Cagliostro, Count Alessandro di (Joseph Balsamo)
, 1743-95, Brit.-Fr., fraud-blk.-rob. A flagrant and flamboyant charlatan, di Cagliostro was born Joseph Balsamo in Sicily of poor parents. His father Peter died when he was three and his mother, destitute, was supported by a kindly merchant brother. As a youth, Balsamo lived in the squalor of Palermo where he associated with the worst thieves and confidence men of the city. These underworld dregs taught the poor but intelligent youth the techniques of pick pocketing and burglary. The boy even stole from his indulgent uncle. An unaccountable curiosity led Balsamo to read, his tastes running to tales of adventure, great wealth, and power. He was also fascinated with mysticism, ancient cults, and supernatural powers. He tired of petty thievery and concluded that he would require a tool, a device by which to make his own great fortune. He chose the most popular of the black arts of that uninformed era, alchemy, a process of treating common metals with chemicals that would, it was claimed, change them into silver and gold.
By the time he was seventeen, Balsamo had, through trickery and guile, gained a considerable reputation as a successful alchemist. No one ever saw him perform the changing of lead into gold but he allegedly produced such minor miracles, or so the best-informed gossips had it. The youth could also call forth spirits and was reported to be a powerful medium. Of course, the legends the clever youth was building stemmed from sleight-of-hand tricks he had learned and developed since childhood. There was some substance by then in the clever Balsamo's background. He had sought out Benedictine monks in a mountain monastery and there learned chemistry and medicine. He had also apprenticed as an apothecary, so that by the time he met a greedy goldsmith named Marano he was able to perform some basic chemical experiments that convinced the goldsmith that he could produce gold from common metals. He told Marano that
he would require sixty ounces of pure gold to produce several pounds more of the precious metal. When Marano delivered the gold to Balsamo, he immediately fled to Messina where he adopted the title of Count Alessandro di Cagliostro.
With his stolen gold, Cagliostro purchased an impressive wardrobe and became the sponsor of an ancient mystic named Althotas, who dressed in Oriental robes and was always accompanied by an Albanian greyhound. It was rumored that the Greyhound aided Althotas in his performance of black magic, the so-called art of which he slowly taught to Cagliostro. To expand his perception of ancient black arts, Cagliostro toured Africa and Asia with Althotas, his guide into the realms of magic. In Egypt, Cagliostro studied the pyramids and became
knowledgeable in the history of secret sects and their rites. From this he put together a loose brotherhood philosophy which he labeled Egyptian Masonry. At age twenty-three, Cagliostro sailed to the Mediterranean island of Malta. By this time the soothsayer and clairvoyant Althotas had vanished. Some later claimed that he was murdered and that Cagliostro had a hand in his violent end, wishing to rid himself of someone who might later expose his black magic and feats of alchemy.
On Malta, Cagliostro managed an introduction to the powerful Pinto, grand master of the Order of the Knights of Malta, an organization that stemmed from the crusaders of 800 years earlier and was now a Masonic sect of great political influence. Pinto was impressed with the erudite and cunning Cagliostro and not only taught him further in the occult arts of alchemy and black magic but provided him with considerable funds with which to travel to Italy as a sort of Masonic spy in high places, sending back information to his mentor in Malta. In southern Italy, Cagliostro established a lavish resort which was little more than a gambling casino. He traveled for some time, meeting the hypnotist, Franz Antone Mesmer, creator of mesmerism, and learned how to hypnotize even the most sophisticated person. (Mesmer, a charlatan of sorts himself, later denounced Cagliostro as a fraud, a clear-cut case of the pot calling the kettle black.)
In Rome, Cagliostro met a beautiful young girl, Lorenza Feliciani, the daughter of a Calabrian glove maker. They married and she joined him in his fabulous confidence swindles. Establishing themselves in various Italian cities as nobles, renting huge villas, Cagliostro and his wife cultivated the company of aristocrats and held seances and demonstrations of his magical alchemy where he supposedly changed stones into rare gems and rope into strands of priceless silk but, of course, these "miracles" were nothing more than the magic tricks Cagliostro had perfected over the years. To raise money, the charlatan resorted to the old badger game, sending his sensual and alluring wife to lure some wealthy aristocrat to her bed and then bursting into her boudoir to shockingly "discover" the sexual betrayal which invariably resulted in Cagliostro collecting substantial blackmail payments from the aristocrat.
All during his travels through southern Europe, Cagliostro continued to establish branches of his own sect of Egyptian Masonry and these naive groups regularly sent him money to establish new chapters. His ego bloated by his own impossible claims, Cagliostro insisted that he could perform acts of astounding wizardry, such as bringing forth spirits. He claimed that he could heal all manner of illnesses by laying his hands upon sick people and pronouncing secret oaths, and that his alchemy could produce the richest metals seen on earth. He became the social rage of France and was heralded as a great healer but his so-called miracles were nothing more than demonstrations of common sense.
