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.

November 21, 1906: Poison Is Found In The Stomach Of Mrs. Creffield


Seattle Post Intelligencer 11/21/1906 p1

Poison Is Found In The Stomach Of Mrs. Creffield

Chemist C. Osseward Determines The Presence Of Strychnine After Careful Analysis

Five Color Tests All Show Alkaloid Traces.

The Most Delicate Of These, Which Indicates Reaction Is .000001 Of Grain

Coroner Says Woman Took Her Own Life.

Question Now Confronting The Officials Is How The Woman Obtained The Substance.


Mrs. Ida Maud Creffield died of strychnine poisoning. C. Osseward, chemist of the firm of Osseward & Rubenstein, has found at least a grain of this poison in the contents of the stomach of the dead woman, and Coroner F. M. Carroll has certified that Mrs. Creffield committed suicide by taking the deadly alkaloid.


The question that confronts the officials, now that it has been practically determined that the woman died of poisoning, is how it came in her possession. It may have been smuggled into the jail by some visitor or prisoner, or Mrs. Creffield may have had a few grains secreted on her person when she was first arrested.


Careful search has been made of the cell and personal belonging of both Mrs. Creffield and Esther Mitchell since the death of the former by the county jail officials, assisted by Police Matron Kelly, but nothing was found but what had been allowed by the jailer.




Mr. Osseward, when instructed to make a chemical analysis of the contents of the dead woman’s stomach, first of all examined it lining to determine if there were any traces of corrosives. “I found none,” he said.


“My next step was to extract the alkaloids, if any existed.


“After cutting up the contents of the stomach they were subjected to a treatment of alcohol and tartaric acid at a temperature of 70 degrees. After cooling, this mixture was squeezed out and the liquid filtered, and after filtration again, treated in the same manner as before with a fresh solution of alcohol and tartaric acid to make sure.


“This solution was also filtered and evaporated, at a temperature of not over 40 degrees, to about half its former bulk. It was then again refiltered to eliminate the fatty matter and the albuminous substances as much as possible.


“The evaporation was continued at the same temperature till all the alcohol was driven off.


“The extracted matter left was taken up with a little distilled water and again filtered. To this filtered solution was added ether to extract as much of the coloring matter as possible. This would also extract from the acid solution digatalin and picrotoxin.


“This ether solution was separated, after a thorough shaking and standing some time, from the water solution and set aside for further examination. This process was repeated until no more coloring remained in the ether solution.


“Next I added a weak solution of sodium-hydra, until it showed distinct alkaline reaction to turmeric paper.


“This process would throw out all alkaloids except morphine, which would be dissolved in the sodium-hydra.


“This alkaline-watery solution was now shaken up with ether, which would take up any alkaloids except the morphine. After standing two hours the ether solution was separated from the watery solution and the same process repeated until no more residue showed in the ether.




“The tests were applied for alkaloids in general, and showed rather a large precipitate, giving proof that some alkaloid was present in my solution.


“The question was which one. The first test was for strychnine. The reason was that the solution tasted very bitter and showed almost without a doubt that we had found that we had poison to deal with.”




 Mr. Osseward applied five different color tests, the most sensitive of which--the sulphuric-permanganat test--shows traces of .000001 of a grain, indicated strychnine.


After his color tests had proved that strychnine existed, Mr. Osseward so notified the coroner. This was at noon yesterday. Last night the chemist by use of a powerful microscope developed the crystals of the poison.


“There is at least a grain,” he said, “in the solution. Of course, this does not include that taken up by absorption before the woman died.”


The authorities are determined to ascertain, if possible where the poison was obtained and with this end in view all persons who have at any time visited the prisoners in the county jail will be examined. Arrests may follow.


[(Corvallis Times) The authorities have not as yet made any attempt to detain Mrs. Levins, the cousin of Mrs. Creffield, and her last caller, but there will be an investigation and arrests may follow.]




