by Paul R. Spitzzeri
In early January 1905, John Downey Harvey, nephew and heir of longtime Alcatraz Island claimant, former California governor John G. Downey, received a detailed Abstract of Title on the island from a San Francisco abstract company, based on records located in that city.
Based on that matter of source material, the record starts in 1854, eight years after the grant of Alcatraz to William Workman (which he subsequently transferred to his son-in-law, F.P.F. Temple) and seven years after Temple executed an agreement with acting military governor John C. Frémont, an act invalidated by the United States government in its subsequent court-martial of Frémont.
That initial reference was a suit against Frémont by the banking firm of Palmer, Cook and Company due to his default on a loan totaling nearly $75,000, a very large sum at the time. In November 1854, as noted in an earlier part of this post, a sheriff’s sale led to the sale of Frémont’s interest in the island for $500 to Edward Jones, one of the firm’s partners. In February 1856, Jones assigned the certificate of sale to William C. Palmer, the company’s principal figure, this obviously being pre-arranged.
At the same time as the sheriff’s sale, however, Frémont sold to Palmer’s brother, Joseph, his interest in any specific equities (funds or other assets) deriving from the redemption of the island for $1,000. This was followed by William assigning his power of attorney over all of his real estate to Joseph—this obviously involving Alcatraz.
Then, after news reached Los Angeles in early 1856 of Palmer, Cook and Company’s interest in claiming Alcatraz, William H. Palmer executed a deed in February 1857 giving his interest in the island back to Frémont. Clearly, the intention was for the firm to get back what it loaned to Frémont, but reserving Alcatraz for him through the legal means mentioned above.
Next in the list of title proceedings was a 15 January 1858 deed from F.P.F. Temple to his wife Antonia Margarita Workman de Temple, but “entered into at the request of William Workman,” for a half interest in Alcatraz. This is an interesting element, because it seems somewhat akin to the Fremont/Palmer transactions in that the interest in the island was reserved to the two men, but legally transferred to others, though probably for different reasons.
In other words, Frémont was in financial trouble, as he often was, and sought to preserve his interest and claim on the island. As illustration of Frémont’s consistent lack of funds, the abstract contains several transactions in which he deeded his interest in the island, these occurring in the late 1850s, the mid-1870s, and the early 1880s. Why Workman chose to transfer his interests to his son-in-law and then, through F.P.F. Temple, to his daughter, might have been for the financial benefit of them and their children.
Significantly, one of the witnesses to this 1858 transaction was William W. Jenkins, who had the document recorded in 1880 after he was sold a third of Mrs. Temple’s interest in the island along a third going to her son, John H. Temple, that December (that transaction appears in the abstract.)
Jenkins was in the good graces of the Workman and Temple families from early on as demonstrated by his acting as a witness in the execution of the deed and the fact that he was, at least initially, F.P.F. Temple’s estate administrator and recipient of an Alcatraz interest over two decades later.
That same day, F.P.F. sold the other half of his interest to John G. Downey, this meaning that, in 1860, when the two men and Frémont agreed to pursue a claim using Downey’s son-in-law, William H. Harvey, as their agent, Temple’s interest was really the one he’d deeded over to his wife two years prior.
In June 1891, Antonia Margarita Workman de Temple deeded her one-third interest in Alcatraz to her eldest son, Thomas, who was then editor of the Spanish-language newspaper, La Crónica, in Los Angeles. It was, however, not recorded until November 1892, months after both Mrs. Temple and Thomas died in a flu epidemic which also claimed the life of Mrs. Temple’s mother, Nicolasa Workman.
This transaction is why lawyer Edmund Burke, hired to represent John H. Temple, Jenkins and Angelo K. Moropoulos in 1902, made reference to “widow Temple” in one of his letter to Jenkins. Nettie Friend was Thomas Temple’s wife and inherited his interest in Alcatraz acquired from his mother.
Next on the abstract’s list of documents was John Downey’s deed in 1893 of one-third of his interest, derived from his 1858 agreement with F.P.F. Temple, to Jenkins, though this document was not recorded until about two weeks after Downey’s death in March of the following year.
With his interests acquired from Downey and Antonia Margarita Workman de Temple, Jenkins then brought Maropoulos into the Alcatraz matter in June 1902, setting off the most pronounced flurry of activity on an attempted claim yet. As we saw in yesterday’s part, however, it quickly descended into acrimony as Maropoulos and Burke locked horns, leading to the latter only working with Jenkins.
As also noted in the most recent part of this post, John H. Temple then deeded 5/6 of his interest to his wife Anita Davoust, while the other 1/6 was transferred to Jenkins’ wife, Olive.
