Arthur Covell's cremated remains were never taken after his death and are still available at Oregon State Hospital (OSH) to be claimed by anyone who is related. The ashes of his sister, Belle Covell, are also unclaimed and available at OSH.
Arthur was born in Geuda Springs, in southern Kansas on 12/14/1879. His father, Charles E. Covell, was born in Ohio in 1832. Arthur’s mother, Isabelle Letts, was born in 1859 in Kentucky. They married in 1874 when Charles was about 42 and Isabelle was about 15. Arthur had 2 siblings: Fred (born in Kansas in 1875), and Belle (Colorado about 1886).
At the time of the 1880 census, Arthur was 5 months old, living with his parents and his 4 year old brother Freddie in Salt City, Sumner County, Kansas where his father was a laborer. In June when that census was taken Arthur’s mother was suffering from a case of measles.
In 1885, Arthur was living with his parents and brother in Hinsdale County, in southwestern Colorado where his father was a miner. At age 9, Fred was attending school although Arthur (age 5) was not yet in school.
In August 1906 Arthur (age 26) was arrested in Portland with two teenage boys for stealing items from wharves and vessels docked on the Willamette River. He was described as a ring leader of “river pirates.” His using young people to commit crimes is a theme that would be repeated later.
In 1906 Arthur’s brother Fred married Lathera Hart and they had at least 2 children: Alton Bert in 1907, and Lucille in 1909. Lathera died on 6/25/1909, four days after Lucille was born. It is assumed her death was child-birth related.
During the 1910 census, Arthur was living in Bandon, Coos County, on the southern Oregon coast with his parents, his sister Belle, and his brother’s children: Lucille & Alton Covell. It appeared that Arthur was supporting the family by doing odd jobs. Arthur's father, Charles, was was not working. Charles, a civil war veteran who served in the Union Army, died on 3/23/1911 and was buried at the Holy Trinity Catholic Cemetery in Bandon. Arthur’s brother Fred was living in Astoria on the northern Oregon coast where he was working as a chiropractor. Fred married Cornelia (Miller) Enoch on 5/1/1912 in Cowlitz County, Washington. It was the second marriage for each of them. She died in Washington on 2/23/1916.
In 1916 Arthur was working in Bandon as the school district clerk, an elected position. In June of that year his office was burned down. It was suspected the fire may have been due to arson. Arthur told the school board that all the district records and files had been destroyed, but later that month to everyone’s surprise he produced the district books. It was never proven that Arthur had anything to do with the fire, but arson is a theme that would repeat a few years later. In 1918 during the World War I draft registration he was working in Portland, but considered Bandon his permanent address. Being single all his life he named his mother as his emergency contact person.
Arthur’s brother Fred married Ebba Caroline Wiren on 9/12/1917 in Coos County, Oregon. She was born about 1894 in Oregon. She was Fred's 4th wife. They had three children: Gladys Louise (in 1918), John Wiren (1921) and David Fred (1922).
At the time of the 1920 census, Arthur was working as a dairy farmer in Two Mile, Coos County, south of Bandon where he was the head of the household that included his widowed mother, his nephew Alton Covell (age 12), and his sister, Belle Covell. Belle was 34, single and unable to read or write. She had partial paralysis of her left side (perhaps cerebral palsy). Arthur & Belle’s mother died on 9/16/1921 after a lingering illness at the home of her son Fred. On 2/21/1922, shortly after her mother’s death Belle was place in the Oregon Institution for the Feeble Minded in Salem, Oregon. It was a residential, quasi-educational institution charged with educating people with developmental disabilities. In 1933 the facility was renamed Oregon Fairview Home and was closed in 2000. Belle died at OSIFM on 2/17/1927. Her body was transported to the nearby Oregon State Hospital where she was cremated and where her cremains are being held. (See Find-A-Grave memorial # 68407509).
He started studying astrology about 1910 and even attended the Portland School of Astrology. In January 1920 Arthur bought a car, a Maxwell. Shortly after that he sustained a broken back in a car accident. For the rest of his life he was confined to a bed. He began presenting himself as an astrologist who studied the stars through long nights of pain as a diversion from his suffering. His astrological work drew a following among people in Los Angeles and Hollywood. His nephew Alton and niece Lucille became responsible for caring for their uncle who was living in the home of their father Fred and their step-mother Ebba Covell.
