The Murder of David Corker

Sometime between November 1st and 2nd, 1886 someone broke into the Lafayette, Oregon hardware store owned by Mr. David Irwin Corker (known as D.I.). Mr. Corker was at least partially deaf, and most likely did not hear his killer climb over the eight foot partition surrounding his bedroom in the backroom of his store.  Mr. Corker was robbed and brutally murdered with an ax. 

In September of 1886, one month prior to his murder, David had decided to sell his store. It is unknown why he made this decision. The newspapers advertised that he was selling his stock for cash. Around the same time, it was published that David had sold a lot he owned in Amity, Oregon for $200.00. These announcements were most likely an invitation to robbery and murder.

The Coroner’s Inquest

The Inquest into Mr. Corker’s death began around two o’clock on November 2, 1886.  The witnesses who testified at the inquest are as follows:

View original Coroner’s Report

Note: The links above either lead to their testimony, their find a grave, or both. Where there are multiple ++ marks, there are multiple links. Some to official testimony or to news accounts of testimony. 

Note: There were others who testified during this Inquest. However, those pages from the Coroner’s report are lost to time, however, some of those testimonies are in news accounts. They include the testimony of Anna Riser Marple, Richard E. “Gus” Marple’s Mother, and his wife Julia in the November 9, 1886, McMinnville Telegraph Register.

The Murder Scene from Coroner’s Report and News Accounts

On the morning of the murder, Mr. John Haney went to Mr. Corker’s store around the time he would normally have opened. Mr. Jesse Dixon, who lived adjacent to Mr. Corker’s store and was outside at the time, and told Mr. Haney that he thought Mr. Corker to be at the local hotel having breakfast which, based on several statements, seems to have been a normal routine for Mr. Corker. When they could not locate him, Mr. Haney went around to the back window of Mr. Corker’s store and knocked. When there was no response, he looked through the window and saw an ax leaning against the side of Mr. Corker’s bedroom door. He thought it appeared to be covered with what looked like blood. By this time, several men had gathered including Mr. Vickery, the owner of the mercantile store next to Mr. Corker’s Hardware store. He and others were discussing what the substance was on the ax, with some of them thinking it could be paint. Mr. Vickery believed it was blood. Another gentleman went to the side window where he could see the ax and into the back part of Mr. Corker’s room. He saw a chair with a pair of pants hanging from it. 

The sheriff, T.J. Harris, along with the deputy Mr. Savage, were then summoned along with Dr. Littlefield and Mr. Willie Westerfield. Mr. Westerfield climbed through the back window, from which a pane had been removed leaving an opening large enough for a man to enter the building. Mr. Westerfield then opened the back door allowing several men to enter. The front door was also unlocked by Mr. Westerfield. The key to the door was inside, still in the lock. More spectators and witnesses entered through the front door as well, including Sheriff Harris. The scene must have been completely contaminated as spectators stopped to peer into Mr. Corker’s bedroom to view the gruesome scene. This was not uncommon for the time period. There were very limited, if any, real rules of evidence being applied here. 

Note: The Coroner’s Report lists Willie Westerfield as A.B. Westerfield. This may or may not be an error. His name was W.I. Westerfield (Sometimes called Alex) and most likely the son of A.B. Westerfield who died in 1869. Both were in the newspaper business. W.I. Westerfield is buried in Portland. His Find a Grave biography does state that he was the son of A.B. Westerfield. 

According to testimony by Dr. Watts, who was one of the first to enter the crime scene along with Mr. Willie Westerfield, the front door as well as the back door were both locked. The murderer had entered by using what the press called a “cowboy knife” to loosen the putty around the window pane in the building’s rear window and then prying it open (See Diagram “D”). Once inside, he proceeded into the Office (See Diagram “unlabeled area) and then into the hardware store  where he retrieved an ax (See Diagram “A”). According to Dr. Watts, there was a door between the hardware store and the office. The door had glass panes and one was broken, but the window pane had been broken prior to the murder. This made it easier for the murderer to enter the store area (A) without making a great deal of noise ( Coroner, 1886).

Mr. Corker’s bedroom door was closed and he had blocked anyone from entering by placing a board under the door handle which was jammed to the floor. The bedroom was surrounded by eight foot partitions (See Diagram). The murderer used a table with a chair on top of it to climb over the partition to access Mr. Corker’s bedroom (See Diagram “B” and “BB”). Dust was disturbed from the top of the partition and scratch marks had been made on the interior wall. Once over the partition, the murderer landed on Mr. Corker’s Carpenter’s chest (Telephone, November 5, 1886), (Coroner, 1886).

Note: We believe that the map linked below from the Library of Congress, shows Mr. Corker’s store in 1888, two years after the murder. We know that Mr. Corker fitted coffins and that his bedroom was below the shelf where they were stored based on trial testimony from J.T. Clark the local Blacksmith, who assisted Mr. Corker in fitting the coffins. This store diagram shows a coffin shelf and undertakers attic. The diagram is almost exactly the same as the diagram above, except that the diagram does not show the second floor, or the window on the right side of the building, whereas the fire map does, and the map is pretty cool! We also know that in 1888, some of Mr. Corker’s items were still stored in the backroom of the store. 

Download 1888 Fire map of Lafayette. See #14 3rd Street Lafayette, Oregon

Fire Map from 1888 #14 Third Street Lafayette, Oregon
Fire Map from 1888 #14 Third Street Lafayette, Oregon. Very possibly Corker’s store.

Dr. Watts, along with several others, went into Mr. Corker’s bedroom first. The door was open as the murderer had removed the board holding the door shut when he made his exit. Dr. Watts instructed Mr. Dixon to strike a match and light the lamp that was on a stool at the head of the bed. The men then saw Mr. Corker’s body on the bed. He had been struck with such force that the bed itself was destroyed, as the bedrails and the planks were broken down. Dr. Watts noted that the body was cold, and that Mr. Corker was dead (Telephone, November 5, 1886), (Coroner, 1886). 

Dr. Littlefield, made an official examination of the body for the Coroner and determined that the first blows were made by the pole of the ax, and had struck Mr. Corker’s arms and shoulder which shattered the bones and the humerus. It appeared he had woken up at some point right after the murderer entered the room and used his arms instinctively to defend himself. His feet were tangled in the blankets indicating he was in bed and asleep under them when the murderer entered. The killer then began to strike his skull with the blade which penetrated his brain, cut off his tongue, and knocked out nine teeth. He was assaulted with the ax at least six times. Dr. Littlefield determined that at least five of the six or more blows would have been fatal. 

