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 Salem's Criminals
 
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 Oregon’s 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 another’s life, however, has always been a hanging offense.

First Official Hanging
What may well be Marion County’s first official hanging occurred April 18, 1851. The dispute that led to the murder for which William Kendall was hung that day was over Kendall’s 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 Hamilton’s 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 conclusion—despite Kendall’s 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 execution—lower Church Street near the bridge over South Mill Creek—remained 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 witnessed it.

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 murderer’s 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 Valley’s 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. Delaney’s 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 Delaney’s sons living nearby. The murderers’ trail in March,1865 created so much interest, the courthouse couldn’t hold all the spectators, necessitating the court’s relocation to Griswold’s 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 events—with 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 couldn’t 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.

Prison Escapes
During its years in Salem, Oregon, the State Penitentiary had seen any number of escape attempts from the institution—some 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. He’d 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.

Highway Bandit
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 before—perhaps by Tracey’s wife who happened to be Merrill’s 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 for burial.

Largest Multiple Hanging In Salem’s History
On Friday, December 13th, 1912, occurred the largest multiple hanging in Salem’s 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 November’s election. Rejected by the majority of 20,000 votes, the initiative and the Governor’s objections were defeated; he ordered the men hanged.But the matter didn’t 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.

Female Criminals
Not all of Salem’s 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 husband’s 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 town’s 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). Man’s inhumanity to man or woman is a fact of life and continues to this day.

Compiled and written by Sue Bell

Bibliography:
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.

 

 

"Last Great Train Robbery" wanted  poster

Ray, Roy and Hugh DeAutremont wanted poster for what is known as the "Last Great Train Robbery"
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Gas chamber
New gas chamber installed at the State Penitentiary, February 7, 1938
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State Penitentiary
State Penitentiary
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