|Like most capital cities, Salem
has had its share of famous (or infamous) individuals during
its first century of existence. In the pioneer period of Oregons
forming, the immigrants were a largely law-abiding group but
that all changed with the California, Oregon and Idaho gold
discoveries when desperadoes drifted into the Territory following
the return of Oregon miners to their Valley homes with the proceeds
of their efforts in the goldfields. Robberies of stores and
homes became a common occurrence; stealing of horses and livestock
a fact of pioneer life. The taking of anothers life, however,
has always been a hanging offense.
First Official Hanging
What may well be Marion Countys first official hanging
occurred April 18, 1851. The dispute that led to the murder
for which William Kendall was hung that day was over Kendalls
land claim. William Hamilton had leased the Waldo Hills property
from Kendall in January of 1850 for two years. Evidentially
it was not an amicable arrangement so far as Kendall was concerned
and there were frequent accusations by the owner against Hamiltons
character and unauthorized use or sale of items on the property.
Animosity between the two parties was common knowledge in
the area and when William Hamilton was found shot dead on
January 7th, 1851, Kendall was immediately suspect. His trial
early in April would hardly go down in Oregon legal history
as the fairest ever to be conducted since the guilty verdict
was practically a foregone conclusiondespite Kendalls
protests of innocence to the end. The speedy dispensation
o justice in this case was occasioned by the fact that Salem
had no county jail at the time and therefore no secure facility
in which to hold the condemned man. (Not until a year later
did the County Board of Commissioners contract for the building
of a jailhouse.) The location chosen for this executionlower
Church Street near the bridge over South Mill Creekremained
the public hanging ground for some fifteen years thereafter.
First Hanging As a New State In Salem
A second hanging in 1859 bears the distinction of being
the first under statehood. On that occasion the condemned
man was Charles I. Rose, murderer of his second wife, Angelica
Carpentier. In this case, the guilt of the accused was never
in question as he confessed the crime outright and two observers
In North Salem on the evening of February 11, 1959, Rose accused
his wife of infidelity (a not totally groundless assertion
in view of her past history). When she denied the charge,
he grabbed her by the hair and cut her throat. The murderers
motive for killing 37 year-old Angelica was that he "loved
his wife better than life, and killed her to prevent others
from enjoying her."
A Dual Hanging
A dual hanging in 1865 avenged the murder of one of the Valleys
oldest and most respected citizens, Daniel Delaney. It began
merely as a robbery since Delaney was widely known as a miser
who had huge amounts of money hidden away on his property.
George Beale, a saloonkeeper, and his cohort, George Baker,
a butcher, were well acquainted with Delaney and his family,
and therefore had to disguise themselves before approaching
the old man after dark on January 9 and luring him outdoors.
Delaneys only companions at the time were a dog and
a young negro boy named, Jack, who survived being shot at
and reported the murder the next morning to one of Delaneys
sons living nearby. The murderers trail in March,1865
created so much interest, the courthouse couldnt hold
all the spectators, necessitating the courts relocation
to Griswolds Theatre in downtown Salem. March 27th the
Verdict of guilty was pronounced, the executions scheduled
for May 17th at the public hanging grounds. Some speculate
that a thousand on-lookers crowded the town for the occasion.
According to a 1940 pictorial map of Salem history copies
of the slayers confessions were sold on the streets
that day for the benefit of their widows.
The Wrong Man
With the transfer in 1866 of the Oregon State Penitentiary
to Salem from Portland hangings ceased to be public eventswith
one notable exception: March 20, 1885, Joe Drake was hanged
at the Marion County Courthouse for the murder of Dave Swartz.
Numerous jurists and the majority of public opinion felt the
young black man had been falsely convicted in the summer 1884
killing and his pre-execution statement confirmed what many
suspected; he was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time
and took the fall for the real murderer. But no one came forward
with their defense of Drake and he was hanged on the gallows
just north of the eastside entrance to the courthouse that
Friday afternoon. A temporary fence for privacy enclosed the
scaffold but the upper rooms of the courthouse offered ringside
seats for the "grewsome spectacle".
Tar and Feathers
A unique event in Salem history was the tarring and feathering
incident of August 29, 1873. On that date, a "a party
went to the City Calaboose and took there from an obnoxious
individual by the name of Christopher Koppleman, and treated
him to a coat of tar and feathers free of charge" as
reported in the local Oregon Statesman newspaper at the time.
