The Disappearance of Henry Hansen

By J. L. Starkey

“I have struck a city – a real city – and they call it Chicago. I urgently desire never to see it again. It is inhabited by savages.”

– Rudyard Kipling
Henry Hansen’s son, Charles, around the time of the Spanish-American War [Family photo collection]

The marriage license application looked…odd. My great-grandfather Charles Hansen had written “dead” in the blank asking for the residence of his father, Henry [1].

Why was that odd? Because there was no evidence that Henry Hansen died prior to 1908.

Marriage license application for Charles Hansen

Despite searching a variety of records, I had found no obituary, death record, or burial permit for Henry Hansen. Even stranger was the fact that Henry was not mentioned as the “dearly deceased spouse” of my great-great-grandmother in her 1933 obituary [2].

The lack of evidence bothered me. Had I been careless in my research? What did I miss?

I found my answer…at the courthouse.

Copenhagen to the Cook County Courthouse

Maybe it’s due to all of the political turmoil in the news, but I could not stop thinking about Henry Hansen as I wrote this week’s 52 Ancestors post.

There I was, minding my own business and writing an article about my Powhatan County Bass family ancestors. But through it all, I kept hearing that family-historian-who-loves-a-good-mystery voice whispering, “What about Henry Hansen? Maybe it’s time to tell his story.”

No way. Not Henry Hansen. He vanished before 1908, and I hadn’t even found his death date!

But the voice was undeterred. The Bass family will have to wait. Maybe I’ll find Henry’s death date, but that part doesn’t matter right now. Because the rest of his story? Well, it’s pretty darn fascinating.

Though details are scant, records indicate that Henry Hansen was born in Copenhagen, Denmark, in December 1856, and immigrated to the USA around 1876. He eventually settled in Chicago, where he worked as a bookkeeper and raised a family with his wife, Mary Ann [3].

The Henry Hansen family in the 1900 census [Ancestry image]

The Hansen family was a conundrum from the start. Danish genealogy, with its surnames and patronymics, can be extremely frustrating on the best of days [4]. DNA testing helped to solve some of the mystery surrounding Henry’s lineage, but on paper, he disappeared prior to the 1910 census. Oh sure, his wife stated she was widowed, but I wasn’t falling for that again, given my family’s history of misplacing spouses.

Newspaper searches didn’t yield any clues about Henry’s death, but they did point to what may have led to his disappearance. In the early 1900s, the Citizens’ Association of Chicago sought to clean up political corruption. To that end, they conducted an investigation that led to the 1901 indictment of South Town Collector Henry H. Fuller [5].

John F. Bentley was also implicated in the case, and he fought to clear his name. As partner in the firm of Bentley, Murray, and Company, he was suspected of criminal actions due to Fuller’s $3500 printing bill that was charged to his firm. Bentley’s defense depended upon the testimony of his former bookkeeper, a man who would, he promised, prove that Fuller’s wife had charged personal expenses to a city account.

The case was explosive, and the stakes were high. While the bookkeeper’s testimony could potentially clear Bentley’s name, it could send Henry Fuller to prison.

John F. Bentley, from the 31 Jan 1902 Chicago Daily Tribune

You Can’t Fight City Hall

Henry H. Fuller was, by all accounts, no stranger to shady dealings with taxpayers’ money. However, he had apparently never been held accountable for his dishonest activities. Now that his day of reckoning had finally arrived, Henry Fuller was not going down without a (completely unfair) fight.

Fuller’s first opponent was the bookkeeper who threatened to topple his house of cards. Yes, he set his sights on none other than my great-great-grandfather, Henry Hansen.

Wait a minute.

My ancestor was a key witness in the case to bring down Henry Fuller? But Chicago politics was notorious for its corruption! How noble and brave to fight city hall!

Indeed, how noble, brave, and…risky. This was Chicago in the early 1900s. Did the bad guys ever pay a price for their actions? Maybe they did.

But not this time.

What a Tangled Web He Wove

In late 1901, Fuller was indicted along with Bentley’s partner, J.S. Murray [6]. Bentley was ordered to produce his company’s books as evidence, but he refused to do so out of fear of incriminating himself in the scheme. In January 1902, Bentley was jailed for contempt for his actions.

