Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Local nurse found insane after disappearance

When Nellie Baker of Pendleton left for Portland in June of 1912 to serve as a private nurse, her mother thought nothing of it. Three weeks later, Nellie was found in a padded cell in a Portland jail after she was discovered wandering the streets in a state of insanity.

Nellie Baker was a 26-year-old nurse who periodically performed private nursing duties for Pendleton residents. She told her mother she was approached by a Miss Huntington in June 1912 to accompany her to Portland as a nurse and companion. The two women supposedly left for the city on June 23 and took rooms at a Portland boarding house. Nellie sent several letters to her mother about their trip, but her last communication was received in Pendleton on July 5. At about the same time, the landlady of the Portland boarding house noticed that Nellie had not visited her room for three days, but had left all her personal belongings behind. She immediately called the police.

On July 15, Nellie was identified as an inmate of a padded cell in the Multnomah County jail, where she had been since July 3. She had been found wandering the streets of Portland, completely insane, and was unable, or unwilling, to hear or speak since her incarceration.

Pendleton police began their investigation by attempting to locate the mysterious Miss Huntington, but could locate no one by that name in town. Nellie’s mother insisted that her daughter had received a call from a woman on the north hill and had gone to talk to her. A taxi arrived early the next morning to take Nellie to the train, but no one at the station saw the young nurse in anyone’s company, and the brakeman of the train testified that Nellie traveled to Portland alone. This led investigators to theorize that “Miss Huntington” was a figment of Nellie’s imagination, and that she had already been suffering from some kind of mental breakdown before she left Pendleton. But friends, including a Pendleton doctor, insisted Nellie was perfectly rational when they talked with her prior to her departure for Portland.

Portland police were criticized for not identifying Nellie earlier, as Pendleton police had sent her description and a photo when she disappeared in early July. But in their defense, Portland officers related that when she was picked up Nellie was using the name Gertrude Wilson, and she gave a lurid story of an attempted abduction into white slavery. She told officers that she and her mother had moved from Minnesota to Stanfield several weeks prior to her disappearance, where they had attempted to start a chicken ranch. Their endeavor had failed and they lost all their money, and she had gone to Portland on the promise of a job. When she arrived, Nellie said, she had been met at the train station by the husband of her alleged employer, who had attacked her and attempted to drag her into a taxi. She had escaped from him just before the police spotted her on July 3, she claimed.

Portland police had taken Nellie to Stanfield in an attempt to find her mother. “Gertrude” had told them her mother dressed like a man, and lived in a hut there. When her mother couldn’t be located, Nellie jumped out a second-story window of the hotel where she was staying and hid in the sagebrush, but was soon found. On her return to Portland she was put in a straitjacket and locked in a padded cell at the jail for her own safety.

Nellie’s mother telegraphed Portland authorities that she would travel there to make arrangements for her daughter’s care. On July 17 a letter from Nellie’s sister said that Nellie had regained her powers of speech and had briefly admitted that the Miss Huntington story was a complete fabrication, but later recanted. A piece of clothing known to have been worn by Nellie when she left Pendleton was found, badly torn, but no cause was ever found.

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