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.

Evening Telegram (Portland)

July 14, 1906: Family Deserts The Murderess


Esther MitchellEvening Telegram (Portland) 7/14/1906 p1

Family Deserts The Murderess

Esther Mitchell Must Trust To Lawyers Named By Court

First Degree Murder

Mrs. Creffield To Be Jointly Charged With Crime By District Attorney

Brothers Endeavoring To Raise Money To Bring Victim’s Body To Newberg.


[Telegram Coast Special.]


SEATTLE, Wash., July 14.--Esther Mitchell’s family will do nothing for her defense. she must trust to lawyers appointed by the court for her defense, so far as they are concerned. Two brothers, Fred and Perry, made this statement this morning, and similar statements of the intention of her father brother, Hurley, reached them from Dayton, Wash. They will not even go to see her, as they feel they could not, although realizing that the girl is their own sister.


Esther Mitchell and Mrs. Creffield will be charged with murder in the first degree by Prosecuting Attorney Mackintosh Monday morning and will be tried about the first of October. Dr. Loughary on behalf of the state is observing the women daily, and it is expected that he will testify that they are fully responsible for their acts.


Two boys endeavoring to raise money enough to take George Mitchell’s body to Newberg, Or., where they desire to bury it beside the grave of their mother, hope to leave Seattle with the body tomorrow noon.


Mrs. Maud Creffield and Esther Mitchell alone conspired for and planned the assassination of George Mitchell. They plotted his death for weeks in the event he should be acquitted by the jury, and had settled upon all points. none of the other Holy Rollers in Seattle were taken into the confidence of the two women because they feared a leak if the conspiracy included too many. Mrs. Burgess E. Starr, of Portland, in particular was feared by the two women. She talks too much they say, and that is the reason they took precautions to prevent her learning that they had planned to avenge “Joshua” Creffield’s death. Neither of the two plotters doubted Mrs. Starr’s loyalty to the “cause,” but each feared she might let slip some hint of the plan.


“Esther kept telling me all the time that we must not tell Mrs. Starr anything about it,” said Mrs. Creffield, yesterday afternoon.


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Mrs. Creffield assumed all the responsibility for Mitchell’s murder with the same nonchalance that she walked out of her cell this morning to face the photographers. Her only concern then was that she had not been notified and had no time to put on a collar.


Last night Chief of Police Wappenstein was determined to round up all the Holy Rollers, but he had a conference with Sheriff Smith at noon today and the two officers, acting under advice from the prosecuting attorney, decided not to make any immediate arrests. The prosecuting attorney knows where Frank Hurt is and can get him at any time. For the present that is sufficient. Chief Wappenstein and Sheriff Smith decided of their own motion, however, to drive the Holy Rollers out of King County.


Dr. McLeish, former superintendent, and Dr. J. B. Loughary, former assistant superintendent of the Steilacoom Asylum, examined both women today for traces of insanity. Dr. Loughary saw Miss Mitchell last night. The two physicians will be given every opportunity to see the women frequently and will make a study of their cases. The state has abandoned any idea held immediately after the shooting of George Mitchell of treating the women as insane persons and is determined upon a vigorous prosecution. The two insanity experts are in the case to further this plan. No statement from them will be asked until their investigations are over.


“I am positive that no insanity exists in any member of the Mitchell family, that is any that I have seen, and our office will make a hard fight against this plea,” said Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Miller in a statement tonight.


“All stories that she was to become the mother of a new Christ was denied to me by the girls. I investigated these charges while in Portland and received corroboration of Esther’s statement. She stated on several occasions that her brother had no reason for shooting Creffield on this account.


“I would like to see her,” she said. “I volunteered to shoot George.” Then, apparently anxious to shield Mrs. Creffield further, she added: “She did not want me to, but we knew that she could not do it for they were afraid of her, so I did it.




Esther Mitchell is not concerned at all over the prospect of punishment, and looks forward to hanging without the slightest fear apparently.


Last night both women turned away from all newspaper men, refusing to give more than a passing word to anyone save the chief of police. Esther spent the night alone in her cell, and Mrs. Creffield was confined in the women’s tank, surrounded by the off-scouring of the red light district.


The oaths that fell from the lips of other women prisoners, and the sight of a burly negress sitting on a table smoking cigarettes, disgusted her. Both women talked comparatively freely today, apparently to relieve their feelings.


Peculiar as it may seem, the only persons of any prominence in the Mitchell Creffield case who have come forward to plead for mercy for the two women charged with the murder of George Mitchell, so far, are the attorneys who successfully fought to obtain for the boy now dead the liberty he enjoyed so briefly.


In a lengthy signed statement, issued today, Will H. Morris and Silas M. Shipley, who defended young Mitchell when he was on trial for his life, state their belief in the insanity of Esther Mitchell and ask that both women be fairly tried.


Following are excerpts from the statement:

“I can only feel sorry for the two women. They are certainly insane, as I have contended all along. The prosecution would not believe us, but I will leave it to any one who has talked to them. They are absolutely crazy, and have been made so by the acts of Creffield.


“This is an awful thing, but not entirely unexpected when you consider the factors in the case. I only hope that it will end here. We have felt all along that these women should be put under restraint or cared for in some way.”




George Mitchell had a normal brain. It was correct in weight, and there was no sign of mental weakness apparent to the physicians who conducted an autopsy on his body tonight. So far as a medical examination could disclose, his was a well balanced mind, and one not apt to be swayed or upset by vagaries.


The bullet that killed Mitchell entered half an inch behind and half an inch below the center of the left ear. It passed through the base of the brain, finding lodgement behind the right ear, causing instantaneous death. The most vital sections of the brain were penetrated. Of curious incidental interest is the fact that the bullet which George Mitchell fired at Creffield took almost identically the same deadly course.


