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Unforgettable: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Dare Part 2

THE FALL. On September 1, 1890, while he was in San Francisco on business, John W. Collins’s wife Fannie, daughter Mary, son Johnny, and three others drowned in a boating accident off Point Loma. “Nothing has ever occurred in the history of San Diego County,” wrote the Union, “which made so deep an impression upon all people and drew them together so closely.”

Collins, cashier at the California National Bank, had become one of the city’s most trusted citizens. His “great kindness, quiet, simple, unostentatious manner and unwavering loyalty to San Diego’s interests greatly endeared him to all” (Union). And there was no family more beloved. For days after the accident, strangers formed impromptu prayer vigils on street corners. As he rode south by train, many feared that Collins, the “rock of reliance,” couldn’t withstand the tragedy.

Instead, Collins responded “like one man in ten thousand!” (San Diego Sun). “Few men ever drank a more bitter cup and bore it with so much fortitude.”

A year later Collins — who, some say, never recovered from the loss of his family — again boarded a train from San Francisco to San Diego, this time to face public havoc: California National Bank, where he had become president, was closing its doors “temporarily.” Deposits had dwindled, and the bank, a Gibraltar amid rapid economic erosion, couldn’t back its notes or assets.

A crowd formed around a handwritten note taped to the window. A man read the note aloud and, when others arrived, read it again. What’re their liabilities? Temporarily? Where’s management? Fists pummeled the stately double-doors. When no one came out, a man shouted, “What about the other banks?” Investors scattered.

The day before California National closed, vice president David Dare went to Europe. He had to leave the health-seeker’s mecca, he claimed, “on account of its climate.” He took wife Adele and, the bank discovered later, $200,000 in embezzled funds.

On November 13, the Cheyenne National Bank of Wyoming, also managed by Collins and Dare, shut down. Hearing of the San Diego failure, its largest depositors demanded their money. Cash on hand vanished in an hour. “The entire fault rests with Collins,” wrote the New York Times, “to notify [the bank] that there was trouble in San Diego.” The Cheyenne National cashier, a man named Beard, committed suicide. Townsfolk read the act as a confession of guilt.

California National closed officially in February 1892. Projects that Collins and Dare had funded, including San Diego’s first cable-car system and the Fisher Opera House, folded, along with stores and other apparently stable businesses. Families lost life savings overnight, and San Diego dove into a depression, writes Jerry MacMullen, “which made the 1930s look like a pink-tea affair.”

Less than a month after California National closed, George Golden walked to the end of the Spreckels wharf. Earlier that day, he told a friend, “Sometimes I feel like jumping into the bay and saying, ‘Here goes nothing.’ ” On the advice of a Wells Fargo clerk, as the local economy crumbled, Golden put his life savings in California National. He lost everything. Golden sat at the wharf’s edge and read a handful of letters. After he finished one, he slowly tore it up and watched the fragments flutter in the breeze. Around 5:00 p.m., Golden put a pistol in his mouth and pulled the trigger.

“San Diego is a good place to stay away from,” a note in Golden’s small diary read. “Nothing but swindlers of any use in this cursed place. I served in the Navy during the war, and was at the taking of Richmond. I lost $1300 in that bank, one hour before it closed.”

Seen in hindsight, David Dare’s sleights of hand grew clearer, then obvious. He had always been a Mr. Hyde to Collins’s Dr. Jekyll. Dare, who had the persuasive skills of an orator, promised “wildcat” loans and interest-bearing certificates at 12 percent. He offered prospective shareholders an option: when California National got on its feet, he would repurchase shares at 110 percent of the sales price. And when California National overextended itself, Dare grabbed funds he’d been embezzling for several months and hopped a ship to Europe for his “health.”

As Dare and wife Adele crossed the Pacific, the New York Times reported years later, he tried to throw her overboard. Adele escaped, hid out, and took the first steamer west. To reenter the U.S. without being arrested, Adele obtained immunity from prosecution. She moved to Colorado Springs, got a divorce, and shunned the spotlight. But over the years, bits of information trickled from her. Collins had lent Dare the money to build a castlelike structure on Cheyenne’s “Millionaire’s Row.” Dare, a photographer and sign-painter, had possessed only $7000 when he came to San Diego. A rumor, also attributed to Adele, alleged that her husband “ran out” on Collins.

