Wood/Williams murders

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The Wood/Williams murders occured on August 4, 1931, in the woods of Shades Mountain.

Sisters Nell and Augusta Williams and their friend Jennie Wood were abducted along Leeds Highway following a Sunday matinee downtown. Nell, who survived the attack, told authorities that a stout, light-skinned, well-educated black gunman from the North jumped onto the running board of their car and forced her to pull onto a side road in the woods. She said that he took their money and held them captive in the woods of Shades Mountain, lecturing them on racial injustice. When he started to "get fresh", they attempted to escape. Augusta and Wood were fatally shot, while Nell took a bullet in the arm. The suspect fled and she drove the car one-handed back to Mountain Brook for help.

Jennie Wood also described the suspect before she died, but her description conflicted with Nell's. Dozens of black "suspects" were taken into custody in Birmingham and even across the country. Nell was unable to identify the assailant from any of the suspects, but later identified Willie Peterson as the culprit when she saw him walking on the street weeks later.

Before the trial, members of the Williams family requested to meet with the prisoner to avoid a trial. Dent Williams, Nell's brother, pulled out a pistol and shot Peterson. Peterson recovered and Williams was acquitted of attempted murder. Despite the lack of any other evidence against Peterson, he was convicted after an initial mistrial, and sentenced to death. Some of the jury later said they voted to convict in fear of reprisal from the Ku Klux Klan. In 1934 Peterson's sentence was commuted by governor Benjamin M. Miller. He died in Kilby Prison of tuberculosis in 1940.


  • Jones, Pam. (Winter 2006) "Alabama Mysteries: Williams/Wood Murders". Alabama Heritage