Francis J. Heney

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Francis J. Heney
Francis J. Heney
Francis J. Heney
Born (1859-03-17)March 17, 1859
Lima, New York
Died October 31, 1937(1937-10-31) (aged 77)
Santa Monica, California
Occupation Attorney, District Attorney, Arizona Attorney General, U.S. District Attorney for the District of Oregon
Known for Killing of John C. Handy in self-defense; prosecution of politicians in the Oregon Land Fraud scandal and the San Francisco graft trials
Spouse(s) Rebecca Wentworth McMullin; Edna I. Van Winkle

Francis Joseph Heney (March 17, 1859 Lima, New York – October 31, 1937 Santa Monica, California) was a lawyer, judge, and politician. In 1891 while an attorney in Tucson, Arizona Territory, he defended the abused wife of John C. Handy, who threatened to kill him. When Handy attacked Heney, Heney shot and killed Handy in self-defense. Heney served as Attorney General of the Arizona Territory between 1893 and 1895. He was the chief prosecutor of the Oregon Land Fraud scandal from 1904 to 1910 and served as U.S. District Attorney for the District of Oregon from January 9 to December 3, 1905. He prosecuted corrupt San Francisco politicians from 1906 to 1908. He ran for the U.S. Senate from California on the Progressive Party ticket in 1914.

Personal life[edit]

He grew up in San Francisco where his family relocated in 1863. He worked in his father’s furniture and carpet store while attending high school at night and, later, taught night school while attending the University of California during the day. After graduation, he moved to Idaho where he served as principal of a high school, but soon realized it was not his calling. He returned to San Francisco, enrolled in law school, and became a member of the bar in 1883.

In 1884, health problems brought him to the Arizona Territory. During the next four years, he ran a cattle business with his brother Ben, and operated the trading post at Fort Apache. In 1889, he moved to Tucson. He married Rebecca Wentworth McMullin on November 17, 1906 in San Francisco. After Rebecca died in 1911, he married Edna I. Van Winkle on February 13, 1915. Edna Van Winkle had managed Heney's campaign for the U.S. Senator from California the previous year on the Progressive ticket. He lost the election to Democrat James Phelan.[1]

The Handy case, 1891[edit]

Dr. John Christopher Handy, a skilled and beloved physician, treated his patients with considerably more kindness than he did his wife. Eight years younger than her husband, Mary Ann Page Handy was a fragile woman with serious health problems. After 11 years of marriage and the birth of five children, the relationship between the doctor and his wife was a shambles. Not infrequently, John’s dark side emerged, and Mary Ann suffered the brunt of his violent temper. She confided to friends that she was constantly abused, and in 1888, she filed for divorce. But reacting to the doctor’s ire, she quickly dropped the suit. The following year, John dispatched the four oldest children to his mother's home in Oakland. He then filed for divorce – and he let it be known that he would kill any attorney who dared defend Mary Ann. Those who knew John knew it was no idle threat. Intimidated lawyers refused to represent Mary Ann. Francis Heney was not among them. When he agreed to become her attorney, John Handy said to a court clerk, "I will kill him! Mary Ann is a morphine fiend and a common slut. She does not deserve [representation]."

In fact, it was well known that the doctor was having an affair with another woman, and that he kept his wife on morphine. It was known as well, that he often chained her to a bedpost when he was away from home. On September 28, 1891, Heney emerged from the courthouse with a lunch hour crowd. Unbeknownst to him, John Handy was waiting across the street. Near the corner of Pennington and Church Streets, Handy attacked the much smaller Heney.[2] The Tombstone Epitaph wrote: "A pistol cracked, the men grappled and fell to the ground. A deputy sheriff dashed [to] the spot where the two were struggling for possession of the gun. Other officers were there in almost no time. Then one of the contenders jumped to his feet and ran toward the courthouse ... for the first time we ... recognized the hurrying man as Frank Heney."

