Murder Without Tears, Part Four

Holbrook, Stewart. Sunday Oregonian Magazine. “Murder Without Tears, Part Four.” 1 March 1953. pp. 14-15.


Murder Without Tears

Last of Four Parts

By Stewart Holbrook

Portland Author


The death of Joshua the Second heralded violence in a chain of murder and heartbreak: and starvation ruled in the Garden of Eden where hypnotized women awaited their lord’s return.


In 1903 a fanatic appeared at Corvallis and proclaimed himself as a prophet, Joshua the Second. He gathered a group of enthusiastic followers to his new cult, practically all of them women


After being tarred and feathered and run out of town, Joshua built a Garden of Eden at the coast near Waldport, and gathered all of his female followers about him there.


His philandering with the ladies aroused the anger of Corvallis menfolk, and eventually he was shot while visiting Seattle by George Mitchell, brother of Esther Mitchell, one of Joshua’s female adherents.



Holy RollersWith the killing of Joshua Creffield, interest centered on Seattle, where King County prepared to prosecute George Mitchell for the murder.


The Garden of Eden, 300 miles south of the Puget sound (sic) city, was forgotten.


Things were going badly there indeed. On May 15, a week after the shooting, George Hodges, a veteran timber cruiser of Salado in Lincoln county (sic), Oregon, had been looking over some fine old Douglas fir near Waldport on the Oregon coast.


It was a cold and windy day. When Hodges emerged from the timber onto the beach he saw something that right caused him to swallow the piece of Climax he had been working on.


Hodges couldn't know, of course, that he was in the middle of the Garden of Eden; and he brushed his eyes when he saw five women and young girls, one of them with a baby in arms, all of them dressed in outlandish wrappers, camped on the beach.


One look told him they were starving. Their cheeks were pinched. Some were too weak to stand.


The females were grouped around a frayed and torn old tent, and they told the timber cruiser that they were followers of Joshua, the prophet who recently had destroyed San Francisco.


Hodges was a man who read the papers. He immediately began to understand this improbable situation he had stumbled into. “Where is your Joshua?“ he asked.


The women that the prophet had gone to Queen Charlotte sound, off the north coast of British Columbia, where he was seeking a new home for his followers.


"But,” said Hodges, the well posted man, “this prophet of yours, he is dead. Shot and killed in Seattle a week ago."


The women laughed wildly. Joshua dead? Why, mister, he could not be killed. They had seen a man try it with a revolver. Nobody could kill Joshua.


Convinced that the poor bedraggled women were completely out of their heads, and learning that they had had nothing to eat in two weeks except a few crabs and mussels, Hodges left them what provisions he had in his pack and went to Newport.


He then telephoned the chief of police at Corvallis, giving him, in true landlooker style, the line, range, and section of the Garden of Eden. Expeditions of brothers, fathers and husbands set out at once to bring their womenfolk home.


Up in Seattle the trial of George Mitchell was getting under way. It brought out some sensational evidence and it might well have made the front pages all over the country, as it did in the Northwest, had it not been for Harry Thaw, the playboy, concurrently on trial in New York city for slaying Stanford White.


The Thaw proceedings were considered gamey.


The revelations concerning the late and goatish Prophet Joshua, as brought out by Mitchell's defense counsel, made the Thaw case in comparison seem rather pale.


William D. Gardner, superintendent of the Oregon Boys and Girls Aid society, testified that “a large number of young girls” had been sent to his institution from Corvallis by their parents; that most of these girls had confessed to “criminal relations” with the prophet, the said “Joshua Creffield; that the prophet had told them the relations were not of a criminal nature because he was engaged in searching for the Mother of a Second Christ.”


Certain practices of the prophet, Witness Gardner told the court, had been particularly revolting, so revolting in fact that even in Herr Doktor Krafft-Ebing’s classic treatise on sexual aberrations they had to be described in Latin.


In a letter to Kenneth MacKintosh, who was prosecuting Mitchell, John Manning, district attorney for Portland called Creffield a “degenerate of the worst sort," and added, that the prophet had “practiced unspeakable brutalities on ignorant and unsophisticated girls."


A citizen of Corvallis testified that Esther Mitchell, sister of the defendant, had been sent to the Boys and Girls Aid home to get her away from Joshua. When released, she immediately took up with the prophet again. "She is obsessed," said the witness.


Esther herself attended the trial of her brother. Day after day she sat there, and spectators remarked on her lack of emotion--or was it something else?--as she watched and listened with a dead-calm face.


On several days of the trial the evidence was such that the court was cleared of spectators. "No such testimony has ever been given in a King County court," observed the Seattle Post-- Intelligencer.


