The Witch of Lafayette

Understanding the Origins of the Curse of Lafayette.

We begin with the tale of David Corker and his murder, the night between November 1st and 2nd, 1886, in Lafayette, Oregon, Richard E. “Gus” Marple broke into Mr. Corker’s store in Lafayette and brutally murdered him with an axe. The original source for the storyline begins with a jailhouse confession to his cell mate William Henry Hess.

On the day before Gus was hanged (November 10, 1887), he told Mr. Hess that if he swore to not go to the Sheriff until after he was dead, he would tell him the truth about the murder. Gus had told numerous stories and had tried to frame others for the murder. As the tale goes, Gus was to enter Mr. Corker’s store through a door or window left opened by his mother, Anna Marple. According to Gus, his mother was “intimate” with Mr. Corker. She was to drug his drink and leave a door unlocked for Gus to enter the building. Here is the quote from the statement Gus allegedly made to William Henry Hess:

After waiting long enough for the drug giving to take effect, he went to the door to get in, but found it fastened. Then went around the side of the house and crept through the window, and after he got in Mr. Corker was in an uneasy stupor. Then his mother suggested that if they robbed him he might wake up and then she would be arrested for the robbery. Then he advanced the idea that they would kill him and fire the building. His mother then took the ax, which they got out of the store, and struck him a glancing blow with the pole or back of the ax on the forehead, which brought him out of his stupor into a struggling position. Then he (Marple) gathered the ax out of the old lady’s hand and commenced cutting him with the edge. But as he lay in a wrong position for a left-handed man, it was some time before he got a satisfactory blow in on him. But finally he gave him a center blow which brought him dead, after which they obtained the money, $206.75, which was to be divided, one-half to his mother and one-half to him. His mother took the money.

The legend tells us that Anna Riseor Marple cursed the town of Lafayette to burn three times. In reality, there are no contemporary news accounts of Anna Marple cursing Lafayette to burn three times at the hanging or otherwise (M.O. January 13, 1887), (Reporter January 14, 1887).

The week of January 13, 1887, three months before the trial began in late March, Anna Marple was arrested for hoarding stolen goods. She was held on $600.00 bond, which she could not pay.  Around the time she was arrested, it was reported that Anna Marple supposedly stated that if her son had to die, 18 mother’s will have to give up their innocent sons. The statement first appears in the Eugene City Guard January 15, 1887.  When and if she made this statement is unknown. The Guard gives no reference to the context of the statement, nor does it appear in any other publication prior to this. No other newspaper reported this alleged statement. 

On January 14, 1887, the day before the statement appeared in the Eugene Gazette, two articles appeared in the McMinnville Reporter (January 14, 1887). In the first article, Gus had agreed to give up the goods he had stolen during the robbery at Independence, Oregon. He was taken from the jail to his house in order to give the Sheriff the stolen items.  He was of the belief that if he went to jail at Polk County, he could not be tried for the Corker murder in Yamhill. At that time Gus implicated his mother in the Independence robbery. She was hoarding the goods for him.  When the home was searched, Anna Marple was also found to have  had a great amount of poison (strychnine). In fact, there was enough poison to murder an entire town. In the late 19th century, strychnine had common medical uses. It was even available chocolate coated.  

In the second article from January 14, it tells us that she may have had plans to murder the townspeople of Lafayette. The threat was first published in the Gazette but is mentioned in these articles although not specifically quoted. This tells us she may have made this statement or something similar, but it had to have been prior to January 14, 1887 (Reporter, January 14, 1887). This does not make her a witch; it makes her a psychopath. Also, it is noteworthy that during her trial testimony, she told the court that Gus had plans to kill Chinese emigrants all over the country. She also told the court that he had come home after the Sam Lee shooting and asked that she and his wife tell anyone asking that he had been at home playing cards. Not exactly the doting mother concerned about her son being hanged. She and her son engaged in throwing each other under the bus quite often. 

Over 100 Years of the Curse 

The Press of the late 19th and early 20th centuries were no less prone to sensationalism than our modern press. The Oregon Statesman of November 18, 1887, claims that Anna Marple should have been indicted along with her son for the murder of David Corker. In fact, Anna Marple was never suspected, accused, arrested, or indicted for anything related to David Corker. Anna Marple was arrested for having stolen goods, and most likely aided her son in this manner over the course of several, if not numerous, robberies across towns in Oregon. The stories have grown over the last century. Most follow the line of the Hess statement with other added elements as time has gone on. Somewhere along the line she became the  gypsy witch that cursed the town of Lafayette to burn three times. In some versions she became the witch that was hanged and buried in one of Lafayette’s cemeteries; another tale having nothing to do with her son Gus. It just depends on where and from which source you hear the story. Each telling varies to some degree. 

One of the first real catalysts for the legends may have come from the Heppner Gazette in 1904. This article references the “curse of Guiteau”. Guiteau was the American writer and lawyer who assassinated James A. Garfield, the 20th President of the United States. This article is strange as it very weakly compares the Curse of Guiteau to Anna Marple. 