Dare fled to Italy, grew a long beard, and schemed his way through Egypt, the Holy Land (and may have built the first railroad from Jericho to Jerusalem), and Greece, where he ran a prosperous rug business. Dare died a wealthy man in Athens in December 1909. He always denied being a fugitive from justice.

And Collins? San Diegans couldn’t believe he’d commit such a swindle. “From what I know of the situation,” the Sun quoted an unnamed investor, “I am sure that Mr. Collins will be able to clear himself of any complicity in the loss of the $200,000.”

D.C. Collier, former president of the bank: “The disaster is simply due to a liberal management which stopped at nothing for the benefit of San Diego.”

Collins couldn’t believe it either. Pallid and dejected, he told a reporter that “During my absence from the city, someone set afloat a malignant rumor among the Eastern stockholders that Mr. Dare had fled to Europe, and I to Australia.” Investors panicked. The bank closed, as did Collins and Dare’s savings-and-loan in the same building, which allegedly had $277,000 on its books but only $6250 on hand.

On February 23, 1892, after Collins finished breakfast at the Brewster Hotel, U.S. marshal George Gard led him into a parlor. Out of the public eye, Gard placed Collins under arrest for “abstracting” $200,000 from California National and defrauding investors.

“I have nothing to say about this unexpected trouble that has come upon me,” a strained Collins told reporters. “I am perfectly at ease as to the outcome, and when called upon for my explanation am satisfied I can give one that will exonerate me from the charges preferred.”

Collins would face a grand jury in Los Angeles the first week of April. Since Collins couldn’t pay the $50,000 bail, Gard chose not to lock him in jail, where his life could be threatened. Trusting that he wouldn’t try to escape, Gard confined Collins to his suite at the Brewster, a posh, wood-frame-and-brick structure at the southeast corner of Fourth and C, two blocks up from the bank.

Though he knew Collins wouldn’t flee, Gard searched the sitting room, bedroom, and bathroom of suite 39 for weapons. He inspected the thick moquette carpet, leather sofas, and handsomely carved chiffonier and mantel. He halted before the life-sized, smiling portraits of Fannie, Mary, and John, and understood why an entire city had mourned their loss. On a stand near a window overlooking Fourth Street, a little knot of blue ribbon — most likely Mary’s — served as a bookmark for Byron’s poetry.

Finding no weapons, Gard stationed deputy marshal J.F. Rebling outside the door.

Interviewed on February 27, Collins told reporters that the 12 percent interest-bearing certificate was a falsehood. All certificates were much lower and issued with full knowledge of the entire bank’s management. He added that he had never taken a single dollar from California National: “All I ask from those who have undoubtedly suffered by the suspension of the bank is that they not pass judgment until the facts are fully known.”

To show good faith, Collins signed his life insurance policy — $85,000 — over to the bank to repay investors.

On Thursday morning, March 3, Collins learned that his preliminary hearing would be postponed until March 15. Relieved, he had lunch at the Brewster with attorney general William H.H. Hart, who’d come from Washington DC to investigate the case, and brigadier general E.J. Murray, a newcomer to San Diego. Collins, one leg over the arm of a high-backed chair, listened to their tales of the Civil War with rapt attention.

At ten minutes after 1:00, Gard entered: Collins must go to Los Angeles “on the 2:40 train. Pack your bag.”

Gard didn’t say why. Collins assumed it meant prison. He begged George O’Brien — the bank’s cashier suspended for unnamed infractions — to try again to raise bail money and urge Gard to postpone the departure.

Asked how he felt, Collins replied, “Oh, about as well as could be expected.”

He went to his rooms on the third floor to pack a valise. “I haven’t taken my drink of whiskey,” he told deputy Rebling. Collins poured two fingers into a glass, then went into the bathroom — presumably to splash the drink with tap water — and locked the door.

Judge T.K. Wilson, Collins’s attorney and close friend, met Rebling in the corridor. As Wilson asked where Collins was, they heard a blunted crack.