Once Dr. Littlefield completed the examination, Mr. Corker’s body was moved from the bed and placed on a bench. They then examined the bed and found a loaded pistol under the pillow, but no money. The Carpenter’s chest still had the key in the lock and was opened by the Sheriff  (T.J. Harris or Deputy Savage) but no money was found. Dr. Littlefield stated that he knew that at least four days prior to his death, Mr. Corker had $160.00 dollars. Afterward, Dr. Littlefield dressed Mr. Corker’s wounds and prepared him for burial (Coroner,1886). 

Note: In the Oregon Register, October 4, 1887, an article reads that the Coroner, Mr. Narver, examined the body of Mr. Corker and found it to still be warm. This contradicts both Dr. Watt’s and Dr. Littlefield’s testimony that the body was “cold” Dr. Littlefield examined the body and reported back to Mr. Narver, however, there is no indication that Mr. Narver was ever at the crime scene, or that he himself examined the body. Dr. Littlefield was given authority to deal with the body by Mr. Narver. This is stated in the Coroner’s report.

Note: The loaded pistol under the pillow indicates that Mr. Corker did not hear his murderer enter the room and had no time to reach it before he was assaulted. 

The Investigation and Evidence

There was a great deal of blood and blood splatter at the scene. There were clothes on the floor that were covered in bloody boot prints. Allegedly tracks from the bloody boots were also found outside the window leading away from the crime scene. Many of the town’s residents had gathered outside and some of them began searching for the tracks to see if they could follow them to the murderer. Just about everyone in town was looking for and attempting to follow these tracks, and in the process probably following each other’s tracks around town (Coroner, 1886). 

The murder scene was most likely heavily compromised, as the rules of evidence we apply today did not exist at that time. Spectators were admitted, as was common at the time, and some may have moved or even stolen evidence, activities that in modern forensics, are carefully guarded against to ensure the integrity of the crime scene. Law enforcement of the time were only just beginning to develop forensic techniques, and it was not yet possible to identify blood evidence.

Before the inquest began on November 2, 1886, the local blacksmith, Mr. J.T. Clark came forward and claimed that he had made burglar tools for Gus Marple. According to his testimony at the inquest and at Gus Marple’s trial in 1887, he testified that he thought he was going to be accused of the crime. Mr. Clark had made two cold chisels for Mr. Marple, one with a flat head and the other was a chisel and screwdriver combination. Marple played a guessing game with Clark about where he had gotten the metal for the chisels. Clark guessed accurately that Marple had stolen the pieces from Judge Loughray. Clark also said that he did not know what was to be done with the tools he had made for Marple (M. Oregonian, November 7, 1887), (Coroner, 1886), (Telephone, November 9, 1886). The same day, November 2, 1886, Mr. Clark, and Deputy Savage went together to Mr. Marple’s residence and informed him that Mr. Corker had been murdered. Gus looked surprised and said he knew who committed the crime but did not want to say (M. Oregonian, April 7, 1887), (Coroner, 1886).  

Note: Judge Loughray is mentioned twice during testimony by Marple and is listed in the “Telephone Whispers section of the McMinnville Telegraph”. We were unable to find any information on this person. Several different spellings of the name were attempted at various data sources.  

Sometime between November 6th  and 8th, 1886, Gus was arrested for shooting at Sam Lee and for a robbery in Polk County, Independence, Oregon. He was held on $1000.00 bond, which he could not pay. Later, Gus gave up the goods and implicated his mother who was also arrested for harboring the goods stolen from Independence. She was held on $600.00 bond. It was also published in the news that no suspect had yet been found for the murder of David Corker. Gus remained in jail and was still incarcerated on November 12, 1886 when the Inquest jury determined that he was the prime suspect in the Corker murder (Telephone, December 17, 1886), (Telephone, November 8, 1886), (M. Oregonian, November 8, 1886).

Note: Gus was not officially indicted for the the Lee shooting and the Polk County burglary until the first day of his trial for the Corker murder. All of the indictments against him were read at that time. 

On the 2nd of November, the morning after the murder two detectives arrived from the Portland Police Bureau. They were assigned to assist the Yamhill County Sheriff, Mr. Thomas Jefferson Harris, with the investigation. One Detective, Mr. Singleton took the majority of credit for apprehending Gus Marple and attempted to claim the reward being offered by the Governor for the apprehension of the culprit. He was denied the reward as Gus had been arrested for other crimes and was already in jail. News accounts of the time were not favorable to Detective Singleton. It was felt that he gave himself too much credit for the investigation, even though he did little to further the conviction. 

Note: We are not sure about the timing on November 2nd and Detective Singleton’s arrival. Portland is about 40 miles from Lafayette. On horseback that could be a good 12 hour ride depending on the horse and terrain. There was train service from Portland to McMinnville beginning in 1880. It is very possible they travelled by train (PRP, ND). 

In a lengthy article, published after his return to Portland, Mr. Singleton, stated that Gus approached him claiming to be a detective from back east as well as a bounty hunter. He told Singleton that he knew who the murderer was and that he was on the wrong track. Gus later made the same statements to another witness, Mr. Hurley, in which he actually identified a man named Burt Eastman as the person he believed committed the murder. Mr. Singleton dismissed Gus’s comments on the murder and became suspicious and took those suspicions to the Sheriff. Gus also went to the Sheriff complaining about Detective Singleton; telling the Sheriff that Singleton was was on the wrong track and should be sent back to Portland. After Gus’s statements, both the Sheriff and Singleton felt it was suspicious enough to warrant a search of the Marple residence (November 3, 1886). 

On April 2, 1887,  the McMinnville Telephone Register reported the initial testimony of Sheriff Harris. Harris reported that on the day after the murder (2nd of November), Marple was at the store around 11:00 AM. This would have been after Deputy Savage and Clark went to see him, and told him of the murder. (Reporter, November 13, 1886). Harris stated that Marple was found with a knife that matched the one used to enter the window of Mr. Corker’s store. The Sheriff asked Marple to go around to the back of the store and look around. He came back a few minutes later but did not mention the broken window (Register, April 2, 1887).

