Cover image for The Kansas City investigation : Pendergast's downfall, 1938-1939
The Kansas City investigation : Pendergast's downfall, 1938-1939
Hartmann, Rudolph H.
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Publication Information:
Columbia : University of Missouri Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
ix, 191 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
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F474.K257 H37 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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The long reign of Kansas City political boss Thomas J. Pendergast came to an end in 1939, after an investigation led by Special Agent Rudolph Hartmann of the U.S. Department of the Treasury resulted in Pendergast's conviction for income tax evasion. In 1942, Hartmann's account was submitted to Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau, Jr., in whose papers it remained for the past fifty-six years unbeknownst to historians. While researching the relations between Pendergast and Franklin D. Roosevelt, Robert H. Ferrell came across Hartmann's landmark report--the only firsthand account of the investigation that brought down the greatest political machine of its time, possibly one of the greatest in all of American history.

Reading like a "whodunit," The Kansas City Investigation traces Pendergast's political career from its beginnings to its end. As one of America's major city bosses, Pendergast was at the height of his influence in 1935-1936 when his power reached not merely to every ward and precinct in Kansas City but also to the statehouse in Jefferson City and Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. It was during this time that the boss took a massive bribe--$315,000--from 137 national fire insurance companies operating within Missouri, opening him to attack by his enemies.

Early in 1938, an official in the Washington headquarters of the Bureau of Internal Revenue, a former Missourian, quit his job to accept private employment, but not without first tipping off a reporter from the Kansas City Star about Pendergast's bribe. The reporter immediately phoned Lloyd C. Stark, the governor of Missouri and a known enemy of Pendergast. Stark then went to Washington to inform President Roosevelt. Although the president had been a supporter of Pendergast, he now considered Stark a more important political ally. Roosevelt asked the Treasury Department to investigate Pendergast's income taxes. The intelligence unit of the Treasury Department put Hartmann, its best operative, on the case. Within a year, after the most minute of inquiries into checkbooks, serial numbers on currency, a safe-deposit box, and a telegraphed transfer of $10,000, Hartmann and his agents found enough evidence to convict Boss Tom.

More than a simple account of what the Roosevelt administration did to cause the collapse of the Pendergast machine, The Kansas City Investigation takes the reader through the ups and downs, twists and turns, of this intriguing investigation, all from an insider's perspective. More important, Hartmann's report provides historians and readers alike the opportunity to evaluate the machine era in American political history--an era that, according to the investigation, "proved the old axiom that truth is stranger than fiction.'"

Author Notes

Robert H. Ferrell is Professor Emeritus of History at Indiana University in Bloomington. He is the author or editor of numerous books, including Collapse at Meuse-Argonne: The Failure of the Missouri-Kansas Division and Meuse-Argonne Diary: A Divison Commander in World War I, both available from the University of Missouri Press. Ferrell resides in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Readers suffering scandal withdrawal could do worse than sample the goodies Ferrell, an emeritus history professor from Indiana University, Bloomington, has dug up on the collapse of the Pendergast machine in Kansas City in the late '30s and the difficult campaign Harry Truman faced in 1940, trying to keep the Senate seat that ultimately led him to the White House. The subject of Truman and Pendergast has been covered in the late president's biographies. In this narrower study, Ferrell concentrates on Truman's working relationship with Pendergast and on the difficult 1940 senatorial primary. Drawing on the Truman Library and oral histories of many of the people involved, Ferrell brings to life the political battles of another era and adds nuance to the portrait of the redoubtable Harry Truman. The "new news" here is the Hartmann volume: the report that agent Hartmann submitted to Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau Jr. in 1942, which lay unnoticed in the voluminous Morgenthau papers for more than 50 years. Hartmann's report describes the nature of Pendergast's rule and the corruption that sent him to jail (kickbacks on the settlement of a dispute involving fire insurance premiums); readers may be most interested in its tale of the process by which investigators circled Pendergast, gathering evidence against associates before closing in on the key operator. --Mary Carroll

Choice Review

Hartmann, a Treasury Department agent, chronicled the Department's investigation of Tom Pendergast and the members of his political machine in 1939. Ferrell, author of Truman and Pendergast (CH, Mar'00), found Hartmann's manuscript in the Henry Morganthau papers at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library. The narrative describes in great detail the political corruption that was widespread in Kansas City throughout the late 1920s and '30s. The strength of the work is its straightforward presentation of the facts of the investigation. Hartmann, who headed the probe, spells out the bribery, kickbacks, and violence that plagued Kansas City during the Pendergast years. The machine was broken by scandal, and Pendergast himself was sentenced to Leavenworth prison. The results of the Kansas City investigation shocked the city; Pendergast had pleaded guilty to accepting graft. Along with the "Boss," a number of others were convicted and sentenced, while one Pendergast machine member, E. Schneider, committed suicide. Hartmann's account demonstrates that even the most powerful political machine can be brought to justice. All levels. A. Yarnell; Montana State University

Table of Contents

A Note on the Editingp. ix
Introductionp. 1
One Thomas J. Pendergast and Kansas City Prior to 1939p. 11
Two Conviction of Laziap. 17
Three Further Developments in Kansas Cityp. 25
Four Compromise of Impounded Fire Insurance Premiumsp. 27
Five Developments Prior to Investigationp. 32
Six Investigation of the Activities of Charles R. Streetp. 35
Seven Investigation of the Income Tax Liability of A. L. Mccormackp. 50
Eight Investigation of the Income Tax Liability of Thomas J. Pendergastp. 58
Nine Admissions by Mccormack and First Indictment of Pendergastp. 67
Ten Robert Emmet O'Malleyp. 90
Eleven Indictment of Jordan, Admissions by Schneider and Matheus, and Amended Indictment of Pendergastp. 97
Twelve Arraignment, Tragedy, and Pleas of Guiltyp. 100
Thirteen Charles V. Carrollop. 105
Fourteen Harry and William Rosenbergp. 112
Fifteen Henry F. Mcelroyp. 118
Sixteen Otto P. Higginsp. 132
Seventeen Dixie Machinery and Equipment Company, Boyle-Pryor Construction Company, Missouri Asphalt Products Company, John J. Pryor, William D. Boyle (Deceased)p. 140
Eighteen Rathford Engineering Companyp. 148
Nineteen Matthew S. Murrayp. 154
Twenty The Grand Jury, the United States Attorneyp. 160
Twenty-One Conclusionp. 163
Appendixp. 167
Notesp. 173
Further Readingp. 183
Indexp. 187