A massive explosion destroys the Los Angeles Times building in the city’s downtown area, killing 21 and injuring many more. Since Los Angeles Times publisher Harrison Otis, a virulent opponent of unions, believed that the bomb was directed at him, he hired the nation’s premier private detective, William J. Burns, to crack the case. In addition to printing numerous editorials against unions, Otis was the leader of the Merchants and Manufacturing Association, a powerful group of business owners with extensive political connections.
Burns’ investigation led him to the Bridge and Structural Iron Workers Union and their treasurer, John J. McNamara. In April 1911, after Burns got a confession out of Ortie McManigal, who had allegedly been the intermediary between McNamara and two bomb experts, he personally arrested John McNamara and his brother in Indiana. Without any legal authority, Burns also managed to get the brothers to California, where they were to be prosecuted.
Union members and left-wing supporters rallied around the McNamara brothers. After a large defense fund was raised, union representatives pleaded with Clarence Darrow to take the case. Darrow, who was the best defense attorney America had to offer, had already gotten “Big Bill” Haywood, the union leader of the Industrial Workers of the World, off on murder charges in Idaho a few years earlier. Offered $50,000, he reluctantly took the case.
Even though public opinion supported the McNamaras, Darrow’s own investigation was turning up evidence to prove that the brothers were actually guilty. Even worse, members of the defense team were trying to bribe the jury just to keep up with the prosecution’s own bribery tactics. Darrow worked out a deal with Otis and the prosecutors that the brothers would plead guilty to escape the death penalty, which they did.
Nevertheless, this resolution was not satisfactory to either side, and Darrow got caught in the middle. Otis arranged for Darrow’s prosecution on bribery charges, and the union deserted the great defense lawyer. Not only did they refuse to pay his fee for the McNamara case, they refused to assist in his defense. Earl Rogers, a notorious drunk, but also a brash, formidable, and effective Los Angeles attorney, took Darrow’s case.
After a long trial, Rogers secured a mistrial for Darrow, who was later acquitted after a second trial. Darrow went on to try even more distinguished cases, including the Leopold and Loeb murder trial and the Scopes evolution trial.