Rebling raced in: sitting room, empty; bedroom, no. With his shoulder, Rebling bulldozed the bathroom door off its hinges. He found Collins on his back next to the bathtub. Blood streamed from his mouth into an expanding scarlet pool. His right hand clutched a smoking, ivory-handled .38 revolver. His body made a slight tremor, then was still.

Minutes after Wilson and Rebling found Collins, George O’Brien returned to the hotel, out of breath with good news: Marshal Gard agreed not to hurry Collins. They could go to Los Angeles the next day, or even the day after. Instead of prison, Gard would arrange for a Brewster-like confinement. “Had [Collins] waited five minutes,” wrote the Union, “he might have been well.”

Collins, in a black business suit, had sat down on the floor. He stuck the muzzle into his mouth, pointed upward, and fired, “causing death instantly” (Sun). “There was not the slightest evidence of a death struggle. How Collins secured possession of the revolver is yet a mystery.”

Collins had two heavy, old-style pistols, his monogram, “J.W.C.,” engraved under the cylinder. He kept one at the bank. The night before the attempt, George O’Brien said he was worried about Collins’s state of mind. So, O’Brien asked for the other pistol. Collins gave it to him “with some reluctance.”

“I haven’t the least idea how he secured that pistol,” Rebling told reporters. “One thing I do know: it was not in any pocket of his clothes that hung in the rooms, unless it was placed there by some outside party just prior to the suicide.”

Rebling swore he searched the suite “almost constantly for fear someone might leave something [he’d use] in case of extremity. I was anxious to take no chances.”

Rebling had guarded Collins for several days. “I cannot say that he was crazy, but he acted very strangely.” Irate investors had sent death threats. He feared some “crank” would try to murder him or his friends.

“It was a hard matter for me to keep him away from…his troubles,” Rebling added. “He has gone over the whole transaction from beginning to end so often that I have it by heart.”

When Rebling changed the subject, Collins returned to the bank’s failure and his innocence. “He said when the people understood the matter they would pity rather than blame him.” Collins remained convinced that the bank would come around and he’d be president again. He only referred to his drowned family once, “and then he choked up so completely he could not proceed.”

Dr. Fred Baker arrived at the Brewster, accompanied by deputy coroner Stetson. A crowd, shocked that Collins had attempted suicide, gathered in the hotel’s rotunda. They discussed Collins, wrote the Union, “in hushed voices. Men who had previously denounced him in bitter words now spoke kindly.”

Dr. Baker brushed past a handful of men in the hall outside suite 39. When he entered the bathroom, the sight saddened him: had unthinkable suffering finally shattered the “rock of reliance”? Baker unbuttoned Collins’s vest and felt for a pulse. A moment later, he came out: “We can do nothing for him, gentlemen, he is beyond all human aid. He is quite dead.”

Next time: Or was he?

QUOTATIONS:
1. San Diego Sun, March 2, 1892: “So far, so bad.”
2. Elizabeth McPhail: “Of the eight banks in San Diego in 1889, five went out of business in the early Nineties.”
3. San Diego Union, March 4, 1892: “What bitter thoughts of deserting friends, crushed ambitions, and hopes deferred flashed through [Collins’s] mind as he crossed the threshold of death, no one knows but himself and his God, to whom he has by this time told his story.”

SOURCES:
Driese, Don, “Land Boom Palace,” San Diego Historical Society Quarterly, vol. 2, number 2, April 1956.
Dumke, Glenn S., The Boom of the Eighties in Southern California, San Marino, 1944.
Hensley, Herbert, “Memoirs,” ms, vol. v, San Diego Historical Society archives.
Kushner, Howard I., American Suicide, New Brunswick, 1991.
MacMullen, Jerry, “High Finance in the 1890s,” Southwest Corner, San Diego, 1964.
McPhail, Elizabeth, The Story of New San Diego and of its Founder Alonzo E. Horton, San Diego, 1979.
Smith, Walter Gifford, The Story of San Diego, San Diego, 1892.
Smythe, William E., History of San Diego, 1542–1908, San Diego, 1908.
…articles in the San Diego Union, the San Diego Sun, the San Diego Bee, the Los Angeles Times, and the New York Times.


