Monday, September 9, 2013

Mystery Monday, Part 6: What Happened to H. Jay Hanchette? - continued

This is part 6 of my series on the mysterious disappearance of H. Jay Hanchette in 1891.  Parts 2, 3, 4, and 5 addressed the tragedies befalling Hanchette's  father, wife, brother-in-law, and son respectively.  Now it's time to revisit H. Jay's story.

News about his disappearance in May 1891 pretty much dried up by October of that year.  A Los Angeles newspaperman, Robert J. Farrell, claimed to have seen Hanchette in 1894 and 1897, but nothing came of those reports.  (Farrell committed suicide just a few weeks later in 1897.)

from the Omaha [NE} Morning World-Herald, August 25, 1897, page 2, via

Charles Dwight Willard, a longtime associate of Hanchette and friend of his family, who took over as secretary of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce after Hanchette's disappearance, wrote A History of the Chamber of Commerce of Los Angeles, California: From Its Foundation, September, 1888, to the Year 1900 in 1899.  In it, Willard stated  (pages 187-188):

From that day [of his disappearance] to this, there has never been a clue to his whereabouts, nor has any adequate explanation ever been offered as to the cause of his disappearance.  Not the slightest suspicion of anything discreditable was ever attached to him, for he was a man of sterling character and correct habits.  His domestic relations were of the happiest.  Various individuals have since claimed to see Mr. Hanchette, but their testimony when sifted down has been found to be frivolous.  The theory now most generally accepted is that he was killed by thugs and his body destroyed.

However, privately Willard thought differently.  According to Suffering in the Land of Sunshine: A Los Angeles Illness Narrative by Emily Abel (Rutgers University Press, 2006), in a July 12, 1891, letter to his father, Willard said (page 49):

Hanchette had been "in secret a spend thrift and a fool about money matters."  Although not "exactly dishonest," he conducted his affairs in a "dishonorable" way.  "When he went away things were in a hopeless snarl with him and he had not the courage to come back and face them."

According to Donald Ray Culton's dissertation Charles Dwight Willard: Los Angeles City Booster and Professional Reformer, 1888-1914 (University of Southern California, via ProQuest, UMI Dissertations Publishing, 1971, pages 46-47), when Willard took over as Chamber of Commerce secretary after Hanchette's disappearance,

Minutes of the [chamber of commerce] directors' meetings taken by Hanchette were brief and careless; financial records were snarled; the bank account was overdrawn by $500; membership dues had not been collected; and ... two chamber employees ... had been spoiled hopelessly by the carefree attitude of the inefficient administrator.  Capping the problems was a debt amounting to approximately $2300.

In a June 15, 1899 article about Hanchette's son Earl murdering his wife, the Los Angeles Herald discussed the elder's disappearance on page 5:

Two theories concernlng the fate of Hanchette have had, and still have, adherents. The first is that he was murdered in Chicago for the purpose of robbery and his body sunk in the lake; the second, that the missing man carefully disguised himself, and, having dropped his identity and destroyed all traces by which he might be followed up, went to South America, foot loose and free, to recommence existence again under an assumed name. This theory is not an improbable one, as Hanchette's day dreams invariably took that form, and he would harp upon that sole subject with his intimates at any time.

I thought it interesting that an unnamed source - maybe Willard? - speculated the same thing in an article on page 6 in the same newspaper on June 12, 1891 (via Chronicling America):

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