Mrs. A. Levins, a cousin of Mrs. Maud Creffield, who lives at 2409 Fourth Avenue said:

I have been in the habit of visiting Mrs. Creffield at the county jail about twice a week, and I have noticed that she has been failing in health for some time. I was raised with Maud and knew her very intimately, being a member of her father’s family. I was very much surprised when I heard the report that she was poisoned. It was very far from anything that she would naturally do. I didn’t know of the poisoning report until today, and I hardly believe it yet.


“Even if she was poisoned I don’t think they would know it.


“We frequently brought her fruit and edibles, but always gave them to the jailer, and I think that is the case with everything that is sent to prisoners at the jail. It all goes through the jailer’s hands. I have no suspicion that she was poisoned or of anybody poisoning her. So far as her taking medicine is concerned, I don’t think she had any except what the doctor at the jail gave her. She was a woman of very good general health. The only thing that bothered her was neuralgia. I have been with her several times when she had these attacks of neuralgia, and she suffered terribly for several days. I did not know that she was dead until my cousin, Frank Hurt, and his wife came out here and told me. When we were down town the doctor at the morgue told us that Maud died of neuralgia of the heart. That’s what I think she died of. I noticed that she failed very rapidly lately.”


Chief Deputy Sheriff Ed Drew stated yesterday that visitors to those who are waiting for trial on murder charges at the county jail are not searched.


“It has never been the custom to search such visitors,” said Drew yesterday. “They are not allowed to carry in packages to prisoners, and when they visit prisoners it is done under the supervision of the jailers. The visits are always held in the corridor, where a man can keep an eye on both partied concerned.”




Since the death of Mrs. Creffield the officials at the county jail have been keeping close watch on Esther Mitchell. The prisoner now occupies a cell just off the jailer’s office, where she can be observed at all times, and another woman prisoner is kept in the cell with her.


“Esther has been very nervous since Mrs. Creffield die,” said Jailer Tom Smith yesterday afternoon, “ and since she has been told that her companion evidently died of poisoning she has been worse.”


The girl emphatically denied yesterday that she knew anything concerning the cause of Mrs. Creffield’s death. “I don’t believe she killed herself,” she said. “I don’t believe she killed herself,” she said. “I think she died of heart trouble, and I shall always think so, I don’t care what the doctor’s say.




Deputy Sheriff Phil Kearney, who locked Mrs. Creffield and Esther Mitchell in their cell the night the elder woman died, stated yesterday that he believed the chemist was mistaken.


“Mrs. Creffield was taking a foot bath when I went to lock them up, and Esther asked me to wait a few minutes. Both of the women appeared to be in unusually good spirits at the time and called a cheery good night to me as I left them.”




Dr. Carroll, in discussing the finding of strychnine in the stomach of the dead woman, said:

Mrs. Creffield may have had the poison in her possession before her arrest. It would have been an easy matter to secrete enough of the poison in her clothing to produce her death. To find it would have been a very difficult matter, although I understand the cell where the two women were kept has been thoroughly gone through, it may be that the girl has poison secreted about her person now and may use it at any time. I do not think it was probable that Mrs. Creffield’s death was due to strychnine poisoning obtained through an overdose of any tonic that might have contained a percentage of the substance.




“I believe that Mrs. Creffield took the strychnine in the crystallized form and in that case a grain would have been sufficient to cause her death. One eighth of a grain is considered the maximum dose and is administered in so large a quantity only in extreme heart failure.


“Tonics are sometimes given containing iron, quinine and strychnine. The percentage of strychnine is such cases is very minute.


“Mrs. Creffield died in about forty minutes after it was first noticed that she was ill. Even in uraemic poisoning or acute Bright’s disease the patient’s live longer. Had the chemist not found traces of strychnine in the stomach, my report on Mrs. Creffield’s death would have read:

’Death resulted from uraemic poisoning, due to toxic influence, either internal or external. Now that I have the report of the chemist I have certified that Mrs. Creffield committed suicide by taking strychnine.”


Dr. J. C. Snyder, county jail physician, stated that the only poison ever allowed inside the county jail by his authority was bi-chloride of mercury, contained in antiseptic tablets.