In a small pamphlet written by Kolene Williams, entitled, “Early History of Lafayette, Oregon.” Kolene welcomed newcomers to Lafayette by sharing the heritage of the town through this publication. Inside she has written an article entitled “Three Necktie Parties.” One of her references is an article from the Morning Oregonian on November 19, 1933 in which Anna Marple is referred to as an “Old Romany Mother.” In another paragraph, she tells us us about Gus Marple’s strange behavior after the murder, wherein he walked about town wearing a black band on his arm. The story behind this activity is actually much more disturbing. Kolene’s article basically re-tells the legend using contemporary sources as well as articles from later eras. However, while there are some facts, it does not debunk the witch story as some of Crossroads followers had thought. 

In the News Register of October 15, 1953, we see another account of the Gypsy curse that insinuates that the curse was the cause of Lafayette losing the “county seat” to McMinnville. What is interesting about this article is that it tells us the story of how, folks from McMinnville went to Lafayette and stole the county records, and thus became the new county seat. In this same article, Clint Hembree, who as a child, witnessed the hanging through the fence that had been erected around the scaffold, states that Marple’s mother made no curses or otherwise spoke to the press or anyone else.

As for the ‘Lafayette will burn” curse, Lafayette did burn like many other towns in Oregon during drought periods; most of the buildings were made of wood. The threat of fire was so common that the Town’s insurance company created fire maps to locate city buildings and residences. The supposed curse that foretold of the burning of Lafayette three times is pure fiction, and may have began with the article in the Heppner Gazette, but not until 1904, when much of Lafayette burned including the building that had been Mr. Corker’s store. There are no references to a “curse” prior to this. 

The digital versions of the witch stories (Warning: Rabbit Hole) began cropping up on the Internet very prominently around 2005 when the book Necktie Parties by Diane Gardner-Goeshe was published (Ms. Gardner passed away a few years ago). Since 2005, the book has been the catalyst for much of the Internet hype. The book is a fun read, but not entirely based in fact. Some of the websites that recount the story do try and dig into the truth, but for the most part, they are fictional accounts of a hanged witch, a gypsy curse, and hauntings. Most of the websites where these stories appear are dated (if they are dated) around 2005 when Ms. Gardner’s book was published. The most recent one we found was published in 2017 and like most of these, cited Mrs. Gardner’s book as its only source (Finn, 2017).

*Note: We attempted to contact several of the website authors who published the Lafayette witch stories. No one ever got back to us. 

Another article of interest is one that appears in Western Places, A serial publication. The publication

Many other stories of a similar nature are propagated about cemeteries all over the United States. Most are the twisted and mangled interpretations of the life or death of some poor soul. Almost every community with a cemetery history, going back 100 years or more, has a hanged witch story (Warning: Rabbit Hole). There are a number of YouTube videos that have posted over the last few years. Each tells a different story. Some are very far from the truth and were made for nothing more than to gain viewership on YouTube.  

There are also Podcasts on the subject. One in particular caught our attention, It was published in February of 2022. It, like most others, tells a version of the story that is missing so many elements of the truth it just seems another boring moment in the storyline.  

Anna Rizeor Marple 

The so-called witch of Lafayette was Anna Rizeor Marple. She was born in Illinois in 1842. Her father Thomas Henry Rizeor was an 1853 pioneer. He was a farmer and was born in Virginia. Her mother was Matilda Wright. She was born in Tennessee or perhaps London, England. There is some conflicting data on her origin, which was not uncommon in the early 19th century, if the person emigrated to the Americas as an infant or very young child. Most likely, she was born in London. We see a similar situation with David Corker, who was born in Ireland, but immigrated as a toddler. 

Both of Annas paternal grand parents, Abraham Rizeor and Sarah Catherine Rizeor settled in Virginia during the mid 18th century, along with other English and German immigrants of the time. They were farmers seeking a new life in the colonies. They were not Romani or gypsies (Gypsy is a derogatory term for Romani peoples).  The last name Rizeor is German and when translated to English means “warrior traveler”, and comes from the Bavarian region of Germany. There are no historical Romani or even Irish/Scots travelers who use this name or any variation of it.  It is very possible that Anna’s grandfather was of Jewish descent as the name, in some lines, is attached to Ashkenazic Jewish heritage. The name was commonly misspelled in census records and other official documents where an original signature was not required. In his will, Thomas Henry, Anna’s father, spells his name as “Rizeor.” Anna is not mentioned in his will. As for his mother’s family, the name Wright is English and not associated with any Romani or Traveler history. 

The family settled in Corvallis, Benton County, Oregon in 1853. Thomas obtained land and began farming. In 1858, Anna Rizeor married Ezekiel Marple, also a farmer, and in 1859 he went off to fight in southern Oregon, leaving her with her Father and family.   In 1880, Anna Marple was living in Corvallis with her husband and their son Richard (Gus) Marple. 