He had previously been arrested for assault and batter on
Mrs. Marshal with whom he lived and once again had committed
the same crime, landing him in jail when he couldnt
pay the $25 fine. Koppleman was strongly suspected of being
a potential arsonist as well, so for this and other acts revealing
"a ad disposition," he was unceremoniously yanked
from the jailhouse given a complimentary feather coat, and
told to be on his way. Who the vigilantes were who carried
out this summary judgment never came to light.
During its years in Salem, Oregon, the State Penitentiary
had seen any number of escape attempts from the institutionsome
were successful, some were not. A major prison break soon
after the penitentiary was moved here occurred in August 1866
when a handful of prisoners grabbed the superintendent and
warden at knife-point and forced them to let out the rest
of the convicts. One prisoner was shot, eight escaped.In late
March, 1869 George Hibler, a convicted horse thief, was shot
to death in his jail cell. Hed been a resident in the
prison only two weeks, but during that time had established
a reputation for being belligerent and dangerous. On March
27th, in order to bring him out of his cell for medical examination,
five men approached the prisoner who picked up a heavy stool
and threatened to kill the first man to lay hands on him.
Guard Charles McNalley shot him in self-defense, though the
inquest jury found the action "not justifiable".
Another prison break in July 1883 (prior to the building of
a brick stockade to enclose the facility) resulted in five
casualties; fourteen prisoners broke through the first gate,
four convicts were killed outright, another died during recapture.
A touch of historical romance surrounds the escape of a Harry
Miller, on August 14, 1890. Sentenced in Portland to two years
in prison for larceny, he had served four months and was made
a trustee on a work crew at the new reform school grounds
outside Salem; two guards supervised the work party. The night
of the 14th Miller decamped, apparently for California. Sensationalized
as the son of Joaquin Miller, "poet of the Sierras,"
with his first wife, "Minnie Myrtle" (Theresa Dryer
of Port Orford), Harry was next heard from as a highway bandit
in Mendocino County, California, on November 15, 1891. The
sheriff returned him to Salem to serve out his term before
he was tried for the stage robbery north of Ukiah.
The Summer Manhunt of 1902
But all of these outbreaks caused scarcely a ripple in Salemites
day-to-day existence. In the summer of 1902, complacency was
shattered by the daring escape of two desperate convicts from
the prison. June 9th of that year Harry Tracy and David Merrill
killed three guards in their break for freedom and eluded
capture for months. Two Winchester rifles and two pistols
had somehow been smuggled over the prison wall the night beforeperhaps
by Traceys wife who happened to be Merrills sister.
Every issue of the local papers for the next sixty days carried
a front-page article on the efforts to find the escapees through
Oregon and Washington, until August 7th when Tracy was found
dead in a wheat field near Davenport, Washington, west of
Spokane. He had killed himself after being cornered there.
Earlier in their dash for freedom, Tracy had killed his brother-in-law
near Chehalis, Washington. Both bodies were returned to Salem
Largest Multiple Hanging In Salems History
On Friday, December 13th, 1912, occurred the largest multiple
hanging in Salems history when four men paid the extreme
penalty at the Oregon State Prison (a week before five were
scheduled to die but the governor commuted the sentence of
one). All four had been convicted of murder, in four different
counties, and had been imprisoned for various lengths of time;
their executions had been delayed because Governor West felt
hanging was "useless" and had referred the question
of capital punishment abolition to the people of Oregon in
the previous Novembers election. Rejected by the majority
of 20,000 votes, the initiative and the Governors objections
were defeated; he ordered the men hanged.But the matter didnt
end there nor did Governor West retire from his campaign to
outlaw the death penalty. It may have been this quadruple
hanging and heightened discussion to repeal capital punishment
that led to its demise in 1915. That decision was reversed
in May, 1920 and executions commenced the following November.
Short-lived escape to Polk CountyAnother break for freedom
from Oregon State Penitentiary proved tragic August 12, 1915,
when two guards and one prisoner were killed; three armed
convicts escaped, commandeered a taxi at Oregon State Hospital
and forced the driver to take them to Polk County. Their sojourn
outside the walls was brief, however; Tom Murray and James
Willos were recaptured within ten days while Ellsworth Kelly
had thirty days of freedom. Kelly and Willos were executed
April 20,1928, as Murray had beat the gallows by hanging himself
May 9, 1925, in his cell.
