Murder Without Tears, Part Three

Holbrook, Stewart. Sunday Oregonian Magazine. “Murder Without Tears, Part Three.” 22 February 1953. pp. 10-11.


Murder Without Tears

Third of Four Parts

By Stewart Holbrook

Portland Author


The self-anointed prophet, Joshua the Second, gathered his followers, mostly female around him in his Garden of Eden near Waldport. The women left their homes and families to follow the fanatic, whose fondness for the fair sex finally brought him a violent death.



In 1903 a fanatic named Franz Creffield arrived at Corvallis to proclaim himself a true prophet, Joshua the Second. He attracted a group of followers, nearly all female, to his new cult, but with the passing of time his philandering activities caused the town to be rocked by scandal and he was tarred and feathered and sent away.


After marrying one of his followers, Maude Hunt, he induced her brother and sister-in-law to buy property near Waldport, where Joshua set up a Garden of Eden, to where his followers from Corvallis were called.



Holy RollersJoshua the Second was met at the railroad depot by Mr. and Mrs. Frank Hunt. They were all but speechless, but they somehow managed to tell him in awed tones of telegraphic dispatches that day reporting the total destruction of San Francisco by earthquake and fire.


If Oregon’s great prophet was in any manner astonished, he did not show it. He merely smiled through his beard.


"I knew it," he said quietly, "that God would respond.


On the way across by ferry, and so by buggy to the Garden of Eden, Joshua discussed with the Hunts his plans for still more wonders. “The other cities of the plain must be destroyed, too.” He said, meaning Seattle, Portland, Corvallis and Los Angeles.


“We must rouse the faithful before it is too late."


And rouse they did. When a man with a big long beard has friends who can shake a big city to pieces, it is time to pay heed. The prophet sent the word through the mails to Corvallis and way points. I cannot find evidence that Joshua gave further warning to Portland or the other two “cities of the plain.” Possibly he thought they did not deserve it.


But warning hit Corvallis with full force. Within 24 hours thereafter, trainmen on the Corvallis & Eastern wondered at the sudden rise in passenger traffic. Nothing like it had been seen since the boom days of Yaquina City, the shining mirage of the late T. Egenton Hogg, and may the gods of the realtors bless his soul.


All of this new traffic was female. All of the females were heading for the end of the line at Newport.


There were middle-aged women with babes in arms, middle-aged women with grown daughters, middle-aged women alone, and a cluster of young girls in their teens who, it turned out, had run away from home.


At least one of the Corvallis & Eastern brakemen was struck with and remembered the slim beauty of fair-haired Esther Mitchell, soon to be in headlines throughout the West.


There were two trains daily out of Corvallis, and for the next several days every train brought a few stragglers from the unquestionably doomed Sodom of Corvallis or its environs. All had to be ferried across Yaquina Bay, thence on foot or in buggy to the Garden of Joshua.


Edmund CreffieldThe cynical folk around Waldport put no stock in the prophet, not even after the terrifying results of his great curse upon San Francisco became known.


Waldport was openly hostile. But 90 miles east, back in troubled Corvallis, Joshua's trumpet call had sounded clear and ominous.


Young girls started for school and disappeared. Husbands returned home at evening found their wives gone, at least one of them carrying a 6-week-old babe with her.


Still another husband found a note pinned to a pillow in his home. It told him his wife had heard the call.


How strong was Joshua’s Call can be read between the lines of this note, a copy of which survives. “I don’t want to leave in the daytime,” it read, “because the children will see me and cry to go with me. I must leave when they’re asleep. I have taken $2.50 of your money. This will not pay all my fare, and I will still have to walk many miles to get to where I want to go.”


Walk she did, and alone, down the west side of the Coast range where bear and cougar stalked the way.


Down below Waldport, in Eden the prophet was receiving more revelations. One special message told that Corvallis was to be the next sinful city destroyed. Another directed that all members of the cult to burn their conventional clothes and to wear a sort of holy wrappers.


A generous fire was set going and into it screaming, moaning women and girls heaved all their vile finery, and forthwith dressed themselves in the wrappers that Joshua provided.


Considerable research has failed to disclose where Joshua got these garments, but one who saw them told me that at close range they looked like heavy cotton bathrobes.


There were to be no bathing beauties in the times of Joshua II.


Meanwhile the prophet's search for the second Mother of a Second Messiah forward . . . Praise Joshua and great day in the morning.


Living conditions in the Garden left much to be desired. Lean-to and wigwam huts were made. All hands slept on the ground. Food was cooked over open fires and was plain. Between 40 and 50 girls and women and the two men were in the colony.


