In contrast to its Massachusetts namesake, Salem, Oregon, as we know it, does not boast nearly four centuries of history or a dark chapter like that of the witch trials of the 1760s. Unlike the historic East Coast town, Salem doesn’t quite have the renowned reputation for being haunted like the spooky city across the country from us.

However, the Salem of the West has its own unique historical feature. Though we never had the unsightly experience of hosting witch trials, our Salem once had a different form of judicial punishment in that of active hanging grounds. Now the site of Pringle Park, it’s considered a haunt worthy of its namesake as rumors of ghosts and things going bump in the night with at least four executions recorded on the premises.

Salem Hanging Grounds
Many of the large, ominous trees that made up Salem’s hanging grounds still stand today, leaving residents to wonder about Pringle Park’s colorful past as a site for judicial punishment. Photo courtesy: The Black Hat Society

William Kendall Most Likely Innocent When Hanged in 1851

Just southeast of the downtown core, on the south bank of Pringle Creek, a series of ample quantity trees of the hanging sort can still be found, and it was here that the first victim of Salem’s hanging grounds, William Kendall, met his untimely, and most likely unjustly, demise.

Kendall was the first official hanging record in Oregon’s history, and it was not without controversy as his trial was quite questionable, leading some to believe his innocence. The story goes that Kendall was in a long-running feud over pigs with another Salem local, William Hamilton. During a time when neighbors were expected to help each other and share the meat, both men accused one another of stealing pigs.

Kendall was known in town for having a short temper and generally not being a good neighbor. Because of the feud, he refused to help Hamilton at the seasonal butchering. Those living nearby often heard Kendall threatening Hamilton over pigs and other neighborly squabbles. However, no one ever suspected a murder would come of such bickering until the day Hamilton was indeed murdered.

On that fateful day, several farmer families had seen Kendall heading towards Hamilton’s farm with a gun. He was later seen returning down a trail on his horse following a distance gunshot heard by many. Though no one had witnessed the murder, circumstantial evidence led the Marion County Coroner to arrest Kendall on the night of the murder. The next day, a grand jury returned an indictment against Kendall for first-degree murder. His trial lasted only a few weeks, and the 12-man jury adjourned for half an hour, quickly returning a guilty verdict.

On April 18, 1851, Kendall was hanged, and a gallows was erected on the current corner of Trade and Church Street. Such a public execution in a small town drew quite a number of gawkers, bearing witness to an alleged justice being served, or was it?

Kendall maintained his innocence until the bitter end when a rope ended his life. Some believe that his spirit is still roaming the area in search of vengeance or perhaps simply looking for an opportunity to clear his name. The site of his hanging is currently occupied by a covered parking lot for the SAIF Buildings, where there have been a handful of reports detailing some strange activity after dark.

Salem Hanging Grounds
Charles John Roe was taken to Boon’s store (far right) where Justice of the Peace Purdy publicly questioned him about the murder of his wife, for which he confessed. Photo courtesy: Willamette Heritage Center

Charles John Roe Committed the Atrocious Murder of His Wife and Hanged in 1859

An employee of the Hudson Bay Company, Charles John Roe, arrived in the Oregon Territory in 1834. One of 30 white men living in Oregon by 1838, Roe was thrilled when Salem’s future founder, Jason Lee, arrived that very year as he brought his Methodist Missionary team. Along with him was Nancy McKay, who would become Roe’s first wife in the city’s historic, first triple wedding, where Lee also married Anna Marie Pittman.

But Roe’s road to murder didn’t start with his first wife, Nancy. Nancy died in 1856, leading Roe to marry his second wife, Angelica Carpentier, having a child later that year. Angelica was a stunning beauty who seemed to come with her own set of baggage, as it were.

An orphaned daughter of Charles Carpentier, a French trapper, and an Indian mother, both she and her sister, Sophia, were placed in the Methodist Mission School near Salem for several years when their mother died. After leaving the mission, Angelique seems to have had several lovers or husbands.

