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.
May 12, 1906: Mitchell Denied Bail
Seattle Star 5/12/1906 p1
Mitchell Must Remain In Jail
Stirring plea of Attorney Is Made in Vain as Law Specifically Provides for No Release in Cases of This Kind---Will Enter His Plea Next Saturday.
George Mitchell cannot be released from the county jail on bail, and he will remain there until tried. The date of his trial will be fixed next Saturday.
Judge Frater, of the superior court, so decided this morning when Mitchell was arraigned before him on a charge of murder in the first degree for the killing of Franz Edmund Creffield last Monday Morning.
LARGE CROWD PRESENT
The arraignment took place in the criminal court room before a large crowd of spectator, whom the notoriety and public sympathy with the slayer of Creffield attracted. Attorneys Will Morris and S. M. Shipley represented Mitchell, and prosecuting attorney Mackintosh appeared on behalf of the state. After one other criminal arraignment, Mitchell’s name was called and he rose and stepped forward to the bar.
All eyes were centered on the young man, but he appeared unconcerned and calm. He was neatly dresses in a gray suit, wore a white collar and was freshly shaved, his manly and neat appearance creating a favorable impression.
JUDGE SCRUTINIZES PRISONER
Judge Frater, who afterwards admitted a deep interest in the case, looked the prisoner over carefully, and followed the entire routine process with unusual interest and attention.
As Mr. Mackintosh read the formal information the young man stood straight (text illegible) his face showing no emotion except at the words “murder in the first degree,” as emphasized by the prosecuting attorney. Mr. Shipley asked the court for week in which to prepare a plea, and this was allowed. Mr. Shipley then proceeded with a motion to admit Mitchell to bail. Mr. Mackintosh rose to oppose it.
STATUTE PREVENTS BAIL
The prosecutor said but a few words and read the statute which provides that “all accused criminals shall be bailable except in capital crime where the poof is evident of presumption great.” He maintained that in the killing of Creffield the proof of Mitchell’s guilt was not denied. He also urged the court to disregard all sentiment in the case.
Will H. Morris, senior counsel for Mitchell, followed Mr. Mackintosh, making the most stirring speech of the day. He pointed out the base and criminal character of Creffield, the extenuating circumstances of the deed, and showed that in his belief no jury could convict Mitchell, indicating that the proof of guilt was not evident.
Mr. Morris in closing said: “I appeal to you as a judge and as a man, I ask you if the slaying of human leper, killed as you would kill a dog, is a deed to make this man a criminal, to make a desperate murderer, a man too dangerous to be at liberty in this community on bail. Can you call this boy, but 23 years of age, a criminal when he, a green country youth, has arisen in his manhood and taken the vengeance of nature upon the lustful viper who had stolen the honor of his sisters. I have here the letter from the superintendent of the Orphan Girls; and Boys’ Home of Oregon, wherein he says that he has heard the confession of 16-year-old Esther Mitchell to her criminal relations with Creffield.
“I have the letter of Prosecuting Attorney Manning of Portland, a man whom I believe is as conscientious as our own honorable prosecutor, wherein he says that he sent Creffield to prison for committing a crime of adultery with Mrs. Starr, the older sister of Mitchell.
“Most pitiful, and yet maddening of all, I have here the letter written by Mrs. Starr to her husband, when she learned that Creffield was out of jail, and felt (text illegible) his evil influence drawing her back to him. It tells how she left her three infant children in the night. ‘I could not go by day,’ she writes, ‘for they would have cried. It tells how she traveled 90 miles on foot to reach this man who had robbed her of honor and reason, who has filled the insane asylum of Oregon with others whom he has robbed of reason. I submit these letters to the court.
BAIL IS DENIED
Such was the strain of the thrilling story as told by the attorney for Mitchell, but in spite of its apparent truth and appeal to the heart strings of every honest man, Judge Frater was forced to deny the prisoner bail, explaining that under the law he had no other recourse. “If my own feelings were consulted, I admit that my decision might be different, but this is strictly a matter of law. The statue as read appears to be clear and point out clearly the impossibility of allowing this man his liberty under bail.”
Judge Frater had his remarks taken by a court reporter, doubtless recollecting the criticism that followed his decision in the Beede-McDonald case. He spoke very guardedly, saying he would not allow his personal sentiments in the case to interfere with his decision.
