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Sometimes it’s better to be lucky…

Attorney Francis J. Heney

Born in Lima, New York, in 1859, Francis J. Heney grew up in San Francisco where his family relocated in 1863. He worked in his father’s furniture and carpet store while attending high school at night and, later, taught night school while attending the University of California during the day. After graduation, he moved to Idaho where he served as principal of a high school, but soon realized it was not his calling. He returned to San Francisco, enrolled in law school, and became a member of the bar in 1883.
In 1884, health problems brought Francis to the Arizona Territory. During the next four years, he ran a cattle business with his brother Ben, and operated the trading post at Fort Apache.
Arizona’s bountiful sunshine proved beneficial to the young lawyer’s health, and in 1889, he moved to Tucson and settled into what would become a notable legal career. But as fate would have it, in 1891, a prominent doctor’s marital problems would change his life forever.
Dr. John C. Handy, a skilled and beloved physician, treated his patients with considerably more kindness than he did his wife. Eight years younger than her husband, Mary Ann Page Handy was a fragile woman with serious health problems. After 11 years of marriage and the birth of five children, the relationship between the doctor and his wife was a shambles. Not infrequently, John’s dark side emerged, and Mary Ann suffered the brunt of his violent temper. She confided to friends that she was constantly abused, and in 1888, she filed for divorce. But reacting to the doctor’s ire, she quickly dropped the suit.
The following year, John himself filed for divorce — and he let it be known that he would kill any attorney who dared defend Mary Ann. Those who knew John knew it was no idle threat.
Intimidated lawyers refused to represent Mary Ann. Francis was not among them. When he agreed to become her attorney, John said to a court clerk, “I will kill him! Mary Ann is a morphine fiend and a common slut. She does not deserve [representation].”
In fact, it was well known that the doctor was having an affair with another woman, and that he kept his wife on morphine. It was known as well, that he often chained her to a bedpost when he was away from home.
On Sept. 28, 1891, Francis emerged from the courthouse with a lunch hour crowd. Unbeknownst to him, John was waiting across the street. The two came together near the corner of Pennington and Church Streets. According to the Tombstone Epitaph, “A pistol cracked, the men grappled and fell to the ground. A deputy sheriff dashed [to] the spot where the two were struggling for possession of the gun. Other officers were there in almost no time.
“Then one of the contenders jumped to his feet and ran toward the courthouse… for the first time we… recognized the hurrying man as Frank Heney.”
During the melee, Francis reached into his coat pocket for a pistol he carried for protection. John struggled for possession of the weapon and, whether by his hand or Francis’, the gun went off. A bullet lodged in the doctor’s abdomen, and hours later, John died during surgery.
Immediately following the shooting, Francis surrendered to authorities. Not surprisingly, he was exonerated.
In 1895, Francis returned to San Francisco where he became district attorney. In 1908, he drew nationwide attention when he prosecuted corrupt city officials and Abe Ruef, a notorious political manipulator and grafter. During a court hearing, a member of Ruef’s inner circle walked up to Francis’ table, leveled a gun at the prosecutor’s head, and fired. Miraculously, he survived, proving that sometimes it’s better to be lucky.
Remarkably, a warm friendship developed between Francis Heney and John C. Handy, Jr., son and namesake of the man Francis killed in self-defense. When the aged attorney died in 1937, the younger Handy served as a pallbearer at his funeral.
— W. Lane Rogers. Photo courtesy of the Arizona
Historical Society.

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