A critical examination of other organs showed that young Mitchell was health, robust and normally developed. Dr. J. B. Loughary performed the autopsy, under the direction of County Coroner Carroll and his deputy, Dr. S. F. Wiltsie.




The story was given to the police today that George Mitchell had a sweetheart in The Dalles to whom he proposed to write as soon as he reached Portland. A day or two ago he received a postal card from The Dalles with a single word on it. He remarked to a friend that the writer of that card would be happy to hear of his acquittal, and declared he would correspond with her as soon as he reached Portland. He did not tell his brother’s the girl’s name.


This may explain why Mitchell appeared indifferent to the attentions women showered upon him during the trial. The only woman in whom he manifested any interest was a girl who presented him with flowers almost daily, but so far as known, he did not even see her after the trial and they did not talk while the case pending.


Mitchell’s brothers are said to be practically without funds. They had expected to go to work at once.



Evening Telegram (Portland) 7/14/1906 p26

Holy Rollers of Western New York


The latest curious sect to take root in Western New York are the Holy Rollers and the Knee Benders. The Holy Rollers were organized about six years ago on the shores of Canandaigua Lake, and the story of the rise of this strange religious sect is absurdly out of place in the 20th century. Hell is the chief tenet of the Holy Roller’s belief--a hell of sputtering brimstone and flames that eternally torture, but never consume the bodies of the damned. To this hell is destined everyone who does not accept the faith. The creed embodies doctrines which were regarded as essential to happiness 100 years ago. It is a creed that converts by fear, and the writer has seen a number of young women in various stages of hysteria at the conclusion of a Holy Roller revival meeting. The leaders of the faith are Mrs. Mary McIntyre, Miss Emma Chase, Professor James Woodworth, of Syracuse, N. Y. Regeneration is effected in several ways, the course of treatment including prayer, bathing, robing and baptism by immersion. When these remedies prove futile in cleansing the soul of the sinner, the penitent is obliged to perform what the believers call the “holy roll.” The unregenerate lies on the floor at one end of the building and rolls over and over like a log until every one present is satisfied that the devil has been rolled out. Sometimes the ceremony lasts a quarter of an hour, but if the convert has been an unusually tough customer, he may be compelled to roll for four or five hours--a most heroic method of securing salvation. as the subject rolls by the kneeling audience, every person has the privilege to ask such questions as each sees fit and the convert must make satisfactory answers before he is allowed to rise. the sins of a lifetime must be confessed in detail, and the innermost secrets of the soul made public.




The Holy Rollers have operated extensively in Central and Western New York, and certain small communities are in a condition of religious excitement not unlike that which marked the beginning of Mormonism. Perhaps the strongest feature of this frenzy is the establishment of the strangest of all sects, the adherents of which call themselves Knee Benders. The Knee Benders are a small community and live along the eastern shore of Seneca Lake. This sect originated five years ago. At that time a Swedish farmer named Burson, a man of some education, began to act in a strange manner. He claimed that he had visions and refused to assist in work on the farm, and spent most of his time on a knoll near the lake. He remained on his knees, and in answer to all inquiries said that the great Jehovah had commanded him to remain the rest of his life in this uncomfortable position. Shortly after receiving this interesting but inconvenient revelation he began to preach, his themes being on socialistic lines. Gradually his relatives became imbued with the sincerity of his preachings and espoused the strange religion. the entire family soon began to live on their knees. The enthusiasts now number about 200. The Knee Benders deny the existence of punishment in the next world, declaring that hell will come on earth in the shape of some great sorrow for the wrongdoer. Prayers are not made to the Supreme Being, but to nature which is held accountable for all changes in the elements and all accidents caused by fire, wind and water. Socialism is the primary principle of this queer religion; the farms of the enthusiasts are worked in common, and it is claimed that the weeding, planting and hoeing are done on all fours by the Knee Benders. They hold knee bending services five times a day on the knoll where Burson was “inspired,” and in the worship their faces are turned always towards the sun. Each week a revival meeting is held, and ridiculous as the thing is, the Knee Benders keep adding converts. Such a story as this belongs to 100 years ago, but as an illustration of religious frenzy dominating the human, it is an interesting psychological study of the present day.




If the complete history of Central and Western New York is ever written, at least one-third of the volume could probably be devoted to the many curious sects and religious communities which have played a more or less important part in the complex story of American life and development. It is now almost 80 years since Joseph Smith, the Mormon prophet, claimed to have found the golden plates of the Bible of the Latter Day Saints in the hollow of a hill in Wayne County. With them, he said, was unearthed the “Urim and Thummim,” the wonderful stone spectacles, by which he was enabled to translate the characters on the golden plates. In 1830 the Book of Mormon was printed, and Joseph Smith began to preach the new religion. In a surprisingly short time he succeeded in gathering a goodly sized congregation, and arousing the hostility of his neighbors. His reputation in Palmyra, his home at that time, was not of the best. He was nicknamed “Rip Van Winkle,” because his convivial habits and general shiftlessness were not unlike the traits of Irving’s hero of the Catskills. The persecution of his neighbors finally forced the prophet to abandon his home, and with his wife, three dogs and a congenial company of proselytes he removed to the village of Fayette, in Seneca County. The new environment wrought a substantial change in the expounder of the word of Mormon. From an idle, dissolute fellow, the butt of the villagers’ rude jests and jokes, he became an earnest, tireless worker in behalf of the religion whose tenets he claimed to have discovered (the rest of the article is cut off)

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