Creffield and the Holy Rollers made page one headlines from 1903 to 1907. When I was researching Holy Rollers: Murder and Madness in Oregon’s Love Cult I spent months transcribing hundreds of articles. I’m not sure why I was so obsessive. Maybe it was my way of immersing my self into a cult without joining one. Anyway, I’m posting them all for those who are really interested in the story, or are interested the history of journalism, or are interested in how a scandalous story played out in the "media" in a by gone era. Since I no doubt made typos and unconsciously corrected papers' typos, these web pages should not be cited in anything serious (e.g. your dissertation). For such projects they should only be used as starting points and you should refer to the original sources. If you want a shorter version of the story, buy my book. Enjoy.
July 22, 1904: Holy Roller on Death Row
Oregon Daily Journal (Portland) 7/22/1904 p1
Thinks Williams May Tell All
“I Have Confesses to God.” Mrs. Cross Says Murdered Told Her--’Confess to Man.’ She Urged---He’s a Holy Roller.”
(From a Staff Correspondent)
The Dalles, Or., July 22.--Daniel Norman Williams has become a Holy Roller. Through the efforts of Mrs. J. H. Cross, a prominent adherent of that faith, the condemned man awaiting execution for the murder of Mrs. L. J. Nesbitt and her daughter, Alma, has become a disciple of the doctrine made famous in Oregon by Apostle Joshua Creffield. And to Mrs. Cross, his religious tutor, in the privacy of his cell, Williams has virtually confessed his crimes.
The confession is not complete. Though often moved to tears when urged by Mrs. Cross to confess his deeds “before all men,” as she says is required by the scriptures, Williams would hesitate and finally say he wanted more time. If he gets no new trial on his appeal to the Supreme Court he may speak.
“He tells me that he has confessed to God,” answered Mrs. Cross in response to a question. I begged him to confess before all men. He was moved to tears several times by my entreaties and was evidently in an awful state of mental torture. But he always hesitated. I think he will confess sooner or later because he admitted to me that he is not saved.
CONVERSION NOT THOROUGH
In just 11 words Mrs. Cross naively suggests an explanation of Williams’ hesitancy about making a public confession which will appeal to all familiar with the circumstances.
“I think he will confess if he gets no new trial,” she remarked. In these words the Holy Roller proselyte tacitly admitted her doubt of the genuineness of the conversion of Williams.
In this city the disciples of Holy Rollers are known simply as members of the “Mission.” The word “Holy Roller “ is repugnant to them. Mrs. Cross is the wife of a prosperous grocer. Her daughter is also a convert to the doctrines advocated by the peculiar sect. It was shortly after his trial and conviction that Mrs. Cross began to visit Williams. She was shown a little more consideration than others who had called to see him by Williams on the occasion of her first visit.
PRISONER GROWS PIOUS
The woman took books and pamphlets dealing with religious subjects to the condemned man, however, and in these he soon became much interested. The result was that when she returned he was in a more hospitable humor and the two had a lengthy conversation. Since then Mrs. Cross has called on Williams on an average of twice a week. In fact, she is the only visitor he has ever consented to receive. She soon began to urge him to accept salvation and between her arguments and pondering over the religious works given him for perusal Williams soon became most pious in his demeanor.
One day last week when he had been exhorted to embrace “full and free salvation” he broke down and wept like a child, wrung his hands in anguish, Mrs. Cross says, and moaned: “Oh, I am an awful guilty man. I have done some terrible things. But I have confessed it all to God. I believe he will be merciful.”
“Mr. Williams, a confession to God is necessary,” said Mrs. Cross, “but you should remember that no matter what you have done, God knows all about it, anyhow. What he expects of you in order to be convinced of your penitence is that you confess before all men.
ENDURES MENTAL TORTURE
Williams started to dry his tears and after a few sobs managed to control himself. He heaved several long sighs, opened his mouth once or twice as if to speak, and then hung his head without saying anything. On being again urged to make a public confession he replied: “I know that I am not saved. I know that I must do other things. But wait. Many things may happen yet.”
Since his conversion Williams has appeared to be in fairly good spirits and eats and sleeps well. He is not allowed the daily papers, by order of Sheriff C. Sexton, but is permitted to have a magazine occasionally and all the religious books he wants. He will accept the latter class of literature from nobody but Mrs. Cross.
“I have been here for 14 years,” said J. J. Fitzgerald, the venerable jailer, “and in that time have been farther than three miles away from the court house only once--that was about five or six years ago, when I took an insane man to Salem. In all those years I have never seen a man that appears so little concerned about the outcome of his case as does this man Williams since he took to reading religious works. He never talks about his crimes at all, and eats and sleeps well.
COMPLAINS OF HIS FOOD
Williams is not a model prisoner in every sense of the word. He frequently finds fault with his meals. Sometimes the quality does not suit him and sometimes he complains of not having enough. When he asks for more it is given him. Previous to his trial he ordered a few pies, but he has eaten no delicacies since that time.
Shortly after 8 o’clock in the morning he is released from his cell and allowed in the corridor. There is only one other inmate of the jail at present, Willard Udell, a 17-year-old boy, who is held on the charge of running away with a girl two years younger than himself. The two prisoners frequently draw their chairs close together and convene in low tones. Williams does not smoke, chew or gamble.
NOW WEARS FULL BEARD
Since May 22, the day previous to the beginning of his trial, a razor has not been used on the prisoner’s face. He now wears a full beard and presents an appearance entirely different from his aspect during the trial, when his face was clean-shaven.
There is one subject upon which Mrs. Cross herself is rather reticent. She does not care to discuss Williams’ conversion from a denominational standpoint. Asked if he had accepted the doctrine of the “Mission,” she answered that he had “accepted Christ as his Savior.”
Corvallis Times 7/27/1904 p4
He May Own Up
(About William’s conversion, plus …)
It was shortly after his trial and conviction that Mrs. Cross began to visit Williams. She was shown a little more consideration than others who had called to see him by Williams on the occasion of her first visit.
This woman took books and pamphlets dealing with religious subjects to the condemned man, however, and in these he soon became much interested. The result was that when she returned he was in a more hospitable humor and the tow had a lengthy conversation. Since then Mrs. Cross has called on Williams on average of twice a week. In fact, she is the only visitor he has ever consented to receive.. She soon began to urge him to accept salvation and between her arguments and pondering over the religious works given him for perusal, Williams soon became most pious in his demeanor. . .
Corvallis Gazette 7/29/1904 p4
Norman Williams, now in jail at the Dalles for the murder of Mrs. Nesbitt and her daughter, Alma, has been partially converted top the Holy Roller faith. Mrs. J. H. Cross, who is the main instrument of his soi-disant salvation, is expecting to get him to make a confession regarding the murders, but he hasn’t, as he says, been “saved” yet, and so he is postponing the confession until it is decided whether he gets a new trial by premature confession that may prejudice his case. If the new trial is not granted, and there no other hope of his getting off, then he is going in for full and free salvation with both feet. It looks as if he were trying to make his Salem trip end in the asylum instead of the penitentiary.
[Norman Williams executed in 1905. For more information, see Corvallis Times, May 10, 1905, p3]