An Update on Charles B. Towns

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Since King Charles was published in 2015, some additional information has been learned about the enigmatic Charles B. Towns.

First of all, he arrived in New York City in 1896 or 1898 rather than 1901 as previously thought.  He arrived from Jacksonville, Florida where he had moved at the age of 20 in 1882. This was learned from a previously unknown biography of Towns written in about 1895.

We previously knew that he was very successful in the insurance business, but we didn’t know the names of the firms. From the link:

    “After two years’ experience in life insurance, he discovered that the Penn Mutual had many features of insurance which were better adapted to the needs of the Florida public than any Company represented here.  He accordingly induced that Company to come to Florida, and he was made general agent for the State.  After a year and a half his territory was increased by the addition of Southern Alabama.

    Few men have been more successful in the insurance line than he.  In 1892 he wrote more insurance than was ever written before by any other Company in the history of the State.  It was the second largest business done in the country that year by the Penn Company, the first being by the general agent at Boston, whose territory included all New England.

The brokerage firm opportunity that brought him to New York City was an enterprise in which he was a partner. But in the short time that this company existed, Towns got into some serious legal troubles including being found guilty of grand larceny in 1901. There’s no record of him serving any time behind bars, but his arrest and trial were all publicized. His conviction appeared in numerous newspapers across the country.”

Upon his arrival in New York City, we knew previously that he had gone into the stock brokerage business. We did not know, however, that the firm was incorporated under the name “Charles B. Towns & Co.” as was announced in the New York Times on February 22, 1899.

However, he seemed to experience immediate legal problems.  On May 6, 1899, he was found guilty of grand larceny and a judgment was found against him for the amount of $2,200. This negative publicity was published in papers across the country. A New York Times article said he was “remanded” until he could be sentenced, but nothing is known about what penalty he actually received. Two years later, his arrest was announced in the New York Times on April 16, 1901 in one of a number of civil actions filed against him. He was arrested on the grounds that he resisted appearing in court. By then, Towns’ brokerage firm had already failed. The lawsuit ended in a judgment of $1474.10 against him.

Through numerous searches from, there appears to be nothing newsworthy about Towns whatsoever after 1901 until 1908. In that year he became an American opium ambassador to China. His adventures there were not precisely dated, so it’s difficult to determine exactly how many months he was actually in China.

Incorporation records in New York have been referenced that determine Towns Hospital to have been incorporated under New York State law on December 9, 1909. The claim for his hospital to have been founded in 1901 has to be nothing less than blatantly false advertising. Very much of a puzzle remains. Where did Towns treat his patients prior to going to China? How did he attract the attention of Dr. Alexander Lambert of Bellevue Hospital as far back as 1904, who claimed to have been treating his own patients with the Towns Treatment for a number of years?

In 1914 the legality of the incorporation of Towns Hospital was publically challenged in the New York State Journal of Medicine. Dr. Alexander Lambert eloquently defended Charles Towns and his hospital and the matter was dropped and never went to court.

In 1916, Charles B. Towns hospital was successfully sued by the wife of W. Gould Brokaw for the failure to prevent her husband’s suicide for the amount of $12,500. He jumped from a bathroom window to his death. Towns had claimed that the use of restraints at Towns Hospital were unnecessary since an alcoholic could be detoxed without the risk of delirium tremens. Apparently Mr. Brokaw was suffering from DTs when he died.

A 1919 headline in the St. Louis Globe Democrat provided this headline outlining the respect he had achieved across the nation: “
World’s Greatest Narcotic Expert Scouts at Idea Nation Will Go Drug Crazy When Bone Dry Comes – Charles B. Towns Declares Powerful Influences, Greedy and Merciless, Are Promoting Most Awful Slavery Mankind Knows in Order to Pile Up Fortunes.”

Another headline in Washington D.C. appeared in July of 1919: “American Intelligence Prevents Drug Danger – World’s Greatest Expert Lays Bare Perils and Means of Avoidance, Powerful Influences at Work—Recent Laws That Failed, and Why—To Prevent a Nation From Falling Into Great Trap.” Both of these headlines involved the atmosphere of fear that helped lead the Harrison Act to be used to outlaw doctors prescribing narcotics to addicts.

In 1923, Towns was sued for the death of the wife of a Fred Van Patten in 1920 from “veronal  poisoning.” The judgment against his hospital was $8,000. This is a second example of a successful lawsuit against Towns Hospital. There may be more.

Not that much has previously been known about the hospital building itself. According to the article referenced at the end of this paragraph, the Charles B. Towns Hospital had 50 beds. This was not previously known. An assertion is made that belladonna created “wild hallucinations,” which led to a number of suicides. The 1918 suicides of Henry Corby and Walter A Robinson were not previously known. These are the fourth suicides that has been documented that took place at Towns Hospital. From this same article, we have documentation that the sixth floor solarium of the hospital was added in 1916.

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