In April 1923 Alton’s nephew Alton (age 16) was evaluated. Although he could read and write he was intellectually challenged. It was determined he was eligible for placement at the Institution for the Feeble-Minded. Commitment orders were made, but because of over-crowding at OSIFM there was no space available and he was sent home to Coos County. On 9/5/1923, Alton said he returned from working on the farm and found his step-mother, Ebba Covell, dead from strangulation with a broken neck and multiple bruises. Arthur called his brother Fred (Alton's father) and told him to come home from his chiropractic office. Initially Fred and Alton were arrested. At first, Arthur was not suspected of having any involvement and was placed in the Coos County Home because there was no one left at home to take care of him. On 10/9/1923, Arthur was interviewed by a criminologist from Seattle and confessed to plotting to kill and steal from many of his neighbors and area tourists. It was Arthur’s plan to tutor his 16 year old nephew Alton to be a serial killer. The timing of the plans was based on Arthur's study of astrology. A criminologist deciphered horoscopes drawn by Arthur that showed his plans to have 26 people killed. Some of his plans were quite detailed and included burning houses to cover up murder. After 5 weeks of silence, Alton confessed to the actual murder of his step-mother which he did by smothering her with an ammonia soaked rag. Arthur's niece, Lucille (age 14) confessed to knowing about the murder plan long before it happened. She was not in the house when Alton killed Etta, but Lucille helped move the body after the murder. She said she did not tell her father of the murder plan because he had a bad temper and might have hurt Arthur. After the murder Lucille regretted her role, but also reaffirmed her belief that Arthur and Alton were good people. She still believed Arthur’s assertion the “It had to happen.” In the trial Lucille reluctantly testified for the prosecution. There is no indication any charges were filed against Lucille.
Arthur asked not to have an attorney appointed and pleaded guilty to first degree murder, confessing to having been the master-mind behind the killing. His motive was that Ebba "knew too much" about their plans to go on a murder/theft/arson spree. Arthur was later allowed to change his plea to not guilty. The trial was held in November 1923. Throughout the trial Arthur was lying on a cot in front of the jury box. He was found guilty after a short deliberation. The arrests and trial were covered widely in newspapers through the country.
Before his execution, petitions were circulated to pardon Arthur. Dr. Nina Wood spoke about the Covell case and efforts to abolish the death penalty. Coincidentally, she was committed to the Oregon State Hospital and her ashes are unclaimed until 2019. (See memorial # 119195182). Arthur was hanged at the Oregon State Penitentiary on 5/22/1925. The drop from the scaffold did not break his neck and he was not pronounced dead for 26 minutes. He was 45. His body was transported to the nearby Oregon State (Psychiatric) Hospital where he was cremated and where his ashes are still being held. Another man, Llewellyn Wilson Peare, was sentenced by the same judge and hanged on the same day. His ashes are also unclaimed. (See memorial #120143437).
In December 1923, Alton was sentenced to life in prison. In the 1930 census, Alton was listed as an inmate at the state penitentiary. He was 22, single and worked as a cook. He was pardoned in October 1934. By the time of the 1940 census he had been released and was living in northern California. Alton died in Texas in 2002. He had at least one son.
Arthur’s niece Lucille married Ray A. Venen in 1927. They had a daughter. Ray died in 1935. Lucille later married Cecil Martien then Glen Moats. She died in 2005.
Fred Covell died in San Luis Obispo, California on 10/31/1956. His daughter Gladys was not mentioned in his obituary as one of his surviving children although Gladys (Covell) Sundberg was alive until 1993. After losing their mother, in 1923 Fred’s children John, David and Gladys spent their early years with their maternal grandparents at Umpqua Lighthouse where their grandfather was a lighthouse keeper. In the 1930 census John (age 9) and David (7) were living in Los Angeles, California with their father and his new wife, Flora. Meanwhile Fred’s daughter Gladys (age 11) was living in Seattle, Washington with the family of her maternal uncle Loyal Wiren.
More information about the 3500 unclaimed cremains at OSH is available at http://www.oregon.gov/oha/amh/osh/pages/cremains.aspx A book by David Maisel and a documentary by Ondi Timoner & Robert James, both entitled "Library of Dust" also provide more information.
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