Jeannace Freeman: “A lesbian woman shouldn’t take up with a woman who’s got children – it just isn’t any good.” [BB, Sep. 14, 61]
Jeannace Freeman dominated Gertrude Nunez Jackson, and used to fly into a rage if rage
wanted to make love to her and the came in. On the morning of 10th May , they had driven to the cliff above Crooked River Cayon. Jeannace told Mrs. Jackson to take a walk. Then she strangled the boy Larry, [beat him with a tire iron], undressed him, and mutilated his genitals – possibly to make it look like sexual assault. Mrs. Jackson came back, and helped Jeannace to undress her four-year-old daughter. They then mutilated her genitals, and tossed her, still alive, off the cliff. The prosecutor asked Mrs. Nunez Jackson, “Didn’t you feel anything?” “No, I didn’t feel anything.” After both children had been thrown over, Mrs. Jackson pointed to some blood on Jeannace’s hand; Jeannace said “Yum yum,” and licked it off. Then they hugged and kissed in the car. [excerpted, with minor corrections, from: Colin Wilson, A Casebook of Murder, Cowles Book Co., N. Y., 1969]
On May 12, 1961 the nude and mutilated bodies of Lawrence Gene “Larry” Jackson, aged 6, and Martha May Jackson, aged 4, were spotted on the floor of the Crooked River Gorge, about 360 feet below. Their identity remained unknown until the 15th when Jeannace Freeman’s sister, Mrs. Phyllis Round, identified the bodies.
A hunt for the Freeman (19) and Jackson (33) was initiated and on the following day they were tracked down and were arrested in Oakland, California along with Letha June Little, whom Freeman claimed was a hitchhiker they had picked up, but was later identified by Freeman as her “wife.”
They were extradited to Madras, Oregon and on May 19 were indicted in Jackson County Court and charged with two counts of first degree murder. Jackson confessed to her part in the murders by Freeman maintained her innocence, claiming she took no part in the assults, killing or disposal of the bodies.
On August 31, 1961 the eve of the trial Jackson turned state’s evidence in order to avoid facing a death sentence. She testified on September 13 that it was she who killed the girl and Freeman who had killed the boy. The girl was still alive when she was thrown down the ravine. The following day Freeman testified, offering a radically different relation of events which would render her inculpable. The trial closed the next day; the jury not believing Freeman, found her guilty of first degree murder. Freeman’s sentencing hearing took place four days later, on September 19, and she was given a death sentence, to be effectuated in the Oregon gas chamber.
There were many appeals and stays of execution. In November 1964 Oregon banned the death penalty. Freeman was released from prison in 1985, but was returned to server her life sentence following a parole violation. She died in 2003.
[Robert St. Estephe]
FULL TEXT: Editors: The following story about Jeannace Freeman is by a reporter who has been close to the series of events since the children were murdered. It was prepared with the final thought of giving some detailed background of the first woman scheduled to die in Oregon’s gas chamber. It contains details some may consider objectionable; but the detail is there for better understanding of the subject, not for sensational effect. The story was written expressly for the Associated Press, by Ann Sullivan, Oregonian staff writer.
By ANN SULLIVAN, For The Associated Press
The first woman to be executed In Oregon penal history scheduled to did in the state penitentiary gas chamber the first hour of Dec. 6.
The execution would end a strange, young troubled life. The condemned woman is Jeannace June Freeman, 21 last June 22.
Jeannace has appealed for clemency to Gov. Mark O. Hatfield.
There is no indication he will consider this case any differently from the others on which he has decided to reverse the procedure of Oregon law’s most drastic penalty. The Oregon Supreme Court twice turned down an appeal.
~ Was Cocky Prisoner.
But a stay of execution has been requested pending an appeal to the U. S. Supreme Court.
Jeannace Freeman, a year and a half ago, was a cocky, cigar-smoking prisoner. She looked like a tom-boy teenager. She always had preferred baseball to pretty clothes.
