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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 22, 1904: Holy Roller on Death Row


Creffield's Followers in the AsylumOregon Daily Journal (Portland) 7/22/1904 p1

Thinks Williams May Tell All

“I Have Confesses to God.” Mrs. Cross Says Murdered Told Her--’Confess to Man.’ She Urged---He’s a Holy Roller.”


(From a Staff Correspondent)

The Dalles, Or., July 22.--Daniel Norman Williams has become a Holy Roller. Through the efforts of Mrs. J. H. Cross, a prominent adherent of that faith, the condemned man awaiting execution for the murder of Mrs. L. J. Nesbitt and her daughter, Alma, has become a disciple of the doctrine made famous in Oregon by Apostle Joshua Creffield. And to Mrs. Cross, his religious tutor, in the privacy of his cell, Williams has virtually confessed his crimes.


The confession is not complete. Though often moved to tears when urged by Mrs. Cross to confess his deeds “before all men,” as she says is required by the scriptures, Williams would hesitate and finally say he wanted more time. If he gets no new trial on his appeal to the Supreme Court he may speak.

“He tells me that he has confessed to God,” answered Mrs. Cross in response to a question. I begged him to confess before all men. He was moved to tears several times by my entreaties and was evidently in an awful state of mental torture. But he always hesitated. I think he will confess sooner or later because he admitted to me that he is not saved.



In just 11 words Mrs. Cross naively suggests an explanation of Williams’ hesitancy about making a public confession which will appeal to all familiar with the circumstances.


“I think he will confess if he gets no new trial,” she remarked. In these words the Holy Roller proselyte tacitly admitted her doubt of the genuineness of the conversion of Williams.


In this city the disciples of Holy Rollers are known simply as members of the “Mission.” The word “Holy Roller “ is repugnant to them. Mrs. Cross is the wife of a prosperous grocer. Her daughter is also a convert to the doctrines advocated by the peculiar sect. It was shortly after his trial and conviction that Mrs. Cross began to visit Williams. She was shown a little more consideration than others who had called to see him by Williams on the occasion of her first visit.




The woman took books and pamphlets dealing with religious subjects to the condemned man, however, and in these he soon became much interested. The result was that when she returned he was in a more hospitable humor and the two had a lengthy conversation. Since then Mrs. Cross has called on Williams on an average of twice a week. In fact, she is the only visitor he has ever consented to receive. She soon began to urge him to accept salvation and between her arguments and pondering over the religious works given him for perusal Williams soon became most pious in his demeanor.


One day last week when he had been exhorted to embrace “full and free salvation” he broke down and wept like a child, wrung his hands in anguish, Mrs. Cross says, and moaned: “Oh, I am an awful guilty man. I have done some terrible things. But I have confessed it all to God. I believe he will be merciful.”

“Mr. Williams, a confession to God is necessary,” said Mrs. Cross, “but you should remember that no matter what you have done, God knows all about it, anyhow. What he expects of you in order to be convinced of your penitence is that you confess before all men.




Williams started to dry his tears and after a few sobs managed to control himself. He heaved several long sighs, opened his mouth once or twice as if to speak, and then hung his head without saying anything. On being again urged to make a public confession he replied:  “I know that I am not saved. I know that I must do other things. But wait. Many things may happen yet.”


Since his conversion Williams has appeared to be in fairly good spirits and eats and sleeps well. He is not allowed the daily papers, by order of Sheriff C. Sexton, but is permitted to have a magazine occasionally and all the religious books he wants. He will accept the latter class of literature from nobody but Mrs. Cross.


“I have been here for 14 years,” said J. J. Fitzgerald, the venerable jailer, “and in that time have been farther than three miles away from the court house only once--that was about five or six years ago, when I took an insane man to Salem. In all those years I have never seen a man that appears so little concerned about the outcome of his case as does this man Williams since he took to reading religious works. He never talks about his crimes at all, and eats and sleeps well.




Williams is not a model prisoner in every sense of the word. He frequently finds fault with his meals. Sometimes the quality does not suit him and sometimes he complains of not having enough. When he asks for more it is given him. Previous to his trial he ordered a few pies, but he has eaten no delicacies since that time.

Shortly after 8 o’clock in the morning he is released from his cell and allowed in the corridor. There is only one other inmate of the jail at present, Willard Udell, a 17-year-old boy, who is held on the charge of running away with a girl two years younger than himself. The two prisoners frequently draw their chairs close together and convene in low tones. Williams does not smoke, chew or gamble.



Since May 22, the day previous to the beginning of his trial, a razor has not been used on the prisoner’s face. He now wears a full beard and presents an appearance entirely different from his aspect during the trial, when his face was clean-shaven.