And horrific it was as on the evening of February 11, 1959, Angelica’s niece and her husband were visiting the couple when a jealous Roe accused his beautiful wife of having an affair with another man. In defiance, she told Roe that it was “a lie and he could not prove it.”

An unhinged Roe flicked his pocketknife open, grabbing Angelica’s hair and tipping her head back, then slicing open his wife’s throat from ear to ear, all while their two-year-old son sat in her lap.

Roe didn’t try to escape his fate as the police arrived and Deputy Sheriff Chandler placed him under arrest. The following day, Chandler brought Roe to John Boon’s store, where Justice of the Peace Purdy publicly questioned him. Roe confessed to the murder readily, stating he had killed his wife to keep anyone else from enjoying her. His trial was on February 24, and he was sentenced to hang on April 2, 1959. An estimated 800 to 1,500 people attended, including women and children. Roe was the first man to be hanged in Oregon after it became a state early that year on February 14.

Salem Hanging Grounds
The approximate hanging site of Baele and Baker, who were the last to be hanged in Salem for the murder of Daniel Delaney in 1865. Photo courtesy: Salem Public Library

A Double Hanging Was the Final Act for Salem’s Hanging Grounds in May 1865

Daniel Delaney was a wealthy stockraiser living about two miles southwest of Turner, having moved to the region from the south, bringing an alleged fortune of an estimated five figures as a former plantation and enslaver. The rumor circulating town was that Delaney kept several thousand gold dollars in a keg underneath the floor of his cabin, piquing the interest of local saloon owner George Beale and hired hand George Baker, who drove cattle for the early day butchers of Salem.

Together, the men planned a robbery at the Delaney farm to find the man’s supposed riches. Using charcoal to disguise their faces, the two men set out to make their fortune on the night of January 9, 1865.

There are several variations on how the event went down. In one, it said that the men called Delaney out of his house and shot him and his dog. A wounded Delaney then allegedly recognized Bael and told him that if he spared his life, he could have all the money he had, to which Beal drew a revolver from his pocket, saying, “Dead men do not talk” before firing a shot to finish him off. Testimony from a doctor during the trial found that Delaney had been shot three times when he answered the door that night, first with a shotgun and then a pistol.

No matter the variation, the convicting factor for the murder was the eyewitness, a 12-year-old Black boy living with Delaney who hid behind a woodpile during the intrusion. Some sources cite that the boy was Delaney’s son, Jack DeWolf.

Regrettably a senseless crime, the men made off with no fortune of gold bars but merely $1,400 in cash. However, some believe it was much more. Since the crime was neither unseen nor unheard, the boy who witnessed the murder sought out relatives and friends of Delaney to give his account of the night’s events. Within a few days, Baele and Baker were under arrest. A string of damaging evidence had been collected near the two’s original rendezvous site. Beale did not know well enough to keep his mouth shut either, as before the murder, he had bragged openly to people about how easy it would be to steal money from Delaney. After the killing, he reportedly paid off debts with $20 gold coins, providing further damaging testimony against the two.

The trial lasted five days, opening March 20 with Judge Ruben P. Boise presiding. The jury returned a guilty verdict for both men on March 25, just two months after the murder. They were sentenced to be hanged on May 17, 1865.

Once convicted, both men confessed to the crime but instead tried to fix the blame on the other to get out of their sentencing. It’s estimated that between 1,000 and 5,000 spectators attended what would be the last public hanging in downtown Salem and its hanging grounds.

Nobody would claim the mastermind’s body behind the robbery, Baele, and not even his wife afterward. Eventually, local farmer Daniel Waldo used his horse and wagon to collect the body and take him ten miles away to Waldo Hills to bury him in Waldo Cemetery.

It is rumored that the murderers buried their stolen gold near Salem. To this day, many have tried looking for it without any reported success. Sounds that resemble the clanging of a shovel hitting dirt and rock on dark, cold nights in the Salem area are said to be the two men searching for their lost gold treasure in death.  

Salem’s infamous hanging grounds may have only bore witness to four deaths during its operation. Still, nevertheless, they’ve managed to cement their tales of horror within the city’s historic, haunted history, proving crime really doesn’t pay, both in life and death.

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