Today the starch appears all gone from her shoulders, and she sits, dully, in a special cell in the women’s quarters at the prison. Prison attendants say when she is alone she cries.
A year and a half ago was talkative and brash. She denied any complicity in the deaths of two small children, named Jackson, Larry, 6, and Martha, 4. Even them, she though no one was around she wept.
In all the two week trial and the months of waiting for the appeal, Jeannace has shown no emotion in public.
~ Once Was Shaken
Only once during the trial a year ago September did she appear really shaken. She was leaving the courtroom. Her mother stood in the front row crying.
“Mama, don’t! Mama, don’t!” said Jeannace, her face anguished, and tried to comfort her.
Other than the notoriety of being the first woman sentenced to execution in Oregon, Jeannace has achieved little for society to note.
This unhappy, almost scrawny young woman, whp never had much of a home and never succeeded at anything important, such as school, found one comfort in life of Lesbianism, female homosexuality.
Somewhere along the line, whether for physical, emotional or simply chance reasons – or all of them – Jeannace Freeman learned to prefer the company of woman.
~ Dominant Role
Usually, although both are of the same sex, one assumes the role of domination.
Jeannace was the dominant one. She was boss.
Not much is known of her early life. But some facts have been uncovered by police investigation and trial testimony.
The identity of her father is not known. Her mother was married several times. Jeannace lived in Central Oregon which she liked. She has a number of half-sister and some step-brothers.
When she was 4 years old, she was raped by a man who later served time in the penitentiary for the offense.
She liked fishing, sports and riding, became quite strong and wiry for her small size. She liked to play ball with boys.
She was troubled in school and had a behavior problem. She was sent to Hillcreast School for Girls when she was about 13. It was there she found her first Lesbian companion.
~ Something Like Child
Before the dearths of the Jackson children, Jeannace favored short mannish haircuts, men’s jeans, moccasins, men’s cowboy shirts. She walked with a swagger, something like a child imitating a cowboy.
She had a numerous home-administered tattooes [sic] on various parts of her body, according to police records. The words of them were as follows: above the left breast, “Spinner”; right breast, “Julia”; right forearm, “Lucky”; back of left shoulder, “Tiger”; left forearm, “Love”; inner side of left ankle, “Fruit,” and one letter each on the fingers of her left hand, “Hate.”
Her companion in crime was the children’s mother, Mrs. Gertrude May Nunez Jackson, a shirt presser in a Eugene laundry. She was 33 years old. A smallish woman who favored the wearing dresses, and never trousers. She had married once a Mexican railroad worker and had a child, a son, now about 10 or 11 years old. Later she took up with a Negro named Dempsey Jackson. Two children, a boy, Larry, and a girl, Martha, were born of the common law marriage.
~ Jackson Was Gone
But when Jeannace met her, Jackson was gone, and Mrs. Jackson was having baby-sitting troubles.
Jeannace worked for her. And in their association, Mrs. Jackson acquiesced to the homosexual overtures of Jeannace.
Laundry wages were low in Eugene, forever, and it was decided they would go to Oakland, Calif., where Mrs. Jackson had worked before. Jeannace, Mrs. Jackson and the children drove to Oakland and lived in rooms and small apartment.
Jeannace found the children in the way. She kept them outside a lot.
The two women began talking of what to do with the children, and Jeannace, according to the mother’s later trial testimony, began talking of “doing away with them.” The mother, who told of the complete domination of the younger woman over her, didn’t seem to care much.
Her testimony: “Whatever she said, that was it.”
~ Discussion Held
There was discussion of “foster” home in Portland, of an Indian family in Oregon, hiding them in a cave and killing them.
And that’s what was finally done. Driving straight through, with only a stop at a sister of Jeannce in Klamath Falls, the women came to the Peter Skene Ogden State Park between Bend and Madras.
There the Crooked River has cut a deep slash in the rock of the sometimes bleak central Oregon plateau.
