Salem Pioneer Cemetery ~ Lucy A. Jellison
~ part of the Marion County Pioneer Cemeteries of Oregon
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Lucy A. Jellison
|LAST NAME: Jellison
||FIRST NAME: Lucy
||MIDDLE NAME: A.
|MAIDEN NAME: Ford
||AKA 1: Story
||AKA 2: Swanson
|BORN: abt 1870
||DIED: 2 Mar 1912
||BURIED: 4 Mar 1912
|BIRTH PLACE: Ohio
|DEATH PLACE: Salem, Marion Co., Oregon
1st MARRIAGE - to William Elmer Story/Storey [according to the death certificate of son, Russell Kenneth Story, who died in Salt Lake City, Utah on 24 Sep 1949]
2nd MARRIAGE - to Charles Ellison [divorced in Polk Co., Oregon, 1908]
3rd MARRIAGE - to John Swanson on 12 Aug 1908 in Linn Co., Oregon
1900 KS CENSUS - Lucy Jellison, age 29, mother of 2 children, b. July 1870 in Ohio, is enumerated with her husband of 1 year, Charles, age 34, occupation farmer, b. Jan 1866 in Ohio, along with Russell, age 5, b. Jan 1895 in Ohio, and Harland, age 11 months, b. Kansas.
1910 OR CENSUS - Lucy F. Jellison, age 39, widowed, mother of 6 children 5 of whom are living at the time of the census, occupation dressmaker, b. Ohio, is enumerated with children Harlan C., age 10, b. Kansas, Epsy G., age 9, b. Kansas, Maud G., age 5, b. Oregon, Russell K. Story, age 18, b. Ohio, and Raymond A. Swanson, identified as her ward, age 11 months, b. Oregon.
The following story, written by Capi Lynn, was originally was published as part of Salem's StatesmanJournal's Headstones of History series from mid-2002 to early 2007.Salem tragedy in 1912: Mother poisoned four children
Long before Susan Smith and Andrea Yates there was Lucy Jellison, a Salem woman who committed a most heinous crime.
She murdered her own children.
On March 2, 1912, Jellison administered potassium cyanide to four children, ages 3 to 15. Then she ingested the poison herself.
The bodies were discovered the next day in a tent behind the family's house on Liberty Street, all the children in their freshly laundered night clothes.
An officer was sent to investigate after the chief of police received a letter in the morning mail from Jellison stating her intentions.
"I know the law requires investigation," the letter said. "Do as little as possible.
"The plain fact is I cannot earn enough alone to keep my family. Someone induced my boy to leave, and I am too ill to work. I cannot see them starve. There is a little money, $21, in my purse. Make it bury us all together."
Jellison and her children were interred at Pioneer Cemetery, but their gravesites are unmarked today. Foot-high dandelions cover the area where they were laid to rest 90 years ago.
According to The Daily Capitol Journal, five wooden slabs were placed at the head of three new-made graves when they were buried. The mother was placed in one grave, and two children in each of the others. The newspaper referred to the funeral service as "probably the saddest and most pitiful and pathetic ever held in the city of Salem."
Jellison was 42, according to a copy of her death certificate. She poisoned sons Harland, 15, and Raymond, 3, and daughters Espey, 12, and Maud, 8.
Large, bold headlines like "Family dies a tragic death" and "Despondent woman's terrible act" jumped from the front pages of local newspapers in the days that followed.
In recent years, other mothers have grabbed headlines for killing their children, including the drowning tragedies of Smith in 1994 and Yates in 2001. But Jellison took her crime a step further by killing herself.
None of the newspaper accounts included photographs of Jellison or her children, but they offered explanations as to why she could have carried out such a heinous crime.
The stories told of a woman who was married and divorced three times, and who was struggling to raise her children on a $10-a-week job at Royale Cafeteria.
The family had recently moved to a house at 469 N Liberty St., but Jellison was unable to afford the rent, so she sub-let it to tenants. She and her children moved into a tent in the rear of the property and lived in squalor.
"The furnishings of the tent consisted of several boxes with straw in them which served as beds, an old, dilapidated heating stove, and a box table where she and the children ate their meals, when they had anything to eat," according to March 4 issue of the Capitol Journal.
A week before poisoning her children, she quit her job at the restaurant and told co-workers she was going to Colorado, where her sister lived.
