William W. Willingham


Fort Meade Leader, June 9, 1910


A Picturesque Character Gone From Among Us

In the death of William Willingham, which occurred this week, Polk County loses its most picturesque character. With his life closed a career as interesting as that of Jesse James.

A murderer of four men, the possessor of an immense fortune in cattle, he remained unmolested on his plantation near the Kissimmee river through the sheer force of his daring in spite of warrants for his arrest, until, lured onto a Kissimmee river boat and getting intoxicated, he was captured by a supposed friend, and after a trial which stirred the county to its borders, he was convicted of murder in the first degree and sentenced to prison for life. Effort after effort was made by his mother and other influential friends for his pardon but this was not effected until about sixteen [14] years time had been served and then only upon condition that he abstain from the fiery beverage which had been his undoing.

Emerging from the penitentiary without a dollar he began life all over again and by his indomitable efforts he had begun to build up another fortune when death stepped in. It was a curious fate that he who had dared death so often to bullets should be the victim of disease at last.

Note by Kyle VanLandingham: The obituary states that Bill Willingham was the "murderer of four men." Bill was convicted for the murder of his brother-in-law, William H. McLaughlin. Several years earlier he was acquitted in a murder trial for the death of Julius Caesar Rockner. There is some evidence that Bill may have killed a man named Lippincott.

Marker in the Pleasant Grove Cemetery east of Ft. Meade, Florida