Justice is Served

"This is an invitation for you to witness the execution according to law of James Willos and Ellsworth Kelley"
Invitation to the execution: Dept. of Corrections Records, Ephemera.
 Text of invitation in .txt file >
The three escapees were tried for murder in Marion County Circuit Court and convicted on Oct. 21, 1925. They were sentenced to die by hanging, with the execution scheduled for Jan. 8, 1926. The inmates appealed their sentence, first to the Oregon Supreme Court and then to the U.S. Supreme Court:


U.S. Supreme Court dismissal for want of jurisdiction (Oregon Supreme Court Case Files, State of Oregon vs. Ellsworth Kelley and James Willos # 5448)

In May of 1926 Thomas Murray committed suicide by hanging himself in his cell with a bed sheet. Newspapers reported that a note was found stating: "I killed Sweeny, Jones killed Holman. Kelley and Willos shot no one or even at anyone."

April 20, 1928

After more than two years of appeals and the cancellation of two previously scheduled hangings, Kelley and Willos were executed the morning of April 20, 1928. The attorney for Willos claimed his client became insane while his case was being appealed. Before execution he was examined by physicians and declared sane. Newspaper accounts report that the execution was witnessed by approximately 50 spectators. Willos told the crowd before the hood was placed over his head: "Well, I hope you are all satisfied."

Letter to Secretary Kozer from ranch owner asks for $21 reimbursment from the state for expenses incurred by escapees.
Letter from C. L. Newman to Oregon Secretary of State Sam Kozer, Aug. 24, 1925: Dept. of Corrections Records, inmate case file for Tom Murray #8871. (Enlarge image)
Transcript of C.L. Newman letter >​
In the aftermath of the escape rancher C. L. Newman promptly sought justice by appealing for financial compensation from the state for his losses. His ranch served as a resting place for the escapees as well as four men brought by the convicts on their "forced sojourn." Mr. Newman petitioned by letter to Secretary of State Sam Kozer for payment of his expenses.

The escape was an embarrassment to the governor and cost the warden his job. Governor Pierce appointed a commission to investigate conditions at the Oregon State Penitentiary that allowed the break to occur. The commission recommended a new guard tower be placed in front of the administration building since that section could not be seen from existing vantage points. It recommended a wire fence several feet high be added to the top of all prison walls. The commission also advised that a large siren be installed to warn people living in the surrounding area of a prison escape. Finally, it suggested more guards should be employed so all posts would be fully manned.

On Sept. 30, 1926 the new warden reported that "each of these recommendations have been fully carried out to the letter. It of course means a little more expense for guard hire, but that is considered better than taking unnecessary chances."

Additional Records

Board of Control Records, Biennial Reports. 
Board of Control Records, Minutes. 
Circuit court records related to the escape and prior convictions of the four convicts may be found in records at the Oregon State Archives and/or individual counties (e.g., Marion, Josephine). Consult the "Oregon Historical County Records Guide" for inventories of circuit court records.
Oregon Supreme Court Case Files, State of Oregon vs. Ellsworth Kelley and James Willos # 5448. 
Salem Statesman Journal: August 1925, May 1926, April 1928.