The Last Great Train Robbery Ends In Salem
A nearly four year, worldwide manhunt was ended on June 24,
1927, when three brothers were delivered to Oregon State Prison,
sentenced to life imprisonment. Their crime, known to history,
as the "Last Great Train Robbery" was the hold up
of the southbound Southern Pacific #13 near Ashland, Oregon.
Four men killed and not a dime to reward the efforts of Ray,
Roy and Hugh DeAutremont. Separately evading capture after
the October 11, 1923, tragedy despite massive manhunts in
the area and thousands of "wanted" posters across
the nation and abroad, the brothers were finally arrested,
one in the Philippines and two in Ohio. Hugh, the youngest
of the three, was paroled in 1958 and died less than six months
later. Ray, the oldest of the twins and ringleader of the
"gang", won parole in 1961 and died in 1984 at the
ripe old age of 84. His younger twin, Roy, suffered a downward
spiral in prison, was diagnosed with advanced schizophrenia
in 1949 and sent to Oregon State Hospital where he died in
1983. Coincidentally, it was the same hospital where he had
worked for a time in 1922.
Not all of Salems notorious citizens were of the male
persuasion. There was Madame Maggie Gardner who ran a bawdy
house on Liberty Street in the 1870s; the mother who poisoned
her four children and herself in March, 1912; and this one
from the Salem court records: In the early morning of September
4, 1921, Alma Louise Wurtzbarger fractured her husbands
skull with a hammer for an unkind remark, then walked to Salem
from Chemawa to turn herself in to the sheriff. Her husband
of three months, Andrew, was the gardener for the Chemawa
Indian School and, from subsequent testimony, was an early
example of an abusive husband long before "battered wife
syndrome" was a legal term heard in courtrooms. When
his wife woke him early that Sunday morning, gasping for breath
during an asthma attack, his response was, "I hope you
choke to death." She went downstairs to get her asthma
medicine picked up the hammer and beat her husband to death.
Alma was given a life sentence.
Just a Sample
The foregoing survey of criminal activities is not meant as
a complete account of Salem criminal annals, only a sampling
of incidents that occupied the interests of the towns
residents at that time. As the 20th Century progressed, crimes
became more sophisticated, in some cases more horrendous (as
in cases of mass murderers or serial killers), in other cases
more benign (as in the frequent arrests for bootlegging during
Prohibition), or more morally reprehensible (as in racially-motivated
killings with the advent of the Klu Klux Klan in the 1920s).
Mans inhumanity to man or woman is a fact of life and
continues to this day.
Compiled and written by Sue Bell
Oregon Spectator, January 16, 1851, page 2
Oregon Statesman newspaper, April 10 1851 page 2; February
15, 1859, page 2; March 27, 1865, page 1; June 10, 1912, page
1; November 5, 1920, page 1; August 12, 1925, page 1; September
6, 1921, page 8
Marion County Miscellaneous Records, Volume II, pages 7-12;
April 9, 1852.
Sarah Hunt Steeves, " Book of remembrance of Marion County
Pioneers 1840-1860". The Berncliff Press, Portland, Or,
1927, page 21.
Betrice Bliss White, "Not on a Silver Platter".
Forest Grove, Or; Meredith L. Bliss, 1989, pages 36-37.
Weekly Oregon Statesman, Salem, Or, March 20, 1885, page 5
Ben Maxwell, "Doomed Courthouse Won Architectural Distinction"
Capital Journal newspaper, June 11, 1952, page 17.
American Unionist, March 13, 1869, page 6
Willamette Farmer, March 15, 1869, page 1; March 29, 1869,
page 1; April 12, 1869, page 1
Daily Oregon Statesman newspaper, Salem, Or August 15, 1890,
page 3; December 10, 1912, page 1; March 3, 1912, pages 1
and 4; July 16, 1902, page 1
Sergeant J. R. Johnson, "The Penitentiary, Our First
Institution", Marion County History, Marion County Historical
Society, Salem, Or Volume 2, page 6.
Oregon State Penitentiary Register, Volume VI
Larry Sturholm and John Howard, "All for Nothing",
BLS Publishing Company, Portland, Or, 1976
F. A. Loomis, "As Long as Life", Storm Peak Press,
Seattle, Wa 1994, pages 157-158
Oregonian newspaper, Portland, Or July 4, 1882, page 1
Salem Centennial Commission, 1940, Inc. Pictorial Map of Marion
County and City of Salem, 1940, Points of Interest in Salem.