Update – No Cure for This! The Harris-Binford Affair

By popular demand (that is to say one person, which at this stage means half of my readers), I wanted to do a follow up to my very brief post last Sunday entitled “No Cure For This!,” which was really just an advertisement for one “Prof.” C.W. Harris, who came to Los Angeles in 1899 to relieve the needy of their ailments as well as their cash. Harris offered miraculous cures for all diseases without the nuisance and inconvenience of medicine or surgery. Quite a miracle indeed that a number of people apparently fell for this. But it was a young lady named Claire Binford who seems to have fallen the hardest, running off with him to Arizona and getting arrested for adultery (yes, you could get arrested for it in 1900).

Here then are a few more facts on this naughty little affair from over a century ago. It seems this C.W. Harris character was something straight out of a Victorian melodrama; a handsome, charming, all around scoundrel, rogue, rapscallion, cad, and ne’er do well, perfect to hiss at whenever he makes his entrance. As for his lady friend, Claire Binford, well, she seems like a real piece of work herself. Here’s the story as I found it. It’s a little long, but what’s here is pretty amusing. I will give it to you by date:

April 1,1899 – Eighteen year-old Claire McComas, daughter of Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney “Judge” C.C. McComas, marries 25 year-old Charles M. Binford, a teller at the Los Angeles National Bank in a quiet ceremony held in the parsonage of the Grace Methodist Episcopal Church. After a few months of marriage, young Binford accepts a new position, as book-keeper for the B-B Company Mercantile House in Prescott, Arizona. Although it’s a big advancement from bank teller, his pretty young bride does not want to follow her husband to the remote mining town and chooses to remain in Los Angeles at their home at 648 South Olive Street where her name pops up regularly in the “Society” columns attending functions thrown by her young friends. The fact that their wedding is solemnized on April Fool’s Day does not bode well for the marriage.

September-October 1899 – The Los Angeles papers begin carrying advertisements announcing the impending arrival of Prof. C.W. Harris to the city from San Diego where he has been “performing remarkable cures.” The cure, as Harris explained, “is accomplished by calling into activity the dormant power of the invalid through the force commonly referred to as vital magnetism.” As it turns out, “Prof.” Harris is really a former railroad dispatcher from Chicago who, bored with his job, heads west, first to Denver and then down to San Diego, hatching his phony “magnetic healer” scheme somewhere along the way.

October 1899 – Upon arrival, Harris, who is soon joined by his wife, takes up quarters in a suite of rooms at the Hollenbeck, which at the time was one of the city’s finest hotels. Apparently, the good folks of San Diego have been quite generous in their appreciation of his miraculous cures. He opens a “practice” @ 921 South Olive Street. Over the next few months, Harris goes to work, declaring in one of his regular ads that he “is now treating as many patients as possible for one person to see. He is curing them of disease in every form without the use of any medicine whatever. He does this by calling into activity the latent powers of the diseased body. He then directs the inborn powers of the patient so as to readjust the disease-racked body to harmonious motion.” A good many citizens fall for this ruse and he develops a steady stream of patients willing to fork over a good deal of money in exchange for his “miracle” cure, which is really nothing more than hypnotic suggestion.

December 11, 1899 – “Prof.” Harris is doing so well he begins offering a lecture course in order to share the priceless knowledge the twenty-seven year-old has acquired through “years of study and experiment.” Of course, there is a “nominal” charge for this series.

February 2, 1900 – Claire finally relents to her husband’s entreaties and leaves Los Angeles to join him in Prescott. Numerous going away parties are held in her honor. The Los Angeles Times notes that “Many regrets were expressed over her leaving Los Angeles, where she has lived since childhood.” The regrets, it would seem, were mostly Claire’s.