Cagliostro never accepted real medical challenges and only after Lorenza and other aides determined the causes of an illness, would he deign to perform his healing magic. Invariably, his patients were made up of self-indulgent nobles who were not really ill but had convinced themselves that they were suffering from some strange malady. Before a large crowd assembled in his villa or mansion, Cagliostro would simply approach his subject and state: "It is our will that your body become healthy!" The subject would usually begin to feel better and, when Cagliostro used his own planted shills, some "miracles" were seen to occur. Those impostors pretending paralyzed limbs or blindness suddenly stood and walked, astoundingly regained their sight. Cagliostro easily "cured" those aristocratic ladies who were suffering from malnutrition due to reckless diets by simply telling them to "eat a full dinner and drink one bottle of red wine."
Enormous amounts of money began to flow into Cagliostro's coffers--gifts, donations, and outright payments from the nobility for his cures, his seances, his advice on matters of health, hygiene, and even sex. He became the highest -paid oracle on earth. Coupled to this princely income were great gluts of cash he received from the dozens of Masonic sects he had established in Italy, Greece, Spain, and France. The rogue slowly withdrew from his regular private meetings and gatherings, living the life of kingly leisure. He made a great show of giving away money and food to the poor and from them he received his greatest support; in their ignorance the peasants utterly accepted Cagliostro as a true worker of magic and miracles, a man gifted with supernatural powers. His name was spread throughout Europe by the lowly-born as one of the great men of their times.
In 1776, Cagliostro was in London, celebrated and feted as the world's greatest alchemist and occultist. He and his wife Lorenza, who now called herself Serafina, lived in regal splendor in a mansion on Whitcomb Street near Leicester Square. Cagliostro's reputation preceded him to London and by the time he moved into his regal rooms, he was inundated with requests from high-born ladies who begged for audiences with him, seeking his "elixir of youth," or love philters that were supposed to make them sexually active and alluring--all of these potions widely advertised by Cagliostro's shills before his arrival in London. He continued to claim that he could turn base metal into gold and silver and now added that he had obtained the all-powerful Philosopher's Stone, a few rubbings from which, when mixed with melted brass or
copper, would produce pure gold. Those fortunate enough to buy an audience with Cagliostro entered his mansion to behold a stunning array of silk tapestries and drapes, hanging from ceiling to floor and emblazoned with occult designs and mystical symbols. Rare incense hung sweet and thick in the air. Mirrors decorated the walls of most of the larger rooms and Cagliostro often produced ghosts and apparitions in them, or so it appeared.
The great charlatan had by then enriched his lore of the occult by obtaining an obscure manuscript by one George Gaston, which ostensibly claimed to provide answers to the Great Mysteries. Cagliostro used Gaston's gobbledygook phrases to explain the unexplainable. He had also by then studied with the enigmatic occultist and mystic, St. Germain of France and he employed this charlatan's methods to great effect, producing spectacular seances (for staggering fees, of course) which saw spirits from the dead invade rooms, float to the ceiling, drift in and out of mirrors, sink into glass goblets, and cry out messages to the living. These were the tricks of master occult frauds and swindlers which Cagliostro had carefully studied and perfected. He reveled in his riches and in his power, knowing that all feared him, including those who sat on thrones, because of his supposed control of spiritual forces. He was fond of jocularly saying to disbelievers upon first meetings: "Remember, I can afflict as well as heal."
Like P.T. Barnum a century later, Cagliostro gave a great deal of time to appearances, that of his home, his wife, and particularly himself. He strutted about London dressed in bright-colored silk coats, shoes with jeweled buckles, his hair braided and powdered, gold buttons studding his stockings, rings of diamonds, rubies, emeralds, and sapphires gleaming on his fingers. Across his frilled silk shirt was a large gold chain from which hung a gold watch, and dangling beneath this a huge diamond drop which lay atop his braided waistcoat. He adorned his head with a brilliant musketeer's hat topped with a colorful plume. He was the most sartorial resident of London.
Cagliostro took to foreseeing the future, claiming impeccable clairvoyant powers and, for great sums of money, he would predict the winning numbers of lotteries, the health and sex of children to be born, and, especially for lustful noble ladies, the amorous intentions of men they admired and desired. When Cagliostro's predictions failed, he had myriad excuses, which were accepted out of fear or shame. The subject had not been worthy of winning, so fates changed the winning lottery number. The subject's conspiratorial thoughts caused a wanted lover to turn away. There was no end to his fantastic apologia. Not everyone accepted Cagliostro's outlandish claims and powers. He quickly made enemies, some of whom broke into his mansion and attempted to destroy the chemicals he used in his feats of alchemy, along with the apparatus he employed to conjure spirits.