In the letter she sent to the chief of police, postmarked 6:30 a.m. March 2, she tried to explain what led her to commit such a dire act and offered an apology with the final sentence: "I am sorry to make so much disturbance, but am too confused to think."
Jellison reportedly purchased the potassium cyanide the day before at a Salem drugstore, where records indicated that she said she wanted to kill a couple of old dogs.
Death Certificate shows Mrs. L. F. Jellison, age 42, b. Ohio, divorced, daughter of ? Ford, Lehman & Clough funeral home, burial in IOOF Cemetery, March 4, 1912.
FAMILY DIES A TRAGIC DEATH
Mrs. L. F. Jellison Poisons Four Children and Then Takes Own Life
Notified Police of Intentions
Despondency Evidently Cause of Deed. Wrote Pathetic Letters to Friends
Was Lately Employed at Royale Cafeteria
Grieved Over Son Who Ran Away
Multitudes Throng the Morgue to View the Dead.
As a result of poison administered by Mrs. L. F. Jellison to herself and four children ranging in ages from 3 to 15 years, the five were found dead in a tent at 469 North Liberty street by Officer Sam Burkhart between 10 and 11 o'clock yesterday morning, who together with Chief Ira Hamilton and C. N. Matlock, made an investigation on the premises after the chief had received a letter from Mrs. Jellison in the morning mail in which she stated her intention to end her own life and the lives of her children.
Mrs. Jellison was 42 years of age. Up to a week ago last night she was employed at the Royale cafeteria. He children who died with her were Espey, a daughter aged 15 years, Harland aged 13, Maud aged 11 and Raymond aged 3.
A coroner's inquest was held at 7:30 o'clock last night at the undertaking establishment of Lehman & Clough, to whose morgue the bodies were removed. The verdict of the jury was "Death due to poison -- cyanide potash -- administered by the mother, first to the children, and then to herself with suicidal effect." The verdict was signed by the entire jury, which was composed of J. A. Ragan, J. L Stiver, William Frost, Clyde Rice, L. A. Zimmerman and J. A. Mills.
Note Almost Conclusive.
The testimony of all the witnesses called in the case and the evidence gleaned from two letters written by the dead woman and also from a note left on a table in the tent where the tragedy occurred, seemed to show that Mrs. Jellison was in her normal mind when she commiteed the deed, although the act was evidently premeditated. The letters and the note left by Mrs. Jellison were well written, correctly spelled and the composition was better than that of the ordinary person following the common walks of life. All of the letters showed that the woman was deeply despondent largely on account of the leaving home of her son Russell, and there was pervading each of the letters a strain of extreme pathos. Part of the note found in the tent where the bodies lay, served to show almost conclusively that the verdict of the jury is correct. The note read: "For all time. For all time. For all time. For all time. The rest are at peace. God help me."
Did Mrs. Jellison in that last meditation in the presence of her dead children repeat the words 'For all time' once for each child? was the question that the note suggested, and a query or two to that effect was brought out in the inquest. There are conflicting statements concerning the number of times Mrs. Jellison had been married. One statement is that she has been married four times and another statement has it three. A former husband whose name was Story is dead. The husband Jellison, whose name she bore, is said to reside in Kansas, while John Swanson, her last husband lives near Waterloo. Russell Storey the lad who left home and Espey, the oldest of the dead children are said to be childen of the first husband, Harland and Maud of the second and Raymond a son of John Swanson. Russell, the eldest son, at the time he left hom on January 27, went to the vicinity of Lebanon where he expected to receive help from his stepfather, John Swanson. [There are additional details given in the news story that are not given here.]
Oregon Statesman 3 Mar 1912, pg. 1+.
MOTHER POISONS SELF AND 4; ALL DIE
Poor Salem Woman Ends Life Struggle.
PATHETIC IS PLEA IN LETTER
Mrs. L. F. Jellison Writes Friend to Care for Son.
BODIES HUDDLED ON BED
Slaying of Own Children and Suicide Well Planned – Own Insurance Expired, but Eldest Son’s Policy Paid in Advance.
SALEM, Or., March 3 –(Special)- Huddled together in two beds in a tent behind their home, 469 North Liberty street, the bodies of a mother and her four children, poisoned by cyanide of potassium, administered by the parent, were the gruesome find made by the police here today. The dead are:
Mrs. L. F. Jellison, aged 40.
