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 1, 1906: Creffield’s Ghost Controls His Flock


Kenneth MackintoshSeattle Sunday Times 7/1/1906 p3

Creffield’s Ghost Controls His Flock

Former Holy Rollers Brought Here to Testify in Defense of George Mitchell Returning to Old Beliefs.

Morris and Shipley Encounter Wall of Fanatical Mysticism in Effort to Array Evidence for their Side.

Two Sisters of the Defendant Under Spell of Dead Man’s Teachings, and Father and Brother Thought Infected


by Walter Deffenbaugh


Although it is admitted by the defense, as well as charged by the prosecution in the George Mitchell case that “Joshua” Creffield, one-time leader of the Holy Rollers, is dead, his personality and his teachings are still a live factor in the case.


Insist as it may, that the doings of Creffield and the peculiar beliefs with which he inculcated the minds of his cult, have nothing to do with the case, the prosecution cannot bar the influence of his teachings from the minds of the jury.


Try as they may to override the efforts of the county prosecutors and to rally their witnesses to the earthly needs of this brother of two of their women associated, the attorneys for the defense are met by the wall which the doctrines of “Joshua” has fixed in the minds of his followers, that this defendant is a man without the pale--that he is an unbeliever and that God has turned his face from him.


George Mitchell never did believe the gospel which Creffield taught and one of the articles of his Holy Roller creed was that a man who did not believe--be he brother, husband, father or nothing--was “of the devil” and displeasing in the sight of God. He was not to be cherished, aided or even tolerated in the most sacred obligations of the family. He must be made an outcast and an enemy.


This is the condition, which confronts Will H. Morris as he strives to array the witnesses of the defense, the majority of whom have been brought from Oregon and nearly all of whom have been or are members of this cult.




The personality of this dead “Joshua” is still alive in the minds of his followers. He had prepared them for just such a contingency as this. He had told them “I will come again,” with vivid, but far-reaching blasphemy.


It is easy enough for a man or a woman in full possession of healthy faculties to laugh at such teachings as the words of a conscienceless hypocrite, but it is not so easy for those who have watched the change in this man Creffield from a sincere, if extravagant religious teacher to a masquerading libertine.


These witnesses for the defense are not mental heavyweights. They are simple folk. In their minds it is not easy to distinguish between religious doctrine with is good and sound and uplifting and a frenzy based upon the same fundamental idea--the pleasing of god--which more cultivated minds immediately pronounce evil, degrading and bestial.


It was among these simple folk that this man Creffield found first his converts and then his victims.


The man was a born leader, goodly of figure, strong and with a peculiarly musical voice. he did with these people as he willed and out of them he made what he would. As in all religious teaching, particularly those which have to do with the emotions the women, were the most enthusiastic. The more unusual of the demonstrative elements of religion are more apt to repel a man and more apt to make him retire onto his own self and think it over outside the compelling influences of the teacher.




So it is, that in this flock from which a bullet impelled by the though of wronged women has removed the leader, the men are in the main returned to sanity and the affairs of the world. It is the women with whom the defense now has to deal, and it is the effort to induce them to look at affairs as the world and particularly the law views them, which occupies the minds of George Mitchell’s attorneys.


In this effort they are being steadily fought by the spirit of “Joshua” Creffield. If it is not the spirit, which he taught would return to earth after his death, it is at least the remaining power of his influence when he was on earth. It fills these women with a mysticism, which cannot be accommodated to the necessities of the understanding of mere mortals and covers them with a veil of superstitious prejudice, which the attorneys have been unable to penetrate.


Esther Mitchell is one of these women. She is the boy’s young sister. She is a girl whom he says this Holy Roller cruelly wronged. She is one of the few persons on earth whom the naturally prevailing rule of blood kinship should bring to his side, almost with perjury if that were necessary.


Mrs. B. E. Starr, the married sister, for adultery with whom Creffield was once sent to the penitentiary in Oregon, is another one of these. She is a married woman with children--one of them a baby of eight months. Her husband--one a Holy Roller himself--has repeatedly forgiven her religious follies, and it was he who persuaded her to come to Seattle to testify upon behalf of her brother.




It required but one brief conversation with her sister and Mrs. Creffield to revive all of the prejudices of the religious fantasy which had caused the wreck of her household before. Her husband is still faithful, but almost hopeless. He fears the return of the passion of belief which will again make of him an outcast and “one of the devil.”


Mrs. Creffield is, of course, the chief of these. Her attitude, her faith and her beliefs have already been described.


There are also two or three others whom the defense has within reach of the courts of King County, but whose identity has not been disclosed. They may or may not be called. It depends upon the hold the return of the old fervor obtains with them before the day comes.


As for the others the defense is practically committed to call them, although Mr. Morris has but little idea of how they will answer his questions. He only knows what to ask. He must trust to good fortune and his own abilities to draw out the truths which he desires, and to which he knows these women, willy-nilly, are the best witnesses.


The returning wave of this peculiar religious fervor has even gained and overwhelmed backsliders and obtained new converts of a sort among men.




Fred Mitchell, the older brother of George, who was once a member of the faith in its earlier days is said to have returned to his old beliefs. He is somewhere in the city, but George and his brother, Perry, who worked his way out from Illinois to be with him and who stands beside him, do not know where he is. He seems to avoid them and is only heard of in consultation with the known followers and firm believers in the divinity of Creffield and the glory of his teachings.