Note: The “cowboy knife” evidence was shown to have been made by a number of knives as people including the sheriff had used multiple knives on the windowsill putty to try and find a fit. By doing so, they contaminated the evidence in the window sill (M.O., April 7, 1887).

Read the Original and/or Transcribed Report (Original Coroner’s Report (PDF)/Transcribed Report (PDF)

Richard Ezekiel “Gus” Marple 

Richard “Gus” Marple worked at odd jobs and for Mr. W.I. Westerfield, who ran the local newspaper. He claimed to be a Bounty Hunter and a newspaper correspondent. According to trial testimony, he also wrote and kept a book of poetry. Some of which was read to the jury at his trial (unfortunately their are no transcripts of his poetry). 

Gus, his mother Anna, wife Julia, and at least one child had left Corvallis, Oregon and Mrs. Marple’s Husband “Ezekiel” sometime in late 1884. They spent almost two years dropping anchor in various cities for short periods of time and in some locations, if not all, Gus committed robberies and burglaries. In one case Gus Marple had turned states evidence to have the charges against him dropped (Willamette Farmer November 12, 1886).   In the Eugene City Guard of November 20, 1886,  it was reported that while in Portland, Marple worked at a livery stable. By this time, Gus had become suspect in the murder of Emma Merlotin, a well respected Madame who had been murdered in 1885. Rumor tells us that he at some point had possession of some of her jewelry. This was later shown to be false.  We do not know the extent of Gus Marple’s crime spree, with the exception of crimes wherein he was caught. In his crimes he always implicated others.

Hs father, Ezekiel Marple had fallen on hard times by 1882. Much of his land had been auctioned off by the county in 1884, even though he had tried for several years to sell the property. There were numerous lawsuits filed against Mr. Marple and his wife Anna, including a suit filed by Anna Marple herself that was dismissed. We believe that she had filed for divorce but later changed her mind. Most likely she would not have been able to draw his pension had they been divorced.  Mr. Ezekiel Marple, a Mason, was at one time well respected in Corvallis. The reasons for his personal and financial demise are unknown. He died in 1898 and is buried at Corvallis, Oregon. 

His mother, Anna Marple, testified at the Coroner’s Inquest. Her testimony, while among the lost pages of the Coroner’s Report, was summarized in news accounts. In her testimony to the Jury, she stated that her son had plans to blow up Chinese people all over the country. In this same testimony, she stated that after a recent shooting incident, he had come home and told she and his wife to tell anyone who might ask that he had been at home playing cards (Telephone, Nov 9, 1886). These statements help to shed some light on what was most likely a very disturbing and criminally minded relationship between Gus Marple and his mother.

Gus had a hatred of the Chinese and most likely emigrants in general. His views went along with the national sentiment of the time, and initially the news reported that a “Chinaman” was likely responsible for the murder of David Corker.

There was a Chinese encampment on the outskirts of Lafayette. Gus and a man named Ely Cideon were arrested on (or about) November 7, 1886 for harassing these emigrants by throwing rocks. Marple was also charged with shooting at a man named Sam Lee. Mr. Lee went after Gus with a bamboo pole after Marple threw rocks at him (Telegraph, November 9, 1886), (Willamette Farmer, November 12, 1886), (M. Oregonian, November 8, 1886).

Note: In 1882 the National Chinese Exclusion Act was passed disallowing any Chinese immigration into the country. By 1886, anti-Chinese sentiment was at its peak and in Seattle and Tacoma as well as in other western states such as Wyoming, Chinese emigrants were murdered; others were were forcibly removed from cities. Much like today, the emigrants were viewed as taking American jobs and contributing to crime in their communities. The Knights of Labor were primarily responsible for the 1886 Seattle riots that occurred in February of that year; nine months before the murder of David Corker. In many cases where murders or other crimes were committed, the press would report that Chinese emigrants were suspected. The Chinese were the scapegoats of the day. 

Oh the Stories…

Gus initially alleged that the murder was committed by a man named Burt Eastman, a Lafayette local. Burt Eastman was hosteler of Dr. Littlefield, meaning he was a young man residing in Littlefield’s home. He was likely a teenager. He claimed that Mr. Eastman had told him that he had “sandbagged” a man at the Salem Fairgrounds for money that had been stolen from him, and had wanted to “tie to” Marple because of his criminal activity (Coroner, 1886). We are not sure what sandbagged means in this case, as typically it means to con someone. However, Marple states that Eastman had “sand bags” in a stable, so the testimony is confusing. Only one news account attempts to truly paint Eastman as a co-conspirator in the Corker murder (City Guard, November 20, 1886). 

In Mr. Eastman’s testimony from the Coroner’s report, he refers to Marple as a “crank.” Eastman had been involved in several conversations with Marple related to criminal activity. In his testimony at the Coroner’s Inquest, Eastman claimed that while they were sitting in Dr. Littlefield’s office the day before the murder, Marple had asked him if he had any experience with safe combinations. Marple countered Eastman’s testimony by claiming he (Eastman) wanted to “tie to him” due to his criminal experience (Coroner, 1886), (M. Oregonian April 7, 1887).

Marple also spoke to Andrew Hurley, who testified that Gus Marple had approached him while he was following boot prints and told him he was off the track; that he (Marple) was satisfied that the crime had been committed by Burt Eastman. In Hurley’s testimony, he stated that Gus had told him not to tell anyone of his suspicions (M.O. April 7, 1887).

Note: Andrew Hurley was a witness at the Inquest and also the Justice of the Peace in Yamhill County. Gus told Hurley to remain quiet about his suspicions of Burt Eastman. This seems to have been part of Gus’s manipulation of witnesses and others that he used to confuse the evidence and murder details. Telling others not to speak with the hope that they might. 

The weirdest scenario was that the murder was a Masonic conspiracy involving the entire Masonic order, and most of Lafayette’s most prominent citizens.  At his trial in 1887, a list containing the names of 28 citizens of Lafayette were read with considerable laughter from the courtroom. This list included Detective Singleton, A.M. Hurley, the prosecutor (also Justice of the Peace in Yamhill County, and a Portland Judge), The Sheriff of Yamhill County, T.J. Harris, as well as others. This was probably the weirdest accusation made by Marple. 

