Murder At Spaulding Mill

Everyone 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.

But 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.

Yet, 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.

A mill 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.

An 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.

Lewis 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.

But Lewis knew he would need more than this to catch McAllister's murderer and to establish a motive for the shooting.

In the 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.

The owner 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.

The farmer also recalled that Turpin had a .22-caliber revolver -- a keepsake from his father.

That was 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.

The farmer who had hired Turpin, when questioned, told deputies that Turpin did indeed have such a scar on his neck.

Lewis 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.

But Lewis 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.

The hunch 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 corner.

Turpin 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.

Lewis 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.

Taking 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.

A few 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 McAHister.

During 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 said 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.

Turpin, 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 twice.

The 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.

Turpin 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.

He 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.

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