And the city waited to hear from Henry Hansen.

Chicago Daily Tribune, 25 Apr 1902

By April 1902, disturbing rumors began circulating. Fuller, it seemed, was attempting to persuade witnesses for the prosecution to leave Chicago. Henry Hansen had been “urged” to accept a position with a Beaumont, Texas, oil company [7].

It is not surprising that the company with this sudden interest in Hansen was run by politicians who were on Fuller’s good side. Detectives were ordered to keep a closer watch on key witnesses for the prosecution, including Henry Hansen.

By May 1902, the case had gone to trial while stories continued to circulate that Hansen was being offered “inducements” to leave the city. The secretary of the Citizen’s Association, however, promised that Hansen knew the facts pertaining to the case and would take the stand as scheduled.

No, You Really Can’t Fight City Hall

Chicago Daily Tribune, 20 May 1902

But it was all to be for nothing. By 20 May 1902, news reports indicated that Henry Hansen had left town for a job in the Texas oil fields. Later that year, Henry Fuller was acquitted of all charges; the judge (perhaps fearing for his own safety) instructed the jury “to find a verdict for the defendants” [8].

Where did Henry Hansen fit in with this now-resolved case? He was blamed for this huge “misunderstanding,” with articles noting that the South Town account “…had not been posted in the ledger, as this bookkeeper should have done.”

The ledger had, of course, disappeared, leaving no evidence of Fuller’s guilt [9].

Perhaps the saddest thing of all is that the paper trail for Henry Hansen ended with a Chicago Tribune article from 21 May 1902. In it, the Secretary of the Citizens’ Association stated:

“We have no fear about Mr. Hansen…I am sure he will be ready to take the stand when his testimony is needed.”

The Chicago Tribune, 21 May 1902

By all accounts, Henry Hansen was never seen alive again after May 1902. I hope to someday solve the mystery of his disappearance. For now, though, it is enough to know that he probably would have agreed with 1911 Chicago mayoral candidate Charles Merriam, who said, “Chicago is unique. It is the only completely corrupt city in America.”


  1. Marriage license for Gertrude Baugh, Indiana Marriages, 1811-2007, FamilySearch ( 10 December 2017), Charles H Hansen and Gertrude V Baugh, 05 Dec 1908; citing Porter, Indiana, United States, various county clerk offices, Indiana; FHL Film 1,686,212.
  2. “Hansen,” The Chicago Tribune, Chicago, Illinois, 10 Apr 1933, p. 16, col. 8. Retrieved from
  3. United States Census, 1900, Chicago Ward 31, Cook, Illinois; Page: 15; Enumeration District: 0976; FHL Film: 1240284.
  4. For an overview of Danish naming patterns, a good starting point is
  5. “Local,” The Chicago Daily Tribune, 1 Jun 1901, p. 1, col. 1. Retrieved from
  6. “More of Fuller Scandal,” The Chicago Daily Tribune, 20 May 1902, p. 7, col. 2. Retrieved from
  7. “Watch the Fuller Witnesses,” The Chicago Daily Tribune, 25 Apr 1902, p. 2, col. 6. Retrieved from
  8. “More of Fuller Scandal,” The Chicago Daily Tribune, 20 May 1902, p. 7, col. 2. Retrieved from
  9. “Cole is Defeated by Court’s Ruling,” The Inter Ocean, Chicago, Illinois, 12 Dec 1902, p. 3, col. 4. Retrieved from

7 thoughts on “The Disappearance of Henry Hansen

Add yours

  1. Wow. Wondering what happened to him.
    On Fri, Mar 1, 2019, 4:42 PM Baugh, Bass, and Beyond wrote:

    > J. L. Starkey posted: ” By J. L. Starkey “I have struck a city – a real > city – and they call it Chicago… I urgently desire never to see it again. > It is inhabited by savages.” – Rudyard Kipling Henry Hansen’s son, Charles, > around the time of the Spanish-American Wa” >


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