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Forestry workers with the Jackson Lumber Company spent the night of March 17, 1933 working to contain a raging forest fire in Geneva County, Alabama. 39-year-old William “Will” Tuberville (also referenced as William Tubberville) was among the crew members fighting the fire. The next morning, Tuberville’s body was found lying in the road that ran through the woods where he and the other men had been working. Tuberville had been run over, shot twice with a pistol, and beaten on the head. Tuberville’s glasses were found on a nearby stump, and several pistol cartridges sat upright on his body.
Tuberville’s friend, 65-year-old William “Bill” Jordan, who was a state forest ranger and an employee of Jackson Lumber, had also been fighting the fire. Jordan told Geneva County Sheriff Tom Gantt that he had planned to pick up Tuberville at a pre-arranged location after work on March 17, but Tuberville had not shown up. Jackson said he continued on to Tuberville’s house, which was nearby. There, Tuberville’s wife told Jordan that Tuberville had not come home. Jordan said he had been low on gas, so he went to sleep at Tuberville’s house.
The tire tread marks on Tuberville’s body reportedly matched Jordan’s tires. Jordan told the sheriff that he had driven over a lump in the road on his way to Tuberville’s house, and he had assumed it was a log or pole. He said he had not been able to see well in the dark, smoke-filled woods, and he agreed that the lump could have been Tuberville’s body.
The investigation into Tuberville’s death included other men from the crew with the Jackson Lumber Company who had been fighting the fire, including Ben Aplin and Homer Jackson. Jackson was reportedly the last person to speak with Tuberville after the fire was under control. Jordan, Aplin, Jackson and at least seven other men were arrested in connection with the crime. Most were released after preliminary hearings in April 1933. In May 1933, Jordan, Aplin and Jackson had a preliminary hearing and were released on bond.
On February 19, 1934, Jordan was indicted for Tuberville’s murder. His trial began on February 27, 1934. The jury found him guilty of second-degree murder on March 2, 1934 and sentenced him to 25 years in prison. Jordan, a father of ten, appealed his conviction, spending his life savings of $10,000 on appeals.
After Jordan’s conviction, the sheriff’s office continued to investigate because of the circumstantial nature of the evidence against Jordan. They interviewed prisoner Reuben Alford (also referenced as Reuben Allford), who confessed to Tuberville’s murder in June 1934. The confession also implicated mail carrier Tatum Bedsole and Charles Council. However, Alford recanted before the Geneva County Grand Jury. Council, too, initially admitted knowledge of the murder but later recanted.
On November 15, 1934, the Alabama Supreme Court granted Jordan a new trial after finding that his conviction had been based on suspicion. The court ordered that unless the state uncovered new evidence against him, Jordan had to be released from prison. The charges against Jordan were dismissed on December 19, 1934.
On March 15, 1937, Alford, who claimed his confession had been coerced with threats and force, was convicted of murder in Tuberville’s death and sentenced to fifteen years in prison.
The story of Tuberville’s murder was featured in “American Detective” magazine in October 1937.
-Meghan Barrett Cousino
The National Registry of Exonerations is a project of the Newkirk Center for Science & Society at University of California Irvine, the University of Michigan Law School and Michigan State University College of Law. It was founded in 2012 in conjunction with the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law. The Registry provides detailed information about every known exoneration in the United States since 1989—cases in which a person was wrongly convicted of a crime and later cleared of all the charges based on new evidence of innocence. The Registry also maintains a more limited database of known exonerations prior to 1989.
We welcome new information from any source about exonerations already on our list and about cases not in the Registry that might be exonerations.