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Related Museum Links REPORT CONTENTS

Findings of 1891 Wallace Grand Jury on Corruption

War Between Labor and Capital

Ruef's Failure to Control The District Attorney's Office

Investigation into Schimitz–Ruef Regime

Explanation of Types of Graft

French Restaurant Extortions

Prize Fight Trust Briberies

Overhead Trolley Bribery

The Park Side Bribery

The Home Telephone Bribery

The Pacific Telephone Bribery

The Gas Rate Briberies

The Corporations' Share in the Briberies

The Park Side Company Board of Directors

United Railroads' Board of Directors

Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) Board of Directors

Pacific States Telephone Board of Directors

Spring Valley Water Co. Board of Directors

Granting of Immunity to Certain Supervisors

Rights of Citizens to Help Prosecute Crime

Commencement of the Prosecutions

Election of D.A. Langdon in 1907

Causes of Municipal Corruption

Dynamiting of Supervisor Gallagher's Home

Kidnapping of Fremont Older

Bribery of Jurors

Shooting of Francis J. Heney

Stealing of Government Papers and Secrets

Crimes in the Police Department

Fall 1909 Election

Grand Jury Recommendations


1903 – Union Labor Party Platform

1906 – Timeline of Graft Investigations

1906 – "The Situation in San Francisco" by James D. Phelan

1906 – Boston Herald Interview With James D. Phelan

1907 Streetcar Strike

1908 – Mysterious Death of Police Chief Biggy

1911 – Fremont Older Wants Ruef Released from Prison

Report on the Causes of Municipal Corruption
in San Francisco, as Disclosed by the
Investigations of the Oliver Grand Jury,
and the Prosecution of Certain Persons for
Bribery and Other Offenses Against the State – Part 4 of 4.


The "Evening Bulletin" continued the same vigorous support of the prosecution as it showed in its earlier attacks on the Ruef-Schmitz regime. Mr. Fremont Older, as the manager, was primarily responsible for the execution of this policy, and he gave to it the whole force of his energetic personality. In the course of publishing the news of the prosecution, the paper printed a story which showed one of the detectives in the employ of the United Railroads to have been in a compromising position. There was another detective in their employ of the same name, but with different initials, and through an error the wrong name was printed. It was clearly a libel, and the paper at once made amends, in so far as it could, by publication of the truth and explanation of the mistake.

The libeled man had Mr. Older indicted in Los Angeles, over four hundred miles from San Francisco, and warrants issued for his arrest to deputies who were the detective's personal friends. These men came to San Francisco and, late in the afternoon of September 27, 1907, Mr. Older was lured by a false telephone message to a quiet street, where he was seized and hurried into an automobile. The law permits a person so apprehended to be taken before a judge in his own county to be admitted to bail. This Mr. Older demanded. His demand was refused, and he was carried, by a roundabout route of many miles, to a station on the railway to Los Angeles, where the whole party boarded a train for that destination. Fortunately, Mr. Older made no attempt to escape, although the offense of abduction began as soon as he was refused the right to go before a judge, and no violence was done to him.

The ruse was discovered before morning, and he was released on an order of court at Santa Barbara. There was an attorney for the United Railroads and the libeled man in the abducting party.

What the motive for this strange procedure was, other than the hope that Mr. Older might attempt to escape and thus give an excuse for violence is hard to discover. His admission to bail in San Francisco in no way could have jeopardized the chance of bringing him to trial. The subsequent failure to press the case against him, and its abandonment and dismissal, seem to indicate that the motive of the abduction was something entirely disconnected from a desire to secure justice for the libel in a court of law. If it was an attempt to change the policy of the paper, it failed signally.


Abraham Ruef pleaded guilty to the first charge against him that was brought to trial. In his second trial, it became apparent to the government that attempts were being made to have improper persons placed upon the jury and to bribe those who were finally empanelled. A.E.S. Blake was subsequently convicted and sentenced for offering a bribe to J.M. Kelly, who was empanelled on that jury. Mr. Kelly had reported this attempt to the District Attorney at once, and assisted in procuring Blake's conviction.


Among other persons, concerning whom the government had information that they were attempting to qualify as jurors for improper purposes, was Morris Haas. Haas had been a keeper of a saloon of the lower order, and had been convicted for embezzlement, but had been subsequently pardoned and had no other conviction of crime against him. His name appeared upon the jury list in Ruef's second trial, and the government detectives informed the District Attorney that, although Haas had a wife and family, he was living with another woman, and that his paramour had said that he had boasted that he would retrieve his fortunes by selling his vote for Ruef's acquittal. In order to get him off the jury, his conviction for forgery was publicly exposed by Mr. Heney while Haas was sitting in the jury box. As neither Haas' public nor private record seemed to warrant any special leniency, no attempt was made to hide his past career.