According to the Corvallis Gazette, September 29, 1882, Ezekiel Marple, the father of Gus Marple had been attempting to sell his farm in Corvallis. The farm was for sale for a few years beginning in 1882  He was not able to sell the farm until 1884. There is a lawsuit on record brought by the county related to 1000 acres of his land and school zoning. The details of this are sketchy, but it appears he forfeit over 1000 acres of land. It also appears that Anna Marple may have filed for divorce and then had the case dismissed. We suspect this may have had something to do with her ability to collect his pension if he passed away. In November of 1899, Mrs. Marple placed an ad in the Broad Axe news seeking information on a man named John Wicks. In this same ad it is noted that her deceased husband was a soldier in the Rogue River War from 1855-1856. Why she placed this ad is unknown (Corvallis Gazette, September 29, 1882),(Broad Axe September 22, 1899)

Anna’s husband, Ezekiel Marple was a Mason and was a fairly respected man in the Corvallis Community, however, it appears he had for some reason fallen on difficult times. Considering the criminal nature and behavior of both his wife Anna and his son Gus, we suspect they may have in some way contributed to his decline. He did not speak often to the press during the trial of his son. We know that he did begin a petition to reduce his son’s sentence which was met with much skepticism from the press. He felt his son was innocent of the crime. 

Anna Marple, her son Gus, and his wife Julia, with a number of unknown children, had left Anna’s husband in Corvallis around 1884, around the time the farm was finally sold. They traveled around Oregon for almost two years. During that time Gus was either arrested or at least suspected in a number of crimes in Oregon including in Portland where he was arrested, turned states evidence for stealing a watch, and was suspected in the ax murder of Emma Merlotin in 1885. Other cities included: Oregon City, French Prairie, Independence where the robbery of Mr. Hall took place, and other locations. Around the summer of 1886 they moved to Lafayette, Oregon. They were impoverished and had very little in the way of material possessions.  Gus worked at various jobs around Lafayette including as a laborer for Mr. Westerfield (For some reason, he often slept in Dr. Littlefield’s barn). Neither he or his mother were well liked in Lafayette prior to the murder. Both mother and son were known for their rhetoric.  At the trial, the press noted in the summary that Anna Marple was not the kind of woman you would want as a mother in law (M.O., April 8, 1887). 

Anna Marple was not an innocent woman. Her personality it seems, was not much different from than her son Gus. However, evidence points away from her complicity in the murder of David Corker and also does not imply she was any sort of witch or “gypsy.” She most likely knew about the robbery as she had been known to hold stolen goods for her son. There is no gossip in any publication around the time of the trial or hanging that she was in anyway connected to David Corker. The newspapers at the time loved gossip and it is unlikely they would have missed out on such a juicy opportunity, especially about someone who was generally disliked and was testifying at the murder trial.

Anna Marple was not hanged, did not die, nor was she buried at Lafayette. She is buried at Jacksonville, Oregon in the Masonic cemetery, in a grave marked only with a small metal plaque. She died in 1916.

Folktales and legends like this one, can enrich the history of small towns and cities. In many cases communities embrace these legends as part of their charm and history. It is only when the legends bring unhappiness and physical damage in the community that they become more of a liability. Lafayette is a very small community with a rich and early pioneer past that in many ways is clouded by the stories of witches and haunted cemeteries. 

Anna Marple: The Conspiracy 

Gus told Hess that he, his wife, and his mother had planned the robbery together. This not only incriminates his mother, but also his wife. In the same statement Gus claimed he had planned to leave town in order to protect his family, however, his wife was so ill he did not wish to leave her. However, in his statement he throws both his wife and mother under the bus. 

There are several crime scene details vs. the Hess statement which beg some questions…

  1. We know from the Coroner’s inquest documents and witness testimony (M.O., April 8, 1887) that Mr. Corker’s bedroom door was jammed by a board in order to prevent anyone from entering. If Gus and his mother opened the door to retrieve the ax, why would she not have opened the door and allowed Gus to enter the room quietly rather than go to such trouble stacking chairs and climbing over an 8 foot partition, which undoubtably would not have been a quiet entry?
  2. The Hess statement claims Gus entered through the window and saw Mr. Corker in an “uneasy” stupor. There is no mention of the partition he climbed over. Mr. Corker’s bedroom had no window.
  3. He then claims he had a discussion with his mother, which could only have taken place in the bedroom. He then claims they got an ax from the store. They would have had to remove the board from the doorway in order to leave the bedroom. You would think that by this time Mr. Corker, having a loaded pistol under his pillow, would have been awake and at least somewhat able to defend himself, even in an “uneasy” stupor. His pistol was directly beneath his head and it was loaded.
  4. Mr. Corker’s feet were tangled in his blankets, indicating that he was under them when the murderer entered the room. He may have tried to uncover himself when he was awakened by the noises made by the intruder as he landed on the Carpenter’s chest. It is most likely that Gus retrieved the ax before climbing over the partition and attacked Mr. Corker before he could retrieve his pistol to defend himself.
  5. Gus brought burglar tools with him. Why would he bring tools if his mother were already at the scene with plans to give him entry? Additionally, the week before Gus Marple had shown “concern” and asked another man if Mr. Corker slept alone, stating that because he was deaf it would be easy to rob him.


Sources being updated. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Finn, J.D. (2017, Nov. 15). Brutal 1886 ax murder at Lafayette couldn’t have been more sordid. The Redmond Spokesman, Offbeat Oregon.