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

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

Why was that odd? Because there was no evidence that Charles Hansen’s father, Henry, died prior to 1908.

Marriage license application for Charles Hansen

Charles Hansen, ca. 1897
[Family photo collection]

Despite searching a variety of records, I had not found an obituary, death record, or burial permit for Charles Hansen’s father, Henry C. Hansen.

Even stranger was the fact that Henry Hansen wasn’t mentioned as the “dearly deceased spouse” of my great-great-grandmother in her 1933 obituary [2].

The lack of evidence and vital records 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 the political turmoil in the news, but I just 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 ancestors. Very peaceful, very calm…yes, so relaxing!

Through it all, though, 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 historian’s voice was undeterred. The Bass family will have to wait. Maybe I’ll find Henry’s death date at some point, but that doesn’t matter right now.

Because the rest of Henry’s story? Well, it’s pretty darn fascinating.

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

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

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]. While DNA testing helped to solve some of the mystery surrounding Henry’s lineage, on paper, he disappeared prior to the 1910 census. Oh sure, his wife stated she was widowed at that time, 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 in 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

The Fuller case was heard by Judge Theodore Brentano in 1902 [6]

In late 1901, Fuller was indicted along with Bentley’s partner, J.S. Murray [7]. Judge Theodore Brentano ordered Bentley to produce the company’s books as evidence in the case, but Bentley feared self-incrimination and refused the judge’s order. That stunt earned the erstwhile businessman a fast-pass to the county jail, where he was held in contempt of court [8].

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 [9].

It’s not surprising that the company with this sudden interest in Hansen was run by politicians who were on Fuller’s good side. Perhaps that is why detectives were then 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 that he 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” [10].

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.”

That ledger had, of course, disappeared, leaving no evidence of Fuller’s guilt [11].

Perhaps the saddest thing of all is that the paper trail for Henry Hansen ended with a Chicago Tribune article from 21 May 1902 [12]. 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, and his fate remains a mystery. I hope to someday discover what became of him, and perhaps write an ending to his story.

For now, though, it is enough to know that Henry Hansen 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 31 May 2018 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, see
  5. “Local,” The Chicago Daily Tribune, 1 Jun 1901, p. 1, col. 1. Retrieved 1 Mar 2019 from
  6. Judge Theo. Brentano, 1/31/22, By National Photo Company Collection. Public domain image retrieved 21 Feb 2023 from Library of Congress:
  7. “More of Fuller Scandal,” The Chicago Daily Tribune, 20 May 1902, p. 7, col. 2. Retrieved 2 Jun 2018 from
  8. “Bentley Must Show Books Or Be Sent To Jail Today,” The Chicago Tribune, 22 May 1902, p. 16, col. 2. Retrieved 21 Feb 2023 from
  9. “Watch the Fuller Witnesses,” The Chicago Daily Tribune, 25 Apr 1902, p. 2, col. 6. Retrieved 8 Mar 2018 from
  10. “More of Fuller Scandal,” The Chicago Daily Tribune, 20 May 1902, p. 7, col. 2. Retrieved 2 Jun 2018 from
  11. “Cole is Defeated by Court’s Ruling,” The Inter Ocean, Chicago, Illinois, 12 Dec 1902, p. 3, col. 4. Retrieved 13 Apr 2017 from
  12. “Alert in the Fuller Case,” The Chicago Tribune, 21 May 1902, p. 13, col. 2. Retrieved 4 Mar 2020 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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