BEEDE A SPECTATOR
An interested spectator in the court room was George Beede, one of the principles in that case who was accused of shooting Ray McDonald, whom he in turn accused of undue intimacy with his (Beede’s) wife. In that case, Judge Frater made remarks tending to justify the killing of a man or such a reason.
After the judge’s decision Mitchell was led back to the jail, apparently unaffected by the failure of his effort to get out. He will be in court again next Saturday to plead, his plea being probably one of not guilty.
Seattle Post Intelligencer 5/12/1906 p5
Mitchell May Ask Court For Bail
His Attorney Declares that $10,000 Could Be Raised.
It is probable that after George Mitchell is arraigned in the superior court this morning on a charge of murder in the first degree his attorney, Will H. Morris, will ask that the prisoner be admitted to bail. Mr. Morris stated last night to a reporter for the Post-Intelligencer that if the court will name a reasonable sum as security for the appearance of the prisoner, he is certain that from $5,000 to $10,000 can be secured.
“I see no reason why Mitchell should not be admitted to bail,” said Mr. Morris, “for other men in this county who have been held on like charge have been and the amount had been as low as $5,000. A number of Seattle people have assured me that if the court will allow it they will aid the Portland people who are anxious to help the young man, and will raise any reasonable sum required.
HEADLINES IN DIFFERENT PAPERS FOR THE SAME ARTICLE
Seattle Star 5/12/1906 p
What an Honorable Man Thinks of Geo. Mitchell
Head of Boys’ and Girls’ Aid Society Writes Significant Letter. Ready to Produce Evidence of Provocation for Killing of Creffield.
Evening Telegram (Portland) 5/15/1906 p14
Gardner Would Help Mitchell
W. T. Gardner, superintendent of the Boys’ and Girls’ Aid society of Oregon, has written a letter to George Mitchell who is held without bail in the County Jail at Seattle for the murder of Edmund Creffield. The letter, which is given in full below, is a strong defense of Mitchell’s act in slaying the leader of the “Holy Rollers.”
“Portland, Or., May 9.--George Mitchell, Care County Sheriff, Seattle, Wash.-- Dear Sir: I think it my duty at this time to write you a few lines to say that if I could be of any assistance to you in giving evidence to show provocation, I should be pleased to do so, having had charge, as superintendent of this institution, of your sister, Esther, Florence Seeley and Eva May Hurt, all of whom were victims of Creffield’s lust, and who made confessions both to myself and the matron of this institution, that Creffield had criminal relations with them: and in the case of Eva May Hurt, her confession was of such a disgusting nature that I believe it was the only thing that kept her father from prosecuting Creffield, as he did not want the publicity which would probably be detrimental to his daughter hereafter. I also knew Mrs. Starr, and had considerable trouble with he in keeping her from seeing her sister while here, and was on the eve of sending her to the insane asylum.
“Sincerely trusting that you will get out of your present trouble speedily, and that you will be entirely exonerated for ridding the community of a human brute. I remain, very sincerely yours
“W. T. GARDNER.
“Superintendent Boys’ and Girls’ Aid Society of Oregon.”
When Mitchell was arraigned at Seattle last Saturday, Judge Frater refused to admit him to bail, saying that no matter what his judgment of the case was as a man, as an officer sitting in judgment, the law left no other course open to him. Mitchell will be taken into court to plead next Saturday.
When Mitchell’s motion asking for bail was being argued his attorney, Will H. Morris, one of the ablest criminal lawyers in the Northwest, made this statement:
“I appeal to you as a Judge and as a man. I ask you if the slaying of a human leper, killed as you would kill a dog, is a deed to make this man a criminal, to make him a desperate murderer, a man too dangerous to be set at liberty in this community on bail. Can you call this boy, but 23 years of age, a criminal, when he, a green country youth, has arisen in his manhood and taken the vengeance of nature upon the viper who had stolen the honor of his sisters?”
Seattle Mail and Herald 5/12/1906 p3
What do we have laws and prosecuting attorneys for if people are to be encouraged by officers of the law to “Take the law into their own hands?” Laws are made for the good of society, and it ill becomes an officer sworn to obey the law and prosecute all offenders against its majesty to apologize for red handed murder under any circumstances. Things have come to a pretty pass if offenders like Creffield cannot be adequately punished by due process of law for any and all kinds of offenses. Where is this sort of thing to stop? Suppose Mrs. Creffield now gets a forty-four and kills Mitchell?