George Mitchell conducted himself with quiet dignity. He was the hero of the trial.


A large delegation came from Corvallis, including O. P. Hunt, the late prophet's father-in-law, who attempted to give bail for Mitchell and was otherwise a stanch supporter of the defendant.


Every day women heaped flowers on the young Mitchell until stopped by the judge.


Mitchell's statement was clear and brief. "I came to Seattle,” he told the court, “to kill this man who ruined my sister. I completed my job." He appeared throughout the trial to be the happiest person in court.


The jury returned a verdict of not guilty on July 10.


Two days later George Mitchell and brothers Fred and Perry went to Seattle's King Street railroad station to take the 4:30 afternoon train to Portland.


The waiting room was crowded with summer tourists and with perhaps 80 persons who had come to Seattle from Corvallis purposely to attend the trial.


It was a jolly gathering.


Seattle Train StationFred Mitchell suddenly spied Esther standing near a pillar in the big depot, nonchalant and aloof. Another man recalls seeing her there. A jaunty new sailor hat sat on her ash-blonde head.


Her skirt was a bit short, coming almost to the tops of her button shoes. Around her throat was a white satin ribbon, done in a big bow, its ends streaming down over a white shirtwaist. She carried a light coat over one arm.


Fred left his two brothers and went to Esther, asking her if she wasn't going to speak to brother George. The slim girl assented with a nod. She and Fred joined the others.


She took George by the hand but did not respond to his greeting, and the four Mitchells walked toward the gate of the train shed.


The station announcer was now calling the train for Portland and way points.


And now the silent girl moved as quickly as a panther. Reaching her right hand under the coat on her arm, she brought out a small pearl-handled revolver--just the sort a woman would buy.


In a move so quick that Fred Mitchell had no time to think or act, she placed the gun's muzzle behind brother George's left ear and pulled the trigger. George sank to the marble floor.


In the noisy, crowded station the gunshot made little impression, but Patrolman John T. Mason had seen the shooting.


He took the smoking gun from Esther and placed her under arrest. George Mitchell was already dead.


At the Seattle police station Esther remained calm and dry-eyed. The killing, she said, had been a matter of course. Her brother had killed God in the form of Joshua Creffield.


Well, that is why she had killed her brother. She had shot him, she pointed out, in the same place Mitchell had shot Creffield.


Esther went on to say that she and Maud Creffield, the prophet’s widow had planned to kill George Mitchell if he were freed by the court.


Detectives brought Maude in. The stories of the two women agreed in everything: Maude had bought the gun; it was decided Esther would do the shooting. She loaded the gun herself and put it in the bosom of her shirtwaist.


Esther went on to say she intended to shoot George in the courtroom, but no good opportunity had presented itself. It was the same on the day after the trial. So, she was at the station, waiting.


Both Esther and Mrs. Creffield were held. Tried on a charge of murder, and defended without charge by Col. A. E. Clark of Portland, Esther was found not guilty by reason of unsound mind. She was committed to the Washington State Asylum.


Maude Creffield was being held in the King county jail and it was there she took care of the matter herself. She was found on her cot dead. An autopsy revealed strychnine.


Three years later Esther Mitchell was released from the asylum.


Two days afterward a pale and tragically beautiful girl came into the editorial offices of the Morning Oregonian. Miss Amanda Otto, who as Mrs. Marion is still with the newspaper, was then secretary to Harvey Scott, the editor.


Miss Otto told her she didn’t know the location of the grave, but could tell her when George Mitchell died.


Whereupon the young visitor said: “That won’t be necessary. I know when he died. I’m Esther Mitchell and I shot him.


The amazed Miss Otto got the file on the Mitchell case for Esther. She then informed Editor Scot that the released murderess was in the city room, and Scott told her to go back out and hold the girl for an interview.


When Miss Otto returned to the city room, the girl had vanished.


A few weeks later the unfortunate Esther Mitchell, barely 20, died at the home of friends near Waldport.



Here is list of other versions of this story by Stewart Holbrook:


Sunday Oregonian. “Joshua Elijah Creffield.” November 22 and 29, 1936


American Mercury. “Oregon’s Secret Love Cult.” February, 1937. pp. 167-174.


Under the pseudonym Chris K. Stanton. “The Enigma of the Sex Crazed Prophet.” Front Page Detective. January 1938. pp. 4-9, 108-110.


Death and Times of a Prophet.Murder out Yonder: An Informal Study of Certain Classic Crimes in Back-Country America” Macmillan Company. (1941) pp. 1-18.


Wildmen, Wobblies & Whistle Punks. “Death and Times of a Prophet.” Oregon State University Press, Corvallis. 1992. pp. 41-60.


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