By Liza J. Schade, Washington County Museum Curator
Every once in awhile, I come across an artifact, document or photo that is so interesting that it launches me into an entire investigation!
While scanning and transcribing our collection of records from the offices of Judge George R. Bagley recently (who served as a lawyer and circuit court judge in Washington County from about 1895 to 1935) my intern Traci Willey noticed a letter written on Oregon State Penitentiary stationery. It was written on April 28, 1902 to George R. Bagley from Ezra E. Colestock. After reading the letter, the name stuck out at me and I was able to find a photo of the man, as well as news articles and further court records to tell us about the case.
First, here is a transcription of the letter below:
Oregon State Penitentiary, Salem, Ore.
April 28, 1902
Well George, I thought I would write you once more as I don’t feel as if I had annoyed you very much with unnecessary letters. Although I do really feel hurt sometimes when I think of the way I have been treated by the boys of Hillsboro. I have never heard a word from any of them. I wonder how many of them think that I would have treated them that way if they were in trouble, do you? And I want you to tell them to write to me and if they are short on postage, put all the letters in one envelope and send it and I will get it, for I have two cents in the office. Well George, what can you tell me for encouragement? I was so surprised to see you and Burk (Edmund Burke Tongue, District Attorney), that I hardly know knew what to say to you. What is Jim (James Colestock, Ezra’s brother) doing for me any way or do you know? Do you ever see S.C. Spencer (a lawyer from Portland who helped Bagley with Colestock’s case) and is he still willing to help me if he could and do you think there would be any opposition to it? Now sit down and answer and tell me the news. Don’t just write a business letter, but write a newsy letter. Also, give my regards to all the boys.
Yours truly, Coles
Until January 5, 1901, Ezra Elmer Colestock was a popular businessman in downtown Hillsboro. He lived in the Simmons Addition (block three, lot twelve) with his wife Emma Leverich and five year old daughter, Beryl Colestock. On Main Street, he owned E.E. Colestock’s Shaving Parlor and boasted the “neatest shave or hair cut to be had in Washington County.” He served as the referee for amateur wrestling fights, which would be held at the local Fireman’s Hall. As a volunteer fireman, he fought fires and acted as drill master for games held every February at the Hillsboro Fire Department’s annual ball. Several Hillsboro Argus newspaper articles, along with his own letter, allude to the fact that he was well liked and had many friends in town.
On a fateful winter night in December of 1900, Colestock committed the aggravated rape of Mary Thompson, who was evidently the housemaid of prominent lawyer and Congressman at that time, Thomas H. Tongue. Apparently the women of the area had for several years already considered Colestock a “libertine,” a man who is sexually irresponsible with women, and he boasted about his crime after the fact. According to the Argus, the assault was so “brutal and his victim so badly injured” that a doctor had to attend to her critical wounds and “the secret of a modest girl” was revealed.
There’s isn’t much about Mary Thompson; except that she was eighteen at the time of the crime and that it had occurred just a couple of blocks from the home of her own father. According to the Bill of Exceptions (jury instructions), written by the presiding judge Thomas McBride, the victim had apparently “voluntarily accompanied” Colestock on the evening of December 6, 1900. Ezra Colestock testified that he sat down on a fence railing and that Mary sat on his lap for about fifteen minutes, while they had consensual intercourse. With the exception of saying something vague to her brother and a man named Carl Larsen the day after the rape, Mary did not actually report the crime to the authorities until January 5, 1901. There was only one unnamed witness to the crime, who had heard Mary’s “outcry” from about twenty five feet away.
On January 8, 1901, the court indicted Ezra Colestock under three counts, by which the jury would decide the charge that would stick: rape, attempted rape, and assault with the intent to commit rape. The Hillsboro Argus reported on the bail hearing that day, to which a large mob had shown up. Upon hearing of a low $500 bail, the mob became aggravated and threatened to lynch Colestock. People were yelling from the crowd, “Let’s hang him!” and “I’ll get a rope!” and “We’ll help!” In case there was any failure of justice with the case, then the “vigilantes were to take the accused in hand.” The judge responded by raising the bail to $1500, which seemed to pacify the mob until trial. That same article described how Colestock cried like a “booby” when he arrived at the jail, the only time throughout the entire case where Colestock shows any kind of remorse, or at least acknowledgement that he was in trouble.