HEADLINES IN DIFFERENT PAPERS FOR THE SAME ARTICLE
Seattle Daily Times 5/12/1906 p1
Statue Prevents Granting Bail To Mitchell
Morning Oregonian (Portland) /13/1906 p15
Mitchell Is Denied Bail
Evening Telegram (Portland) 5/12/1906
Mitchell Denied Bail At Seattle
Superior Judge Frater While Intimating That He Sympathizes With Creffield’s Slayer Holds Strictly to the Law.
Judge Frater Declared His Position on Case of the Avenger.
Impassioned Appeal by His Attorneys in Court Proves Futile.
[Telegram Coast Special]
Cynosure of every eye in a court room crowded by spectators, who by their [strained] attitude, evinced their interest and sympathy, George Mitchell, the youthful slayer of “Joshua” Creffield, the seducer of the former’s tow sisters, heard Prosecuting Attorney Kenneth Mackintosh read the formal information by which the law holds Mitchell for murder in the first degree. During this ordeal Mitchell stood in front of the bar with shoulders thrown back, head erect and the appearance of a man who believes himself justified in what he has done.
Later, while listening to impassioned appeals by his attorneys in an unsuccessful effort to have their client released on bail pending the trial, Mitchell, as he heard the wrongs which the man he killed did to his sisters, sat with vowed head and nervously twitching hands. Superior Judge Frater denied the application for bail, and set Saturday, May 19 as the date on which Mitchell will plead to the charge against him. Prosecuting Attorney Mackintosh, in opposing the request for bail, cited the law in the case, which states explicitly that where a man is charged with murder in the first degree and proof is evident or the presumption great, no bail shall be granted.
ADMITS APPLICATION OF LAW
In making his appeal that his client be given his liberty on bail. Attorney Will H. Morris admitted that the law in the case clearly applied to his client so far as proof or presumption was concerned.
“We have in addition, however,” said Mr. Morris, “a divine law and a human law which admits beyond all cavil the right of a man to protect the honor of his family. This boy who had seen his sisters debauched by the man whom he killed and driven frantic with the knowledge that the influence this man exercised over them had led one of the women who is dear to him to desert her husband and children, acted in the full knowledge that unless he acted as he did there was no salvation for the misguided woman.
“He has slain a human leper, one of the basest men who ever walked the earth and so thoroughly does he feel that he was justified that I believe upon my honor as a member of this court that if he was released upon his own recognizance he would make no effort to escape a trial before any twelve men who might be selected as a jury.”
Mr. Morris cited at considerable detail the events which led up to the killing of Creffield and spoke at length of what has happened since young George Mitchell took the law into his own hands. He spoke of the attitude taken in the case of Prosecuting Attorney Manning of Multnomah County, Oregon, and said that throughout the entire Northwest the daily papers had to a unit upheld the act of Mitchell.
Mr. Morris further cited the fact that only this morning Mitchell had received a letter from the superintendent of the institution where the 16-year-old (sic) sister of Mitchell is confined in which the writer stated that the girl had confessed to him her relations with Creffield.
This letter, which was submitted to the court, is written by W. T. Gardner, superintendent of the Boys’ and Girls’ Aid Society of Oregon, an institution for the rescue of homeless and abused children and women, the officers of which are among the most prominent people in the state.
The writer states that he deems it his duty to offer any assistance in his power to Mitchell, as through his position and the fact that he has charge of Mitchell’s sister and two other girls--Florence Seeley and Eva May Hurt--who were among Creffield’s dupes, he has learned from them of the provocation which prompted Mitchell’s act. Mr. Gardner closes by saying:
“I sincerely trust that you will get out of your present trouble speedily and that you will be entirely exonerated for ridding the community of a human brute.
Preceding Mr. Morris, Attorney Silas M. Shipley, who is associated with him in the trial of the case, made the opening plea for the granting of Mitchell’s release on bail. Mr. Shipley stated that there had been no preliminary examination, the information against Mitchell having been filed direct and that under the circumstances the court would realize that they proved more provocation and justification than has the investigation in a number of cases where a man charged with murder in the first degree has been given his liberty on pail pending trial.
Mr. Shipley cited the case of Nellie Underwood, who was jointly charge with her husband of murder in the first degree and who was released on $4,000 bail. The William E. Langdon case, and that of the State vs. McCann in both instances, the defendants being released on bail, were also cited.
Mr. Shipley stated that he had been in the part of the county where the religious cult started by Creffield had created such horror and grief and that he knew that if Creffield had ever been seen in that country after being released from the Oregon penitentiary his life would have paid the penalty.
