To recap last week’s episode:
- Upright businessman Clarence Funk publicly claimed that U.S. Senator William Lorimer (the “Blond Boss”) had secured his seat by buying the votes of Illinois legislators
- A few weeks later, attorney Daniel Donahoe filed a lawsuit claiming that Funk had debauched Josephine Henning, thereby ruining the marriage of Donahoe’s client, John Henning
- Funk denied the allegations and insisted that the lawsuit was a transparent effort to ruin his reputation in retaliation for his claims against Lorimer
- Josephine did not appear at trial; John could not support his claims and was eviscerated on the witness stand; Funk’s lawyers produced mountains of evidence contradicting Henning’s claims
- The jury deliberated only a few minutes before declaring Clarence Funk the winner, Donahoe and Henning the losers
- John Henning, sensing that he was about to be arrested for perjury, fled the courtroom.
All caught up? It gets even more entertaining. Spoiler alert – entertaining stories ripped from the headlines rarely have a happy ending for everyone involved, and that’s the case for attorney Daniel Donahoe. Read on anyway. This story involves many characters, and you will discover at the end a bit of poetic justice for the man who started it all.
Donahoe filed suit in October 1911; the trial was delayed until June 1912. In the intervening months John Henning (former bellboy) and his wife Josephine (former coat-checker) lived a life of luxury. They traveled under aliases and were frequently separated to keep the press off their scent, but they lived well. Under the names “Billie Harris,” “George S. Ball,” “Mickey,” and others they stayed at the swankiest hotels in New Orleans, Denver, Venice Beach, Chicago, and Atlantic City. All of their expenses were paid, plus they had some walking around money to boot. They were being paid to lay low and steer clear of the press.
John Henning’s traveling companion for much of the next several months was William D. Bennett, a young attorney who had previously been engaged in matters involving Boss Lorimer’s associates. Bennett kept Henning flush with cash; it was Henning’s understanding that Bennett got the cash from Donahoe and that Donahoe was funded by Lorimer’s crew. Bennett was able to keep Henning tucked away until it was time for trial.
Josephine’s traveling companions, on the other hand, changed fairly frequently. This proved to be her undoing. Donahoe had no intention of making Josephine available for trial. He personally introduced Josephine to her first chaperone (Mrs. Minnie Dowd), but Josephine complained frequently, reported that she was ill and needed rest at a spa, and seems overall to have been fairly high maintenance. As a result, she cycled through several companions over the following months. It’s hard to stay secluded when you’re making a lot of noise, and a private detective hired by Funk managed to track Josephine down in Atlantic City.
The agent befriended Josephine, enjoyed the high life with her, and tried her best to get Josephine to talk about the Funk matter in advance of trial. Josephine wouldn’t talk. That’s when the pool – which was already dirty – got downright nasty.
Josephine seemed to Funk’s planted “chaperone” like a decent, though misguided, young woman whose head had been turned by the opportunity to live well. How could she be coaxed into spilling the beans on the Funk scandal? Maybe if she became convinced that her own name was being ruined right alongside Clarence Funk’s. The problem for Funk was that the world was NOT saying anything negative about Josephine; she was portrayed in the press as an innocent dupe.
So Funk had the Chicago Examiner print a story purporting to cover the testimony of the Henning v. Funk trial but actually loaded with false and lurid details designed to provoke Josephine to break her silence and issue a denial. That’s right:
- A mainstream news outlet (tagline “The Best Newspaper … For The Best Homes”)
- printed a single copy of an edition
- bearing a story which it knew to be false
- for the sole purpose of coaxing Josephine Henning to speak.
Why? To sell papers, of course. To please Clarence Funk, who was paying them. And to take a swipe at Boss Lorimer, the corrupt U.S. Senator at the root of it all.
The ploy worked better than Funk or the Examiner could have hoped. When she read the “news” of the trial Josephine was horrified. She enjoyed a nice spa treatment as much as the next person, but this business had gone too far. Josephine contacted the newspaper, traveled from Atlantic City to New York, and told reporters and investigators that she had never met Clarence Funk. She had certainly not cavorted with him in boozy and smoke-filled hotel rooms as “revealed” at trial. Her lawyer, Daniel Donahoe, had promised that the case would never go to trial, and this was all his fault. Yes, she had signed an affidavit, but it had been prepared by Donahoe – and who reads such things? She never meant to hurt anybody. Josephine just wanted to go home. Now.