The very father of this boy on trial for his life, Charles Mitchell, who recently came here from his home in Mount Vernon, Ills., with every assurance of sympathy for his son, has not been seen by the boy, Perry, or the attorneys for the defense since the morning of his arrival. He is a man of strong religious tendencies, at times a Quaker and at others a member of the Salvation Army, to which Creffield at one time belonged.


It is believed in a way, that he too has become imbued with some of the ideas of this Holy Roller faith and has joined with those who lift their skirts out of touch with those without the fold and turn their backs upon their closest relatives in accordance to the cruel teachings of their fanatical faith.


There are other men and other women in Seattle, however, who are sane as others of the more commonplace world understand it and they will testify to the breaking up of families and the disgusting orgies which resulted from Creffield’s teachings and these, together with what the attorneys are able to draw out of unwilling witnesses will, it is believed, be enough. The rest will depend upon argument.


Thus far, with the exception of one or two dramatic incidents, the trial has been prosaic. The prosecution has aimed at calmness and coldness in is presentation of facts and its examination of witnesses. It has aimed to throw an air of finality and of matter-of-factness about its every move. It has sought to impress the jury with the simplicity of the case and thereby with the fact that nothing can mitigate its array of frigid facts indicating meditated murder. The very appearing of anything tingeing upon emotion has been ruthlessly crushed by Mr. Miller, and in this effort he has been ably seconded by Judge Frater.


Tomorrow the fireworks will begin, for just as the prosecution attempts to curb any natural tendencies toward emotion upon the part of the jury, the defense aims to encourage it. The defense claims to have an argument just as logical and just as legal as the statements of fact presented by the prosecution, but their case concerns the emotion of a man and that of the defense the dry facts of law books.


Therefore there will be a material difference in the manner in which the two are presented.



Seattle Post Intelligencer 7/1/1906 sec2 p7

Creffield’s Doings Plea of Defense

George Mitchell’s Attorneys to Try to Show Cause for Insanity

Revelations Expected

Witnesses From Oregon Thought to Have Story to Tell of Startling Nature


With the beginning of the defense in the trial of George Mitchell will commence, if the commonly expressed belief is to be relied on, some of the most interesting revelations ever heard before a King County court.


The state’s case against Mitchell was limited to the simple fact that the man killed Franz Edmund Creffield on First Avenue, Seattle, May 7, and to the presentation of evidence to show that the act was committed with deliberation, purpose and premeditation. The earliest date of which they would allow mention in the court room was the date on which Mrs. Creffield came to Seattle, April 2. Every attempt to bring in evidence relating to an earlier period was objected to by Deputy Prosecuting Attorney, John F. Miller, and the objections were uniformly sustained by Judge A. W. Frater.


All the witnesses for the defense are not from Seattle, but from Oregon with the single exception of Patrolman LeCount, whom the defense asked to be prepared to give further evidence in the case. Mr. Shipley’s address to the jury will be concerned with what he expects to prove from his witnesses. From the questions asked of the jury men, and of the witnesses for the state, the inference is drawn that this address will contain an epitome of the doings of one of the strangest religious sects ever known.


From the recital of these doings to the jury by those most intimately concerned with them, the defense hopes to show that George Mitchell had the greatest of provocations. It was apparent from the questions of the attorneys for the defense to the jury that insanity would be the defense, an insanity which they hope to prove to have been a monomania induced by the relations between the “second Joshua” and his followers--those whose names were in the “holy roll.”


Just how much of the story of Creffield’s doings among his followers the defense will be able to prove from the evidence of their witnesses is another problem which is exciting public attention. Esther Mitchell, whose name has often been mentioned in connection with this case, is declared to be still a follower of Holy Rollerism. One of the best known of the tenants of the faith, as popularly reported, is the obligation of the followers to abandon himself or herself entirely to the religion, even to the giving up of father and family relations.


In this connection those in touch with the two chief exponents of the belief now in Seattle, Mrs. Creffield and Esther Mitchell, who are in custody of the police matron, point to the strange behavior of the women. George Mitchell’s father is reported to have gone back to Portland. Mitchell saw him but a few moments before he went into the court room the day his father arrived. He expected to talk with him in the court room. The father never appeared.


It is reported he went to the city jail, there to visit his daughter, Esther. He was not there long, and since then has not been seen in the city.


Perry Mitchell, also from Illinois, where Esther was sent after doubts as to her sanity had been raised in Oregon, also attempted to see his sister in the county court house, Friday, as she and Mrs. Creffield were being returned to the city jail in the custody of the police matron.


O. V. Hurt, of Corvallis, Or., stopped his daughter, Mrs. Creffield, in the hall a moment. Perry say eye witnesses, took the opportunity to speak to his sister. She shook hands with him, but is said to have refused all further attempts at conversation with a “Stand aside, please.”


It is with such witnesses that the defense hopes to prove its case. The attorneys for the prosecution declare that with one, at least, Esther Mitchell, they will be unable to do anything.


“The girl is still a follower of Holy-Rollerism,” said Prosecuting Attorney Mackintosh, “and will give no statement against Creffield.”

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