By the 26th of April, or about one week after Joshua entered the Garden, at least one man in Corvallis learned of the prophet’s whereabouts. This man's young daughter had disappeared.


Investigation indicated she had walked most of the way to Newport, then down the coast to the Garden. All alone the youngster had done a good 80 miles on foot.


Lewis HartleyHer father, a solid citizen of Corvallis, set out to find her. He meant business.


At Newport he paused long enough to purchase a .32-caliber revolver and a box of cartridges. Going down to the waterfront to get transportation across Yaquina Bay, he just missed the ferry.


On the ferryboat stood the bearded prophet amid a group of wrappered females. The Corvallis man recognized him at once and pulled his brand-new revolver. Aiming it at Joshua, while the women screamed, he pulled the trigger—not once, but five times in a row. The gun merely clicked.


Out on the ferryboat Joshua smiled gently at the puny attempt of mere man to kill him. "See," said he to his women. "You see how it is. No man can kill Joshua."


And the women now smiling through their tears, had witnessed another example of the prophet's powers.


But not the frustrated man on the dock. "It was the god-damn fool who sold me them cartridges and gun," he complained later to friends. "The gun is center-fire. The cartridges are rim-fire. That's why that-----is still alive."


Holy RollersBut the men of seething Corvallis, now thoroughly aroused, were getting ready to lay the prophet low. Singly and in twos and threes they took train to Newport.


Armed with rifles and revolvers, they crossed on the ferry to Waldport. Here they learned that Joshua must have been forewarned. He was last seen heading for Newport, alone. He had doubtless hidden in the woods to let the several posses pass.


This information was hurriedly telephoned to Corvallis. In that city was George Mitchell, 21-year-old brother of Esther. Putting a revolver in his pocket, he went to Albany--thinking he might catch the prophet there waiting for a train to Portland.


At Albany Mitchell learned he was too late. The prophet had been there and gone. With him was his wife, Maude. The two had bought tickets to Seattle.


Young Mitchell had to remain in Albany for another train. He arrived in Seattle on the morning of May 7, 1906.


Whether or not Mitchell knew where in Seattle to look for the prophet is not known. What is clear as daylight is this.


About 8 o'clock on this particular May morning, Joshua Creffield and his wife, now both garbed in conventional fashion, though the prophet was still in full beard, left the rooming house where they had taken lodgings and walked down Second avenue (sic) in Seattle, then turned into Cherry Street.


In front of Quick's drugstore was a sidewalk weighing machine. The prophet's wife, who in spite of the grim victuals at the Garden was more than plump, stepped onto the scales, while the prophet stood looking into the store window.


Young George Mitchell was just then walking down Cherry street (sic). He sighted the couple. Without a word he stepped quickly up behind the man, placed the muzzle of his revolver at the prophet's left ear, and fired.


Joshua the Second slumped quietly down to the sidewalk. The historic spot, as yet unmarked, is on the north side of Cherry street at the corner of First avenue.


The prophet’s wife screamed and flew at Mitchell trying to take the gun from his hand. Mitchell retained the gun, but made no attempt to escape.


In another moment Maude left him to bend over her husband, whose blood was running across the sidewalk and making a little river in the gutter. The prophet had died without a shudder.


Mitchell stood idly by, the gun still in his hand. Without a word he passed it to a policeman who had just arrived.


Mrs. Creffield at first was frantic, then she calmed. "This man," she told the cop, pointing to the corpse, "this man is my husband, Joshua the prophet. In three days he will arise and walk.


"Sure, sure," the cop replied. He was used to all sorts of people. He humored them. “Sure enough,” he added, “in a couple of days he’ll be up and around even if he ain’t feeling too well.”


He called the pokey and the morgue wagon.


At the police station George Mitchell was calm, even happy. All he wanted was a telegraph blank. On it he wrote a message to O. P. Hunt, Corvallis, Or., the same who who was now late prophet’s father-in-law. (sic) The message read: I GOT MY MAN AND AM IN JAIL HERE.


Maud Creffield, the widow, some how got word of Joshua‘s death to Mr. and Mrs. Frank Hunt at the Garden. They hurried to Seattle, and it was over their protests and those of the prophet that the prophet was buried at all. They insisted he was only “temporarily dead.”


But the unfeeling cops turned the body over to the Bonney-Watson undertakers, and those kindly men stuffed cotton into the big hole back of the prophet's left ear, and laid him away tenderly in Lakeview cemetery.


It was the 9th of May. Only the widow and the undertakers were at the graveside. No services were held.


That was how they laid the Oregon prophet away in the ground. He was dead enough, but his work was far from done. Another tragedy was building up.


Concluded next Sunday

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