Bill Ziegler

March 22, 1902 – Pike County, Alabama

On the night of March 22, 1902, a violent lynching took the life of Bill Ziegler, an African American man, near the Whitewater bridge about ten miles below Troy, AL. Newspapers reported that Ziegler was forty years old when this incident occurred. Ziegler, described as a “trusted negro” with a “good character,” frequently watched the children of Mr. and Mrs. Jim Maulden, as he did on March 22 while they went to the store.  On this day, however, neighbors claimed that he raped or attempted to rape the Maulden’s five year old daughter.

Ziegler was arrested and turned over to a small group of men to take him to jail in Troy, when a mob met them at the Whitewater Creek bridge, forced Ziegler into the woods, and shot and killed him.  Within days, however, newspaper reports began suggesting that Ziegler was innocent of any crime, and furthermore, twelve local men and one woman were arrested for lynching Ziegler, a very unusual development in lynching cases, reflecting widespread community knowledge of Ziegler’s innocence.  Investigators ultimately determined that no one had hurt the child at all, and even the child’s father testified that “the charges were absolutely false and that the negro was innocent of any wrong doing.” As prosecutors later explained, a local woman, Mrs. Mary Jane Caylor, had bribed the child with candy to accuse Ziegler of the assault, in order to prevent him from testifying against Caylor in an unrelated slander suit. 

Despite his clear innocence, Ziegler lost his life over this lie, and the lack of justice continued after his death.  The court dismissed the cases against most of the suspected mob members, including Mary Jane Caylor and her husband, and released the remaining four, who had been deputized to safely escort Ziegler to jail and instead participated in his lynching, on bail. Local newspapers contain no account of further legal action against these men, and they do not appear in the Alabama Convict Records, suggesting that they never stood trial for the crime of lynching an innocent man entrusted into their care.  Ziegler’s case provides a striking example of the absolute lack of justice for many African Americans during Jim Crow.

“Negro Rapist Lynched,” Troy Messenger, 26 Mar 1902, p. 5.

“Lynching of Negro,” Montgomery Advertiser, 28 Mar 1902, p. 7

“Will Investigate Lynching,” Troy Messenger, 2 Apr 1902, p. 7.

“Negro Lynched,” Washington Register (KS), 3 Apr 1902, p. 2.

“Jelks Investigating Lynching,” Florida Star (Titusville), 11 Apr 1902, p. 8.

“Lynching of Bill Ziegler,” Times-Democrat (New Orleans, LA), 14 Apr 1902, p. 11.

“Several Arrests are Made,” Troy Messenger, 16 Apr 1902, p. 3.

“The Zigler Case,” Troy Messenger, 16 Apr 1902, p. 8.

“Several Arrests are Made,” Elba Clipper, 17 Apr 1902, p. 6.

“Lynching of Zeigler,” Weekly Advertiser (Montgomery, AL), 18 Apr 1902, p. 5.

Columbus Daily Enquirer (GA), 20 Apr 1902, p. 4.

“All Acquitted But Four,” Troy Messenger, 23 Apr 1902, p. 3.

“Held to Grand Jury,” Weekly Advertiser (Montgomery, AL), 25 Apr 1902, p. 6.

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