OK, OK, there was really more than just one shoebox. I'll let Seth explain:
Paul Powell was born in Vienna, Illinois on January 21, 1902. He was a big wheel in the Illinois Democratic Party since WWII. Eventually, he became Illinois Secretary of State during the same year I was born, 1965. In 1966, his office was investigated for corruption; he was exonerated, but his chief investigator was indicted for theft of state funds. He was still in office when he died in Rochester, Minnesota on October 10, 1970. Shortly thereafter, a shoebox full of money was found in his room at the St. Nicholas Hotel here in Springfield—the infamous cache.
The famous Paul Powell shoebox was actually more than one box, and not all were shoeboxes. There were also metal boxes, briefcases, and envelopes. This treasure trove—roughly $800,000 in cash—was discovered two days after he died, when Powell's staff and his estate executor gathered his belongings from the hotel room and storage area. The other, less famous findings included 49 cases of whiskey, 14 transistor radios, and two cases of creamed corn. This guy was prepared; for what, I don't know.
Outrage? Hardly. An excerpt from The Southern Illinoisan:
"We just assume politics is corrupt and a little bit of corruption is the cost of doing business," said Kent Redfield, a political scientist at the University of Illinois at Springfield. That was certainly the attitude toward former Secretary of State Paul Powell, owner of the mysterious cash-stuffed shoeboxes.
"Paul did a lot of good things for southern Illinois, including helping to build the university I work at," said Mike Lawrence, the director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale.
So when those shoeboxes were found in Powell's home when he died in 1970, it raised some eyebrows but not much ire. "People were surprised about the amount of money," Lawrence said of the cache that neither Powell nor anyone else ever explained. "But there was sort of a sense if he gave us our share, what's wrong with him getting his share."
Robert E. Hartley has written a book on this caricature of Illinois politics, published by the Southern Illinois University Press:
Powell never earned a state salary of more than $30,000 per year, yet in the last year of his life, his federal income tax return showed an income of more than $200,000. At his death his estate totaled $3.2 million, and, when settled in 1978, was worth $4.6 million, including nearly $1 million in racetrack stock.
My hometown of Belvidere, Illinois was heavily Republican (the newspaper was named the Belvidere Daily Republican) yet a number of folks would vote every election for Paul Powell for Illinois Secretary of State. They knew he was corrupt and wanted him in office when he was finally found out (obviously, he never was). I got my first drivers license in 1970 and I still remember my father making out the check to . . . well, let me make this a quiz:
- Illinois Drivers License Bureau
- Illinois Secretary of State's Office
- Illinois Secretary of State Paul Powell
- Paul Powell
That's right: "Paul Powell". Now are you surprised he ended up with $800,000 in those shoeboxes?