Although she does initially go to Prescott, Claire discovers she is bored senseless and wants nothing to do with the place (or apparently her husband either) and high-tails it back to Los Angeles by June. During that time she hooks up with Harris. It is not known how they meet, whether they had met before she left for Prescott or upon her return, but meet up they do and an intense romantic affair ensues. It is later revealed that Claire has had a history of throwing herself into impassioned romances usually ending in suicide attempts from the time she was 13. Claire also reveals she was well aware of Harris’ marital status at the time they embarked on their fateful affair, “but I loved him and he had such influence over me…”

October 27, 1900 – The Harris-Binford affair burns so white-hot they can’t control themselves any longer and, practically on fire,  they skip town, leaving behind Harris’ unsuspecting wife. Ironically, they head to Arizona, settling in Phoenix less than 100 miles from Claire’s husband up in Prescott. It turns out to be a fatal mistake. The couple check into Phoenix’s finest hotel of the day, the Hotel Adams, registering as “Mr. and Mrs. C.W. Long” (!). For the next week they rarely leave their suite and continually express their “marital” love for each other in ways apparently quite noticeable to both other guests and members of the hotel staff.

While this is going on in Phoenix, a frantic search is underway in Los Angeles for the missing pair. When you are the daughter of the Deputy District Attorney you can believe he has the connections to find you, yet it is actually the cuckolded husband who sniffs the pair out in Phoenix and alerts the authorities.

November 3, 1900 – C.W. Harris and Claire Binford are arrested at the Hotel Adams and charged with adultery, a Federal offense in this situation because the pair did their dirty deed across interstate lines into the Arizona Territory thus violating the Edmunds Act. Harris is thrown into the County Jail, but the police aren’t sure what to do with a “lady” and she is sequestered in the Sheriff’s Office. It hits the L.A. papers the next morning, moderately scandalizing the town where Claire was part of “society.”

At first it’s all love and gallantry mixed with a little defiance as Harris declares to the press (he talked to the press a lot) that he cared not a whit over what was to become of him, but he hopes the girl will not be punished. For her part, Claire, also freely chatting with reporters, stated “I expect my friends at home will be shocked, but I think more of him than I do of them. I am sorry on my family’s account, but I couldn’t help it. I loved him so.”

November 4, 1900 – Stunningly, both cheated upon spouses are anxious to forgive. Mrs. Harris wires her husband, “I am heartbroken, but will bring money and try to help you.” As for Claire, the moment her husband enters the jail she throws herself into his arms and begs for mercy and aid, while at the same time throwing Harris under the bus, telling her husband how she had been “hypnotized” by Harris into having the affair. “He had such influence over me that when he asked me to come here with him I could not bring myself to resist.”  Either blinded by love or just plain dimwitted, Binford buys what his wife is selling, telling waiting reporters, “My wife erred, but I don’t think she was responsible and no jury would convict her.” He was even so gallant to state that after the trial, if she so wished, he would grant her a divorce. As for Harris, Binford declared, “I will make the strongest kind of effort to get him into the penitentiary.”

November 5, 1900 – Seeing that there is no honor among thieves after Claire’s public turnabout, Harris turns also. “I may go to the penitentiary,” he declares in his best cavalier fashion, “but I can console myself by thinking I’ve had a good time, and that Claire will go also,” adding, “It’s all poppycock about me hypnotizing her. She is as much to blame for this trouble as I am.” He later admits he has no actual healing powers and that the whole thing is just “an advertising dodge.” While Claire is out on bail, Harris remains in County Jail where he has, according to the press, a grand time, “reading love stories, smoking and joking with officers and visitors.”

November 8, 1900 – Mrs. Harris wires the bail money and springs her husband from his prison hellhole. He sees no irony in returning to the Hotel Adams, the scene of his recent infidelity. That same day, the papers report that all is forgiven between Binford and Claire “and it is likely no proceedings for divorce will be brought.” The newly-reconciled Binfords steer clear of the Hotel Adams, checking in instead at the Hotel Commercial, which claims to be Phoenix’s leading “family” hotel.

November 9, 1900 – It’s high theater at the preliminary hearing in High Commissioner Crenshaw’s court where both are bound over to the grand jury. Harris is reported as affecting a “cynical smile” and laughing throughout the proceedings in between casually reading a newspaper, while across the room his estranged partner in crime plays the pity card and plays it for all it’s worth. The press, of course, love every bit of it: “Her pretty head bowed down in shame, her eyes swollen and red from days of tearful pentinence and her handsome, petite form shaken by sobs.” At either side are her “broken-hearted” parents while her hapless husband tries to comfort all three. Binford tells the press his wife was completely hypnotised by Harris and that in her sleep she has recounted the events of the affair “showing beyond doubt, she was under some powerful influence, controlled by him.” Someone was hypnotized, that’s for sure.

