Friday, October 31, 2014

Murder in Montgomery - October 31, 1912

The State Capitol building in Montgomery, Alabama is haunted by the ghost of Will Oakley.

The morning of November 1, 1912 the headlines of the Montgomery Advertiser reported,
“Will Oakley Kills Step-Father, P.A. Woods, at Capitol”; "Dead Man Is Shot Four Times with 41 Caliber Revolver—Slayer Offers Him Pistol For A Duel" 

In 1912, a property suit was filed regarding the division of family land owned by P.A. Woods of Odenville, Alabama. His stepson, Will Oakley, was an eighteen year old farmer from St. Clair County at the time. The feud over the property had been going on for some time, and the Thursday prior to the murder, Mr. Woods, Will and his half uncle J.G. Oakley (who was president of the convict board) met at the State Capitol Building in Montgomery, Alabama in Oakley's office to give disposition on the case. 

Will had been wearing a pistol in a shoulder harness all day. It was visible and, for the most part, in plain sight. This was disturbing to his step father and Uncle since Will was known for his quick temper. He had made the statement at one point during the disposition that he had been in the army and wasn't afraid of anyone.

The State Capitol building in Montgomery, Alabama were Will Oakley shot and killed his step father, P.A. Woods.
Courtesy of the Library of Congress
After the conclusion of the disposition, just before three o’clock that afternoon, Will became enraged when the outcome of the case didn't turn out in his favor, and he began threatening his stepfather. He warned him that he’d better not leave the building without a bodyguard. Mr. Oakley was uneasy at the behavior of his nephew and feared that he may just be crazy enough to kill someone. It wasn't long before his fears turned into reality. 

Will and his stepfather were opposite each other over the desk in Oakley's office. The two argued for several minutes and suddenly Will produced two pistols from his coat and offered his stepfather one for a duel. Mr. Woods pleaded with Will not to kill him. He feared for his life and his brother-in-law quickly left the room to find help. Seconds later, four shots rang out from the office, and Will Oakley fled the room and down the stairs of the capitol building.

He made a steady and hasty retreat from the building, down Washington Street, and headed to the county jail to turn himself in. He was followed by a black man who heard the shots and saw him running from the building. He was apprehended by the sheriff just before making his way inside in jail. Will was immediately arrested and searched. Two, 41-caliber pistols and a knife were taken from him. He refused an attorney and said, “I shot a man, and I was justified in doing so.” He refused any further statements and was charged with murder the following day. 

The coroner’s report stated that the fatal shot that killed P.A. Woods most likely came from the first shot to his neck, which pierced his jugular. The three remaining shots were all in the abdomen, which implied they came after the victim was already on the ground. This was confirmed by the powder burns found on the face and neck of P.A. Woods.

On Halloween 1912, Will Oakley murdered his stepfather, P.A. Woods in the
State Capitol building in Montgomery, Alabama. Will's ghost returns to wash
the blood from his hands.
Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Will Oakley was inevitably sent to prison, and over the years, the excitement from the shooting died out. Most people have never heard the story of Will Oakley, but a strange and unusual phenomenon associated with the murder is still happening in the capitol building that keeps people talking about his ghost. Since the murder, employees and state officials who work in the offices of the State Convict Board have seen the water mysteriously running in the bathroom sinks. Oddly enough, when the phenomenon occurs, the facets turn without any visible source and the water keeps running until someone turns it off. Even after years of renovations, repairs and makeovers to the building, the water continues to run from the faucets.

Legend says it’s the ghost of Will Oakley; who is returning to the scene of the crime to wash the blood from his hands. Will’s anger and anxious spirit may have condemned him in the afterlife, or he may have some unfinished business to take care of. Is it possible that his soul cannot rest until he has made amends for the dreadful sin he committed? That’s a question only he can answer. Still, it’s doubtful anyone living or dead would want to approach him to ask. If he’s still washing one hundred years of blood from his hands, he may have more to make amends for. 


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Will Oakley is my 2nd Great Grandmother's first cousin.
    Will did go to prison but was transferred to Bryce Hospital in Tuscaloosa in 1913. He escaped from Bryce Hospital and we think he went West to Texas and was never heard from again.

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