Monday, August 17, 2009

The remarkable self-destruction of Frank R. Crocker

That big white building yonder, just down South Grand from the First Baptist Church education wing, is Fielding Funeral Home.

Built by Frank R. Crocker in the 19th century as an expression of his aspirations, it was not the grandest house in Chariton --- but close. After Frank's dramatic fall, it passed through a couple of owners before it was acquired by Sam and Edith Beardsley and turned by them into one of southern Iowa's first really well designed and appointed funeral homes. Keith Fielding expanded it. Clark and Maureen Fielding own and operate it now.

I had thought I might preach here for a while on the topic of lessons that can be learned from the Crocker disaster, using as my text an accumulation of newspaper reports I've edited and arranged into what seems to me a logical sequence. But now I think I'll just let you read the reports if you will and figure out the morals involved yourself. There may be a quiz.

Although nearly everyone in Lucas County was affected by Frank Crocker's fall, two connected families were affected the most and fell the greatest distance. One consisted of Annie Ogden Mallory, widow of Smith Henderson Mallory, the only grandee Chariton ever had, and their daughter, Jessie (Mallory) Thayer.

The other family was that of Crocker himself, the Mallory family’s right-hand man for more than a quarter of a century and vice-president and cashier of the Mallory bank, First National. His wife was Mary Elizabeth (Arnold) Crocker; there were five children.

The bank, one of southern Iowa’s largest with assets in excess of $1 million, was forced to close its doors early Thursday, Oct. 31, 1907, when the body of Frank, who had killed himself with an overdose of morphine (with a side of cyanide in reserve), was discovered in his home, now the funeral home, by a friend and business associate, C.R. Kirk. The Mallory women, who owned 90 percent of the bank’s stock and were its principal officers although in name only, were en route to Egypt when disaster struck. Informed of the situation in Naples, they returned home as quickly as was possible in those days.

With the bank in the hands of federal receivers, investigation revealed that Frank had used bank assets to speculate disastrously and incurred monumental losses. The bank’s closure created financial difficulties for most Lucas Countyans, rich and poor and in between, and resulted in a saga that continued for years as the bank’s receiver worked tirelessly to recover funds to be distributed to depositors for cents on the dollar.

Chariton lost in addition to a heck of a lot of money both the Crockers, who moved to Minneapolis soon after Frank’s death; and Annie Mallory and Jessie Thayer, who moved to Orlando, Florida, after agreeing to turn all their assets in Lucas County, including their mansion, the Ilion, over to the government in return for government suspension of lawsuits against them in excess of $500,000. The Crockers and the Mallorys were the focus of extreme bitterness and a lot of anger. They could not go home again.

The following combines edited reports from The Chariton Patriot, where the most objective reporting of the situation among Chariton’s three newspapers is found; The Chariton Herald, the most sympathetic to Frank R. Crocker; and a brief and bitter report from The Chariton Leader regarding transport of the Crocker remains from Chariton to Minneapolis.

News of Failure Follows That of the Suicide of Cashier Crocker.
Nothing is Known as to its Magnitude
The Chariton Patriot, Thursday, 7 November 1907

Lucas County’s most powerful financial institution, the First National Bank of Chariton, has gone to the wall. It closed its doors last Thursday, and is now in the hands of a receiver. The effect of the happening can be better imagined than described.

Following closely, as it did, the suicide of Frank R. Crocker, the cashier, the failure caused no surprise. The news of Crocker’s tragic death, early last Thursday morning, falling like a thunder bolt from a clear sky, excited the gravest suspicions in the minds of our people. Why had he taken his own life? What did it all mean? Then it was learned that the bank examiner had come to town the evening before. The fears of the people were further aroused; excitement mounted high. The doors of the bank apparently remained closed because of the cashier’s death, but later in the day the examiner posted a notice on the doors stating that the institution was in the hands of the comptroller of the currency. The bank had gone to the wall.

The crash stunned the people. Depression and gloom settled upon the community. All about on the streets stood men in groups subduedly discussing the calamity. Men with minds preoccupied and with faces downcast and serious passed each other without speaking. Others, optimistically inclined, attempted to put on a bold front and to cheer up their disconsolate friends.