As he stands up to leave the proceeding, Harris sneers disdainfully in Claire’s direction and announces, “I don’t see why I thought I ever loved that girl. Look at her cry; that’s a good game, and she thinks she can play herself out of trouble that way, but she can’t do it. I’ll get out of my difficulty all right, but I’ll fix her. I know alot of things about her I’ll tell when the time comes. She was only 19 years old, but she was smooth enough for twice that age.” Harris finishes this, no doubt, with a twirl of his mustache, and adds that the whole affair did him good, “because it showed me what the true love of my wife is really worth.”

November 10, 1900 – Showing that justice moves with lightning swiftness in Territorial Arizona, the grand jury meets and decides there is enough evidence to bound Claire over for trial on the charge of adultery. The decision on Harris is to be made the next day. It will be the same. Upon hearing the news, Claire faints into a chair, while a defiant Harris, from his suite at the Hotel Adams, declares he will base his defense on two points: one being that no intimate relations occurred on the trip because Claire was ill the whole time and, secondly, Claire is a liar and that he will bring in witnesses from both Los Angeles and Prescott to show her true character and disprove her claims that he hypnotized her into adultery.

November 11, 1900 – Harris’ threat to expose Claire’s “true” character seems to have a dramatic effect and the Times reports on the “unique turn” the case has quickly taken where the pair, after “berating each other” in both court and in the press over the last days, suddenly find themselves in perfect harmony in an effort to avoid the penitentiary. Claire withdraws her claims of seduction by hypnosis and begins parroting Harris’ statements that, yes, she was ill the whole time and no hanky panky occurred. That the “miracle healer” couldn’t heal Claire of her illness on the trip is an irony not lost on the press and the public who find it all very amusing.

November 15, 1900 – Both plead “not guilty” at their short arraignment and are free until the trial date of December 17. A packed courtroom of the “morbidly curious” are disappointed that no scenes are affected by the leading players and that no salacious details are revealed. Harris heads back to Los Angeles to be with his wife and try to resurrect his business. Considering he has already publicly declared himself to be a sham it seems incredible anyone would still fall for his healing powers, but, as the Times reports, “He has been doing a few healing stunts while here, appearing to find patients readily.”

As for Claire, although the Binfords have affected a “complete reconciliation,” she ominously refuses to return with him to Prescott, entraining back to Los Angeles with her parents until the trial.

December 12, 1900 – Five days before the trial, the whole case is suddenly settled with both Harris and Claire agreeing to plead guilty to the lesser charge of “Fornication” rather than Adultery. The Federal crime of Fornication in the Arizona Territory carries a punishment of $100.00, which both parties quickly pay. Obviously, in spite of all the bravado, the pair know they are caught dead to rights and had better make a deal. As the District Attorney in the case states, a trial would have brought out details that “were perhaps best never have been told in court.” Judge Street, presiding, agrees and states that it was a crime “the less said of the better for the community.” However, before agreeing to the reduced sentence, the Judge wants to make sure there is no chance of these two getting together again. Attorneys with both sides declare emphatically the pair are completely separated and that there “could be no possibility of a recurrence of the offense” as both have affected total reconciliations with their spouses.

February 11, 1901

Come to think of it, they deserved one another.

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4 Responses to Update – No Cure for This! The Harris-Binford Affair

  1. Jacqueline Vaught says:

    What an enjoyable tale! I never expected the ending!

  2. James Davis says:

    Steve,

    Oh, this is rich, rich, rich! What a tale of derring-do, and I fear I must admit that I fell in love with the infamous duo from the very first moment. What bravado! What spunk! Talk about following one’s star! Anyway, thank you so very much for this slice of history from the staid (yeah, right!) Victorian Era. Yes, one wonders what befell the bold couple down in Mexico. Mayhaps page two will turn up soon. One never knows. In the meantime, we live in hope.

    Sincerely,
    James

    • Steve says:

      It’s true. They were quite the daring pair and I’d love to know what became of them. It is amazing what we do for love, isn’t it? As of yesterday, I’ve done 100 posts on the blog, but this still remains my favorite. So glad to hear you enjoyed it too!

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