The charlatan's Masonic branches in Europe, however, continued to send him considerable funds and Cagliostro's reputation as a leader of this brotherhood impressed the London Freemasons and he was welcomed at their meetings. He agreed to represent and spread the philosophy of the Grand Lodge of England and he and his wife shortly departed for the continent. Cagliostro was glad to leave England where he was hated by an increasing number of "jealous husbands and frustrated lovers." The great charlatan toured Europe in triumph, visiting the Masonic Lodges in Belgium, Holland, and Germany, being received as a distinguished guest by Frederick II of Prussia and other monarchs. He returned to France where he became a court favorite of King Louis XVI and his tempestuous, beautiful queen, Marie Antoinette. In 1785, the powerful Cagliostro was undone in the notorious Affair of the Diamond Necklace. He was, at the time, a house guest of the cardinal-archbishop of Paris, Louis de Rohan, who had been duped through some spectacular seances into believing that Cagliostro possessed extraordinary powers. The cardinal, a capricious sort, gave over an entire wing of his palace to Cagliostro and Lorenza-Serafina and provided him with a huge laboratory in which to practice his alchemy and produce gold for his host. In return, de Rohan made sure that every important noble and lady in France met his mystical guest and profited from Cagliostro's astounding wisdom. So lofty had the charlatan become that he was now referred to as the Divine Cagliostro. One of his most devoted sponsors and patrons was the Countess de LaMotte
, who intrigued with her husband and a band of sophisticated thieves to use Cardinal de Rohan in a bold swindle which would involve the cardinal and the queen herself, or someone who appeared to be the queen.
and his wife knew that the rather naive de Rohan was deeply in love with Marie Antoinette. He was approached by an emissary of LaMotte
's who told him that the queen reciprocated his affections, but was forced to be discreet and not offend her ineffectual and sexually inactive husband, Louis XVI. The queen, de Rohan was informed, desired a special necklace that had been recently designed, one that boasted a fabulous collection of perfect diamonds that were worth $100,000. Marie Antoinette would be eternally grateful if de Rohan would guarantee purchase of the necklace. The cardinal asked that the queen personally make this request of him. He was given a letter reportedly signed by the queen which requested the delivery of the necklace, a clever forgery of the queen's handwriting and signature. De Rohan told the jeweler that he would guarantee payment for the necklace after it was delivered to him. The necklace was delivered and de Rohan kept a rendezvous with a woman he thought was Marie Antoinette, a night meeting in a dark palace garden where a woman named Leguet, heavily veiled, successfully impersonated the queen. The cardinal slavishly presented the necklace to the monarch he loved and she promised to reward him in the future with her “favors." With that the woman departed with the necklace, the diamonds from which were sold one by one outside of France within a few weeks, Count LaMotte
and his wife receiving most of the spoils from this swindle.
A short time later, the jeweler presented his bill to the queen, saying that Cardinal de Rohan had guaranteed its payment. Marie Antoinette had no intention of paying for a necklace she had never received. When de Rohan was informed of this by the jeweler, he soon discovered that he had been swindled. Moreover, he was asked by Louis XVI to explain his actions and the embarrassed cardinal told him that he had been the victim of a giant fraud. Oddly, for his indiscretion, de Rohan was thrown briefly into the Bastille for compromising the queen and his prized house guest, Cagliostro, was seized and thrown into an adjoining cell. Though he had committed hundreds of crimes for which he deserved imprisonment, Cagliostro was entirely innocent of the diamond necklace swindle. After a six-month investigation, the great charlatan was proved innocent, as was de Rohan, and both were released. The LaMottes
were exposed as the culprits but the Count LaMotte
had fled. He was sentenced to the galleys for life in absentia. His wife was sentenced to be branded with a V (for voleuse, thief), whipped publicly, and sent to an asylum for life.
Though Cagliostro at first reveled in his exoneration, his credibility was seriously undermined by the suggestion that he was suspected of being involved in this swindle. Even the suggestion of being a fraud lent belief to the many accusations that he was a fraud. His association with de Rohan also injured him in that Marie Antonette was livid at the Cardinal for dragging her into the Affair of the Diamond Necklace and he was ostracized. Cagliostro left Paris and continued his travels but the necklace swindle tainted his image and eroded his carefully-constructed reputation. The swindle caused the French peasantry to further resent the "Austrian" monarch and this incident was one of the first to create the intense hatred for her and her overly-indulgent husband, a hatred that swept through France and eventually brought about a revolution that would end the lives of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI.