At this time the papers opposing the prosecution, particularly the "Examiner," "Globe" and "Chronicle," were making savage personal attacks on Mr. Heney. The so-called "Mutt" cartoons of the "San Francisco Examiner" sought by a broad, but clever ridicule, to convey the impression that Mr. Heney was a coarse and unprincipled charlatan, and that the entire prosecution was founded in injustice and carried on to satisfy a personal malice. One of these cartoons, which subsequently became notable, depicted him as a bird flying in the air, about to be brought down by a fowler's gun. It would not have incited any balanced person to commit violence, but to a weak or inflamed mind it might have been suggestive; though no doubt it was not deliberately so intended.

Through every channel of personal vilification, from armed thugs in the courtroom to the daily and weekly publications, he was abused and threatened until, to the misinformed, he might well be considered a proper target for personal violence.

It would appear that Haas' mind was in that undeveloped type likely to take seriously these pictorial representations. At any rate, whether through the impressions gained through the press, or incitement of the same persons who secured the dynamiting of Gallagher's home, or otherwise, Haas nursed his grievance against Mr. Heney until he came to regard his murder as a public benefaction. His plan for killing his victim was not the result of a sudden passion, for he subsequently made the significant admission that he had concluded that it was best to postpone his attack until after the election. This meant a delay for a period of many weeks.

On the 13th of November, 1908, Mr. Heney was conducting the third case against Ruef, when Haas, who had been for a number of days a spectator in the court room, slipped up behind him and fired a pistol bullet into his head, just forward of his right ear. By a chance more miraculous than the escape of the people in Gallagher's house, the bullet passed between his skull and jaw and exhausted its strength in the soft lining at the back of his mouth, finally lodging in the bone of the jaw on the opposite side. No vital organ was touched, and, apart from the shock to his nervous system and the loss of hearing in one ear, no permanent injury was inflicted.

Haas was seized and searched by two officers and no other weapon was found on him. The government's detectives put him through a partial examination for the purpose of discovering the instigators of the crime, if there were any. The examination was to have been continued the following day, but he was found dead in his cell, with a pistol bullet through his forehead, before the next session.

The weapon used was a small derringer, which might have escaped the search of the officers, and it was also possible that the comparatively slight powder mark around the wound was due to his holding the weapon a long distance from his face. Whether he took own life, and, if so, whether he brought in the derringer or had it handed to him in jail, or whether he was killed to prevent his telling of his accomplices, will probably never be known. It is entirely possible that he committed suicide. It is equally possible that the same influence that paid Claudianes to place the bomb to kill Gallagher was responsible for Haas' death.


Not only did the government have to contend against the bribing of jurors and the attempted murder of its witnesses and officers, but also against the betrayal of its secret information, thus keeping its enemies advised as to its intended movements. From the month of July, 1907, to August, 1908, copies of the reports of the government's detectives were nightly taken and furnished one of the attorneys for the United Railroads. In most cases the original reports were copied and the transcriptions furnished, in some the original itself was taken.

On the discovery of these thefts, the government obtained warrants and searched the offices of the United Railroads. Over seven hundred copies of the reports and various other documents belonging to the government were found on the premises.

The San Francisco Police Department.

The total number of crimes for which indictments were found by the Oliver Grand Jury was one hundred and seventy-five, participated in by nearly forty persons, representing practically every walk in life. Not one of them was unearthed by the Police Department of San Francisco, and the Chief of Police himself was indicted for perjury before the Grand Jury and for conspiring to prevent the detection of crime. It is apparent that such a department must have been rotten to the core.

As not a single officer or detective, commissioned or otherwise, has been removed for concealing or failing to discover any of the crimes, and as there have been practically no resignations from the department, it is apparent that its personnel is still of the same character. It would appear that another Schmitz-Ruef administration would find the same organized support standing ready to do its bidding.

The clearing up of the department is largely a matter of courage on the part of the Board of Police Commissioners, as the trial and removal of an officer for grafting or incompetence does not involve any of the technicalities of procedure and proof which have grown up around criminal prosecutions. It is not even necessary to show that the accused officer connived at crime. It is enough to warrant his removal for incompetence, if an illicit enterprise is found in his jurisdiction, or if there are strong indications that a crime may have been committed there, and he has failed to discover and report the facts.

