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Claude CLINE






A.K.A.: "The Gold Miner murderer"
Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Robberies
Number of victims: 2
Date of murders: 1939 / 1940
Date of arrest: June 1940
Date of birth: ???
Victims profile: Eugene Rosenstiel / George Chetty (prospectors)
Method of murder: Shooting
LocationWheeler County, Oregon, USA
Status: Executed by asphyxiation-gas in Oregon on July 26, 1940

The Gold Miner Murders

Few prospectors ever struck it rich mining for gold in Oregon. But one Wheeler County miner discovered a way of lining his pockets with the "blood money" of fellow prospectors -- until the law caught up with him.

One hot May afternoon in 1940, an old prospector was making his way home through the Spanish Gulch region of Wheeler County when his horse stumbled into a freshly-dug grave.

Gene Spray didn't even know it was a grave until curiosity got the best of him and he began digging into the soft, sandy earth. Minutes later, his shovel struck something solid. Spray continued digging and, to his horror, he discovered a body.

The spooked miner dropped his shovel, jumped on his horse and galloped off to report his grisly find to the sheriff's office. Early the next morning, Sheriff Ed Kelsay, Oregon State Police Trooper W. R. Moseley and two of their men followed Spray to the grave site.

Within a few minutes, the lawmen were able to remove the entire corpse -what was left of it. The victim, a man in his mid 30s, had been shot to death, his head almost completely torn off by what appeared to have been a close-range shotgun blast.

There was no identification or personal belongings found on the victim. Spray, however, suggested a longtime area resident, Everett Waterman, might know the victim. Waterman, a 63-year-old prospector himself who seemed to know everyone in the Spanish Gulch, did not recognize the victim when he saw the body.

But Waterman did recognize something. He told Kelsay that the victim was wearing the same type clothing as the young man who had recently come to Wheeler County from Ohio to meet prospector Claude Cline. The man's name, according to Waterman, was George Chetty.

Yet, Waterman insisted it could not have been Chetty; he had gone to Portland with another miner named Fletcher to get supplies for a gold-mining trip to Alaska which he and Cline had been planning. At least, that's what Cline had told him, Waterman said. The old prospector said Cline informed him he planned to stay behind, to get ready for their Alaska trip.

But when Kelsay and his men confronted Fletcher, the prospector said he had not taken Chetty to Portland or that he even knew a young Ohio miner named Chetty.

Frustrated and confused by conflicting stories, Kelsay decided to do a little more investigating on his own. He drove to Portland to meet with an old friend, Holger Christoffersen, Chief Criminal Deputy for the Multnomah County Sheriffs Office. Kelsay told him he needed help locating Cline, if, indeed, he had come to Portland.

The two began checking local beer parlors, one by one, until they located a proprietor who knew Cline. In fact, the proprietor told the lawmen, he had just got a postcard from Cline in Seattle that very morning, asking for money to help him out of a tight squeeze.

The proprietor went on to say that Cline had tried to cash a traveler' s check carrying George Chetty' s name. Cline told him that Chetty had a drinking problem and that he wanted Cline to cash one of his checks so he could buy more whiskey.

The proprietor wisely declined and told Cline that Chetty would have to sign the check himself. But the proprietor said Cline had asked him to sell his rifle and send him the money, via the post office, in Seattle.

The rifle Cline had left behind, unfortunately, was not the murder weapon. Kelsay and Christoffersen decided to go to Seattle and stake out the post office for Cline. Before they left, they wired the King County Sheriff's Office to take Cline into custody if he arrived at the post office before they did.

The two lawmen arrived at the main post office in Seattle moments after a King County Sheriff's detective took Cline into custody.

At first, Cline denied any part in the murder. But when Kelsay informed him his office and Oregon State Police had compiled enough evidence to convict him, particularly his possession of the dead man's traveler' s checks, Cline broke down and confessed to the murder of George Chetty.

Cline said he decided to kill Chetty because the two of them did not have enough money for both of them to go to Alaska. He said he took Chetty' s traveler' s checks and about $60 in cash, then began telling people Chetty had gone to Portland.

He waived extradition to Oregon and the following day was returned to Fossil, the county seat of Wheeler County. A first-degree murder complaint was immediately filed by the Wheeler County District Attorney's office.

Before Cline's case even came to trial, Everett Waterman told sheriff's deputies he recalled another one of Cline's prospecting partners, a young man named Eugene Rosenstiel, who, like Chetty, had mysteriously disappeared in August of 1939. Confronted with this new information, Cline confessed to the earlier murder and led authorities to Rosenstiel's grave site, about two miles from where Chetty was buried.

Cline said he only got about $40 killing Rosenstiel, but bragged that he made good use out of the victim's truck and personal belongings.

In spite of his confessions, Cline pleaded innocent to first-degree murder in the death of George Chetty. The trial, which lasted only four days, resulted in a murder conviction. On June 17, Wheeler County Circuit Judge Carl Hendricks sentenced Cline to be executed in the lethal gas chamber at the Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem.

Claude Cline was executed July 26, 1940 -- the second convict in Oregon to die in the then-new gas chamber.



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