Monday, February 23, 2009

My Canadian Black Sheep - Daniel Norman Williams

Well here is my Canadian Black Sheep story...........

Daniel Norman Williams, born in Canada, was convicted of murder and hanged in Oregon in 1905.

My Great-Grand Uncle, Daniel Norman Williams, was born in Sombra, Ontario in 1856. His older sister, Mahala Teresa Williams Green was my Great-Grandmother. Daniel is listed in both the 1861 and 1871 Census with parents John Williams and Zereda Mable Moran Williams and siblings Mahala and Mary Cecilia, living in Chatham, Kent, Ontario. The family moved to the US sometime between 1880-1884.

Daniel first ran into some trouble in Iowa and was sent, instead of prison, to a State Institution due to the fact that he had seizures. The family later moved to Nebraska where Daniel again ran into trouble. He was incarcerated in the Nebraska State Prison from 28 Apr 1891–05 May 1894 for attempted rape.

Then in May 1899 he moved to Oregon, bringing out a fiancĂ©e from Iowa. They married on July 25, 1899 and his mother-in-law moved out there in October 1899. In the Spring of 1900, his wife, Alma Nesbitt, and mother-in-law, Louisa, both went “missing”. There was much questioning and investigation by authorities and the siblings of Miss Nesbitt. It took a few years for the District Attorney to put together a case against Daniel. Their bodies were never found, although an excavation on Daniel’s property in 1904 found human hair mixed with blood. He was ultimately indicted for the two murders in April 1904 and was found guilty in May 1904. After an unsuccessful appeal to the Oregon Supreme Court, he was hanged on 22 Jul 1905 outside the Wasco County Courthouse in The Dalles, Wasco County, Oregon, USA.

This was the last county-run hanging in the State of Oregon - all future hangings were done at the State Penitentiary. This case is somewhat famous as it set some legal precedents and is still frequently cited in court cases across the United States as prior to this time, if there was no body there was no crime – "corpus delecti". Also this was the first case in Oregon that used forensic evidence to obtain a conviction.

In addition to the murders, there is evidence that Daniel may have been married up to six times and may not have always gotten a divorce from his previous marriages.

Link to the Oregon Supreme Court case that provides many additional details:
State of Oregon v. Daniel Norman Williams

This case was also a featured chapter in a book about Oregon hangings called "Necktie Parties" by Diane L. Goeres-Gardner, excerpts shown:
Necktie Parties: Legal Executions in Oregon 1851-1905

Submitted Respectfully by

Derek A. Green


  1. Greetings Derek,
    Glad to have you participate in the Canadian Genealogy Carnival. With ancestors like this, who needs enemies? Perhaps Daniel was inspired by Phoebe Campbell of West Nissouri Township, Middlesex County who was hanged in 1872 for murdering her husband.

  2. What a tragic story, Derek.
    Clearly this individual was mentally ill. Sad to think that this type of individual still exists and that we haven't been able to help these people (or at least not all of them).
    Thanks for sharing,
    Evelyn in Montreal

  3. Hay I guess it is my black sheep story because Daniel was my great great paternal grandfather. His first wife that he never divorced was Cordelia Weger Williams. It has taken me over 20 years to find this man and when I did I was not so proud that I did.