The present commission has not permitted the open continuance of some of the more flagrant evils of the old system. It is still licensing the attractive and alluring debauchery of the French restaurants, and has not made any attempt to remove the men who gathered or permitted the gathering of the tribute of vice and crime for the support of the former administration.

The Election of the Fall of 1909

Mr. Heney accepted the nomination of the Democratic party, and of the Good Government League, for the District Attorneyship, to succeed Mr. Langdon. He was opposed by Mr. Charles M. Fickert, who received the Union Labor and Republican nominations. Mr. Fickert was elected, receiving 36,192 votes to Mr. Heney's 26,075.

In the course of the campaign, the old-standing class antagonism was made an issue. The cry "vote a straight Labor ticket and be true to the cause" gave a considerable Labor vote to Mr. Fickert, and his nomination by the Republican party gave him a similar partisan support. This, combined with the tenderloin and saloon element, brought the Fickert vote up to no less than 25,000. The balance of his supporters was made up of those who were in sympathy with the doctrine of a wide open town and its accompanying loose morals, both in its political and commercial life, and those who were honestly convinced that government was not sincere in its efforts and who failed to realize the tremendous obstacles that had been placed in its way by the beneficiaries of the graft system. The latter class of Fickert's votes were the direct product of three years of vilification and abuse to which certain of the daily papers and nearly all of the weekly papers had subjected Mr. Langdon, Mr. Heney, Mr. Burns and Mr. Spreckels.

Some of Mr. Heney's speeches lent color to the claim that he was attempting to try the accused man at the bar of public opinion rather than in the courts of justice, and he permitted himself to be drawn into personalities from which a calmer judgment would have saved him. The bulk of well-intentioned citizens understood the strain to which the three years of most bitter and arduous courtroom service, coupled with the shock of his shooting, had subjected him and, judged in their true light his statements that it was the People of the State of California who had been offended by the briberies, and that it was the People who were prosecuting the cases, and that the District Attorney was merely the agent of the community, as a political entity, lost Mr. Heney many votes. Your committee see no reason to question the continuance of the sincerity of the prosecution, and has the highest appreciation of Mr. Heney's splendid services and of the results accomplished, not only in unmasking the real forces behind the corruption in San Francisco, but in overthrowing the Ruef-Schmitz administration; nevertheless, it cannot pass by the campaign of 1909 without pointing out what, in our opinion, was its chief weakness.

On the other hand we cannot but feel that had the ballot been free of the straight-ticket device, and the people been voting directly on the qualifications of the candidates for their respective positions, the vote would have been very different. The number of persons who will accept a party label as a substitute for their own conviction regarding the candidate's merits, is still very large. No better evidence of this is needed than the bitter opposition of the machine politicians to any attempt to abolish the "party circle" on the ballot.

Nothing could be more illogical than the determination of the qualifications of the man who is to administer the law impartially, by his allegiance to a partisan organization. The same is true of all the officers of a municipality, but it applies the more forcibly to the Police Judges and the District Attorney who exercise judicial or quasi-judicial functions.

Our laws have already recognized the want of logic in partisan elections of municipal officers who are supposed to exercise impartially their official functions, and Los Angeles, Fresno, Alameda and other cities now elect their city officers on ballots which simply show the names of the candidates under the office to be filled, without party or any other designation.

Recommendations The foregoing is but a partial review of some of the factors which tend to maintain the corrupt conditions in our municipality. Whatever advantages a contemporaneous record may have must be taken along with the disadvantages arising from the want of historical perspective. It is little more than a series of findings on the more important matters of fact which have been brought to our attention in the fourteen months over which our sessions have extended.

While the vista of time is necessary to view these in their just proportions and relationship, we feel that there are some remedies which may help protect the community, till a maturer and more vigorous public sentiment itself keeps in suppression the evil tendencies and influences we have pictured.

Pursuant to the request in your Honor's commission to us, we submit the following recommendations:

(1) Non-Partisan Municipal Elections. The charter should so be amended as to prohibit partisan nominations for election to municipal offices, the ballot, when printed, to show nothing more than the name and the office of the candidate.

(2) A Judicial Tribunal for the Determination of Charges for Public Utilities. A separate tribunal of permanent character should be established for the judicial determination of the rates and charges for public utilities.

(3) Further Punishment for Bribery. The laws creating the crime of bribery should so be amended as to provide for the punishment of corporations in their corporate capacity. Very heavy fines should be imposed, and the forfeiture to the State or City of prior acquired franchises should be made part of the punishment.

