Tales of Tuscaloosa: It was a dark and stormy night! (April 5, 1905)

04 Apr 2018 Jim Ezell
Listings from the 1902-03 Tuscaloosa City Directory for the home and blacksmith shop of A. J. Lindgren. Listings from the 1902-03 Tuscaloosa City Directory for the home and blacksmith shop of A. J. Lindgren.

The evening of Wednesday, April 5, 1905, really was a dark and stormy night. A torrential rain poured down with only lightning to illuminate the saturated scene. Taney Moore guided his wagon away from the bridge across the Black Warrior River and passed a wagon driven by A. J. Lindgren. Within moments, shots rang out, and thus began a mystery that spanned the Atlantic Ocean and the North American continent. It would be 44 years before its ultimate resolution.

Andrew John Lindgren was born in Sweden in 1870, became a U. S. citizen in 1880, and settled in Tuscaloosa in 1893. He prospered as a blacksmith and married Sallie Love, the daughter of a local family. His business interests expanded and included enterprises such as subdividing property along what is now Reed Street near The University of Alabama campus. In 1905, he purchased a combined gristmill and sawmill near Cottondale. He also indicated plans to open a store at the same site. On that fateful night, he said he was leaving to buy machinery parts in Birmingham and was believed to be carrying $500 in cash, equivalent to a modern amount exceeding $11,000.

The next morning, Lindgren’s wagon and raincoat were found with bullet holes and blood splatters, but there were inconsistencies. Rumors began to circulate—even rumors that Lindgren was alive and in his native Sweden. Tuscaloosa County Sheriff Watts posted a $400 reward for locating the body and triggered frantic searches of the river, and even abandoned coal mines.

Inquiries were made through the Swedish Embassy, but police in Sweden found no trace of Lindgren. Finally, four men were arrested in Tuscaloosa and charged with killing him.

After a year of trials, acquittal of the accused, and futile searches, interest in the Lindgren disappearance waned. As years passed, the mystery gradually became a distant memory for most local residents. As administrator of his estate, Mrs. Lindgren sold property and accepted a partial settlement from a life insurance company. She later remarried.

Nearly a quarter century later, in 1930, local authorities were contacted with the startling news that a man who had died in Los Angeles, California, admitted in his will that he was A. J. Lindgren and that he wanted his body returned to Tuscaloosa. No explanations for his actions were ever offered. 

In 1947, a local radio station, WJRD, offered a series of local history programs that included the story of the disappearance. Lindgren’s daughters, who still lived in Tuscaloosa, filed a suit against the station owner for invasion of privacy. The case advanced from local courts to the Alabama Supreme Court. In 1949, a ruling was issued that Lindgren’s actions in 1905 made him a public figure, and privacy protection did not apply. The case is known in legal history as “Smith vs. Doss” and is considered an important component of media law.

Lindgren’s motives will probably never be known, but his actions created a mystery with ramifications spanning most of the first half of the twentieth century.

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