By March 1901, they began court proceedings in the Washington County Courthouse under Judge McBride. James W. Sewell was acting Sheriff of Hillsboro and had arrested Colestock in January. George R. Bagley and S.C. Spencer (of Portland) were attorneys for the defendant. Edmund Burke Tongue was prosecuting District Attorney. As the son of the victim’s boss, Burke threw the book at Colestock, administering a “roasting” that shocked even the defendant.
The jury convicted Ezra Colestock of criminal assault and rape and Judge McBride sentenced him to twelve years hard labor at the Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem. Colestock was delivered to prison on April 3, 1901. Two weeks later, his brother James Colestock arrived from Missouri and began the appeal process to the Oregon Supreme Court, with George Bagley continuing service as Ezra’s lawyer. Harrison Allen represented the state this time and Bagley requested a retrial based on inadequate instructions to the jury at the original trial.
Bagley argued that a woman must resist her attacker “to the full extent of her ability and strength from the time the attack was made until the act had been accomplished” and if she did not, the jury had to take this into consideration. So Bagley was basically saying that if Mary Thompson had in any way given up fighting, she would be at fault and Colestock should be deemed not guilty. The Argus backed up Bagley’s court argument to the public by reporting, “She ought not to have gone with Colestock from the business center to the less frequented neighborhood. Girls must not invite temptation.”
Fortunately, the Supreme Court decided there was no error and upheld the conviction. A year later in May 1903, a petition was signed by many of Colestock’s friends, five of the original jurors, and of course his legal team, and was presented to the Oregon Governor, George Chamberlain. He asked Judge McBride for information on the case, to which the judge responded, “I gave him twelve years, and he ought to serve every hour of them.” Colestock’s team tried to petition yet again in December of that year, but was denied and the conviction once again upheld.
Ezra Colestock was eventually pardoned in 1906, then moved to Woodburn with his wife and daughter for a short time. That didn’t last long however, and he was right back in Hillsboro by Christmas 1908, as if nothing ever occurred. He was working again as a barber on Second Street, acting as local wrestling referee, and getting charged with gambling with E.L. Baker in the back of James Anderson’s shop (usually a $25 fine and a night in county jail at that time).
The last few Argus entries about Ezra Colestock are a bit contradictory. In August 1910, the paper complained about Colestock, Sheriff George Hancock, Harry Bagley (brother of George), J. W. Bailey, and several others, who had been frequenting the “moving picture show for amusement” and generally acting like “a dyspeptic,” in other words being depressed, drunk, or bad tempered men. Then a year later Colestock becomes the hero, as he is the first responder to a house fire in Forest Grove, where they helped a Mrs. A.J. Thomas. She was saved and her burns attended to, but her small son passed away because the firemen couldn’t get enough water pressure through the hose and the flames had taken over.
Colestock died on August 16, 1918 at forty-eight years old, due to “septic poisoning.” The obituary says he died in Cloverdale, so he may be buried in Tillamook County, but I could find no burial records for his wife or child either. Their daughter Beryl had a scandalous marriage in 1920, probably to escape being an “inmate” with nine other girls at a home in Rockwood. Beryl and her 18 year old groom, Ralph Hamblin, eloped to Vancouver. The boy’s abusive father tracked them down, not wanting his son to marry the daughter of a convict, but it was too late to stop the ceremony.
Several things stand out about this story! First, we have Ezra Colestock, the so-called libertine, living out his days with seemingly no major consequences. He did not even serve half his sentence and only remorsed over losing his business and buddies in Hillsboro, not at all over what he had done to poor Mary Thompson. Second, all arguments seemed to have served Colestock during the trial, but thankfully Judge McBride wasn’t buying Bagley’s patronizing approach to blame the victim. Third, Ezra Colestock had a persevering family who stuck by his side before and after trial and sentence, while nothing is said about Mary Thompson’s family. Fourth, many of the prominent names of Hillsboro and Washington County can be connected to this case, or to Ezra Colestock himself, and he was shocked to have such little support from any of them. Many of them probably turned on him and became part of the lynching mob, while others probably figured out of sight, out of mind, and simply moved on with their lives, as people usually do after a big story ends.
Hopefully Mary Thompson was able to gain a bit of peace and anonymity after everything she went through. Without a married name, I was unable to find anymore definitive records for her, but I’m sure they’re out there! If anyone knows more about her or this case, we would love to add your info to the file!