There is one subject upon which Mrs. Cross herself is rather reticent. She does not care to discuss Williams’ conversion from a denominational standpoint. Asked if he had accepted the doctrine of the “Mission,” she answered that he had “accepted Christ as his Savior.”


Corvallis Times 7/27/1904 p4

He May Own Up

(About William’s conversion, plus …)

It was shortly after his trial and conviction that Mrs. Cross began to visit Williams. She was shown a little more consideration than others who had called to see him by Williams on the occasion of her first visit.


This woman took books and pamphlets dealing with religious subjects to the condemned man, however, and in these he soon became much interested. The result was that when she returned he was in a more hospitable humor and the tow had a lengthy conversation. Since then Mrs. Cross has called on Williams on average of twice a week. In fact, she is the only visitor he has ever consented to receive.. She soon began to urge him to accept salvation and between her arguments and pondering over the religious works given him for perusal, Williams soon became most pious in his demeanor. . .



Corvallis Gazette 7/29/1904 p4

Norman Williams, now in jail at the Dalles for the murder of Mrs. Nesbitt and her daughter, Alma, has been partially converted top the Holy Roller faith. Mrs. J. H. Cross, who is the main instrument of his soi-disant salvation, is expecting to get him to make a confession regarding the murders, but he hasn’t, as he says, been “saved” yet, and so he is postponing the confession until it is decided whether he gets a new trial by premature confession that may prejudice his case. If the new trial is not granted, and there no other hope of his getting off, then he is going in for full and free salvation with both feet. It looks as if he were trying to make his Salem trip end in the asylum instead of the penitentiary.


[Norman Williams executed in 1905. For more information, see Corvallis Times, May 10, 1905, p3]

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Newspaper Articles about Creffield & the Holy Rollers

1897-1899:Local Lore, News Of Corvallis and Vicinity Told in Brief B. C. (Before Creffield)

1900:Holy Rollers' Lives Before Creffield

1901:Holy Rollers' Lives Before Creffield

1902:Holy Rollers' Lives Creffield

January 18, 1903: Fred Mitchell Attempts Suicide

June 10, 1903: Salvation Army Major Deserts and Joins the Holy Rollers

October 31, 1903: Zealot Worshipers Burn Furniture, Dogs & Other Things

November 2, 1903: Fanatics In Court

November 3, 1903: Had Promise of Tar and Feathers

November 4, 1903: Flight of The Apostles

November 5, 1903: Once-Esteemed Family No Longer Has the Sympathy of the Community

November 6, 1903: Rollers Take On New Life

November 7, 1903: Is Creffield Back?

November 11, 1903: “Apostle” Creffield Still Under Cover

November 24, 1903: Girl of Sixteen Almost Insane

November 25, 1903: In Pursuit of Creffield

November 27, 1903: The Lord May Starve Them

November 28, 1903: Holy Rollers Receive Unwilling Baptism

December 7, 1903: Demented Woman Suffers

December 8, 1903: Hurt Seen In Portland

December 11, 1903:Holy Rollers Roll Into Eugene Church

December 21, 1903:Holy Roller Victim Worse

December 22, 1903: Linn County Holy Rollers

December 23, 1903: Is Crazy Now

December 29, 1903: Holy Rollers’ Not Liked at the Dalles

December 30, 1903: Owner of Property Refuses to Permit Séances

January 6, 1904: Holy Rollers Tarred and Feathered

January 9, 1904: Their Welcome Departure

January 12, 1904: Editorial Comment: “Put yourselves in our place!”

January 13, 1904: Where Brooks Went

January 19, 1904: Our Brainy Contemporaries

January 25: Holy Rollers’ in Hobo Camp Life

February 1, 1904: Camp In Linn County Is Broken Up By Officers

February 6, 1904: How They Tell The Holy Roller Story In Far Off Scotland

February 11, 1904: Medium Mystify Corvallis People

March 1, 1904: The “Holy Rollers” Offend Humanity

March 16, 1904: Holy Rollers to Be Arrested on Serious Charge

March 17, 1904: Where is the Apostle?

