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The newspaper reports of this trial were how most citizens of Albany learned just what it was that Charles Campbell had begged Mattie Allison to forgive him for, as he lay dying; and why she so coldly declined. He had been stalking her for three years, starting when she broke off their engagement, back when she was a girl of 17. Knowing her family had no male patriarch to stand up for her, as was then the custom in such matters, he had been very bold, and particularly cruel, in how he went about it.
Witness after witness recounted episodes when Campbell had been caught peering in the windows, the times he’d boasted that he was regularly sleeping with her, the times he got drunk and threatened to kill her. He’d pulled a gun on her at her mother’s hat shop; followed her to Eugene when she went to visit her aunt; pulled a pistol on her mother in a jealous rage when the elder Allison refused to support his suit for her daughter’s hand; and even once drunkenly tried to break into her home while they were inside.
Probably the most damning bit of evidence came from a friend who had spoken to Campbell the night he borrowed the overcoat and false mustache, who, according to the Morning Oregonian’s report, said Campbell “had often boasted that he had ‘slept with her’ and would ruin her that night if it cost him his neck.”
Saunders — who had, a month or two earlier, been convicted in an Albany courtroom and sentenced to hang — testified that she had approached him, her future brother-in-law, several weeks before, to ask if he would protect her from Campbell. She’d told him things were OK just then, but that she expected him to start more trouble soon, and she was afraid he would follow through on his threats to kill or rape her. Then a letter had arrived from “J. Blankhead,” a letter that appears to have been intended as a coyly worded proposition: “I am a stranger in your town and desire to see you and form your acquaintance. I wish you to do me a favor. It will be but a slight task for you to perform, and will afford me great pleasure.”
Mattie, not being in the business of doing “favors” for strangers, knew there was only one man who would send her a letter like that. So she’d sent for Saunders — who had promised he would have a little talk with Campbell and, if he would not agree to leave her alone, thrash him for her.
And that’s what Mattie Allison had expected him to do that night: give the would-be Lothario the beating of his life and tell him to stay away. But he’d brought his Colt with him, just in case ....
The Salem Statesman lit into the Albany press with surprising savagery, accusing it of having essentially ginned up a lynch mob. Indeed, there had been an article in the Bulletin in particular that almost looked like an invitation to form one — an apparently made-up article about Mattie Allison begging the sheriff for protection from angry citizens who she was afraid might lynch her, and the sheriff telling her to get lost.
Of course, by the end of the trial the Albany residents who would have formed that hypothetical lynch mob knew the rest of the story, and chances are good that they didn’t appreciate the heavy spinning they’d been subjected to. Whether for that reason or some other, the Albany Bulletin did not last long after that; although the State Rights Democrat and Herald Disseminator are still around, having merged into today’s Democrat-Herald.
As for Saunders, his murder trial, which had been held in the poisoned atmosphere of the Linn County Courthouse in Albany, was overturned on appeal. Retried in Salem, he was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison. Seven years later, Governor Sylvester Pennoyer commuted his sentence. He and Mattie’s sister Minnie, who had waited for him, married after his release and moved to Spokane.