This scenario was recounted in testimony from a witness at his trial, Mr. Cideon Ely. According to Cideon’s testimony, Gus had approached him on November 5th or 6th and offered him $5.00 if he would go and purchase used Chinese traditional clothing. Gus wanted him to dip them in pig’s blood, pretend to have found them, and take them to the Sheriff right before his hanging so they would have to stop the proceedings.  We believe the man he was attempting to frame was Sam Lee. An article in the news prior to Marple’s arrest shows they suspected a Chinese man as the culprit. Cideon Ely was one of the men with Gus on the night they were harassing local Chinese immigrants, and subsequently Gus was arrested for attempting to shoot Sam Lee. The charges against Mr. Ely were dropped (M. Oregonian, April 8, 1887).

The most interesting of all the stories Gus told about the murder was in his alleged confession to William Henry Hess, while they were both incarcerated. According to Mr. Hess in an official affidavit made to the court after Gus Marple’s execution, he claims that on the day before his execution, Gus confessed not only to murdering Mr. Corker but that he also murdered Barbara Hager and Emma Merlotin. He claimed to have made up the story about a Masonic conspiracy to kill David Corker and that it was actually he and his mother who had committed the crime. He alleges that his mother, Anna Riser Marple, was “intimate” with Mr. Corker.  He specifically told Hess not to reveal the details of the murder until after he had been hanged.  By implicating his mother, he may have believed she would take the primary responsibility for the murder, be tried and hanged, and he would receive a lesser sentence if the murder were deemed not have been premeditated on his part. In his tale to Hess, he was specific in saying that his mother had dealt the first blow with the ax, and Gus had a history of implicating others (including his mother) and turning states evidence to get a lesser sentence (Morning Astorian, November 16, 1887)

Note: Another instance of “don’t tell” by Gus Marple. We believe this was his way of manipulating people to tell his version of a story, while pretending he wanted them to remain quiet. Somehow, in his mind telling them to keep quiet made him more credible. 

Interestingly, Anna Marple was never questioned about taking part in the robbery or the murder of David Corker. From what we have gleaned from news accounts and testimony, she was never a suspect. The stories handed down over the years of her participation come only from Gus’s alleged jailhouse confession. This was the beginning of the rumor, yet, afterwards there were no reports of her being questioned about Mr. Corker’s death. At the time, only one newspaper printed any such speculation and it was for the most part ignored and not picked up by other news papers at the time. This does not mean Anna Marple was innocent. She most likely knew that her son was going to rob Mr. Corker. 

Gus Marple Behavior

Gus Marple was unable to obtain council in Yamhill County. His attorney, H.Y. Thompson, was sent from Portland to represent him. Gus was a braggart and had an incredibly inflated ego. He injected himself into the investigation of the crime almost immediately, claiming to know who the murderer was. Prior to obtaining council, he demanded to go to the crime scene and investigate the scene himself (Morning Oregonian, April 7, 1887). Sheriff Harris testified that Marple took a measuring tape to the scene and measured each room. During this excursion to the crime scene, Marple kicked some rubbish around and located some tools he said were probably burglary tools. In the rubbish was also found a pair of gold shirt buttons that had been missing from Mr. Corker’s burial shirt after he had been dressed for burial.

Note: We still are not sure of the relevance of finding the shirt buttons links.  

Gus Marple felt that the ax was the perfect tool to kill a man. During the Coroner’s Inquest, he was asked several questions that indicate his obsession. 

Mr. Hudson, the second detective sent from Portland, testified at Marple’s trial. He claimed that Marple told him about a dream (“presentment”) he had wherein there was a murder. In his presentment he believed it was David Corker who was murdered. He also gave the detective a list of names of prominent citizens of Lafayette who, along with the Masonic Brotherhood, he believed had committed the murder (Hudson, M.O. April 7, 1887). 

When Mr. Corker was buried, Gus Marple and his wife attended the funeral. Gus asked that the casket be opened and he proceeded to weep over the mangled corpse of Mr. Corker. This made quite a stir in the press. The behavior implies he may have wanted to see his handy work after the fact (Morning Oregonian April 8, 1887. Testimony of B.J. Bird). In one article, Marple claimed during his trial that he did this because he was afraid that some of his comments about Mr. Corker may have influenced someone to commit the murder, and he was remorseful of that. R.I. Bird testified at the trial about Marple’s Behavior at the funeral (M.O., April 8, 1887).

Marple had some strange ideas and in one statement to Sheriff Harris while in jail indicated he thought that Detective Singleton planned to dress as Corker’s ghost to frighten him into a confession. Marple stated that had the Detective done this, he would make him look like Corker in 15 minutes. According to Sheriff Harris, he was also prone to talking to himself when he believed himself to be alone, and incriminated himself in this way. He also continuously claimed to know who the murderer was but would never reveal the name. His stories and behavior became more and more outrageous and confusing as time went on.  

Circumstantial Evidence and Testimony

After Gus made comments to both Detective Singleton and Sheriff Harris, the day after the murder, they returned to Marple’s residence where he lived with his wife Julia and his mother Anna Eliza (Rizeor) Marple. During the search, Gus was asked to remove his jacket. Blood was discovered on the inside of the jacket and on his clothing. This was the primary piece of circumstantial evidence used to convict Gus Marple. Also taken from the search scene was a bloodied glove, his boots, a bloody piece of paper from his pocket, and his diary in which he primarily wrote poetry. These items were later admitted into evidence for the trial. 

One of the primary pieces of evidence was blood found on Marple’s coat. There were several different stories as to how the blood got there. During trial, Marple stated that if there was blood on the coat, Detective Singleton and the Sheriff must have taken it to the crime scene, and dipped it in Corker’s blood. Other stories were that he had gotten a hog’s head from the butcher and that he had a bloody nose (Morning Oregonian, Portland Oregon, April 8, 1887).

The bloody nose story includes an account of a bloody left handed glove. In the Coroner’s report, Marple recounts how the blood got on the glove and says that it was no longer in his possession but that Singleton had taken it. Below is Marple’s statement from the Coroner’s Report. Original PDF/Transcribed PDF

His wife testified that he had come home and been handed his child whom had had an accident earlier in the woodshed. The child was bleeding from its nose, eyes, and mouth. The child died while Gus was in jail. He was allowed to attend the burial. (McMinnville Telephone Reporter, February 24, 1887, left side of page, small paragraph, midway down)

The William Henry Hess Affidavit

 Jailhouse confession (PDF file/Read Text/) 

Marple claims in a jailhouse confession to his cell mate William Hess, that his mother was present at the time of the murder of Mr. Corker and that she swung the first blow with the pole of the ax to his forehead. We know from testimony by Dr. Watts from the Coroner’s Report and the transcript of testimony, as reported in the Morning Oregonian on April 7, 1887, that the first blow with the pole of the ax was to his arm and then shoulder, not his skull. Marple never mentions the shoulder blows in his statement to Hess, nor does witness testimony by Dr. Littlefield match his statement that his mother passed a glancing blow to his forehead with the pole, after which he took the ax and struck Mr. Corker with the blade.  

