These days, terrorist attacks are…if not common, expected to happen at some point. It’s the crazy world we now live in, but in 1910, it wasn’t quite so common. Nevertheless, on October 1, 1910, there was a massive explosion that destroyed the Los Angeles Times building in the LA’s downtown area. The bombing killed 21 people and injuring many more. Harrison Otis, who was the Los Angeles Times publisher and a bitter opponent of unions, believed that the bomb was directed at him. So, he hired William J Burns, the nation’s top private detective to find out who the culprits were. Otis, in addition to printing numerous editorials against unions, was the leader of the Merchants and Manufacturing Association, which was a powerful group of business owners, all of whom had extensive political connections.

The investigation led Burns to the Bridge and Structural Iron Workers Union and their treasurer, John J McNamara. Burns personally arrested McNamara and his brother in Indiana in April 1911, after Burns got a confession out of Ortie McManigal. It seems that McManigal had allegedly been the intermediary between McNamara and two bomb experts. Burns had no legal authority to arrest anyone, but he did so, and managed to get the brothers to California, where they were scheduled to be prosecuted.

As is typical, and even expected, the Union members and left-wing supporters all rallied around the McNamara brothers. They raised a large defense fund, and union representatives pleaded with Clarence Darrow to take the case. Darrow was well known as the best defense attorney in America. He had already managed to get “Big Bill” Haywood, the union leader of the Industrial Workers of the World, off on murder charges in Idaho a few years earlier. After being offered $50,000, Darrow reluctantly took the case. Public opinion supported the McNamara brothers, but the investigation Darrow performed was quickly turning up evidence to prove that the brothers were actually guilty. To make matters worse, members of the defense team tried to bribe the jury, just to keep up with the prosecution’s own bribery tactics. In the end, Darrow worked out a deal with Otis and the prosecutors that the brothers would plead guilty to escape the death penalty, which they did. It was the best he could do for them.

Still, this plan was not acceptable to either side, and Darrow got caught in the middle. Darrow was soon charged with bribery, and Otis arranged for Darrow’s prosecution. The union immediately deserted the great defense lawyer…not only did they refuse to pay his fee for the McNamara case, but they also refused to assist in his defense. Thankfully for Darrow, Earl Rogers, who was a notorious drunk, but also a brash, formidable, and effective Los Angeles attorney, took Darrow’s case. True to his reputation, Rogers managed to secure a mistrial for Darrow. Later, Darrow was acquitted after a second trial. Undaunted, Darrow went on to try even more distinguished cases, including the Leopold and Loeb murder trial and the Scopes evolution trial. Still, I doubt if any trial stood out in his memory quite as much as the trial that almost cost him his freedom.

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