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James A. Reed

Kansas City’s James A. Reed and his rise to power

The list of Kansas City Mayors is a colorful one, with the likes of Gage, Reed, Barnes, Cowherd, and Clever, but none were as colorful as James A Reed.

A Pendergast man, he won the office of county prosecutor in 1898. In 1900 he broke a Republican stronghold of city politics, becoming the first Democratic Mayor of Kansas City. His rhetoric while seeking the office drove his Republican predecessor Jimmie Jones not only to leave politics, but the city as well. In fact, it was reported to have become physical.

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Robert White | Guest Columnist

His greatest opponent, however, was another attorney, a Democrat from the “Shannon” side of Kansas City politics–James Walsh. That attorney had the discussion of prevailing over Reed  twice in court. When they met in 1910, Reed, as county prosecutor, had established a record by winning 285 of his 287 cases. One of those losses was the trial of Jesse James Jr. for maintaining the family tradition and robbing the Missouri Pacific near Kansas City.

Reed was hired as a special prosecutor in the trial of Dr. Clark Hyde in the murder of Colonel Thomas H Swope, the man who donated the land for Swope Park. Hyde had married to one of Swope’s nieces and was accused of killing two of Swope’s heirs and attempting to murder several others. It was all based on circumstantial evidence yet Reed won a conviction with his day long oratory. The Missouri Supreme Court later overturned the verdict.

James A Reed ran for and won a seat in the US Senate in 1910. In 1913 he changed his vote on the Federal Reserve Act and as a result, Missouri is the only state with two Federal Reserve Banks. He served in the Senate until 1929. In the Democrat Conventions of 1928 and 1932, he even ran as a Democrat for the Presidency.


Nell Donnelly

In 1931, while defending a woman who had shot her husband in a murder case, he discovered that his mistress and neighbor, Nell Donnelly was two months pregnant with his child. Donnelly and Reed were both married to other people. Donnelly traveled to Europe, returning with her new son David, possibly named after James Reed’s father. David was later adopted by James Reed after

Reed married Donnelly in 1933. In December of that year, Nell Donnelly and her chauffer were abducted. Reed prosecuted the cases of the abductors, even supposedly asking the help of John Lazia, a major figure in Kansas City organized crime at the time. Donnelly was returned with no ransom paid and Reed won two of three life convictions for the perpetrators. James A Reed died in November 1944.

I have been lucky enough to have met David Reed, James Reed’s son, and I went to school for many years with his grandson, Peter. I was even lucky enough as a child to have been with Peter and his Grandmother Nell at what is now the James a Reed Memorial Wildlife Area near Lee’s Summit.

–Bob White is a Certified Financial Planner who lives in the Pleasant Hill area.  A graduate of Pembroke Hill School and the University of Kansas, he majored in Economics and minored in history.  In addition to local, Kansas and Missouri history, he has an interest in its unique aspects–the events missing from the history books and timelines that paint a more complete picture.