In this same statement to Hess, Gus Marple claims to have been party to two other murders. Both of these murders were committed with an ax. In this statement Gus claims to have had accomplices. The murders were those of a French (Madame) in Portland, Emma Merlotin in 1885, and the other of Barbara Hager in Oregon City in 1979. Whether or not Gus Marple committed these crimes has never been proven; however. Press accounts indicate that he was a suspect, at least in the Merlotin murder. If he were guilty of these crimes he would have been one of the first serial killers in the Pacific Northwest.  The Oregon Statesman from November 18, 1887, published a week after Gus was hanged, has an article that gives a little more on the subject of the Hager and Merlotin murders. However, do note that the Statesman was one of the more exaggerated press accounts of the Marple investigation.

The Trial

According to the McMinnville News, Marple was led into court by Sheriff Harris and his father Ezekiel Marple. Another account states he was led by the Sheriff and one of his deputies. He had been given a new suit of clothes about which he said were the nicest clothes he worn in quite sometime. 

There were a number of witnesses, including his wife and mother. The records in the Morning Oregonian are the only accounts of their court testimony as the there are no official trial transcripts remaining. Their testimony from the Coroner’s Inquest is also missing from that original report along with testimony from some other witnesses. The only accounts of these missing testimonies are in the newspapers.  These are considered to be secondary sources, however, from what we can tell they are consistent and not wire feed copies of one another. 

One of the Deputy Sheriffs from Yamhill county testified as to the board Mr. Corker used to secure his door at night. He talked about how deaf Mr. Corker was and that is made it unpleasant to peak with him. According to Deputy Reddik, Mr. Corker kept just enough money in his Buckskin bag to make change. The bag was kept in his Carpenter’s chest next to the partition wall (M.O., April 8, 1887). 

Jurors selected for the trial of Gus Marple were as follows:

  • Wilson Carl
  • George Olds
  • J.L. Davis
  • S.W. Wilson
  • F.H. Harpool
  • W.W. Wright
  • J.J. Cary (Carry, Carey)
  • H.L. Jones
  • A.J. Killen 
  • J.W. Briedwell (The County Clerk was also John Briedwell. We believe the juror was his son, who was a teacher. It may have been considered a conflict of interest had his father been on the jury since he was involved in the case taking witness statements).
  • J.B. Stillwell
  • S. Root

Prosecutor: A.M. Hurley +

Defense Attorney: H. V. Thompson

Jury Deliberations and Other Indictments

The Morning Oregonian reported on April 9, 1887 that the jury was instructed by Judge Boise who presided over the case. His instructions were very detailed and he described the differences between premeditated (Capital Murder) and Second degree Murder (Manslaughter). The jury was charged with deciding which of these could be determined without a shadow of a doubt in the case of the murder of David I. Corker (M. Oregonian April, 9, 1887). 

At the same time, Gus Marple was charged with Larceny in the case of H.G. Hall in Polk County, where Marple had robbed him of numerous household goods. Gus’s Mother Anna Riser Marple was later found to be in possession of the booty and was arrested. 

 assault of Sam Lee, a Chinese immigrant living in Lafayette.

Sentencing and Hanging

On April 9th, 1887, at 10:00 A.M. Gus Marple was sentenced to death by Judge Boise. The Judge scheduled Gus Marple’s hanging for the 29th of May, 1887 (Sunday Oregonian, April 10, 1887). Fortunately for Gus, the judge erred and the 29th of May was on a Sunday. Hangings were not permitted on Sundays. After Gus had been removed from the court, Judge Boise was told of his error and had Gus Marple brought back and changed the execution date to June 29, 1887.  This too was a technical error as Oregon Law required that sentence be carried out no later than 30 days after sentencing. Marple’s Attorney H.V. Thompson, as expected, filed an appeal to the Oregon Supreme Court (OSC). This gave Gus a few more months before the gallows. The appeal was based on the technical errors by the Judge in sentencing Gus beyond the 30 day rule. The appeal was dismissed by the OSC and Gus Marple was Hanged on November 10, 1887. 

Gus Marple was hanged at the Yamhill County Courthouse in Lafayette. He was the last lawful hanging in Yamhill County. A fence had been built around the scaffold to prevent uninvited onlookers. Only 30 individuals were invited to view the death of Gus Marple. There are at least two accounts of Marple’s final words from the scaffold. One account states that he exclaimed Murder!

The idea that he is buried at the Pioneer cemetery has been handed down verbally for many years. Archives at the Secretary of State’s office records state that he is buried at Masonic #3, while another record just says Masonic Cemetery, which could indicate the Pioneer Cemetery as it was at one time a Masonic burial ground. There are two news accounts that we are aware of that state his father was to have custody of the body after his hanging. It is possible that Gus Marple was never buried at Lafayette, but rather, may rest next to his father in Corvallis, Oregon. We plan to investigate this possibility further.  


Transcribed Coroner’s Report: David I. Corker

Filed November 12, 1886

George Briedwell. Clerk

Inquest into the body of D.I. Corker

Murdered November 2, 1886

We the jury summoned by D. L. Narver, Coroner of Yamhill County, to investigate the cause of the death of D.I. Corker find: That said D.I. Corker was murdered in the night between November first and second 1886 in his bedroom, in the rear of his store, in Lafayette, Yamhill County, Oregon, with an ax and after thorough examination have good reason to believe that said murder was committed by one R.E. Marple. 

Lafayette, Oregon November 9, 1886.

The Coroner’s Jurors were as follows:

Note: The links above lead to their find a grave entry. These jurors determined that Gus Marple was likely responsible for the death of David Corker. Their findings lead to his conviction for the murder.


Filed November 10,  1886

A.M. Hurley, Justice of the Peace


Testimony taken at a Coroners inquest held November 2, 1886 upon the body of D.I. Corker.

