History: The Case of the Missing Congressman

Kenneth Chamberlain

What if a member of Congress disappeared and no one noticed?

It's probably not possible today, but it's what happened to Independent Republican Rep. John V. Creely, who represented part of Philadelphia during the 43rd Congress (1871-1873), according to the Clerk of the House of Representatives' website.

Born Nov. 14, 1839, Creely won out against Rep. Charles O'Neil, R-Pa., after O'Neil "fell from the good graces of the Philadelphia political machine," according to the website.

Despite winning the election, Creely wasn't too into his new job, having "rarely participated in his duties," according to the site. He had been mentioned only once in the Congressional Globe Index, a predecessor to the Congressional Record, for a ceremonial vote at the beginning of the Congress. Without attending to his job, when he disappeared sometime in 1872, few people noticed. The following year, Philadelphia voters returned O'Neil to the House for the next Congress.

Toward the end of the century, Creely's sister sought to have him declared dead, which a Philadelphia court approved in 1900, according to the Biographical History of the United States Congress.

In 1927, the congressional Joint Committee on Printing's clerk, in researching Creely's disappearance, received word from one of Creely's former Army friends that Creely "went to Washington and that was the last time I, or any of his friends, every heard of him. He never came back to Philadelphia, and disappeared utterly."