Epsey, aged 15.
Harland, aged 13.
Maude, aged 11.
Raymond Swanson, aged 9, son by a former husband.
Apparently the children, except Raymond, willingly carried out the wishes of their mother for there appears to have been no struggle. But in the case of the youngest his body showed marks of violence, as though he had resisted and finally been forced to yield.
Woman Was Hard Worker.
Mrs. Jellison had been known as a hard worker from the time she arrived here from Lebanon where a former husband, John Swanson, is living. For the past few weeks she had been laboring in a cafeteria at a salary of $10 a week, a sum not sufficient to support herself and four children.
Russell K. Strong [Storey], 17, another son by a former husband, Mrs. Jellison having been married three times, ran away a week ago. The mother had been dependent to a degree on young Strong’s [Storey’s] aid in supporting the children, and after he left it seems the woman became despondent and felt that life no longer was worth the living.
An empty bottle which had contained the poison, found near the beds, told the story of the final act in the life tragedy of the quintet, the mother first making sure that all the children were dead or dying before she took the last capsule. The bodies were yet warm when the police arrived at the death scene.
Co-Workers Give Aid
A week ago Mrs. Jellison quit her position in the restaurant and told her co-workers that she was going to Colorado. The waitresses, with whom she had worked, realizing her destitute condition, had lately sent her food and labored under the impression that she soon would secure financial assistance from friends or relatives in Colorado and would go there.
No one here knows anything of Mr. Jellison, but it is said he visited the family recently. However, there is no knowledge that he ever aided the family financially.
Mrs. Jellison apparently had carefully planned the wholesale suicide having secured the poison Friday at a Salem drugstore.
About a week ago she gave up her position. From the way in which she adjusted insurance, which she carried on herself and her son Russell Strong [Storey], the police believe the woman had planned to take the lives of herself and her children for some time past. Strong’s [Storey’s] insurance was paid for three years in advance, while that upon herself was paid only up to today, when the policy was to have expired.
Letter Leads to Find.
The discovery of the bodies was made through a letter which had been mailed by the mother late Friday night. It read as follows:
“I know the law requires an investigation. Do as little as possible. Plain fact is I cannot earn enough alone to keep me from starving. Someone induced my boy to leave me and now I am too ill to work. I cannot see them starve. There is a little money in my purse - $21. Make it bury us all together. Sorry to make so much disturbance.” The initials L. F. J. were signed and the street address was given, and the police hurried to the home.
On a table standing near the bed was the following note:
“Let Mrs. Pratt have my tent and everything else is left to Mrs. Carrie Clair. Sorry to put you to this bother. Forgive me. I hated to lie to get the stuff.”
At the Coroner’s inquest tonight, another letter was presented, written by Mrs. Jellison to her friend A. D. Leach, an employe of the Portland Railway, Light and Power Company. It is:
“Remember all the time you still have work to do. I want you to do me one more favor. Find the lad (Russell) and try to soften his heart toward me enough so that he will heed my last wishes for his benefit. I want him to go to school. It was a grief to me always that I had to keep him out. He will need a good friend. I could wish he would go to the Oregon Agricultural College. Mr. Ressler there used to be the kind of man I would wish for his friend.
“I pray you do not grieve for us. You must live to watch over your own. I’ve done what little I could to help you over some ruts. I wish I need not have given you this blow. I cannot help it. When I’ve been cross with you lately it was to keep from breaking down. Forgive me and be good and don’t worry. It is only another pebble crushed beneath the iron heel.
“My lad has gone quite a way. I pray that something may happen to stop him and send him up. Then indeed my life and death will not have been in vain. Remember, I told you I should remind you of your promise to help me if I asked. I ask you to be kind to Russell and not fret over any of us. I have appreciated your friendship, even if I did scold. I wish you the best of success, and thank you for all you have done for me.”
This was written in ink. The next addition to the letter is in pencil.
“Be strong and forgive me the shock. Had I been able to think of any way to get away without shocking everyone I would have done so. I could not raise the money to get any place. I am not able to work, and I cannot sit here and go through what we did once and know all the time of that gnawing misery for Russell. Poor boy, if only I might have bidden him Godspeed. I am ill with a horror at this time. You would not make it easy for me but of course you are right. I fear I cannot hold out, but I must try. I cannot leave them to face alone what I have tried so hard to do and have failed – failed. And I was stronger than any of them. No, I cannot leave them here. But woe is me, to have to send them home. At least they are innocent.