“There has never been any strychnine in the jail,” said Dr. Snyder. “I never administered it except in a tonic, and then the dose was less than one one-hundred and twentieth of a grain. The only medicine I have ever prescribed for either Mrs. Creffield or Esther Mitchell was when they were suffering from slight stomach troubles incident to the hot weather last summer, and there was never anything of a poisonous nature contained in the medicines given.


“The effect of bi-chloride of mercury poisoning is entirely different from that of strychnine. It is a caustic and I have never yet attended a case where death resulted, although I know of cases where bi-chloride of mercury produced fatal results when taken internally.”


Mrs. Stirton, who lives at 1917 Seventh avenue west, and is said by the officers to visit the county jail frequently on errands of charity and mercy, said to a reporter last evening:

I don’t know anything about Mrs. Creffield or the county jail. I think it strange that people cannot do little acts of sympathy and kindness without getting notoriety. I am ready to respond to calls of this kind at any time, but I don not want any notoriety about it. I certainly have nothing to say for publication. The papers are too sensational as it is. I don’t see why a reporter should be sent here. This publicity discourages sympathy and kindness in the world.”



Seattle Star 11/21/1906 p1

They Still Scout Theory of Suicide

Jail Attendants Refuse To Believe That Mrs. Creffield Came To Her Death By Her Own Hands.


Despite the discovery of evidence of strychnine in the stomach of Mrs. Maud Creffield, whose sudden and mysterious death in her cell in the county jail last Friday night marked the third great tragedy in Holy Rollerism those in authority in the jailer’s and sheriff’s offices this morning continued to scout the idea of suicide.


The refusal of the authorities to believe that the prisoner had died by her own hand, together with their practical unanimity of alleged skepticism in the matter looks significant to those who believe in the infallibility of the scientific tests applied by Osseward and Rubenstein, the expert chemists who were employed to throw light into the mystery.




In the office of the county jailer the authorities declare that the stringent surveillance alleged never to become lax in the confines of the jail, must necessarily eliminate the theory that poison could at any time have been smuggled to the dead woman. In addition, the vehement denial, both by Esther Mitchell and by the inmates of the women’s ward, that Mrs. Creffield would or could have snuffed out her life, has made them the more tenacious in their adherence to the theory of death from neuralgia of the heart, as originally advanced.




Deputy Sheriff Phil Kearny, who was the last of the jailers to see and speak to the victim of the strange death-hand, this morning declared with conviction that after Mrs. Creffield’s cold foot bath taken half an hour before her shriek, the sudden failure of a neuralgia heart was the only reasonable solution. Sheriff Lou Smith could not be found this morning. Head Deputy Sheriff E. Drew, when interviewed, said only:

How many people believe that she swallowed strychnine?”


Prosecuting Attorney Kenneth Mackintosh said: “I can hardly believe that Mrs. Creffield killed herself. I do not know the chemists who made the tests and don’t know how true their verdict may be. I can only say that I was very much surprised.”


Judge Frater, of the criminal department of the superior court, whose commission found the two women insane, declared this morning that he had formed no opinion.


“It is only reasonable, however, he said, “to assume that the chemists who conducted the examination knew what they were doing.”


Late yesterday afternoon Esther Mitchell, the girl murderess, charged jointly with Mrs. Creffield of the killing of George Mitchell, was attired completely in newly bought clothes. Also, every article of bedding in her cell was removed and new articles substituted to guard against the possible secretion of poison.




Her cell was searched with the greatest care. She is still confined in the private cell immediately off the jailer’s office. She saw no visitors this morning. She wept much of the time this morning, her stoicism being completely dissolved by the death of her companion.


It is not likely that any arrests or further examinations of persons bringing the two women gifts of food will be ordered by the sheriff. That the jelly brought last Friday night contained poison is held impossible because Esther Mitchell ate of that and everything else which might possibly have caused the death of Mrs. Creffield.



Seattle Daily Times 11/21/1906 p16

Daily Statistics.” Deaths.”

Ida Maud Creffield, county jail, age 26, November 16.

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