hand-rolled cigarettes, until he saw McAllister enter the tool shed. He
sneaked up on McAllister, opened the shed door and shot the victim
Josephine County Grand Jury indicted Turpin on Sept. 5, 1917 for
second-degree murder. (Oregon had recently abolished capital punishment,
the only penalty for first-degree murder). He was convicted and
sentenced to life in prison.
became a model prisoner and was later named a trustee at the prison
farm. But on Oct. 16, 1920, he escaped from the prison farm.
remained at large for the next 22 years, using various names and
changing his appearance frequently to avoid recognition. But in
February, 1942, a man answering to the name Robert Jordan was arrested
in Salinas, Calif., on a charge of murder after killing a 30-year-old
man in a heated argument.
Fingerprints uncovered Jordan's real identity -- Ralph Turpin. He was
returned to the Oregon State Penitentiary to complete his life term.