March 21, 1904: Reward For Creffield's Capture

March 23, 1904: Fugitive Creffield

March 28, 1904: Reward is Offered

April 1, 1904: “Holy Roller” Chief Very Badly Wanted

April 18, 1904: Holy Roller High Priest Is Seen

April 29, 1904: Urania Seeley is Arrested

May 2, 1904: Frank & Mollie Hurt are Committed to the Asylum

May 4, 1904: Maud Hurt-Creffield & Sophia Hartley are Committed

May 7, 1904: Attie Bray &Rose Seeley are Committed

June 11, 1904: Attie Bray Escapes

June 17, 1904: Mae Hurt is Committed

June 29, 1904: Sarah Hurt is Committed

July 22, 1904: Holy Roller on Death Row

July 29, 1904: Creffield Found Half Dead Under Hurt’s House

July, 30 1904: Armed Guards Protect Creffield

July, 31 1904: Corvallis Could Not Raise a Mob

August 1, 1904: Creffield says, "I am Elijah"

August 2, 1904: Creffield Does Not Dislike Prison

August 4, 1904: Creffield Says He Is Entirely Purified

August 5, 1904: He Does Nothing Unless Directed by God

August 6, 1904: Creffield Believes in Satan and Eternal Punishment

August 9, 1904: No Flowers For Creffield

August 13, 1904; The Holy Rollers And The Man Who Made Them

August 16, 1904; Creffield Reward Will Be Returned

August 19, 1904: Followers in Asylum Stick To Faith

August 23, 1904: Creffield Will Fight His Own Case

August 28, 1904: Creffield Destroys His Revelations

September 16, 1904: Creffield is Guilty

September 21, 1904: Holy Rollers go in and Out of the Asylum

March 22, 1905: Prison Life Of Joshua Creffield>

April 8, 1905: Life In Corvallis Returns to Normal

December 12, 1905: Frank & Mollie Hurt Have a Baby Girl

April 24, 1906: Creffield Establishes a Camp Near Waldport

April 30, 1906: Donna Starr Leaves Children to go to Her Spiritual Love, Joshua Creffield

May 1, 1906: Creffield Takes Credit for The San Francisco Earthquake

May 3, 1906: Creffield In Fear Of His Life

May 7, 1906: Holy Roller Shot Down Like A Dog

May 8, 1906: Medal to Be Given Mitchell in Recognition of His Killing

May 9, 1906: Oregon Prosecutor Would Aid Mitchell

May 10, 1906: Shows No Emotion At Husband’s Grave

May 11, 1906: Bail Is All Ready

May 12, 1906: Mitchell Denied Bail

May 13, 1906: Creffield is Due To Rise Today

May 14, 1906: Creffield’s Widow Watches At Grave

May 15, 1906: Corvallis Starts Fund for Defense of Mitchell

May 16, 1906: Holy Rollers Starving Near Heceta Head

May 17, 1906: Public Sentiment Favors Mitchell

May 18, 1906: Creffield Railed in Vermont

May 19, 1906: Mitchell to Enter Plea of Not Guilty

May 27, 1906: Joshua Says Not to Worry

June 1, 1906: Morris Claims Mitchell Rid World of a Fiend

June 16, 1906: Prosecution and Defense are Making Last Preparations

June 19, 1906: Many Witnesses For Mitchell

June 24, 1906: Trial Will Cost Taxpayers Ten Thousand Dollars

June 25, 1906: George Mitchell on Trial For His Life

June 26, 1906: Mitchell Jury is Selected With Care

June 27, 1906: Mitchell Trial Held Up By Squabble

June 28, 1906:  Jury is Secured to Try Mitchell

June 29, 1906: Trial is Now on in Earnest

June 30, 1906: Mrs. Creffield's Testimony

July 1, 1906: Creffield’s Ghost Controls His Flock

July 2, 1906:  Esther Mitchell on Stand Refuses To Aid Brother

July 3, 1906: Hurt Tells of Debauched Wife and Debased Sisters

July 4, 1906: Creffield’s Unsavory Record Presented to the Jury

July 5, 1906: Expected Admissibility of Evidence Will Arouse Controversy

July 6, 1906: Others Testify They Wished to Kill Creffield

July 7, 1906: Insanity Expert on the Witness Stand

July 8, 1906: Plan To Revive Holy Rollerism

July 9, 1906: Killing of Judge Emory May Effect Mitchell

July 10, 1906: Mitchell Case Goes To Jury

July 11, 1906: Not Guilty

July 12, 1906: General Rejoicing at Mitchell’s Acquittal

July 13, 1906: Esther Mitchell Kills Her Brother!

