Doheny Story

Short Doheny Story

(As a follow-up to our visit to the Doheny Mansion in Beverly Hills we publish the following article to pique your interest in the dramatic lives of Edward and Ned Doheny and their part in our history.)

When friends of mine bought a house in Capistrano Beach a few years ago, they were told that a murder-suicide was very much part of Capistrano Beach’s legend. They were told that their house was a Doheny house, although they had no real idea of what that meant.

The story went something like this: Ned Doheny, the founder of Capo Beach and builder of all of the houses, had been murdered by a crazed servant or, alternately, his male secretary here in Capistrano Beach at one of the Doheny historic houses that still exist. They actually were told various versions of the story—some more salacious than others, including one of a love triangle between Ned, his wife, Lucy, and his male secretary, Hugh Plunkett, and, further, that Lucy had actually committed the murders. They were also told stories about hidden homosexuality.

Very briefly, the real story about the Dohenys in Capistrano Beach is this: Edward Doheny was as rich and powerful an industrial giant as Rockefeller, Mellon or Carnegie; but little is known about him. His story is a rags to riches story that ended in scandal and tragedy—the Teapot Dome Scandal and the death of his only son, Ned, the founder of Capistrano Beach. Little is known about Edward because his wife, Estelle, honored his deathbed wish to destroy all of the personal and business papers on the night of his funeral in 1935.

The Teapot Dome Scandal started in 1921 and lasted until 1930. It included:
– A little black bag with $100,000 in small bills being delivered to the Secretary of the Interior by Capistrano Beach’s own Ned Doheny and his friend, or crazed servant, Hugh Plunkett
– The leasing of very profitable oil drilling rights to Doheny Sr. after this “gift”
– Special prosecutors; Senate hearings; grand jury investigations, both criminal and civil trials,
all of which delved into the oil leases and the loan
– The resignation of the Secretary of Interior and his conviction for taking bribes— leading him
be the first Cabinet Secretary to ever go to jail
– And, amidst all of this, the fear by the Doheny family that Hugh Plunkett would testify about that little black bag and its $100,000
– Ned and Plunkett had a fight — at Ned’s home in Beverly Hills, not in Capo Beach—that resulted in both of their deaths. The family wanted it known that it was Plunkett who killed Ned and then killed himself; but there is some evidence that it was the other way around.

Ned had purchased the land that became Capistrano Beach in 1928 and he died (shot or committed suicide) in February of 1929, so the Doheny era was a very short one, even though the project continued under the direction of Edward Sr. We don’t really know how many homes were built by the Dohenys because many were lost to freeway construction and/or just torn down.

— Terry Walsh 01/05

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