~ Early In Morning
The arrival was just about dawn on the chill morning of May 11, 1961. According to Mrs. Jackson’s testimony against Jeannace at the trial, Jeannace told her to “get lost.”
Mrs. Jackson said she walked over by the railroad bridge trestle, came back later. She said she found the beaten body of Larry on the front seat and Jeannace stripped off his clothes. She said Jeannace tossed him into the gorge, and she herself tossed the little girl after they both took off the clothing.
The mother, who had said she wanted to finally tell the truth, pleaded guilty to the murder of the girl. But she insisted she did not at any time hit her. Circuit Judge Robert H. Foley decided the mother’s penalty, life imprisonment.
Both children were beaten on the head by a tire iron. They also bore fingermarks of choking on their throats. The bodies of both were mutilated also, probably with a tire iron, and authorities feel this was done to lead police astray and make them think the children may have been raped by a man. The girl was still alive when she was thrown over.
~ Each Charged
The woman were charged with the murder of one child each. Mrs. Jackson pleaded guilty and turned state’s evidence.
Jeannace, whose meek voice in court was strange contrast to the taped recording of her cocky answers to police earlier, told a series of differing stories of the crime.She accused the mother of the deaths.
Asked why she did not try to stop it, or at least tell police afterwards, Jeannace just says she was “scared.”
But the two women that same day ate breakfast at Jeannace’s stepfather’s home at nearby Culver, cleaned out the car and went fishing in the same river which cut the canyon where the children lay.
Jeannace and Mrs. Jackson drove over the McKenzie pass to Cottage Grove, then went on to Oakland and sold the car. They threw a box of the children’s clothing out along the highway at a remote forested spot. It was later found.
[Ann Sullivan, “Execution of Convicted Slayer Miss Freeman Would End Strange and Troubled Young Life,” The Oregon Statesman (Salem, Or.), Nov. 18, 1962, p. 4]
Note: Some news reports use the spelling “Jeannance.” “Gertrude May Nunez” is often used without “Jackson.”
Jeannace June Freeman – address listed in Culver, Oregon; Birth: Jun. 22, 1941, Cottage Grove Lane County Oregon; Death: Dec. 19, 2003, Wilsonville, Clackamas County, Oregon.
Gertrude May Nunez Jackson – address listed in Oakland, Ca.
Lawrence Gene “Larry” Jackson – aged 6; murdered May 10, 1961, Crooked River Canyon, near Madras, Oregon.
Martha May Jackson – aged 4; murdered May 10, 1961, Crooked River Canyon, near Madras, Oregon.
May 10, 1961 – murders: Lawrence Gene “Larry” Jackson, 6; Martha May Jackson, 4.
May 12, 1961 – The nude, broken bodies of the children were spotted on the floor of the Crooked River Gorge, about 360 feet below.
May 15, 1961 – Mrs. Phyllis Round, Freeman’s sister, identified the bodies.
May 16, 1961 – Freeman and Jackson arrested in Oakland, Ca. A woman they claimed had picked up hitchhiking, Letha June Little, was arrested along with them, but released. She was later described by Freeman as her “wife.”
May 17, 1961 – Jackson confesses 4 hours after arrest; Freeman blamed Jackson for beatings, murders and disposal of the bodies.
May 18, 1961 – In Oakland, Ca., the pair waive extradition hearing.
May 19, 1961 – both women indicted; two charges of first-degree murder; Jefferson County Court, Madras, Oregon.
Aug. 31, 1961 – just prior to the trial, Jackson turned state’s evidence. Jackson testified that she, herself, then took her daughter from the car, pulled the girl’s blouse off, then tossed her into the canyon. She said the girl was alive at the time she was thrown. By testifying against Freeman, Jackson received a life sentence for killing her daughter. But she was released after seven years.
Sep. 5, 1961 – trial begins, jury selection; Jefferson County Court, Madras, Oregon.