The extent of the failure can only be imagined. No information has come from those who are busily at work in the investigation behind the locked doors of the bank. Bank examiner, H. M. Bostwick, who was on the ground and took charge, has been appointed receiver for the defunct bank. He is assisted in the work of investigation by Bank Examiner Shaw, and Assistant Cashiers Clarence Blake and W. B. Beem. Meanwhile an anxious public awaits, with bated breath, almost, the outcome of the investigation.

The capital stock of the bank was $50,000; surplus, $30,000. According to the last statement, issued August 22, the total resources of the bank amounted to $1,060,437.18. The deposits at that time were $915, 830.34. There were many individual deposits of large sums. Lucas county’s deposit amounted to over $50,000, secured by cashier’s bond. Mr. Crocker also had $300,000 of the funds of the Modern Woodmen of America, secured by personal bond. The bondsmen in each case are people of wealth and friends of the cashier in this county. The burden of making good these sums will fall upon them. In the case of the M.W.A. funds, the bondsmen declare that Mr. Crocker told them that he had released them from their liability and had obtained bond from a bonding company. One man, whose name is said to be upon the bond, declares he has no recollection of having signed the bond. Another states that he believed he was signing a bond for $50,000.

When the crash came the only ones in connection with the bank and conversant with the workings of the institution who were on the ground were the assistant cashiers, W. B. Beem and G. C. Blake. Mrs. Anna L. Mallory and her daughter, Jessie M. Thayer, president of the bank, both of whom are directors, and who own nearly every dollar’s worth of stock in it, were on the ocean en route to Cairo, Egypt, to spend the winter. They were reached by cable at Naples Monday morning and told of the terrible affair. The other directors are Alfred Goodwin, cashier of the Russell bank, and A. D. Gray, county recorder; and former bookkeeper in the First National. As to Messrs. Beem and Blake, the suicide of the cashier and failure of the bank was to them as great a shock as to all others. So far as they could have knowledge the affairs of the bank were in perfect condition. The bank balances had been growing of late; the usual amount of currency was on hand and so far as they knew, nothing indicated that anything was wrong. In one of the notes left behind by the dead cashier he stated that he alone was responsible for the condition of affairs.

The result of the investigation will come from the comptroller of the currency at Washington, D.C. Until he makes the report public we can only wait and hope. How long it will take to complete the investigation is not known. That the report will be made soon is the hope of all. The suspense pending the result of the investigation will keep business in a very unsettled condition.

The First National Bank of Chariton was organized in 1870, with S.H. Mallory as President and Edward A. Temple as cashier. The First National succeeded the banking house of F. W. Brooks & Co., afterwards owned by Lyman Cook & Co. and was under the management of Mr. Temple until 1884 when he was succeeded by F. R. Crocker, as cashier. It was always regarded as one of the conservative, well managed banks of the state, its deposits as early as 1884, reaching nearly a quarter of a million and increasing to nearly a million as shown by the late published bank statement. Its business largely represented the substantial progress of the city and county in population and wealth, and was closely identified with every effort to advance the interest of the community which it had in the past so efficiently served.


The news of the death of F. R. Crocker caused a run to be made on the Russell bank last Thursday morning and after some $6,000 had been withdrawn in twelve minutes, the bank closed its doors. Its president, Thomas Brandon, is Lucas county’s richest man, and he declares, that although he and his bank were heavy depositors in the First National, none of his depositors will lose one penny as a result of the failure. It is possible that the Russell bank will reopen. (Braden, he hero of this affair, severely depleted his personal resources to pay all obligations of the Russell bank himself.)

Took His Own Life Rather Than Face Investigation
The Chariton Patriot, Thursday, 7 November 1907

That Frank R. Crocker committed suicide rather than face the disclosures that would come out through an examination of his bank is believed to be the reason for his self-destruction.

The afternoon before his tragic taking-off he told C.R. Kirk, an intimate friend, in a conversation of the coming of the bank examiner; that he was in sore straits financially, and that he dreaded the coming of the bank examination of the bank at this time. He said that in times past he had aided those who were in need, but that now, in his hour of financial want, a return of such favors was denied him. He said he would rather take his own life than to have the bank closed, even temporarily. Mr. Kirk sought to cheer his friend, and upon taking leave of each other, Mr. Crocker remarked that he had pulled out of tight places before and perhaps he could do so this time; he would see what he, “could do tomorrow.” Mr. Kirk says that Crocker was visibly effected and worried, but that he entertained no thought that the situation was such as would lead his friend to kill himself.