State your name , age, residence, and occupation

My name is Jesse Dixon* age 55 years. I reside in Lafayette Oregon. occupation a milliner(hat maker). 

A stranger asked me this morning where Mr. Corker was. I told him I thought that he was in the store or was eating his breakfast. It was about 8’oclock I think. He went to the Hotel to find him and soon returned and informed me he was not there. I then told him to go to the back window and knock. He went away and returned soon and informed me that he could not wake him and said that he could see an ax through the window that looked as though it was covered with blood. By this time others had collected about the windows and some of them said it was paint. 

I came around with others to the back door and was let in by Willie Westerfield who had entered through the window and I found Mr. Corker on the bed with his face badly chopped up and a bloody ax at the outside of the bedroom door covered with blood. We noticed that a large pane (sic) sufficient to admit a man was out of the window at the rear of the building. There was a stand at the side of the bedroom door and a chair on top of the stand when we entered the room. A search was made but no money was found. I live in the adjoining building. I heard nothing unusual during the night. I saw Mr. Corker, I think, about dark. I have no suspicions of anyone I know.   J. Dixon

Dixon Recalled on November 8, 1886

I am acquainted with Marple. Have seen him in Corker’s store several times. The last Month he was in there looking around. I don’t know if he was acquainted with the store. I saw Marple in Corker’s office at one time sitting by the stove in Corker’s office. J. Dixon

November 2, 1886

State Your name, age

Mr. J.L. Vickery being duly sworn testified as follows.

While making a fire in my stove this morning about 8’oclock Mr. Haney inquired of us about Mr. Corker and wanted to know where he was. I told him I thought he was at breakfast at the Hotel. He went to the Hotel and returned and said he was not there nor had not been this morning. He then shook Mr. Corker’s front door but could not awaken him. He then went to the window at the side along with me and we looked through the window and saw a bloody ax at the side of the bedroom door. I told him it was perhaps paint on the ax and while we were talking about the ax other persons came and I went into my store. I closed up about 8’oclock. I do business in the adjoining store. There was a light at Mr. Corkers when I closed up. J.L. Vickery

Dr. Watts being duly sworn and testified as follows.

On last Tuesday morning I was on the sidewalk near Mr. Vickery’s store a little after 9 o’clock. I saw Mr. Dixon and Mr. Macy in front of Mr. Corker’s store. Mr. Dixon turned to me and said they could not find Mr. Corker. He was rattling at the door seemingly trying to awaken Mr. Corker. I went up to where they were and shook the door and looked in at the door window. I saw an ax that looked as if it was very bloody. Then I went around to the side window and in at that and saw the same ax sitting on the side of Mr. Corker’s door. The ax and handle both were bloody. I could see a pair of pants on the chair in the back part of the bedroom. Several men were gathering about the window and looking in. I gave it as my judgment that it was blood on the ax and handle. Frank O’connor said he would go and get Redding and started off for him. In a short time he returned with Mr. Redding, Willie Westerfield, and Mr. Frank Frueston (sic). 

Willie Westerfield went.into the window where a large pane of glass had been broken out and opened the door. The back door having been fastened by a bar running across which he took and let the door open.

The front door was locked and the key was on the inside in the lock. The front door was unlocked and the door opened and several persons went in at both doors. 

I went in with several others into Mr. Corker’s bedroom . The bedroom door was open. I asked someone to strike a match and light the lamp on the stool which was at the head of the bed, which was done. The lamp was not burning when we went in. We saw Mr. Corker’s body on the bed. The corner of the bed next to the stool was broken down. The plank had been nailed with two nails nailed to the bedpost. The plank or bed rail had split leaving a part of the rail sticking to the post. I feel of the body, it was quite cold. He was dead. 

November 2, 1886

Dr. H.R. Littlefield being duly sworn testified as follows.

I was called in by Frank O’connor and Joseph Mattey and I found Mr Corker lying on his back in his bed with his face turned a little to the left and he was dead. He had three …..wounds in his skull and face which I think was produced by a blow from an ax in the hands of some person unknown to me. Each wound penetrated the brain. He also had three blows on the head and face which I think was done by the pole of the ax. Two of which completely shattering the skull. All of these wounds were on the right side of the head and face. 

He also had received two or three heavy blows on the right arm just below the shoulder completely shattering the humerus. I believe from careful examination of the wounds that all the blows and cuts were made by a left handed striker or at least the blows were delivered left handed.  Five out of the six or either one of them about head and face would in my opinion have proved fatal. 

I think Mr. Corker woke up before he was struck and made an effort to resist and received the first blows on his arm which fractured it. After which the death blows were given. One of the blows pierced through the face cutting off a part of the tongue and knocking out nine teeth. The bedrail was broken down at the head of the bed and his feet were both over the rail and was partly tangled in the blanket. 

There was a stool at the side of the bed on which there was a lamp that was burning when I entered the room about 9’oclock, I think. After taking Mr Corker out of bed and placing him on a bench we examined the bed and found a loaded pistol under his pillow but no money. There was a carpenters (*This is continued several pages down after Marple’s testimony) chest in his room where he usually kept his money. The key was in the lock of the chest.  The chest was opened by the Sheriff and no money was found. I know that three or four days prior to his death he had about one hundred and sixty dollars. 

This examination took place yesterday in the town of Lafayette, Oregon first at the solicitation of friends and my own will and soon after the body was discovered but did not touch the body until afterwards and then under orders from the Coroner at which time I gave it a thorough examination and found the facts as above stated after which I dressed the wound and prepared the body for burial by order of the Coroner. H.R. Littlefield. 

R.E. Marple being duly sworn testified as follows:

I think I saw Mr. Corker several times during the afternoon, probably the last time as he passed Mr. Clark’s shop, going to supper. I saw Mr. Eastman about a quarter past 8’oclock at Dr. Littlefield’s office. We talked a while in front of the office when I remarked to him it was quite cool and we had as well go into the fire in the office. We then went in and I remained in with him there, I think, about three quarters of an hour.

He told me about a man being robbed in Portland (Oregon) and that he had sand bagged a man at the fair at Salem (Oregon) and obtained about $700.00. He told me that the man he sand bagged at Salem had robbed him of about $114.00 and that he sand bagged him to get even with him. He said he and another fellow were together when he sand bagged the man at Salem on the fairgrounds and that he had a sand bag in a stable. I have had rather a hard reputation and I think he thought he would see if I would do to tie to. 