July 14, 1906: Mitchell Boys Are Done With Esther

July 15, 1906: Hurt Will Come to Aid of His Daughter

July 16: 1906: Will Mortgage His Home for Daughter

July 17, 1906: Let’s Think When We Talk

July 18, 1906: Mrs. Starr’s Life Threatened

July 19, 1906: Mrs. Creffield Weeps in Jail

July 20, 1906: George Mitchell’s Attorney Offers Aid to Murderesses

July 21, 1906: Mitchell Boys to Stand by Esther

July 22, 1906: Hurt Thinks Both Women Are Insane

July 23, 1906: Frater Favors a Commission of Alienists

July 24, 1906: Mackintosh Will Oppose Calling Commission

July 26, 1906: Is Reconciled to Holy Roller Wife

July 27, 1906: Holy Rollers Seek Home in Wyoming

July 28, 1906: Mitchell Juror is Insane

July 30, 1906: Esther Will Deny Committing Murder In The 1st Degree

July 31 1906: Esther Mitchell Says Not Guilty

August 1, 1906: Relatives to Help Esther Mitchell

August 4, 1906: Creffield Greatly Hurt True Religion

August 6, 1906: Mitchell Boys in Drunken Row

August 8, 1906: St. Louis Woman Coming to Convert “Rollers”

August 12, 1906: Esther Mitchell Close to Death from Typhoid

August 13, 1906: Esther Mitchell Not Seriously Ill

September 1, 1906: Four Charged with First Degree Now in County Jail

September 10 1906: To Examine Minds of Slayers

September 12, 1906: Hurt Thinks His Daughter Insane

September 13, 1906: Esther Mitchell Objects to Help

September 14, 1906: Women Not Agitated

September 15, 1906: Mrs. Creffield’s Trial Set for Next Month

September 17, 1906: Mrs. Creffield on Stand

September 18, 1906:  Maud Creffield Anxious to Hang

September 19, 1906: Are They Sane of Insane?

September 21, 1906: Both Women May Go Scott Free

September 22, 1906: Where is This Thing to End!

September 23, 1906: Murders Must Be Tried

September 24, 1906: Must Not Deport

September 25, 1906: Judge Frater is in Very Small Business

September 28, 1906: Insanity Board Not Paid

October 1, 1906: Holy Roller Woman Dies While in Trance

November 9, 1906: Mrs. Creffield Said to Be in Very Nervous State

November 17, 1906: Maud Creffield Dies in the County Jail

November 18, 1906: Death May End a Hypnotic Spell

November 19, 1906: Reviews Findings in Examination of Brain

November 20, 1906: Mrs. Creffield Killed Herself with Poison!

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

November 22, 1906: Esther Says Maud Did Not Kill Herself

December 4, 1906: Washing Dirty Linen

December 17, 1906: Sad Christmas For Holy Roller

February 21, 1907: Esther Mitchell Goes to Asylum

April 30, 1907: Esther Mitchell Still Believe in Creffield & His Return

April 6, 1909: Esther Mitchell Leaves Asylum

April 9, 1914: Esther Mitchell Marries James Berry

August 3, 1914: Esther Mitchell is Dead By Own Hand

1953 Stewart Holbrook's Murder Without Tears

1951 Startling Detective Magazine: Nemesis of the Nudist High Priest

A List of All the Articles


Sample Chapters from Holy Rollers:
Murder and Madness in Oregon's Love Cult


The Cast of Characters
Photos and Bios of the Holy Rollers


Holy Rollers' Asylum Commitment Papers


Info for Book Groups

Book Reviews


1903 to 1907 Newspaper Articles About the Holy Rollers

1906 Editorial Calling for Gun Control
After Multiple Murders Involving the Holy Rollers

Stewart Holbrook Holy Rollers Article

Advertisements from 1893 to 1913


Oregon Insane Asylum
Where the Holy Rollers Were Committed

Creffield, Brainwashing & Thought Reform

Early Cases of Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity

1906 Autopsies Of Holy Rollers
Forensics Before CSI

Holy Roller Bizarre Divorce Decree
Hartley describes trying to kill his wife's lover


Comedians on Edmund Creffield

The Shadow Testament
A Play About The Holy Rollers

How the Fire Fell
A Movie About The Holy Rollers


Life in Corvallis in the early 1900s

Life in Waldport, OR in early 1900s

Heaven's Gate

Facts & Stats about 1906
And How The Holy Rollers Measured Up

Oregon State Penitentiary
Where Creffield Was Incarcerated


Info about Cults

Could you ever be lured into joining a cult?

Share your thoughts about, and experiences with, cults


Creffield's Preachings

Creffield Vs. Crefeld

The Salvation Army Opening Fire in 1886

Holy Roller Theology

Reverend Knapp's Bible Songs of Salvation & Victory
Songs Sung by the Holy Rollers


About the Authors

Theresa (T-) McCracken

Robert B. Blodgett

In addition to writing, McCracken is a cartoonist.

To see some of her 'toons, go to the Home of McHumor Cartoons mchumor.com

McCracken's Blog

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Theresa (T-) McCracken
890 North Bayview Loop
Waldport, Oregon 97394

(541) 563-3112


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Theresa (T-) McCracken