It is thought now that the cashier was caught, heavily involved by reason of his speculations suffering through the recent depreciation in stocks; that he had sought to retrieve his losses through the use of other people’s money; had gotten into the financial sea beyond his depth, and because of the prevailing panic, saw no hope of rescue.

He was found dead in bed by Mr. Kirk, who had gone to the Crocker home about six o’clock in compliance with Mr. Crocker’s request, word of which was brought to Mr. Kirk by Miss Emma Powell, the bank’s stenographer. Miss Powell says that Crocker told her the evening before to “telephone Mr. Kirk as soon as she got up the next morning and tell him to come over to the house.” When she reached the office the next morning she found notes and packages addressed to several parties intimately connected with Crocker, in a business way, in his hand-writing. She was fearful that something was wrong, so instead of telephoning Mr. Kirk she hurried to his home and delivered her message. Mr. Kirk went at once and entered the house at a door on the southwest side of the house. He went upstairs to his friend’s room and found him dead. The body was still warm. Nearby was found a bottle containing a portion of morphine. Still asleep in the house, were the dead man’s daughters, Jessie and Mary, and his son, Paul. They were the only members of his household home. The wife and oldest son, Guilford, were in Chicago. His other son, Richard, was in Port Deposit, Maryland, a student at the Tome school. It is evident, from his sending for Mr. Kirk, that he didn’t want to be first found by his children. The door into the vestibule was found to be open and the lock set so if blown shut it would not latch. Beyond doubt the man had so fixed it that Mr. Kirk would find no difficulty in gaining entrance at the early hour.

The coroner, Dr. D. Q. Storie Jr., and Doctors T. P. Stanton, J. A. McKlveen and Guy Larimer were at once notified, as was the daughter, Miss Jessie, and some of the friends. Letters from him addressed to members of his family were found. In them he stated that he died by his own hand; that no one either directly or indirectly, was connected with his death. In one note were the worlds, “I could bear the burden no longer.” The fact that the man came to his death through suicide was so apparent that Coroner Storie felt no necessity to hold an inquest.

Mr. Crocker was at his desk the night before. He spoke to his Assistant Cashier Blake, who was working after hours, expressing his appreciation of Mr. Blake’s zeal in behalf of the bank and the hope that when the new clerk was “broke in” the work would not fall as much upon him. When Mr. Blake was leaving the bank Mr. Crocker bid him good night in his usual cheery manner. The cashier was seen sitting at his desk until quite late. He was probably writing those last letters.

He arrived home after 11 o’clock after paying a visit to his father-in-law S. S. Arnold. His daughter, Jessie, came home soon after and before her father retired. She had been to a party given in the rooms of the Chariton Commercial College by the students of which she was one. She saw on a table a note in her father’s hand writing, addressed to her brother, Guilford. She thought it peculiar that he would write a letter to her absent brother and leave it at home, and wondering, she went to her room and retired. The presence of the note was explained in the horrifying words conveyed to her the next morning.

In one of the notes was the request that his body be taken to Minneapolis for burial in the family burial ground. Copy for a telegram to be sent to Rev. W. V. Whitten, former rector of St. Andrew’s Episcopal church in Chariton who now lives in (Charles City), stated that he desired the rector to accompany the body to its last resting place.

As to what property he left for the maintenance of his family, the Patriot is not informed. It is known that he carried considerable life insurance, estimated at $60,000, and there is the beautiful family residence in Chariton.

Body Was Taken to Minneapolis for Interment
The Chariton Herald, Thursday, 7 November 1907

Among the numerous notes left by Frank H. Crocker to his family and friends last week was the request that he be buried at Minneapolis. To Chas. R. Kirk he wrote, “When you hear of the trouble, help the children at home; and Charlie, a last request I make of you. I want to be buried at Lakewood Cemetery, Minneapolis, in the family lot. Please see that I am. (signed) Frak” And in a dimmer hand, not like his usual dashing penmanship, he wrote, probably has he was dying, on a little slip of paper to Rev. Whitten, former pastor of the Episcopal church here, “Dear Mr. Whitten: I hope you can come and go to Minneapolis. (signed) F.R.C.”

According to his last wishes, brief funeral services were held at the Crocker home here on Sunday afternoon at 2:30 o’clock, and that afternoon the family, accompanied by C.R. Kirk and Bert Beem, with J.A. Brown accompanying as far as Albia, left on No. 4 for the last sad rites in the city of the dead at Minneapolis where Mr. Crocker’s father and mother lie buried. There Rev. Whitten spoke the final words that consigned to earth the remains of Frank R. Crocker.