I am a correspondent for the Sunday Mercury and am in the employment of several eastern detective companies. I did not say that I said I had been in the employment of several eastern  detective companies. I mean to say I have been connected at various times with several companies in different states by correspondence, and otherwise and have at various times, received descriptions and offers of rewards for the apprehension of criminals from different companies throughout several states. R.E. Marple

R.E Marple Recalled

During the time Eastman and I were in Littlefield’s office he commenced to write a letter the letter read something like this . Dear Carrie (Corine), I am well at present and working for Dr. Littlefield. Samuel

R.E. Marple Recalled

I think I was in Mr.Corker’s store the Friday before Corker was murdered and I saw a man purchase a lay and landside for a plow and he brought back a piece of a landside. I did not see any money paid by him to Mr. Corker. He told Mr. Corker, he would pay for the landside in a few days. Sometimes during the week prior to Mr. Corker’s death, I was in his store, I think Thursday or Friday. I saw a gentleman I don’t know his name,  purchase what is commonly called a plow lay and landside for a pulled matter plow. I am positive it was hooked because the gentleman told Mr. Corker he would settle all in a short time to which Mr. Corker made no objections or (???) From there he went to the back room and looked at the account ( I suppose) While he was there I walked to the door of the office, between the hardware room and the office, on the left going toward the office of which there was several cans of oil. I don’t know what kind, for oiling machinery I suppose..

I don’t think I was in there anytime during that week prior or after the time I have described on any business but might have been in the front of the store. I am not positive in regard to that as I have frequently stepped in there during the summer as I thought well of him and frequently had something to say to him at different times as I passed him

November 9, 1886

Marple Re-Called (P.19)

This gentleman here Mr. Singleton asked me if I knew anything regarding some blood being on a glove of mine. I don’t know whether there is any blood on the glove or not or ever has been. I have only used the glove once to the best of my knowledge and recollection in about one year (p.14). I don’t know where the glove is now. Sometimes after court week I put some wood in Judge Loughray’s wood house and during this time wore the glove. Prior to that time it has been in my pocket continually until taken from me by Mr. Singleton & Mr. Harris. During the time when I was putting the wood in the wood shed my nose bled a little, but I don’t think I got any on the glove, however, my handkerchief was pretty bloody and I afterwards washed it myself. If I got any on it it would be on the forefinger and back of the left glove or on the ball of the thumb. I know nothing further about any blood on any clothing other than I have stated. 

I have carried game in my coat pockets, grouse and pheasant which is all the explanation I can make about blood stains in the pockets. I have not carried any game for some time and don’t know whether there is any stains in the pockets or not.

Note: At this point in the report, Marple is asked a series of specific questions:

Question:  Did you state to Jeff Hanes at any time, in conversation about that trouble with Thomas (Thos) Nelson, that an ax was the best thing in the world to kill a man with, and if you then thought it was, why did you think it was the best thing in the world to kill a man with?

Marple Answers: I don’t know or I used those exact words, but it is possible I might, and if I did my idea in this and other cases is that a pistol might misfire while an ax or a knife would not.

Question: Did you say to him in that conversation that if you got in one good blow that was enough with an ax?

Marple Answers: I don’t know. I might have said such a thing. There was a great many high words between Mr. Nelson and myself, which I admit I was afterwards ashamed to a certain extent.  R E Marple

L.B. Eastman being duly sworn testified as follows

I saw Mr. Corker about half past seven or 8’oclock. I was walking with him on the sidewalk between his store and Mr. Kelly’s. I talked with him in front of his door until he went in and locked his door and took his lights and went into his office at the back end of the store. I asked him if he was going to bed and said he was. I then went into Dr. Littlefields office and Mr. Marple and Thad Dunn and Mr. Narver came along together and Mr. Marple came into the office and said he was cold and sat down by the stove and we talked about a half an hour and then went together up to Dr. Littlefield’s corner where we separated. I going to Dr. Littlefield’s barn and he went on. L.B. Eastman

Mr. Eastman Re Called

I never told Marple I never sandbagged anyone at Salem (Oregon) or anywhere. I consider him a crank. Marple asked me in the office if I understand combinations (Marple is referring to safe combinations. See Morning Oregonian April 7, 1887 p.1) I told him I knew little about them. He said he had chances in his young days to make a haul but he thought then that this was wrong but if he now had a chance he would not let it pass.  L. B. Eastman

November 8, 1886

When Marple was in Doctor Littlefield’s office the night of the murder, I think he had a kind of brown coat on and had a jumper under the coat, did not notice his shoes. He had a cap on. The coat shown was in the same color. I don’t know that it is the same. He had a checkered jumper on. L. B. Eastman

J.E. Clark being duly sworn testified as follows:

I and the deputy sheriff Mr. Savage was in his room under the jail on the evening of the murder about half past 8’oclock playing cards and i saw a man look in at the window twice which I think he had on a light coat and had no whiskers. I went out next morning and examined under the window and found tracks that I think was made by a number eight boot. While playing cards Mr. Savage asked me what I was looking at and I told him I saw someone looking through the window. 

About three weeks ago, Mr. Marple came to me with a piece of octagon steel and asked me to make him a cold chisel. I asked him what sized piece he found. And he said it was about three quarters. I told him in a joking way that he had (continued two pages down) stole that somewhere. He said he had not and I then told him I could tell him where he got it. He said if I did he would give me the steel. I told him I thought he got it at Judge Loughary’s place.  He then told me I was correct and that the steel was mine. I made him a cold chisel out of the steel. He did not say what he wanted with it. The point of the chisel was square rather blunt. He took the chisel away.  I have not seen it since. I think I would know it if I should see it. J.E.  Clark

November 8, 1886

J.E. Clark Re-called

I dressed up three cold chisels and made one cold chisel and screwdriver combined and one cold chisel and dressed up several punches for Mr. Marple. Mr Marple ‘s mother and his wife stayed at my house two nights since the murder. They claimed that the blood on his close came from a hog’s head and heart and did not claim that it came from nose bleed or from Mrs. Marple when she had a fit (probably means seizure).