“Nothing but an intimate knowledge of the circumstances,” said Mr. Shipley, “can give any conception of the impulse which prompted Mitchell and I contend that in asking the court to be governed by precedent in this matter I am asking nothing extraordinary.”
FRATER HOLDS TO LAW
It was after Mr. Shipley had concluded that Prosecuting Attorney Mackintosh made his formal objection to the motion and cited the law. He was followed by Mr. Morris. Judge Frater then delivered his decision refusing to grant bail.
Judge Frater stated that he had been greatly interested in the arguments of the attorneys and referred to his statements made in the Beede-McDonald case saying: “I have said before from this bench that a man who invades the home of another for the purpose of seduction must expect to receive death or injury at the hands of the injured, but the fact that this may be deserved does not, however, justify another to commit murder and this court does not want it understood that nay such killing is condoned.
“I take it from the statements which have been made that this is a case where, even though it is murder under the law, the defendant may be acquitted. As a judge, however, I cannot allow myself to be governed by my opinion as a man and must deal with the question at issue as a proposition of law. The law seems clear and is not questioned even by the attorneys for the defendant and there is nothing to do but refuse the motion for bail.”
Evening Telegram (Portland) 5/12/1906 p4
Holy Rollerism Has Death Blow
Fanatical Faith Probably Will Not Be Revived in This State. Uncanny Influence Exerted by Dead Leader Responsible for Craze. Meaning of Creed Designation Generally Misunderstood by Reading Public.
[Telegram Coast Special]
ALBANY, Or., May 12.-- The death of Edmund Creffield very probably means the end of Holy Rollerism. His followers are scattered and it is not believed that they will ever unite again. When the “prophet” was sent to the State Penitentiary his followers abandoned his teachings and returned to their former life. with the founder of their fanatical faith in his grace, there is probably no one who will try to take his place as leader and reorganize the Rollers. The strange, weird rites, ceremonies and heathenish customs of the sect will probably not be revived.
People familiar with his peculiar teachings are theorizing on this strange fancy, which stands as one of the marvels of religious fanaticism.
The name “Holy Rollers” is generally misunderstood. People think its believers were called “Rollers” because in their worship they were supposed to roll about the floor or ground, and that the name “Holy Rollers” was given the sect on this account. Such is not the case. Creffield himself is the originator of the name. He taught his followers that there is a “Holy Roll” kept in heaven, on which the names of the blessed are placed. He claimed that the names of earthly inhabitants were place thereon only upon his recommendation, and hence his followers were the only ones whose names were on the “Holy Roll.”
ORIGIN OF THE SECT
The rise of Holy Rollerism dates from the summer of 1903. Creffield was then in charge of the Salvation Army Station at Corvallis. The doctrine arose gradually. Creffield kept getting certain ones to attend meetings every evening, and the exercises began more and more to take on characteristics which were later to distinguish this sect and give it notoriety Nation-wide. The worshipers became more and more demonstrative until the noise attracted large crowds. About the time Creffieldism began to be a distinctive religion the city authorities of Corvallis ordered the Salvation Army leader out of town.
Then the real Holy Rollerism began. Creffield and a few followers established a camp on Mary’s River, a few miles from Corvallis. The “prophet” began to inaugurate new customs. Six weeks they remained there. Securing a strong following, prominent people of Corvallis having been “converted,” Creffield moved his headquarters into Corvallis.
The sect took possession of the home of O.V. Hurt, a prominent merchant of Corvallis, whose entire family had taken up the doctrine, and the orgies which first brought Holy Rollerism into prominence began. all carpets and furniture were removed from the house, placed in a pile in the street and burned. The partitions in the house were torn out, and everything but the bare walls and floors of the building was added to the fire.
WILD ORGIES AT CORVALLIS
For several days the ceremonies continued at the Hurt home. the followers, half clad, lay on the floor groaning and rolling about. They kept their faces constantly covered with clothes, and refused all food except merely enough to sustain life. Creffield moved among them, and frequently claimed he received messages from God commanding certain things. By such divine order, the prophet announced sidewalks in front of the house should be torn up and burned. This was done.
The practice soon became so objectionable that many of the men deserted the band. Citizens of Corvallis made such strong objection to the outrage that the crowd was temporarily broken up. Men whose wives and children were in the frenzied performance took them to their homes and kept them there. Fearing interference by Benton County authorities, who evinced a desire to break up the gang, Creffield decided to leave the county. He wished to keep in touch with his Corvallis followers, however, so Frank Hurt rented a house in Linn County, across the river from Corvallis, and there a new headquarters was established.