Meanwhile, the brouhaha between Burke and Maropoulos continued to be expressed in letters between the lawyer and Jenkins, including further reference, in one missive from the end of February 1903, in which Burke insisted that Maropoulos, through the latter’s lawyer, furnish an affidavit explaining his interest in Alcatraz. For this, Burke stated, Maropoulos demanded $500 from him, a request that was “preposterous.” The attorney continued,
I don’t care to have a client like the Greek and I am so ashamed of my connections with him that up to date I have taken all proceedings in the name of yourself and Mr. Temple. The papers [concerning the island and given to him in 1902] are in Washington, but I will be quite pleased to formally dispose of the matter at your earliest convenience.
In November 1904, however, another letter from Burke to Jenkins was sent, in which the lawyer suggested that “it might be well if you could induce the Greek to have me turn the records over to Mr. J. Downey Harvey,” perhaps because Harvey was more of a disinterested party. When Burke added, “I can’t do anything in the present condition of affairs & I think a good deal of money could be recovered,” he seemed to imply that the papers would not go back unless a successful claim was prosecuted and he was paid for his work.
This was followed in August 1905 by another note that Burke was contacted by Harvey, who said that he would deliver papers to Jenkins given to him by Burke and that the above-mentioned Abstract of Title was also to be sent on.
Maropoulos finally acted in regard to Burke by sending a notarized letter in February 1906, requesting the lawyer to forward the original 1846 grant and map to Jenkins and that, in so doing, he was “released of all obligations to me of whatsoever nature and kind, and I likewise released from all obligations to yourself of any nature or kind.” The same wording was employed in a letter from John H. Temple, as well.
At the end of 1906, Burke communicated with Charles S. McKelvey, an attorney who was the witness in the Moropoulos letter, and explained to him that there was “some little delay in [the] Alcatraz matter, but I expect to get the situation in shape shortly.” He then added that, in looking over his expense accounts, he noted that he spent “upwards of Ten hundred dollars only to get stopped at the crucial moment by the orders of Maroupoulos [sic].”
Burke went on to say that he’d made two visits to San Francisco and one to Washington, D.C. and said, “I dislike to be hurried in view of the act there is very little chance for me to be reimbursed.” As pointed out before, the terms of the 1902 agreement between him, Jenkins, Temple and Moropoulos were very clear that he was to be paid for any work done only from proceeds of a successful claim, but Burke’s angle said that a claim was not possible because of the interference and demands of “The Greek.”
In June 1907, Burke sent a missive to Jenkins to state that
It has been conveyed to me that if I don’t return to the Greek the papers in the Alcatraz Grant Matter that litigation will ensue. I don’t exactly understand the movement but while I am anxious to get rid of the papers and the matter, and that, too, as soon as possible, I do not want to do anything that will be in violation either of my duties or my rights . . . but, after my labors and expense, you must excuse me if I decline to accept new burdens.
Six weeks later, the lawyer followed with a letter answering Jenkins’ phone call to Burke’s house, saying he was “getting tired” of the delays. The attorney responded in kind: “I am getting tired also & am $600.00 (at least) out to boot.” He claimed that “I am turning the papers over to you as a favor & not because I am compelled to” and moved to another level of rhetoric:
I am closing the matter up in my own way & if you are no content to await the same, I will fall back on my legal rights. I may send you the order today. I may not send it for several days & I do not want my people [family] annoyed in the meantime . . . If it were not for you personally I would not give up the papers to any one until I was fully compensated for my services & my disbursements repaid. Anticipating some[thing] new on [the] part of the greek, I forwarded the papers to my associate ex-Congressman James McAndrews of Chicago Ill. where they are safety stored subject to my order.
A week later, Burke wrote McAndrews, who’d served two terms in Congress from 1901 to 1905 (and later served from 1913-1921 and 1935-1941), requesting him to carefully pack the Alcatraz papers and ship them to Jenkins because “I cannot do anything with the matter and I have finally decided to turn over the papers.”
Jenkins then issued an order on 1 August through Wells Fargo to be delivered to McAndrews for the retrieval and return of the papers, with a handwritten note that the documents contained “the original Title Papers or original expedient and had McKelvey add a letter to certify that the order was placed.
Nothing apparently was heard from the ex-legislator in Chicago and Burke sent a letter in mid-September stating that this was the case, adding that he’d be in the Windy City in December “and will take up my other matters with you at that time.” He did so again a month later, even writing to McAndrews on McKelvey’s letterhead, but, again, to no avail.
Yet, on 11 December, Burke sent an invoice to Moropoulos requesting payment of $600 for the two trips to San Francisco and the one to Washington, D.C., adding “on payment of above bill I will return to you the Alcatraz papers.” In May 1908, the attorney wrote Jenkins:
In order to compromise pending litigation I will, on receipt of one hundred dollars, undertake to within six days deliver to you the Alcatraz Expediente or in future so to do [and] will return the money to you.
The saga continues into a new decade, the 1910s, and we’ll pick up the thread tomorrow!