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THE FALL. On September 1, 1890, while he was in San Francisco on business, John W. Collins’s wife Fannie, daughter Mary, son Johnny, and three others drowned in a boating accident off Point Loma. “Nothing has ever occurred in the history of San Diego County,” wrote the Union, “which made so deep an impression upon all people and drew them together so closely.”

Collins, cashier at the California National Bank, had become one of the city’s most trusted citizens. His “great kindness, quiet, simple, unostentatious manner and unwavering loyalty to San Diego’s interests greatly endeared him to all” (Union). And there was no family more beloved. For days after the accident, strangers formed impromptu prayer vigils on street corners. As he rode south by train, many feared that Collins, the “rock of reliance,” couldn’t withstand the tragedy.

Instead, Collins responded “like one man in ten thousand!” (San Diego Sun). “Few men ever drank a more bitter cup and bore it with so much fortitude.”

A year later Collins — who, some say, never recovered from the loss of his family — again boarded a train from San Francisco to San Diego, this time to face public havoc: California National Bank, where he had become president, was closing its doors “temporarily.” Deposits had dwindled, and the bank, a Gibraltar amid rapid economic erosion, couldn’t back its notes or assets.

A crowd formed around a handwritten note taped to the window. A man read the note aloud and, when others arrived, read it again. What’re their liabilities? Temporarily? Where’s management? Fists pummeled the stately double-doors. When no one came out, a man shouted, “What about the other banks?” Investors scattered.

The day before California National closed, vice president David Dare went to Europe. He had to leave the health-seeker’s mecca, he claimed, “on account of its climate.” He took wife Adele and, the bank discovered later, $200,000 in embezzled funds.

On November 13, the Cheyenne National Bank of Wyoming, also managed by Collins and Dare, shut down. Hearing of the San Diego failure, its largest depositors demanded their money. Cash on hand vanished in an hour. “The entire fault rests with Collins,” wrote the New York Times, “to notify [the bank] that there was trouble in San Diego.” The Cheyenne National cashier, a man named Beard, committed suicide. Townsfolk read the act as a confession of guilt.

California National closed officially in February 1892. Projects that Collins and Dare had funded, including San Diego’s first cable-car system and the Fisher Opera House, folded, along with stores and other apparently stable businesses. Families lost life savings overnight, and San Diego dove into a depression, writes Jerry MacMullen, “which made the 1930s look like a pink-tea affair.”

Less than a month after California National closed, George Golden walked to the end of the Spreckels wharf. Earlier that day, he told a friend, “Sometimes I feel like jumping into the bay and saying, ‘Here goes nothing.’ ” On the advice of a Wells Fargo clerk, as the local economy crumbled, Golden put his life savings in California National. He lost everything. Golden sat at the wharf’s edge and read a handful of letters. After he finished one, he slowly tore it up and watched the fragments flutter in the breeze. Around 5:00 p.m., Golden put a pistol in his mouth and pulled the trigger.

“San Diego is a good place to stay away from,” a note in Golden’s small diary read. “Nothing but swindlers of any use in this cursed place. I served in the Navy during the war, and was at the taking of Richmond. I lost $1300 in that bank, one hour before it closed.”

Seen in hindsight, David Dare’s sleights of hand grew clearer, then obvious. He had always been a Mr. Hyde to Collins’s Dr. Jekyll. Dare, who had the persuasive skills of an orator, promised “wildcat” loans and interest-bearing certificates at 12 percent. He offered prospective shareholders an option: when California National got on its feet, he would repurchase shares at 110 percent of the sales price. And when California National overextended itself, Dare grabbed funds he’d been embezzling for several months and hopped a ship to Europe for his “health.”

As Dare and wife Adele crossed the Pacific, the New York Times reported years later, he tried to throw her overboard. Adele escaped, hid out, and took the first steamer west. To reenter the U.S. without being arrested, Adele obtained immunity from prosecution. She moved to Colorado Springs, got a divorce, and shunned the spotlight. But over the years, bits of information trickled from her. Collins had lent Dare the money to build a castlelike structure on Cheyenne’s “Millionaire’s Row.” Dare, a photographer and sign-painter, had possessed only $7000 when he came to San Diego. A rumor, also attributed to Adele, alleged that her husband “ran out” on Collins.

