THE TRIAL? DEFENSE BY A FAMOUS ATTORNEY

BankLast week the tale was told of Frank Henning, a bank teller at the Farmers Bank of Schaumburg, who confessed in a letter to bank stockholders, that he embezzled $40,000 to speculate in the stock market.  Hoping to earn it back, he escaped to New York City on New Year’s day but, within a couple of weeks, was tracked down by the Burns Detective Agency.  The year was 1914 and Mr. Henning would not stay in New York for long.

In fact, as reported in the Rock Island Argus on January 17, Governor Edward Dunne “issued a requisition for the return from New York city of Cashier Henning.”  By the 22nd, Henning was on his way back to Chicago to await his trial.  And the next time we hear of him?  It is the end of May.  And who has he hired as his attorney?  None other than a defense attorney named Clarence Darrow.

Clarence_Darrow

In his review in the Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society of the book, In the Clutches of the Law:  Clarence Darrow’s Letters, John Lupton, Executive Director of the Illinois Supreme Court Historic Preservation Commission, states that “Clarence Darrow is arguably the most famous attorney in American history… Darrow classified himself as a general practice attorney who had a substantial criminal caseload.”

And for this particular criminal case, the 57-year-old Darrow ingeniously supported his client by basing his defense on the fact that the Farmers Bank was a private institution and not legally incorporated. This would prove to be the crucial point in the trial.

In a cross examination by Mr. Darrow, one of the stockholders admitted the statement about the legal status of the bank was correct. In a May 28, 1914 article from the Chicago Tribune, it is mentioned that the stockholder also “admitted Henning was a partner and had an interest at the time he left.  Then Darrow made the startling announcement that Henning could not be touched under the law.  A partner cannot be found guilty of embezzling funds from a partner.  The state had ‘not a leg to stand on’ he asserted.”

Realizing Darrow was correct in this statement, W. W. Witty, the Assistant State’s Attorney, then proceeded to make an additional accusation, declaring Henning guilty of embezzlement of $835 in January 1911.  At this point in time,  Henning was a cashier but not yet a partner.  Darrow admitted this was correct, that Henning was not a partner, but there was yet another caveat–by law, the statute of limitations had already expired on such a charge.  The defense then moved that the “court direct a verdict of not guilty.”

In response, Judge McKinley, sustained this contention and took the case away from the jury and the court convened for the day.  On the following day, Thursday, May 28, 1914, Frank Henning walked out of the courtroom a free man.  Mr. Darrow had done his job.

Ten years later, in 1924, Mr. Darrow would rivet the world with his 12-hour long closing argument in the Leopold and Loeb trial.  One year later in 1925, Mr. Darrow’s defense of John Thomas Scopes in the Scopes Monkey trial would truly establish his worldwide fame in a trial that focused on the right to teach evolution in public schools.  Taking on cases such as Frank Henning vs. Farmers Bank of Schaumburg in 1914 was a step in his rise to legal greatness.

Farmers Bank of Schaumburg bounced back from the embezzlement and even survived an attempted robbery in 1921 when Herman Freise, president of the bank, personally thwarted the robbers.  It would not outlast the Great Depression, though, and eventually closed in 1933.  Very few banks were immune during those harrowing years, and private banks and the banking system as a whole struggled.  New regulations and protective practices such as the FDIC were put in place to protect both the institution and the investors.  Unfortunately, it was a little too late for a small bank in Schaumburg Township.

Jane Rozek
Local History Librarian
Schaumburg Township District Library

I discovered this incident serendipitously as I do with a number of pieces of our history.  I was doing a brief search of the University of Illinois’ Digital Newspaper Collections and stumbled across mentions of the trial in a newspaper called The Day Book.  This was a newspaper that was published between 1911 and 1917 in Chicago–fortuitously for us.  It was designed as an experimental, ad-free daily and begun by E. W. Scripps, founder of both the media conglomerate by the same name and the United Press.  Mentions of the trial were brief but enough to pique my interest.  It wasn’t until I dug deeper into the Chicago Tribune’s database that I discovered the wonderful details about Clarence Darrow.  All of the articles used to write this blog posting are listed below:

 

  • Chicago Daily Tribune.  January 4, 1914
  • Chicago Daily Tribune.  January 5, 1914
  • Cook County Herald.  January 9, 1914
  • Cook County Herald.  January 16, 1914
  • Rock Island Argus.  January 17, 1914
  • Chicago Daily Tribune.  January 22, 1914
  • Chicago Daily Tribune.  May 28, 1914
  • Cook County Herald.  May 29, 1914
  • Chicago Daily Tribune.  May 29, 1914
  • Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society; Volume 107, Number 2, Summer 2014; p. 243.

 

 

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