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New book sheds light on 'wild man'

Shelton-Mason County Journal of Shelton, Washington

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Aberdeen resident pens new Tornow novel

It has been more than 100 years since John Tornow lived and died deep in the woods of the Wynoochee River Valley, but area residents still can't stop talking about him.

Aberdeen resident Bill Lindstrom's new book, "John Tornow: Villain or Victim?" tells the untold story of the man known as the Wildman of the Wynoochee.

"I wanted to make it about people and the people who knew him and have a far different John Tornow than has been written about in books and magazines," said Lindstrom, 72. "I hope I have provided people with enough information on the story ... so they can form an educated opinion for themselves on what happened."

Tornow was killed in a shootout on April 16, 1913, two years after he was accused of killing his two adult nephews. In the 19-month manhunt that followed, Tomow is believed to be responsible for the deaths of four sheriffs deputies.

Several histories of Tomow's life and death have been written and published in southwest Washington, in addition to the oral histories passed down from generation to generation in Grays Harbor and west Mason counties.

Lindstrom said his book stands out from the other Tornow histories.

"There's a lot more than meets the eye, than what's been publicized," Lindstrom said.

Lindstrom's interest in Tornow began in 1986, when, as city editor of the Aberdeen Daily World, he was assigned to write about a man working to buy a tombstone for Tornow's grave.

The story struck Lindstrom, and he joined in the effort.

He never stopped researching the story of Tornow's life and the manhunt that ended it.

"The more (people) I talked to, the more convoluted it became," he said. "I saw this wasn't just a story for the newspaper β€” this is the beginning of a book. I just didn't realize it would take me 28 years to finish it."

Lindstrom researched Tornow using period newspapers, census reports, genealogy records, and police and hospital records.

In Tornow's time, much of the coverage about his alleged crimes β€”he was never charged β€” and the manhunt that followed were given dramatic news coverage, Lindstrom said.

Montesano Vidette reporter Dan

Cloud also covered the case with a less sensational style.

Lindstrom's historical nonfiction story, structured as a novel, follows Cloud as he investigates the story.

"They say write what you know," Lindstrom said. "I know a little about newspapering."

Lindstrom worked in the newspaper industry for almost 50 years. He retired from the Aberdeen Daily World in 2013.

Stories written by Cloud, and others by Fred Bolt of the Tacoma Times, are included in their entirety in "John Tornow: Villain or Victim?" The story was covered in many newspapers in Western Washington, Lindstrom said.

"This was not just a small-town story," Lindstrom said.

Every character in the book but one is a real person involved in the Tornow story, Lindstrom said.

"I didn't want a bland history book," Lindstrom said. "What I wanted was something that would engross people in the story from the time they picked it up to the time they put it down."

Some books on Tornow question whether he was guilty of any of the crimes he was accused of. Lindstrom said he doesn't dispute that Tornow killed the men but said he believes the shootings were accidental or in self-defense.

Lindstrom debunks some parts of Tomow's life previously thought to be facts. For example, Lindstrom said Tornow was never committed to a mental institution in Oregon, as his brother Fred said during the manhunt.

The book also includes about a dozen conspiracy theories on the case, he said.

"I have my opinions on what I think happened. Nobody knows because nobody was there," he said. "Things might have been a lot different if they had let him live his life in the wild as a hermit."

"John Tornow: Villain or Victim?" is published by Xlibris and is available online at and

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Original Publication Date: October 16, 2014

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