Holy Rollers: Murder and Madness in Oregon's Love Cult
by T. McCracken and Robert B. Blodgett
This is a story that has everything a good read should have: sex, mass insanity,the downfall of prominent families, murder, and sensational court trials.
And it's all true.
When Edmund Creffield and his cult followers made headlines in Oregon in 1903, it was page-one news--and not just in the Pacific Northwest, but around the country.Yet few today know who Creffield was, not even many folks in Waldport, where the final chapter of his story takes place.
Waldport is a small town--fewer than 2,000 today--the sort of place where everybody knows everything about everyone else.They even know everything about everyone else's parents and grandparents.The old-timers make sure of that.Go crabbing at the dock with one and he'll tell you about fishing in the old days "when you could walk across the Alsea Bay on the backs of salmon--which was a good thing because there wasn't a bridge in those days."
He'll gladly tell you all about the Indians, the homesteaders, the loggers, and the lumber barons. He'll even tell you about the scoundrels and the madams. If you want to hear about something really outrageous, he'll tell you about Bo and Peep, a music professor and a nurse who not long ago convinced some in town that if they followed them, leaving behind everything--even their children--they would find salvation in a spaceship.
But asking an old-timer about Edmund Creffield is an offense."We were always told to not talk about him," the old-timer will murmur, eyes cast down, "and I'm not going to. Why dredge up the dead? It'll only hurt the living. It was a one-time thing. Nothing like that could happen again. Or, anyhow, it couldn't ever happen again to normal people. Sane people. People like you and me."
What little most folks in town know was gleaned from a magazine article a student at Waldport High happened upon in the 1950s.The girl had never before heard of Edmund Creffield, but she knew almost everyone else mentioned in the piece."Do you know who these people are?" she asked after reading the article aloud on the school bus."Whose mothers these are?Whose fathers these are?"Everyone on the bus knew who they were because everyone in town knew who they were.They were some of the town's earliest settlers and some of the town's best-respected citizens.
That--not murder--may be the most unsettling part of this story. Unsettling because these were normal people. Sane people. People like you and me.If things like these could happen to them, things like these might happen to anyone.
When the Waldport High students asked their parents for more information about the doings of Creffield and his followers, all were shushed up and told to never bring up the subject again. A group of men went up and down the coast buying and destroying every copy of the offending magazine they could find.
The young people obeyed their parents and never did bring up Creffield again.
And neither did anybody else in town.
Chapter 1: Life Before Creffield (B.C.)
Some of the newspaper articles that are sources for this chapter:
1953 Stewart Holbrook's Murder Without Tears
Holy Rollers: Murder & Madness in Oregon's Love Cult
Part 1: The Seduction
Chapter 1: Trust Me, Brothers And Sisters
(Life Before Creffield [B.C.])
Chapter 2: God, Save Us From Compromising Preachers
Chapter 3: The Flock
(Profiles of the Holy Rollers Were)
Chapter 4: The Holy Rollers
(Things Start to Get Wild on on Kiger Island)
Chapter 5: Housecleaning
(There's a Sacrificial Bonfire)
Chapter 6: Community Concerns
Chapter 7: Esther, The Chosen One
(Creffield Plans to Marry 16-Year- Old)
Chapter 8: Tar and Feathers
(The Men of Corvallis Act)
Chapter 9: Sane People Don’t Go Bareheaded
(Holy Rollers are Committed to the Asylum)
Chapter 10: More Beast Than Man
( Creffield is Arrested)
Chapter 11: God Will Plead Creffield's Case
(Creffield in Court)
Chapter 12: Scandal
(Shocking Testimony at the Trial)
Chapter 13: Calm Before the Storm
(The Holy Rollers Resume their Lives)
Chapter 14: Giving Up The Ghost
(Men are Gunning for Creffield)
Part Two: The People V. Creffield
Chapter 16: The Widow Creffield
Chapter 19: An Inherited Streak of Insanity
Part Three: The Madness
Chapter 23: Seeking Reconciliation
Chapter 24: Another Holy Roller Page One Murder
Chapter 25: What Can Papa Do For You?
Chapter 26: Human Life is Too Cheap In This Community
Chapter 30: The Final Chapter
(What Happened to Everyone Afterwards)
Newspaper Articles about Creffield & the Holy Rollers
1897-1903: B.C. (Before Creffield)
October to December 1903:Holy Rollers Burn Furniture & Pets
January to March, 1904: Holy Rollers Tarred and Feathered
April to June 1904: Holy Rollers are Committed to the Asylum
July 1904: Creffield is Found & Arrested
September 1904: Creffield's Trial
April 1906: Men are Gunning For Creffield
May 1906: Creffield is Murdered, Murderer is Considered a Hero
May 1906: Holy Rollers Found Starving Near Heceta Head
June 1906: George Mitchell's Trial Begins
July 1906: Hurt Testifies of Debauched Wife and Debased Sisters
July 1906: Esther Mitchell Kills Her Brother
August to October 1906: Seattle Prepares for another Big Trial
November 1906: Maud Hurt Creffield Commits Suicide
April 1909-August 1914: Esther Leaves the Asylum
1953 Stewart Holbrook's Murder Without Tears
1951Startling Detective Magazine, Nemesis of the Nudist High Priest