Sep. 7, 1961 – opening arguments begin.
Sept. 13, 1961 – Jackson testifies.
Sept. 14, 1961 – Freeman testifies; story diametrically opposed to Jackson’s.
Sep. 15, 1961 – Freeman found guilty;
Sep. 19, 1961 – Freeman given death sentence; gas chamber.
Dec. 6, 1962 – scheduled date of execution; stayed.
Jan. 5, 1963 – commutation denied by Gov. Hatfield; scheduled for execution in gas chamber Jan. 29.
Feb. 11, 1964 – fifth stay of execution.
Mar. 6, 1964 – new execution date.
Nov. 5(?), 1964 – Oregon abolishes the death penalty.
Nov. 7(?) – Freeman death sentence commuted.
1968 – Gertrude May Nunez Jackson released.
1985 – Jeannace Freeman released; changed her name to Wilma Lin Rhule; Aug. 20, 1985 – “Starting Over” interview, published in Salem Statesman.
Year? – Freeman violates parole, returns to prison.
Dec. 19, 2003 – Freeman dies in prison (?); Wilsonville, Clackamas County, Oregon.
[“Oakland, Calif., Police Arrest Mother of Two Slain Children,” Eugene Register-Guard (Or.), May 17, 1961, p. 1]
[“Mother Confesses to Part in Slaying of Children,” Medford Mail Tribune (Or.), May 17, 1961, p. 1]
[“Court Hearing Friday For Oregon Women,” Eugene Register-Guard (Or.), May 18, 1961, p. 1]
[“Two Waive Court Hearing In Oakland,” Sugene Record-Guard (Or.), May 19, 1961, p. 1]
[“Extradited,” Albany Democrat-Herald (Or.), May 20, 1961, p. 1]
[“Murder suspects request preliminary hearing today,” The Bend Bulletin (Or.), May 22, 1961, p. 1]
[Robert W. Chandler, “Mother Admits Murder Of Daughter,” The Bend Bulletin (Or.), Aug. 31, 1961, p. 1]
[“Murder Trial Under Way,” Eugene Register Guard (Or.), Sep. 5, 1961, p. 1]
[“Opening Arguments Begin; Freeman jurors taken to gorge area where children met death,” The Bend Bulletin (Or.), Sep. 7, 1961, p. 1]
[“Mother of Slain Pair Disagrees With Statements of Companion,” Eugene Register-Guard (Or.), Sep. 13, 1961, p. 5A]
[Raymond A. Chandler, “Mother testifies; Gaping holes torn in Freeman stories,” The Bend Bulletin (Or.), Sep. 14, 1961, p. 1]
[Raymond A. Chandler, “Freeman woman gives her version of events at Gorge,” The Bend Bulletin (Or.), Sep. 14, 1961, p. 1]
[Robert W. Chandler, “Verdict has no provision for leniency,” The Bend Bulletin (Or.), Sep. 16, 1961, p. 1]
[“Madras Jury Says Woman Murdered Lad,” Eugene Register-Guard (Or.), Sep. 16, 1961, P. 1]
[“Judge orders gas chamber for Freeman,” The Bend Bulletin (Or.), Sep. 19, 1961, p. 1]
[Ann Sullivan, “Execution of Convicted Slayer Miss Freeman Would End Strange and Troubled Young Life,” The Oregon Statesman (Salem, Or.), Nov. 18, 1962, p. 4
[“Jeannace Freeman Returns to Prison; Execution Date Set,” Medford Mail Tribune (Or.), Dec. 2, 1962, p. 2A]
[Colin Wilson, A Casebook of Murder, Cowles Book Co., N. Y., 1969]
[Colin Wilson, A Casebook of Murder, Cowles Book Co., N. Y., 1969]
[Ann Sullivan, “Execution of Convicted Slayer Miss Freeman Would End Strange and
Troubled Young Life,” The Oregon Statesman (Salem, Or.), Nov. 18, 1962, p. 4]
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