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.
August 3, 1914: Esther Mitchell is Dead By Own Hand
Evening Telegram (Portland) 8/3/1914 p2
Esther Mitchell is Dead By Own Hand
Girl of Holy Roller Fame, who Killed Her Brother, is Suicide.
Newport, Or., Aug. 3.--Esther Mitchell, of Holy Roller fame, who since her recent marriage was Mrs. James K. Berry, committed suicide late Saturday evening at her home at Waldport, by taking a dose of poison, and was dead when found. The killing of her brother at Seattle, after he had killed Joshua Creffield, the Holy Roller priest, had apparently preyed upon her mind continually, and friends and relatives have been keeping a close watch on her for a long time. She was married last March to J. K. Berry, of Waldport, but that did not improve her mental condition, and recently, while visiting relatives at Yachats, she bade them a “long good-bye.” Coroner Carter held an inquest yesterday, and the jury’s verdict is not yet known.
A few days before her suicide Mrs. Berry started from her home to Yachats to visit friends, and failed to arrive there. Later she reappeared at her home and claimed that she was deathly sick. It is now believed that she had then taken poison and because of taking an overdose, or not enough to be fatal, she became ill. Her action in taking a dose sufficient to cause death is believed to have been the result of a deliberate plan to kill herself.
HEADLINES IN PAPERS FOR THE SAME ARTICLE
Morning Oregonian (Portland) 8/3/1914 p4
Girl’s Career is Tragic
Oregon Daily Journal (Portland) 8/3/1914 p14
Holy Roller Principal Suicide
Strange Control by ‘Holy Roller’ Cause of Brother’s Murder.
Newport, Or., Aug. 3.--Esther Berry, who as Esther Mitchell was the central figure in the Mitchell-Creffield murders in Seattle, almost a decade ago, is dead, a suicide at her home at Waldport. She took strychnine, the same poison by which her sister, Mrs. Maud Hurt-Creffield, took her life in 1906.
Mrs. Berry’s death is the last of the tragic Creffield “Holy Roller” cases which resulted in the killing of Franz Edmund Creffield, founder of the peculiar religious sect, by brother, George Mitchell, and his subsequent killing by Esther Mitchell in revenge, just two days after he had been acquitted for killing the “Holy Roller” in Seattle.
Mrs. Berry committed suicide Saturday night at 11 o’clock at the Berry home. The coroner’s jury returned a verdict of intentional suicide. She was married to James Berry of Waldport about five months ago and appeared happy to all who knew her, but has had despondent spells ever since she shot her brother in Seattle several years ago. Her other brother and sisters feared that she would do something of this kind at some time in her life, and she has been carefully watched. Up till her marriage to Berry she lived with the family of O. V. Hurt at Waldport, and spent some of her time visiting Seattle and Portland relatives.
The Holy Rollers were organized by Creffield near Corvallis in 1903. Creffield seemed to exercise absolute control over women. In 1904 it was learned that the sect’s ritual was such that officers secured Creffield’s arrest on a statutory charge and was given two years in the state’s prison.
Following his release he returned to Corvallis, met Esther Mitchell, who with her sister, later Creffield’s wife, went to Seattle. George Mitchell followed them and finally shot Creffield to death. He was tried for murder, acquitted, and was leaving for Portland when Esther met him at the depot and shot him down in revenge.
Both Esther and her sister were held for their brother’s murder. They were adjudged insane and Mrs. Creffield, in the King county jail, got possession of strychnine and ended her life. Esther was sent to the state hospital for the insane at Steilacoom, and finally discharged.
Daily Gazette Times (Corvallis) 8/3/1914 p4
Esther Mitchell a Suicide
Esther Mitchell-Berry, of “Holy Roller” fame, and well known in Corvallis, suicided last night at Waldport, according to an Oregonian special. She took strychnine. No reason for her act is given. She was married but a few weeks ago to James Berry, and previous to this had been a quiet and respected resident of Waldport.