The services at the home here were very largely attended, and were brief but impressive. Lavish floral offerings draped the darkened bay window, where lay the body of the dead banker, perfect as life in his last sleep. Rev. Hakes and Rev. Whitten, who came from Charles City, spoke the short service, while music was contributed by a quartet composed of Misses Willie Brown and Josie Swift and Messrs. Caughlan and Hakes. Mrs. Sue Whicher sang a solo, “Face to Face.”

After the large company had filed through the rooms for a last look at their townsman, the procession moved to the depot. Messrs. Clarence Blake, Willard Beem, Ed Lockwood, C.R. Kirk, Will Eikenberry and L H. Busselle acting as pall bearers. Mrs. Stebbins, a sister of Mr. Crocker, had come from Minneapolis and Chas. Collins, a brother-in-law, had also come from there, and they accompanied the family on their sad mission.

Frank Richard Crocker’s life story may be briefly told. He was born in Galena, Ill., to Richard and Nellie Crocker, on May 18, 1857, where they lived until 1868, when they moved to Chicago. There young Frank attended Wentworth Academy, and later worked for John V. Farwell & Co. Later he came to Iowa, working as book keeper and salesman at Marshalltown and later at Des Moines, In 1875 he came to Chariton, and in 1878 entered the First National Bank as errand boy. He worked his way up through all the offices until he was virtually manager of all the affairs of the bank, his office being vice president and cashier, Mrs. Mallory retaining the office of the president formerly held by her husband, the late S.H. Mallory. He was married to Mary Elizabeth Arnold of this city, on May 24, 1888, and five children, all living, were born to them. Guilford, the oldest, is aged 21 years and is just regaining strength after two years of spinal injury that kept him in bed most of the time. Jessie is aged 19, Richard 18, Paul 12 and Mary 8 years. Besides the relatives here, three sisters, Mrs. Stebbins, Mrs. Collins and Mrs. Lamb, live in Minneapolis. Richard was attending school at Fort Deposit, Md., and Mrs. Crocker and Guilford were visiting in Chicago, when news reached them of the death of Mr. Crocker. Mrs. Crocker’s sister, Mrs. Shannon, and her son accompanied them home from Chicago.

Little need be added by by us concerning the character of Frank Crocker. He was known to everyone in the county, and in every other county and every state in the union, it might be said, his friends were numbered by the score. He was a rare man in many was. From an ordinary bank he built, by the force of his great personality alone, the First National Bank into one of the most powerful institutions in the state. A bank with a million dollars of deposits is no common thing in a town of 5,000 people, with no large business concerns to swell the deposits. Nearly all of the deposits of the First National were the savings of people of ordinary means. The trust that was reposed in him by the people of Lucas county was more than they realized, until after he was gone. He was the guiding hand to all things and his influence reached through every channel of business in Lucas county. Closely associated with his bank was the Russell bank, which has also closed its doors. He was partner with G.W.Larimer in the Chariton Land and Trust Company, with L.F. Maple in the insurance business, and with C.R. Kirk in the Percheron Importing Company. Besides these, he was a heavy stockholder in the Chariton Telephone Company, and was backing several other business enterprises in the city.

In all works of charity and helpfulness Mr. Crocker was a leader. He was one of the chief supporters of the work of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, and gave liberally to all other churches, large or small. His business judgment was almost unerring, all who sought advice profited by the best he had to give. When all else about him is forgotten, his great kindness, his gentlemanly bearing to everyone, his cheerfulness at all times, and his lavish generosity to all needy cases, will be remembered. And it was those remembrances that brought together the large assemblage of citizens and visitors from other communities, some come from as far as Chicago, to pay their respects of the memory of the dead at the services at the house last Sunday afternoon.

The Chariton Leader, Thursday, November 7, 1907

After all what a leveler death is. When the metallic box holding the remains of the late F.R. Crocker, was taken to the train on Sunday evening it was placed in the dingy baggage car and in the hurry in loading the balance of the express, the wrestler piled a lot of packages upon it and thus the train started. This was not in accord with the accustomed dignity of Mr. Crocker when he traveled, but the expressman seemed to be no respecter of persons.

1 comment:

Ken said...

Fascinating. Definitely gives you a sense of what Chariton was like over a century ago.