During the melee, Heney reached into his coat pocket for a pistol he carried for protection. Handy struggled for possession of the weapon and, whether by his hand or Heney's, the gun went off. A bullet lodged in the doctor’s abdomen, and hours later, while "Gunfighter Surgeon" Dr. George Goodfellow operated, Handy died. Immediately following the shooting, Heney surrendered to authorities. After a lengthy hearing it was determined that he had acted in self-defense and he was exonerated.[2] Remarkably, a warm friendship developed between Francis Heney and John C. Handy, Jr., son and namesake of the man Francis killed in self-defense. When the aged attorney died in 1937, the younger Handy served as a pallbearer at his funeral.[3]

Heney was Attorney General of the Arizona Territory between 1893 and 1895. He then returned to San Francisco where he opened a civil practice.[4]:p19

The Oregon land fraud trials, 1905[edit]

Heney was asked by U.S. Attorney General Philander Knox to serve as the Special Assistant to the U.S. Attorney General's office in Oregon. While there he brought to justice 33 people who had pillaged the federal lands, state school lands, and the timbered resources of the Siletz Indian Reservation in a series of trials known as the Oregon land fraud scandal. The "King of the Oregon land fraud ring", Stephen A. D. Puter, wrote in his prison cell Looters of the Public Domain (1908), a tell-all book with portraits of his co-conspirators and copies of documents confirming their criminal acts.

Heney's prosecutions cleaned out many of the personnel of the General Land Office. He twice indicted but failed to convict Binger Hermann, former Commissioner of the General Land Office in Washington, D.C.. He obtained prison sentences for U.S. Senator John H. Mitchell, Congressman John N. Williamson, and Oregon District Attorney John Hicklin Hall, though Mitchell died during his appeal, Williamson's conviction was overturned by the United States Supreme Court,[5] and Hall was later pardoned by President William Howard Taft.[6]

He served as United States District Attorney for Oregon from January 9 to December 5, 1905.[7]

The San Francisco graft prosecution[edit]

Political boss Abe Ruef of San Francisco on his way to San Quentin State Prison after he was convicted in the San Francisco Graft Trial of 1907-1908.

While in Oregon, he was approached by Rudolph Spreckels, president of the First National Bank, and Fremont Older, editor of the San Francisco Bulletin, who promised to put up $100,000 to finance an investigation of corrupt city officials, and asked him to come as soon as possible to San Francisco to help investigate and prosecute. Older went to Washington, D. C. and got President Roosevelt to agree to lend special federal prosecutor Heney to the San Francisco District Attorneys office. In April 1906 he was a member of Mayor Schmitz's Committee of Fifty that tried to manage the city during the crisis following the big earthquake and subsequent fire, but the earthquake delayed the graft prosecution for only a short time.

On October 24, 1906, San Francisco D.A. William H. Langdon appointed Heney Assistant D.A. The next day, Acting Mayor James L. Gallagher, who as the Chairman of the Board of Supervisors ran the city while Mayor Schmitz was traveling around Europe – suspended D.A. Langdon for "neglect of office" and appointed Abe Ruef Acting District Attorney. Ruef then wrote to Heney: "You are hereby removed from the position of Assistant District Attorney of the City and County of San Francisco." Heney said he did not recognize Ruef as D.A. At 2.a.m. the following morning, Judge Seawell signed an order temporarily restraining Ruef from installing himself as district attorney.

Heney prosecuted Mayor Eugene Schmitz and political boss Abe Ruef for bribery. While examining prospective jurors Heney had publicly revealed the fact that one man on the panel, Morris Haas, was ineligible because he had many years earlier served a term in San Quentin Prison. Heney did not need to humiliate Haas publicly in this way; he did so in anger, believing that Ruef was trying to plant the man on the jury. Haas deeply resented Heney’s action and brooded over it for many weeks. While the trial was in temporary recess, Haas approached Heney in the courtroom, whipped out a revolver, and shot the attorney in the head; the bullet lodged behind the jaw muscles, where a difference of a fraction of an inch in any direction would have produced a fatal wound. Heney was carried away on a stretcher, mumbling, "I’ll get him [Ruef] yet." His place was taken by a bright young assistant named Hiram Johnson, and the trial went on.

Haas was placed in a prison cell with a policeman to guard him; but in spite of these precautions he was found dead the following evening, a small pistol beside him. Those who believed Haas had been hired by Ruef to murder Heney now believed, naturally, that some other gangster in Ruef’s employ had done away with Haas so that he could not talk. The chief of police William J. Biggy was deeply hurt by Heney’s public criticism of him for negligence in the Haas case. Biggy later fell overboard from a police launch during a nighttime crossing of San Francisco Bay, a possible suicide.