Esther Mitchell was an ardent disciple of Creffield, the founder of the “Holy Rollers.” Her brother, George Mitchell, followed Creffield to Seattle and shot him dead on the street. Two days after he acquittal Esther Mitchell, still devoted to the dead Creffield’s creed, shot and killed her own brother in the Union depot at Seattle. Mrs. Berry’s death was caused by the same drug which killed Mrs. Maud Hurt-Creffield November 6, 1906. Mrs. Creffield and Esther Mitchell were said to have planned the murder of George Mitchell in revenge for the death of Creffield. Mrs. Creffield died suddenly, and an autopsy showed that strychnine was the cause of her death. Esther Mitchell, then in jail, denounced the coroner’s jury for terming it a case of suicide.
Morning Oregonian (Portland) 8/3/1914 p4
“Holy Roller” Girl Slayer Is Suicide
Esther Mitchell, Who Killed Brother, Who Slew Leader of Sect, Ends Life Parole Granted in 1910 Tragic Death at Waldport Last Act in Career Strangely Controlled by “Joshua” Creffield, Originator of Creed.
NEWPORT, Or., Aug 2.--(Special.)--Mrs. James N. Berry, formerly Esther Mitchell, committed suicide last night at Waldport, Or., by taking strychnine. Mrs. Berry was married in this city a few weeks ago. she became notorious through her connection with the “Holy Rollers” sect and her slaying of her own brother, George Mitchell, at Seattle in 1906, after he killed “Joshua” Creffield.
She lived quietly in Lincoln County since her release from the Steilacoom Asylum under the parole to the Superior Court of King County, Washington, until her recent marriage.
Yaquina Bay News (Newport, OR) 8/6/1914 p1
An empty strychnine bottle and an ordinary water glass at the laboratory of Dr. F. M. Carter, county coroner is grim evidence of the manner in which Mrs. James K. Berry, formerly Miss Esther Mitchell, came to her death at her home in Waldport Saturday evening.
Although the suicide occurred Saturday evening complete details were not available in Newport until the return Monday afternoon of Dr. Carter, who had gone to Waldport Sunday to hold an inquest over the body.
The inquest was devoted mainly in hearing the testimony of Mrs. Cora B. Hartley who, with her little eight year old son, were the only persons in the Berry house at the time the tragedy took place.
Following is Mrs. Hartley’s account of the suicide:
We were all gathered around the supper table at 6:30 o’clock in the evening, Mr. and Mrs. Berry seemed in her ordinary spirits and there was nothing in her actions to lead us to believe that she contemplated ending her life. After the meal had been finished she helped wash the dishes and assisted in dressing some chickens. Mr. Berry had gone down town to help unload a boat.”
“Mrs. Berry went upstairs to her bedroom at 9:30 o’clock. At about 11:00 o'clock I hear a cry of distress from her room and rushing in found her in bed with the bed clothes drawn over her. I spoke to her, asking if there was anything I might do. She said “No.” I then attempted to turn her on her right side, but she said, ‘You hurt me.’ ‘Let me go.’”
“These were her last words. About 15 minutes transpired from the time I heard her cry until she breathed her last.”
“As soon as I saw she was gone, I hurried from the house to arouse the neighbors. Mrs. O. V. Hurt was the first to respond.”
“On a table two feet from the bed was an empty strychnine bottle, with the cork out, near it a common water glass. It appeared as if the poison had been dissolved in water, although no water remained in the glass. A few undissolved strychnine crystals were in the bottom.”
“Besides the bottle and glass was a note addressed by Mrs. Berry to her husband. It read:
Please deed the two lots over to mother and father. Give the piano and ring I sent away today to Martha. The silver watch to Attie. Signed: Esther.”
“P. S. Of course, this place is now free from mortgage and is yours--also the little money in the bank.”
The bottle in possession of Dr. Carter was labeled as containing one-eighth of one ounce of strychnine, whether the young woman took the entire amount cannot be determined. The bottle held 60 grains of poison, while one grain is sufficient to bring about death. It is not known where the poison was procured. The bottle bears the label of a drug manufacturer in Philadelphia, but whether she got the strychnine from there or somewhere else is not known.
Mrs. Berry was 26 years old last January and was married about five months ago.
Interment took place in the Fern Ridge Cemetery near Waldport Monday. Besides her husband, the dead woman leaves a father, mother, two brothers and one sister.
