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.