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He was the elder statesman, the respected counselor, the distinguished jurist, the man that everybody trusted. Until he fled the town, the state and the country one night — with their money in his pockets.
His name was Grant B. Dimick, known to all as “Judge Dimick,” or simply “The Judge,” because of his service as a county judge. Though the Canby Herald, in the colorful language of the day, remarked after his fall from grace that “he had never been elected to a District Judgeship or even a Justice of the Peace Judgeship, so far as we know.”
His ties were deeper in neighboring Oregon City, where he had come to live and practice as a young attorney in the 1890s, but he was well-known and beloved across the state, and certainly in Canby, where he had served as president of the Clackamas County Fair Association for many years.
Indeed, as the Herald later noted, quote, “he once told us with considerable bombast, that he had been President of the Fair Association ever since we had the Fair.”
Dimick had been an able and successful attorney. Once, during Prohibition, he successfully defended a Clackamas County farmer on whose land agents had found an illegal still.
He admitted the still was on his client’s property, and even admitted that he used the still. But for what purpose? Dimick argued that it was only to distill water to keep the farmer’s steam-powered automobile in running order.
The farmer walked free. Or maybe, he drove.
His practice, however, became of less importance as he slowly but steadily took on the stature of a leading citizen, businessman and politician. He was president of the State Bank at Monitor, director of the State Bank of Aurora and head of the grandiose Willamette Valley & Southern Railroad, which ran between Oregon City and Mount Angel.
“This railway owes its success to his untiring efforts as president and general manager of its company,” a biographer wrote in 1922.
He served five terms as mayor of Oregon City and was vice president of the Chamber of Commerce. He even ran for governor in 1910 — unsuccessfully. He was a 32nd Degree Freemason and master of the Multnomah Lodge No. 1 — the oldest Masonic Temple west of the Rocky Mountains — and also a member of the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, known more commonly today as simply “The Shriners.”
He also became skilled in the art of animal husbandry, and at one point owned and operated 530 acres in the Hubbard area, raising “fine cattle and pigs,” along with Hampshire, Shropshire and Oxford Down sheep.
It was said of him that “he liked a drink on occasion, but he was not a drinker. He smoked cigars. He was married but had no children. He was no ladies’ man. Most of all, he enjoyed the company of men, and throughout western Oregon he had the reputation of being a storyteller of parts, a consummate raconteur.”
Far and away, the most important — and criminal — of his activities was as the financial wizard who could give you 8 percent interest on any amount of money you wisely gave him to invest.
He would take your money and in return, give you a personal note of security, guaranteeing the full sum. Along with that, you’d get a valuable mortgage on a farm, or a city lot or acres of raw timber.
The mortgages were executed on good paper, embellished with fine green and gold inks. In the words of The Oregonian: “Gilt-edge stuff, those mortgages of Dimick’s, that’s what everybody said.”
And the interest checks came, right on time, twice a year, and it was never so much as 1 penny short of 8 percent. The banks couldn’t get you 8 percent interest, but Judge Dimick could.
His customers were railroad men, clerks, storekeepers, laborers, widows and many, many farmers. There was no shortage of folks who needed a little extra money in those days, and Dimick was happy to lend a hand.
Newspapers estimated that as many as 500 families and individuals in Clackamas, Multnomah and Marion counties receives these fat checks that Dimick wrote, often with a little note of personal greeting.
What a guy.
“In his dealings, Dimick appeared to be the frankest man in the world,” The Oregonian later wrote, and the Herald added: “In speaking with our friend Arthur Graham yesterday, he said that Grant Dimick was known up and down the Pacific Coast, and had the confidence of everyone.”
The house of cards collapsed on May 1, 1924. The circumstances that caused it are not entirely clear.
One newspaper said a customer had threatened Dimick over a security on a loan for $4,000 that “didn’t look right.” Another said it was the Brookharts, farmers out from the Needy area, who came forward to claim the Judge had handled them to the tune of about 20,000 bucks.
What is clear is that on that evening of the first of May, Judge Dimick told his law partner that he was taking a trip to eastern Oregon to check out some possible investment opportunities. He went home, packed a bag and told his wife he was making a “brief business trip.”
He boarded the 5:30 p.m. interurban train at Oregon City, bound for Portland. He carried with him a single tan leather bag, which held the life savings of every customer he had ever swindled.
Because, of course, it was all a scam. The security notes were worthless, forgeries. The “mortgages” were even worse. In them, Dimick had simply pulled names and addresses from out of thin air — the legitimate owners never having a clue what the Judge was up to.
He was a skilled counterfeiter, “a master worker with different pens and inks,” and somewhere along the way he had managed to secure a stamp that looked very much like the one used by the county recorder.
“Had they been genuine, almost the entire city of Silverton would have had to pay better than 8 percent to get free of the blanket,” The Oregonian said of the mortgages.
And so it went, all the way down the tragic line. Laborers had been bilked out of a few hundred dollars. So had two youngsters who had worked in a Clackamas County logging camp and sent their savings to the “wizard of Oregon City.”
“In speaking with Adam Knight in Canby Monday evening, Mr. Knight was simply so dumbfounded that he could not let the matter sink in,” wrote the Herald. “Many people in Canby have placed their confidence in Grant Dimick and sent their small savings or accumulation to him for investment. They simply fear the worst now.”
A hysterical woman at the county recorder’s office drew a revolver from her purse and began waving it in the face of the startled official. “That Dimick took all I had,” she cried, “and I’ll find him and take all he’s got!”
But she wouldn’t. No one would ever find him. Indeed, May 1, 1924, was the last time he was ever seen in Oregon, in the United States or even on the continent.
Exactly how great was Dimick’s embezzlement was never fully known, as not all of his victims put in claims. But even conservative estimates put the number north of $250,000, which in today’s dollars would amount to well over $4 million.
“It is stated in the street gossip now that his betrayal would bring wreck and ruin to many widows and others of small or moderate means,” the Herald sadly concluded in one of their stories from May 1924.
The following year, a well-known Portland attorney who was an old acquaintance of the Judge, thought he saw the man while vacationing in Europe. He was at a crawfish restaurant in Warsaw, Poland, which was, apparently, a thing that exists.
The attorney, Haas, started to approach the man he thought was Dimick. But as soon as the men’s eyes met, the scoundrel fled, leaving his hat behind and his bill unpaid.
The last mention of Dimick in The Oregonian‘s historical archives was in 1952, when it was said that his case was believed to still be open, with a federal indictment was hanging over his head. If he was still alive at the time, he would have been well past 90.