TAR AND FEATHERS USED
Mr. and Mrs. Frank Hurt, Creffield, Brooks and eight or ten young women went to the place and remained there. On the night of January 4, 1904, Corvallis men tarred and feathered Creffield and Brooks. The latter left the country, and has never reappeared. The following day, January 5, Creffield and Maud Hurt drove to Albany with Mr. and Mrs. Frank Hurt, secured a license, and were married by County Judge Palmer.
Frank Hurt and wife returned to their headquarters, but Creffield and wife went to Portland. Creffield remained there about two months until he learned that the charge which afterward landed him in prison, was to be preferred, when he disappeared. for three months officers searched for the missing “prophet.” Many thought he had left the state, but the manner of the Holy Rollers made Corvallis people think he was in hiding in or near that city. This was afterward found to be true.
CREFFIELD IN HIDING
On July 30, 1904, a boy looking for a kitten under the house of O. V. Hurt found Creffield. He was entirely nude, his face covered with a heavy beard. He had been living in a small dugout just deep enough to conceal him, beneath the dwelling.
His only bed was a single blanket. The “prophet” had evidently been fed by his followers, but that he had suffered from the lack of food was evidenced by his condition.
Creffield was taken to Portland, tried on a statutory charge, and sentenced to the State Penitentiary for two years. His time was shortened for good behavior and work in the road gang.
That he did not abandon his theories while in prison is shown by a speech he made at an evangelistic service, which the road gang were allowed to attend one evening while working on roads near Eola Ferry, south of Salem. When opportunity to speak was given, Creffield arose and made a conservative portrayal of his Holy Roller doctrine, and his knowledge of Holy Writ caused surprise until his identity was learned.
HIS RELEASE FROM PRISON
When released from prison in February, he went to Seattle, and there planned to collect his followers. By means of letters to friends in Oregon City, he secured a foothold and sent the Mitchell girl, sister of his slayer, to Corvallis with messages. His former wife, who had secured a divorce while he was in the penitentiary, joined him, and they were remarried early in April.
While Creffield was in the penitentiary, most of his followers were sent to the State Insane Asylum. Linn and Benton counties made special effort to eradicate the evil of Creffield’s teachings. There the women abandoned their customs of going bareheaded, constantly carrying Bibles, and following other teaching of Creffield.
Most of them eagerly took up with the (sic) however, and went to Waldport, a town on the Alsea Bay, establishing a camp in an isolated region where they hoped they would not be disturbed. Events following the establishment of that camp, ending in Creffield’s tragic death, are recent history.
STRANGE INFLUENCE EXERTED
Creffield’s remarkable power over his followers is something that cannot be explained; something no one professes to understand. Mystery pervades it; it partakes of the occult. People say their neighbors--men and women of education and ability--drawn into his clutches and performing the antics of madmen, and watched in wonderment. They knew the self-styled Joshua had some strange, weird power. some called it hypnotism; some mesmerism, and some the power of suggestion. though it partook of the characteristics of all, there was something distinctive about it--something new. His followers said he was divine. Creffield himself never vouchsafed and explanation of his power except to tell his superstitious satellites that he communed with God.
Creffield could command anything of his followers, and be obeyed. His fancy could wander where it would and his followers believed his every word. He said he was a prophet and was in daily communication with the Supreme Being. His followers never doubted it. He said he was Joshua come to earth. The Holy Rollers had implicit faith in this claim. After his liberation from the state Penitentiary he called himself Christ. And by that name his followers knew him. when he heard of the destruction of San Francisco he told his followers that it was his work--a doom he had pronounced. His people only wondered the more. He said Portland and Corvallis would also be demolished, and the Rollers confidently awaited that result.
THOUGHT HE COULD NEVER DIE
No stronger testimonial from his followers of the veneration in which he was held could be given than the words of his wife when he was shot down in Seattle: “He can never die,” she said. That was the belief of all who had adopted his teachings.
It would seem, from the fact that all were cured of fanaticism after their leader was imprisoned, that his presence was necessary to keep them under control. Yet, when he reorganized his band at Waldport, he gathered his former followers by merely sending messages. In fact, almost as soon as he was at liberty and his people knew it, they were anxious to join him.