Heney did not die from his wound, as he had been expected to, and some days later the trial was concluded. Detective Burns had given Johnson the names of four jurors who, Burns said, had been bribed, and in his summation Johnson called each of them by name, pointed a forefinger at him, and shouted: "You – you dare not acquit this man!" Nevertheless, when the jury retired for its deliberations everyone expected that it would let Ruef go, or would disagree, as had happened in almost every other case growing out of the graft prosecution.

While the jury was out Heney telephoned Older to say that he was much recovered, and proposed to come down and pay his respects to the judge. Older, with his usual flair for the dramatic, told Heney not to come until the editor gave the signal. While most of the community was by now against the prosecution, there was a minority on the side of honesty, which had organized a League of Justice pledged to help at a moment’s notice. Older now hastily sent word to dozens of these men, who came and crowded into the courtroom, which was directly under the chamber in which the jury was deliberating.

Evelyn Wells, in her biography of Older, tells what happened when Heney entered the courtroom on Older’s arm: "The 'minutemen' raised a shout of welcome. Older himself trumpeted like a bull elephant. The rest of the crowd joined in. … It was a cheer of welcome, but to the scared jury on the floor above it sounded like a bellowed demand for lynching. A few minutes later twelve men good and true filed hurriedly into the courtroom. They had hastily made up their minds. All were deathly white. Some trembled. A few were weeping." But their verdict was "Guilty", and Ruef was sentenced to fourteen years in prison.

Of all the sentences meted out to leading figures in the whole course of the prosecution, it was the only one that was made to stick. Another municipal election was approaching, and Langdon, the weary and battered district attorney, refused to run again. He was discouraged, with good reason: a key witness, the supervisor who had paid off his fellows on Ruef’s behalf [James Gallagher], had fled the country. In desperation, Heney himself ran for district attorney, and was defeated by a football hero from Stanford University, Charles Fickert, whose liaison with the grafters was notorious. Fickert promptly and contemptuously refused to go on with any of the pending cases against the big businessmen. He pretended not to know the whereabouts of the supervisor who had fled, although everyone else knew that he was rusticating in Vancouver, British Columbia.[8] William P. Lawlor, the honest judge who had presided in several of the cases, excoriated Fickert and ordered the others to trial; but he was overruled by the court of appeals, which decided that all of the large number of remaining indictments should be quashed. The graft prosecution was over, having ended in almost total failure, with only Ruef in prison."[9]

Other activities[edit]

In 1912 he was a Delegate to the Republican National Convention from California.

In 1914 he ran for the U.S. Senate as a Progressive but lost to Democrat James D. Phelan.

In 1921 he acted on behalf of B. H. DeLay during the controversy with C. E. Frey about the ownership of the DeLay Airfield.


  • Bean, Walton, Boss Ruef's San Francisco. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1952.
  • Puter, Stephen A. D., Looters of the Public Domain (1908).


  1. ^ "Francis J. Heney Marries". New York Times. February 14, 1915. Retrieved 23 May 2013. 
  2. ^ a b When Law Was in the Holster: The Frontier Life of Bob Paul. University of Oklahoma Press. September 28, 2012. p. 386. ISBN 9780806187723. Retrieved May 24, 2013.  |first1= missing |last1= in Authors list (help)
  3. ^ W. Lane Rogers, Arizona Capitol Times, Nov 3, 2006.
  4. ^ Hichborn, Frank (1915). The System. San Francisco: The James H. Barry Company. Retrieved June 6, 2013. 
  5. ^ "Williamson-Gessner Fraud". Oregon History Project. Retrieved 2007-03-23. 
  6. ^ "List of Politicians Who Were Pardoned". The Political Graveyard. Retrieved 2007-06-27. 
  7. ^ Tatom, Oliver. "Francis J. Heney". The Oregon Encyclopedia. 
  8. ^ Fickert was notorious for his handling of the 1916 Preparedness Day Bombing case and was defeated for District Attorney in 1919. He died in 1937.
  9. ^ Bruce Bliven: The Boodling Boss and the Musical Mayor in American Heritage Magazine, January 1959.

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