Tag Archives: William H. Anderson

Fraud, lies and forgery: the John T. King cocktail

30 May

Scandal rocked the temperance movement in 1923 when William H. Anderson, superintendent of the Anti-Saloon League of New York, and the very man who had done so much for the dry cause by ensuring the State Legislature’s ratification of the Eighteenth Amendment, was indicted on charges of grand larceny, forgery and extortion.

Anderson claimed that the League owed him $24,700, a debt supposedly incurred when he had financed a “confidential publicity promotion” out of his own pocket ten years before. Prosecutors alleged that he had coerced O. Bertsall Phillips, a former fundraiser for the organization, to give him a 50% cut on all commissions Phillips earned in excess of $10,000 a year and then cooked the books to cover up the fraudulent transactions.

Despite Anderson’s loud protestations that he was the victim of a “wicked conspiracy of character assassination”, the case was brought to trial. In his defence Anderson maintained that by entering into the arrangement with Phillips he was merely trying to claw back what was rightfully his. But how could a professional scold afford to lend his employers $24,700 in the first place? The money, he explained with a straight face, was the gift of a kindhearted stranger named “John T. King”, about whom Anderson could remember nothing except for the fact that he was 45 years old and the owner of a black moustache. The cash was then apparently spent by three equally mysterious and untraceable individuals, “Henry Mann”, who directed the phantom publicity campaign, and his helpers “Green” and “Johnson” (“Anderson Reveals New Mystery Men and Admits Deceit”, New York Times, 26 January 1924). So implausible was Anderson’s testimony that Assistant District Attorney James Garrett Wallace was moved to poetry. “King, Mann, Johnson and Green,” he doggerelized,

They belong to the realm of the spirits, I ween. / Will some medium lend me a first-class control / To bring back that King and his generous roll? / And if none of the others materialize / I’ll be thankful for King and a wad of good size. / But alas! I’m afraid that no more will be seen— King, Mann, Johnson and Green.

— “Pecora to Grill Anderson on Stand”, New York Times, 27 January 1924.

(Anderson’s tall tale was obviously the last refuge of the scoundrel. One quick-thinking burglar, who was caught stealing bundles of clothes from a laundry, told the detective that he found the items in front of the premises after someone else had made off with several similar bundles. That person, the thief assured the cop, was “King, the fellow that gave Anderson $25,000”.)

Needless to say, the jury wasn’t buying Anderson’s story. He was convicted on charges of forgery in the third degree and received a prison sentence of one to two years. It was an ignominious end to the career of an activist whose “genius in detecting and thwarting the schemes of saloon-men to control officers of justice and corrupt legislatures”, one of his comrades subsequently wrote, conveniently overlooking his recent stay in Sing Sing, “caused his enemies to dread his appearance on any battlefield where trickery was relied upon to prolong the life of the saloon” (Standard Encyclopedia of the Alcohol Problem, vol. 1 [Westerville, OH: American Issue Publishing, 1925], p. 164).

But Anderson’s enemies got the last laugh. His hypocrisy gave the local “wets” an opportunity to prove their bone-dry sense of humour:

“John T. King”, mysterious benefactor of William H. Anderson, convicted head of the New York Anti-Saloon league, may stay forever marooned in the power of missing men, but his memory will go down to posterity.

This was assured when R. W. Merrick, divisional prohibition enforcement head, announced that “King” had gone into the hall of fame occupied by Tom Collins, Three Star Hennessey, Haig & Haig, and other similar supposedly dead but still living characters.

Merrick is investigating the invention and suddenly acquired popularity of the “John T. King cocktail”, which local bartenders are concocting from orange juice, gin, ginger ale, a few drops of “overnight” brandy and a dash and half of absinthe.

— “John King’s Name is Memorialized in Gin Cocktail”, Atlanta Constitution, 31 January 1924, p. 6.

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