Friday, July 1, 2011

Champion Lonely Hearts Swindler, Clara Farnum - 1941

FULL TEXT: John Hawkins, a young farmer, resided in central Iowa. He had a large tract which he worked on scientific principles, and as a result earned a considerable profit. He was up-to-date in all of his undertakings and managed his farm with the precision and accuracy with which a trained business man might conduct a large enterprise in any of the great cities of the United States. His dwelling was thoroughly modern, with steam heat, electric light and the latest improvements, he owned an automobile and altogether enjoyed himself much more than if he been a millionaire, with little to do except worry over his investments. But in spite of his apparently enviable condition, Hawkins was not entirely satisfied. He longed for a wife, but none of the girls in that part of the country seemed to measure up to specifications. Those whom he liked would not have him and those who would have him he did not like.

One Sunday afternoon he was in his room musing over his lonely life and wondering if he would have to live it to the end in single blessedness. At that psychological moment his eyes happened to rest upon a Chicago newspaper that had been brought to his house by a visitor. He turned the pages aimlessly and presently began to scan the advertising section where he noticed a “personal” which read as follows:

A young woman, not unattractive, with means of her own but rather lonely, would like to get into correspondence with a gentleman who has means and who possesses a congenial disposition and is not over 50 years of age. Object matrimony. Address J. I. C., General Delivery, Post Office, Princeton, Ind.

Yielding to the impulse, he wrote a letter to the unknown advertiser, stating that he wanted a wife and would consider it a favor if she would be good enough to send him her photograph, together with some information concerning her family connections.  He felt some hesitancy in writing this communication, but his growing hunger for a companion and helpmate was greater than his natural modesty. He realized also that he was running a certain risk in doing his wooing in such an unconventional manner, but this sense of precaution also failed, to turn him from his purpose. He mailed the letter and impatiently awaited a reply.

It came without delay. The missive was written in a school-girl hand and told young Harkins the things he wanted to know. The writer said she was young and of good family and would be glad to have him call and see her at his convenience. She enclosed a photograph. It was the picture of a very attractive girl with bright eyes and dimpled cheeks.

Having gone this far, Harkins did not hesitate to take the final plunge. He visited, Princeton, Ind., and called on the young woman who gave the name of Clara Farnum. She opened the door in response to his ring of the bell, and the moment he saw her it was a case of love at first sight.. She ushered him into the parlor and warned him with many blushes that he must not her father know that they had become acquainted through a medium of a newspaper advertisement. She said that it was a girlish prank, but that after meeting him she did not regret her action.

Before he left, Harkins was duly presented to Mr. and Mrs. Farnum and also to Olga, the sister of Clara. That visit was the first of many, and before he had finished with the affair. Harkins had presented his lady-love with a diamond ring, valued at several hundred dollars, a gold watch and some Iowa State bonds worth $5,000. After that Miss Clara promptly threw Harkins over and refused to give him back his “presents.” John in turn appealed to the authorities, but they could do nothing because they were unable to prove that the valuables had been obtained under false pretenses.


However, U. S. Postal Inspector Hare, who felt that the family was conducting courtship on a wholesale scale, put a watch on the house in hope of getting the needed evidence. One morning when the mail was particularly heavy the inspector seized it, much to the consternation of Clara and the other members of the family.

The sequel was one very common to the annals of the United States Postal Service. Harkins was the 49th suitor that Clara had accepted. The evidence on which to convict her for misuse of the mails was overwhelming. The father, mother and sister all pleaded not guilty, and stoutly asserted that they had nothing to do with the fraudulent scheme. Clara Farnum alone took the whole blame for the business and, on being taken into court, was promptly convicted.

Inspector Hare characterized her enterprise as one of the most extensive matrimonial swindles ever undertaken in the United States. He said that there was always a scramble at the Farnum house whenever mail arrived, as the first member of the family to open a package or letter kept any personal trinket which it contained. Some of the prospective bridegrooms sent diamond bracelets, diamond rings and railroad tickets. All of this went into the family fund and while each one of the household benefitted by the swindle, it was Clara Farnum alone who was made to suffer the penalty of the law.

[Vance Wynn, “Mail Love Racket Blasted – U. S. Postal Inspector Nabs Girl Who Swindled 49 Suitors.” Toledo Blade (Oh.), Feb. 12, 1941, Peach Section, p. 2]



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