Saturday’s unfortunate occurrence adds another tragedy to the list of misfortunes which have followed the Mitchell family since 1906. . . (the usual recap)
Lincoln County Leader 8/7/1914 p1
News came to Newport from Waldport Sunday morning that Esther Mitchell Berry, wife of James K. Berry, was dead. The investigation of the coroner’s jury showed the following facts: On Saturday evening at the Berry home, about 6:30 the family, consisting of James Berry, Mrs. Berry, Mrs. Cora Hartley and Kenneth Berry, the eight year old son of Mr. Berry, were at the table. There was nothing unusual occurred in the family. Mrs. Berry was cheerful and apparently happy. After supper Mr. Berry went down to town and Mrs. Berry helped with the dishes and also helped to dress a couple of chickens for dinner the next day. At 9:30 Mrs. Berry went to her bedroom upstairs and about 11 o’clock Mrs. Hartley heard a noise up stairs as though someone was in distress. She went up stairs and found Mrs. Berry lying on the bed under the covers and in her night clothes, in a spasm. Mrs. Hartley asked what she could do for her, and Mrs. Berry said, “Nothing.” Mrs. Hartley then tried to turn her on her side and Mrs. Berry said, “You hurt me; let me go,” and immediately expired. The coroner’s jury found the body rigid, the arms drawn upon the breast and the fingers clenched; lower limbs extended and rigid,, eyes, pupils contracted and glaring; body warm, face and hands red. On the stand table two feet from the bed, with a lamp burning on it was found an empty bottle that had contained one dram (60 grains) of strychnine with the cork out. A glass with some undissolved crystals of strychnine in it and it appeared as though water had been used to dissolve the strychnine. It was evident from the condition of the body and the empty bottle of strychnine on the table that Mrs. Berry had coolly and calmly planned to take her own life. It could not be ascertained where she got the poison or how much was in the bottle. Strychnine is a very fatal poison, is quickly absorbed and if taken in sufficient quantity the respiratory muscles are paralyzed and death occurs in a very short time. In strychnine poisoning the muscles twitch, the limbs jerk, violent convulsions set in, the limbs are rigid and death soon occurs. Mrs. Hartley gave the alarm and soon Mrs. O. V. Hurt came and other neighbors and friends, after Mrs. Berry had passed away. Mrs. Berry was paroled from the Steilacoom Asylum several years ago and place in the care of O. V. Hurt, who was appointed her guardian. While in his care she was treated as one of the family, everything being done to make her feel at home and happy. She was a woman of nervous sanguine temperament, of refined, retiring disposition had had a very impressible temperament. She was 26 years old last January. On recommendation of a physician the parole was removed and about two and a half month ago Miss Mitchell was married in Newport to James K. Berry and they afterwards went to Waldport to make their home. Within the last few months Mrs. Berry complained of feeling ill and it was noticed by her friends that she was failing in health and losing flesh. The funeral services were held at the home of the deceased, conducted by Rev. Cook, pastor of the Presbyterian Church at Waldport, and the Interment took place at the Fern Ridge Cemetery. Many beautiful floral offerings were placed upon her grave by friends and many tears were shed by those who knew her best. she is survived by two brothers, Perry Mitchell, who lives at Ocean View, a brother in Portland, and Mrs. Donna Starr, who also lives at Ocean View, and her husband.
(Newspaper Source and date not written on photo-copy. The type style sort of looks like the Lincoln County Leader (Toledo, OR) 8/?/14
Report of Coroner’s Jury
We, the jury empanelled to inquire into the cause of death of Mrs. Esther Berry, wife of James K. Berry, find after careful examination of the evidence produced, that Mrs. Berry came to her death by taking strychnine administered by her own hand, with suicidal intent. We further find that no blame is attached to anyone. J. W. Walker, foreman, W. V. Leeper, S. L. Olsted, O. N. Starr, D. E. Chesley, E. E. Everson, F. M. Carter, Coroner.
The following note was found on the table in the room where Mrs. Berry died:
Dear James: Please deed the two lots over there to mother and father; give the piano and ring I sent away today to Martha; the silver watch to Attie. Esther.
“P. S.--Of course this place is now free from mortgage, and is yours, and the little money in the bank.”
Yaquina Bay News (Newport, OR) 8/13/1914 p3
O. V. Hurt, the Republican candidate for county commissioner was in Newport Monday en route home from a trip out to Oregon City and Portland.