J.E. Clark Recalled

I and Mr Savage went to Mr. Marple’s and I think we were the first to inform him of the murder. Mr. Marple jumped up and seemed surprised and said he thought he knew who done it. Mr. Savage insisted on knowing who it was and he (Marple) said it would be  time enough to tell it when the time came. He afterwards (Marple) told me he thought it was Burt Eastman on account of a conversation he had with Eastman, and that Eastman told him he sand bagged a man. J.E. Clark

Lee Say being duly sworn testified as follows:

Lieu Wa came to see me at Mr. Crawford’s about seven o’clock this morning. He said he had slept in Mr. Crawford’s barn last night. I asked him what he came for and he said he wanted twenty dollars. I told him he could not get it, that I had loaned him twenty dollars before and he had only paid me ten dollars back. He did not sleep with me last night. I loaned him a coat and a pair of boots and took his socks which were very dirty and washed them. He wore church shoes and they were very muddy. He talked with me only about fifteen minutes and then he came back on the road

W.I. Westerfield being duly sworn testified as follows:

Mr. Marple left his coat in my office on Friday so Mr. Marple informed me. He came in on Monday between one and two o’clock and said he had played hell. I said how is that? He said he went off and left his coat in the office, said he did not get his paper to read. I laughed and said you ought to have had the paper. I saw his coat hanging there on Monday. 

Andrew Hurley being duly sworn testified as follows:

I have had a great deal of conversation with Mr. Marple on the morning of the first day after the murder. I went down to the back part of Mr. Corker’s building. There were a few other persons there at that time. Judge Loughary called my attention to some tracks made from the back part of the building and around the corner of Dixon’s barn. I was examining one of the tracks. It was near the first crossing west of the barn, and Mr. Marple came along and told me I was entirely off the track. Those tracks were never made by the man who killed Corker and I told him he seen someone do something, and asked him who it was, and he told me that he was satisfied that Eastman killed Corker and gave as his reason a conversation a conversation he had with Eastman the night before, that Eastman told him —–the murder, where he knew Eastman had committed the murder. He then said mind you, I don’t say that Masonics committed the murder we should look after all of them suspicious characters. 

When I first spoke to him he asked me if he could rely on me. I told him he could and after he related his story about Eastman, I asked him what he meant by asking me if he could reply on me. He told me he did not want me to say anything about what he had said about Eastman.

November 8, 1886

Thos Huston being duly sworn testified as follows:

I saw Marple if i am not mistaken on corker’s store on monday afternoon the day previous to the murder. This was about 2 o’clock. Didn’t see any light in Marple house (it was dark at 7 o’clock). He had on a jumper when he came to my house on Monday before noon. No coat on I think he stayed about an hour and a half. He left about one o’clock. Came and inquired for a piece of hoop wire. I came with him as far as the court house. I went in the court house. He continued on down to town. I and Corker were in his office when Marple came in and looked through the door leading to the office. He did not speak but riened and went out again. This is to the best of my recollections. Thomas Huston.

November 9, 1886

Mr. Haney being duly sworn testified as follows

I think Marple was at Mr. Corker’s sitting beyond the stove in the office on Monday on the first between 8 and 9 o’clock A.M.

Mr. Frank Hoberg came in the morning to my store very early to get a pair of shoes. I found a pair to fit him and he handed me $26.00. I had no change and started out to get the change and asked Mr. Kelly, Mr. Connor, and Mr. Bradshaw who were on the corner. I then stepped in Mr.Vickery’s store and asked him. Mr. Dixon was standing out in front of his house on the sidewalk and I called to him. I then stopped at Mr. Corker’s store. He was in the act of opening a box in the front part of his store at the time. He said he would see and got up and went into the back part of his house. I followed him in and saw Mr. Marple sitting back of the store in Mr. Corker’s office. He was sitting north(sic) of the stove. Mr. Corker went to the chest and took a purse out and turned toward the window and drew ten or twelve twenty dollar gold pieces out of the purse and then turned up in search of small change. He said he did not have the change and I walked out. I asked Mr. Marple on Thursday if he had seen me in the store of Mr. Corker on Monday or any other time to get money changed. He said that he thought he had seen me previous to this in the front part of the store when I asked him. Mr. Marple said to me when I entered the office of Mr. Corker, Good Morning it is a cold morning. 

Mr. Marple could have seen the money (and the chest —where) at that time in Mr. Corker’s hands. I left Mr. Marple in Mr. Corker’s office. John Haney

November 9, 1886

Jefferson Harris being duly sworn testified as follows:

Mr. Marple stated to me the second day he was in jail that he never had been in Mr. Corker’s office. He stated this is the ——- of Mr. Singleton. I asked him if he had ever been in the office because I had seen him this Thursday or Friday before the murder. T. J. Harris

November 9, 1886

Frank O’Connor being duly sworn testified as follows:

I saw Mr. Marple on Monday morning November 1st, 1886 I think about 8 o’clock a.m. near Hembree’s livery stable going towards Bird & Gates store and had a conversation with him about a cross cut saw. He had borrowed of me. I am positive I saw him that morning. 



Primary Sources

(1886) Coroner’s Report on the Body of David I. Corker. Yamhill County Court Records, Evidence Box 1 of 2. Oregon Secretary of State Archives, Salem Oregon.

(1888) Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Lafayette, Yamhill County, Oregon. Sanborn Map Company, Oct. [Map] Retrieved from the Library of Congress,

Newspaper Sources

Tarkington, B. (1924, May 8). [Letter to George Ade].  George Ade Papers, 1878-2007, Purdue University Archives and Special Collections (Box 10, Folder 5), Purdue University Libraries, West Lafayette, IN.

Telephone Register, McMinnville, (November 5, 1886). Description of Murder Scene, Diagram. University Of Oregon Newspaper Archives, Historic Oregon Newspapers.

Daily Reporter, McMinnville, (November, 13, 1886). The Detectives Story. University Of Oregon Newspaper Archives, Historic Oregon Newspapers.

Morning Oregonian, Portland, (April 7, 1887), Trial Testimony. (not a free reference)

Morning Oregonian, Portland. (April 8, 1887), Trial Testimony. (not a free reference)

Sunday Oregonian, Portland, (April 10, 1887). Sentencing of Richard Marple. University Of Oregon Newspaper Archives, Historic Oregon Newspapers.

Other Secondary Sources and Website Citations

Pacific Railroad Preservation Association, (ND). Portland Railroad History.