“Time is passing and I must go to work. But, O God, have mercy. I have prayed for some other way, but find none. My brain reels. Good-bye.”
Besides the letter sent the Chief of Police a shorter one was found in the tent beside the bodies this morning a shorter one was found in the tent beside the bodies this morning. On the back of this was repeated four time, “For all time.”
Beneath these words was written” “The rest are at peace. God help me.”
Testimony at the inquest showed that Mrs. Jellison had always acted in a rational manner, and at no time up to when she was last seen alive on Friday night had there been any indication of insanity.
Oregonian, The (Portland, Oregon) 3 Mar 1912, pages 1,2
TRAGEDY AT SALEM STIRS COMMUNITY
Former Husband and Son of Mrs. Jellison Not Surprised at Woman’s Act.
Russel [Russell] Storey, 17-Year-Old Boy, Says Mother Gave Children Drug Six or Seven Years Ago.
Funeral to be Today.
SALEM, Or., March 3 -(Special)- Hundreds of people visited the undertaking parlors today where are lying the bodies of Mrs. L. L. Jellison and her four children, victims of the tragedy here yesterday, when the mother administered poison to them and then committed suicide.
John Swanson, of Lebanon, and Russell Storey, 17-year-old son by a former husband, arrived today, and Swanson will take charge of the funeral and burial arrangements.
The son, while upset by the tragedy, did not seem to be greatly surprised that it happened.
“About six of seven years ago she made the same kind of attempt upon the children” is the story which he told to Chief of Police Ira Hamilton.
Former Attempt Similar.
“At that time she gave us a heavy drug of some kind which we thought was medicine. It made us deathly sick, but evidently she gave us too much of it. She gave us the drug at night and I slept nearly all the next day and suffered much in consequence.”
Mr. Swanson says that Mrs. Jellison deserted him and for that reason he brought proceedings for a divorce which was allowed.
He told police that for some years he lent Mrs. Jellison money before they were married and she gave him a farm as security. This farm was later turned over to the boy, Russell Storey. He says he furnished her ample means of support during their married life, but that she was exceedingly difficult to be compatible with and the split in marital relations ensued.
Five Graves Side by Side.
The former husband made arrangements today for purchase of a lot in a local cemetery and the funeral will be held tomorrow afternoon at 3 o’clock. The mother and four children will be buried in graves side by side.
Dr. Avison, pastor of the First Methodist Episcopal Church will officiate.
Coroner Clough, at whose undertaking establishment the bodies are, entered into communication with the Chief of Police today with the end in view of holding private funeral services instead of having them publically at the Methodist Church, as has been planned. He believes that the public is now in such an excited condition over the tragedy that it would be better for have a private funeral and interment.
Woman Often Depressed.
It is the opinion of both the former husband and the son, Russell Storey, that Mrs. Jellison was subject to occasional periods of mental depression and that is was while laboring under one of these that she committed the deed that took her own life and the lives of her four young children.
Never before in the history of Salem has the city been so shaken as it was by the news of the grim details surrounding the events of yesterday. In the entire annals of the Capital City there has never been thrown the grewsome [gruesome] features of the one of Saturday.
The four little children as they lay in their coffins at the morgue present a peculiarly pitiful appearance today. Each of the children is attractive and beautiful of feature.
The mother appears thin and wan, as though she suffered from years of care and starvation and the evident struggle which she had with herself before she administered the fatal doses is written plainly on her countenance.
As far as is known today no new letters have been unearthed to shed further light on the motives of the mother and it is believed that the main facts have been ascertained.
Oregonian, The (Portland, Oregon) 4 Mar 1912, pg 9
OSBH DC (Marion Co., #688)
1900 KS CENSUS (Decatur Co., Center, ED 10, sheet 3A)
Oregon State Historical Records Index (divorce from Charles Jellison, Polk Co., case #3581)
Oregon Marriage Index (Oregon Historical Records Index)
1910 OR CENSUS (Marion Co., Salem, ED 227, sheet 12B)
DOS 3 Mar 1912 pg.1+
Oreg 3 May 1912, pg 1, 2
Oreg 4 Mar 1912, pg 9