Her wish was granted. The events and multiple trials that followed are complex, involving dozens of characters across several jurisdictions. There is a book to be written, a movie to be made, and too much information to share in the format of this story. I will hit just a few of the highlights:
John Henning remained in hiding for over a year, although now in less glamorous locations (central Illinois, lumber camps in Minnesota). He was captured in Minneapolis in 1913 and offered a full confession of his role in framing Clarence Funk. He, like Josephine, received immunity in exchange for testifying against others involved in the plot.
Based on the testimony of the Hennings, Daniel Donahoe and two others were indicted for conspiracy to defame Clarence Funk. Donahoe did not take the stand on his own behalf, but he offered 73(!) character witnesses – including the sitting Mayor of Chicago – to prove that he was an honorable man, incapable of having committed such treachery. The jury didn’t buy it. Donahoe was convicted, fined $2,000.00 (the maximum), and ultimately disbarred. He never revealed who was really behind the plot, but all evidence suggests the Lorimer gang was involved. The other two defendants were acquitted, including on charges of perjury; the State’s attorneys were not surprised. Juries did not have the stomach to send to the penitentiary a defendant who everyone knew to be a functionary, taking orders from much higher up, especially when Donahoe had received only a financial penalty.
During Donahoe’s trial a dozen witnesses that the State intended to call went “missing.” The most important of these was William Bennett, the attorney who raced to Mobile, Alabama at the beginning of the saga, directed the Hennings to get out of town, and served as John’s minder for several months before trial. He apparently continued in that role when Henning hid out after trial. When Henning was captured he held a check for $75 from Willliam D. Bennett, but when the conspiracy trial was conducted, the State could not find him.
I found him. He was in Portland, Oregon, along with his brothers, Harry and Pliny (yes, that’s his real name). Not coincidentally, they were sought as witnesses in the Donahoe trial as well. The family was from small town Indiana and had no prior connection to Portland; John Henning, on the other hand, was known to have visited Portland while hiding out, suggesting a Lorimer connection to the city. In any event, the clan Bennett moved to Portland en masse and was not located at the time for Donahoe’s trial. The State apparently lost interest after Donahoe’s conviction; the Bennetts certainly did not make any effort to hide. William D. Bennett lived a long and very public life in Portland, running for local office and practicing law until his death in 1941.
The marriage of John and Josephine did not last. John moved to Iowa, where he obtained a divorce from Josephine on the grounds of desertion. A few months later, Josephine filed for divorce from John – also on the grounds of desertion, and apparently unaware that she was already divorced. Each of them remarried and lived long and full lives.
Clarence Funk went on to continue with a very successful career in business, leaving a large estate to his family upon his death. As a result of Funk’s testimony, William Lorimer was expelled from the Senate. The expulsion hearings – in which the Henning-Funk-Donahoe scandal played a prominent role – added momentum to an initiative that would become the 17th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. No longer would individuals like Boss Lorimer be able to obtain a seat in the world’s most exclusive club simply by bribing a few state legislators; senators would be chosen by direct popular election.
William Lorimer returned to the Windy City after being expelled from the Senate, not in disgrace but to an enthusiastic welcome by his cronies and the public. His hold over the city remained strong; his appetite for wealth and power was large. He founded a bank, bilked investors of millions of dollars, yet remained untouched by the law.
But the long finger of fate touched Lorimer, and it did so in a most unceremonious way. Prepare to have an image indelibly planted in your mind. Lorimer and some colleagues were traveling; before the train departed the station, Lorimer visited the lavatory. That’s where he was discovered, dead of a heart attack, a few minutes later. The Blond Boss, recognized to this day as one of the most powerful and corrupt politicians in Chicago history, died in a public restroom at the train station.
It’s hard to believe, but I know it’s true. I read it in the newspaper.
(Sources and additional reading on the following page)