Dare fled to Italy, grew a long beard, and schemed his way through Egypt, the Holy Land (and may have built the first railroad from Jericho to Jerusalem), and Greece, where he ran a prosperous rug business. Dare died a wealthy man in Athens in December 1909. He always denied being a fugitive from justice.

And Collins? San Diegans couldn’t believe he’d commit such a swindle. “From what I know of the situation,” the Sun quoted an unnamed investor, “I am sure that Mr. Collins will be able to clear himself of any complicity in the loss of the $200,000.”

D.C. Collier, former president of the bank: “The disaster is simply due to a liberal management which stopped at nothing for the benefit of San Diego.”

Collins couldn’t believe it either. Pallid and dejected, he told a reporter that “During my absence from the city, someone set afloat a malignant rumor among the Eastern stockholders that Mr. Dare had fled to Europe, and I to Australia.” Investors panicked. The bank closed, as did Collins and Dare’s savings-and-loan in the same building, which allegedly had $277,000 on its books but only $6250 on hand.

On February 23, 1892, after Collins finished breakfast at the Brewster Hotel, U.S. marshal George Gard led him into a parlor. Out of the public eye, Gard placed Collins under arrest for “abstracting” $200,000 from California National and defrauding investors.

“I have nothing to say about this unexpected trouble that has come upon me,” a strained Collins told reporters. “I am perfectly at ease as to the outcome, and when called upon for my explanation am satisfied I can give one that will exonerate me from the charges preferred.”

Collins would face a grand jury in Los Angeles the first week of April. Since Collins couldn’t pay the $50,000 bail, Gard chose not to lock him in jail, where his life could be threatened. Trusting that he wouldn’t try to escape, Gard confined Collins to his suite at the Brewster, a posh, wood-frame-and-brick structure at the southeast corner of Fourth and C, two blocks up from the bank.

Though he knew Collins wouldn’t flee, Gard searched the sitting room, bedroom, and bathroom of suite 39 for weapons. He inspected the thick moquette carpet, leather sofas, and handsomely carved chiffonier and mantel. He halted before the life-sized, smiling portraits of Fannie, Mary, and John, and understood why an entire city had mourned their loss. On a stand near a window overlooking Fourth Street, a little knot of blue ribbon — most likely Mary’s — served as a bookmark for Byron’s poetry.

Finding no weapons, Gard stationed deputy marshal J.F. Rebling outside the door.

Interviewed on February 27, Collins told reporters that the 12 percent interest-bearing certificate was a falsehood. All certificates were much lower and issued with full knowledge of the entire bank’s management. He added that he had never taken a single dollar from California National: “All I ask from those who have undoubtedly suffered by the suspension of the bank is that they not pass judgment until the facts are fully known.”

To show good faith, Collins signed his life insurance policy — $85,000 — over to the bank to repay investors.

On Thursday morning, March 3, Collins learned that his preliminary hearing would be postponed until March 15. Relieved, he had lunch at the Brewster with attorney general William H.H. Hart, who’d come from Washington DC to investigate the case, and brigadier general E.J. Murray, a newcomer to San Diego. Collins, one leg over the arm of a high-backed chair, listened to their tales of the Civil War with rapt attention.

At ten minutes after 1:00, Gard entered: Collins must go to Los Angeles “on the 2:40 train. Pack your bag.”

Gard didn’t say why. Collins assumed it meant prison. He begged George O’Brien — the bank’s cashier suspended for unnamed infractions — to try again to raise bail money and urge Gard to postpone the departure.

Asked how he felt, Collins replied, “Oh, about as well as could be expected.”

He went to his rooms on the third floor to pack a valise. “I haven’t taken my drink of whiskey,” he told deputy Rebling. Collins poured two fingers into a glass, then went into the bathroom — presumably to splash the drink with tap water — and locked the door.

Judge T.K. Wilson, Collins’s attorney and close friend, met Rebling in the corridor. As Wilson asked where Collins was, they heard a blunted crack.