(4) Cancellation of a Franchises' Procured by Fraud. Laws should be enacted for the cancellation of franchises procured by fraud or crime of the owners of the franchises, or of their predecessors in interest. These laws should be of a civil nature, cognizable in a court of equity, so that the extreme technicality of our criminal procedures will not embarrass their enforcement. The Mayor and the District Attorney, each on his own motion, should have the right initiate such proceedings in the name of the municipality upon which the fraud has been committed. Their power should be concurrent with that of the State to take similar action in quo warranto proceedings.

(5) Corporations Should be Compelled to Give Evidence Against Themselves. The law of evidence in criminal cases should be so amended that a corporation accused of crime cannot claim immunity from producing or giving evidence against itself, and the testimony of its officers, and all its documents should be admissible in criminal proceedings against it. As a corporation can commit a crime only through an officer or an employee, in a prosecution of such crime the officer or employee should not be permitted to remain mute on the ground that his testimony would tend to incriminate him.

(6) Accounts of Quasi-Public Corporations. Laws should be enacted requiring all quasi-public corporations to keep their books in collaboration with the committee they serve, and according to a system prescribed by law.

(7) The Undisclosed Sale of News Columns to be a Crime. Laws should be enacted making it a crime for a newspaper to publish as news any matters for which compensation is directly or indirectly paid, or agreed to be paid, unless the fact that such compensation has been paid or agreed to be paid is indicated by some plainly distinguishing mark next to the news so printed. The jury or judge should be given liberal power of inferring complicity from considerations indirectly given. A person paying such compensation should be permitted to recover the consideration given by him, and immunity granted him, if he disclose the crime. A part of the punishment should consist in forbidding the publication of the paper for a period fixed by the judge.

(8) The School System. The trial of Mr. Calhoun disclosed a considerable number of citizens who, when examined under oath as to their qualifications for jury service, complacently declared that they would not convict a man for bribery, however convincing the evidence, if, since his crime, he has successfully broken a strike which was threatening his investments. A system of public education which produces such men m be radically defective in both its ethical and political teaching. It is our believe that no child should be permitted to leave the grammar school until he has had thoroughly instilled into him a strong sense of his obligation to the State to set aside all prejudice or private interest and act as juryman in any case in which he may be summoned. He should be taught that this obligation is sacred, that its performance is the highest kind of public service, outranking the mere physical courage and devotion of a soldier.

It is our opinion that the schools have not kept pace in their ethical instruction with the many complex changes in our commercial organization, due to the universal conduct of business through corporations. Every child should be taught that in all probability he will, for a large period of his life, be an agent for some corporation. He should be taught the elemental facts concerning the workings of the corporate organization, and particularly the location of the immediate responsibility for any wrongdoing with the directors who elect the manager, and the ultimate responsibility of the stockholders, who, in turn, elect the directors. He should be taught that if a disclosure of any impropriety in the relations of the corporation to the State does not receive the attention of the directors, he can make a direct appeal to the stockholders through the agency of the press.

He should be taught that the corporation is a mere creature of the State, and that it as much the duty of the citizen to cry "stop thief" to its attempt to seal a public franchise, as it is to raise the cry when he discovers the treasurer, or any other official, robbing the public of its coin.

No child should be permitted to leave the grammar school without a keen appreciation of the rights of every citizen to good service from public service corporations. He should be instructed what he is to expect from transportation, water, gas, electric, telephone and telegraph companies, and how to make effective his complaint if he does not receive his just due.

Our high schools should deal more specifically with the problems of corporate organization and each year give their quota of trained minds to cope with the sophistries offered to justify fictitious valuations, inadequate service or criminal relations with public officials who have the gifts of franchises.

If it be true, as has been suggested, that the overwhelming preponderance of women among our teachers makes such an addition to the curriculum impracticable, then we submit that the matters are of such important as to warrant the employment of a sufficient number of male teachers of political and business ethics. We do not believe, however, that these problems present any difficulties to the intelligence of women which a proper normal school training cannot overcome.

The struggle against greed and social injustice will not be ended with our generation. Those who come after must continue the battle for the preservation of sane democratic government, and the "vigilance" which is the price of our liberty must be intelligent and organized as well as eternal.


My Dear Mr. Denman:

I have just gone over the report of your committee and heartily approve of the recommendations made at the end thereof.

It is with great regret that on account of my sickness and absence from the city and many of our meetings I am unable to sign the findings. It is not because I disagree with any of them, but because I am unable to either agree or disagree with several, on account of my failure to hear the evidence on which they rest. You do not need to be assured that as far as my connection with the committee is concerned, I have never felt out of harmony with the ideals and aims of my confreres, nor any doubt as to the integrity or sincerity of their purpose.

Yours sincerely,


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