Rebling raced in: sitting room, empty; bedroom, no. With his shoulder, Rebling bulldozed the bathroom door off its hinges. He found Collins on his back next to the bathtub. Blood streamed from his mouth into an expanding scarlet pool. His right hand clutched a smoking, ivory-handled .38 revolver. His body made a slight tremor, then was still.

Minutes after Wilson and Rebling found Collins, George O’Brien returned to the hotel, out of breath with good news: Marshal Gard agreed not to hurry Collins. They could go to Los Angeles the next day, or even the day after. Instead of prison, Gard would arrange for a Brewster-like confinement. “Had [Collins] waited five minutes,” wrote the Union, “he might have been well.”

Collins, in a black business suit, had sat down on the floor. He stuck the muzzle into his mouth, pointed upward, and fired, “causing death instantly” (Sun). “There was not the slightest evidence of a death struggle. How Collins secured possession of the revolver is yet a mystery.”

Collins had two heavy, old-style pistols, his monogram, “J.W.C.,” engraved under the cylinder. He kept one at the bank. The night before the attempt, George O’Brien said he was worried about Collins’s state of mind. So, O’Brien asked for the other pistol. Collins gave it to him “with some reluctance.”

“I haven’t the least idea how he secured that pistol,” Rebling told reporters. “One thing I do know: it was not in any pocket of his clothes that hung in the rooms, unless it was placed there by some outside party just prior to the suicide.”

Rebling swore he searched the suite “almost constantly for fear someone might leave something [he’d use] in case of extremity. I was anxious to take no chances.”

Rebling had guarded Collins for several days. “I cannot say that he was crazy, but he acted very strangely.” Irate investors had sent death threats. He feared some “crank” would try to murder him or his friends.

“It was a hard matter for me to keep him away from…his troubles,” Rebling added. “He has gone over the whole transaction from beginning to end so often that I have it by heart.”

When Rebling changed the subject, Collins returned to the bank’s failure and his innocence. “He said when the people understood the matter they would pity rather than blame him.” Collins remained convinced that the bank would come around and he’d be president again. He only referred to his drowned family once, “and then he choked up so completely he could not proceed.”

Dr. Fred Baker arrived at the Brewster, accompanied by deputy coroner Stetson. A crowd, shocked that Collins had attempted suicide, gathered in the hotel’s rotunda. They discussed Collins, wrote the Union, “in hushed voices. Men who had previously denounced him in bitter words now spoke kindly.”

Dr. Baker brushed past a handful of men in the hall outside suite 39. When he entered the bathroom, the sight saddened him: had unthinkable suffering finally shattered the “rock of reliance”? Baker unbuttoned Collins’s vest and felt for a pulse. A moment later, he came out: “We can do nothing for him, gentlemen, he is beyond all human aid. He is quite dead.”

Next time: Or was he?

QUOTATIONS:
1. San Diego Sun, March 2, 1892: “So far, so bad.”
2. Elizabeth McPhail: “Of the eight banks in San Diego in 1889, five went out of business in the early Nineties.”
3. San Diego Union, March 4, 1892: “What bitter thoughts of deserting friends, crushed ambitions, and hopes deferred flashed through [Collins’s] mind as he crossed the threshold of death, no one knows but himself and his God, to whom he has by this time told his story.”

SOURCES:
Driese, Don, “Land Boom Palace,” San Diego Historical Society Quarterly, vol. 2, number 2, April 1956.
Dumke, Glenn S., The Boom of the Eighties in Southern California, San Marino, 1944.
Hensley, Herbert, “Memoirs,” ms, vol. v, San Diego Historical Society archives.
Kushner, Howard I., American Suicide, New Brunswick, 1991.
MacMullen, Jerry, “High Finance in the 1890s,” Southwest Corner, San Diego, 1964.
McPhail, Elizabeth, The Story of New San Diego and of its Founder Alonzo E. Horton, San Diego, 1979.
Smith, Walter Gifford, The Story of San Diego, San Diego, 1892.
Smythe, William E., History of San Diego, 1542–1908, San Diego, 1908.
…articles in the San Diego Union, the San Diego Sun, the San Diego Bee, the Los Angeles Times, and the New York Times.


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