In the very year of the French Revolution, 1789, Cagliostro returned to Rome and there purchased a lavish villa, resuming his seances and magical rites. At one of these exhibitions, the main salon teemed with nobles and distinguished visitors eager to see a demonstration of Cagliostro's powers of alchemy. One visitor described the event thusly: "At the end of the salon had been erected a kind of altar, on which were placed skulls, stuffed monkeys, serpents who writhed and coiled as in life, owls, musty parchments, amulets, crucibles, and other strange furniture. Incense was burning before the images of fantastic Chinese and Egyptian idols. Cagliostro, wrapped in a Chaldean robe, appeared followed by his wife. He passed, or pretended to pass, into a trance, and gave a lively description of the Marriage of Cana of Galilee. (By this time in his life Cagliostro had been telling his patrons that he was thousands of years old and had been a personal friend of Cleopatra and the Queen of Sheba.) He then seized a glass beaker of pure water and crying "Ero sum qui sum" poured therein two drops from a small vial he kept in his bosom, whereupon the liquid seemed to be transformed into a sparkling wine, cups of which were handed to the guests who pronounced it delicious. Pschometry and crystal-gazing followed..."
These performances were reported to members of the Inquisition and caused Cagliostro and Lorenza, and their chief aide, Fra Francesco, to be arrested on Dec. 27, 1789. Before the tribunal of the Inquisition, Cagliostro denied that he was a heretic and practiced fraud. Lorenza, however, after reported torture, confessed to these crimes and wholly implicated her husband. She was sent to the convent of Santa Appollonia in Trastevere where she remained a prisoner and died many years later. Cagliostro was sentenced to death, but Pope Pius VI commuted the sentence to life imprisonment. In the Vatican fortress prison of San Leo, Cagliostro lived miserably in a sparsely-furnished cell, chained to the floor. He slowly went insane, some reports had it and died on Aug. 28, 1795. One account has it that he was strangled to death by his wardens who believed that followers of his Egyptian Masonic sect were planning to free him.
Canter, Jack (AKA: Charles Ostend)
, prom. 1873, U.S., count.-forg. By the time Jack Canter had reached his forty-fifth birthday, he had already spent half his adult life behind the barbed wire and red-brick walls of Sing Sing prison. His fellow inmates treated him with respect, for Canter was more than just an ordinary run-of-the-mill con. He was college-educated, skilled in linguistics, chemistry, poetry, and medicine. But his greatest talents were engraving and forgery.
Canter was a notorious penman who was involved in the Central Fire Insurance Company frauds of 1873, a case that was finally cracked by the Pinkerton Detective Agency. The president of the insurance firm, W.D. Halfman, was passing forged certificates of railroad stock from the Philadelphia and Reading line. The penman had altered the valuation amounts through a delicate chemical process. One- and two-share certificates were artfully transformed into 300 to 500 shares, and circulated among "investors." Worried railroad officials retained the services of Allan Pinkerton to track down the forger. One of the arrested Central Fire executives identified Charles Ripley of New York as the man who had altered the shares of stock.
Ripley, who received $25,000 for the job, was traced to Brooklyn, where his mail was being picked up by one Charles Ostend, who resided across the street from the police station. Ostend was, of course, Jack Canter, and a nickel -plated press and other forger's paraphernalia were found in his room. Halfman and Canter were both convicted of forgery. Canter was sentenced to nine and a half years in solitary confinement at the dreaded Eastern Penitentiary at Cherry Hill.
Casanova, Giovanni Giacomo de Seingalt
, 1725-98, Italy, fraud. Casanaova's career encompassed a spectrum of human endeavor. He was at various times an adventurer, a swindler, a gambler, a duelist, and a seducer. For twenty years, he wandered through the capitals of Europe living as he pleased. In 1755 he was imprisoned in Venice for practicing magic, but effected a brilliant and daring escape, thanks to the wife of the Chief of Police who hid him in her home.
Casanova cheated and swindled many prominent people in his lifetime. The Marquise d'Urfe was one of many victims who fell under his spell. The aging woman wanted very badly to be young again, and enlisted Casanova, who claimed to have mystical abilities, to find a method. After several years of misleading the woman into thinking he could transform her into a youthful man, he convinced her to throw her jewels into the sea on a night with a full moon. Afterward, Casanova retrieved the precious stones and decamped.
During his lifetime, the great Italian lover rose to prominence in the court of King Louis XV where he became an intimate of many prominent French men and women of the age, including the philosopher Voltaire, and the infamous courtesan Madame de Pompadour. In Russia, Casanova fought a duel and was forced to flee the country one step ahead of the police. Later he was a police spy for the Venetian Inquisitors in 1774, and was exiled in 1782 for publishing
scandalous libel. His memoirs, Histoire de mavie, renewed interest in the fascinating man when they were released for publication in 1962.
Celani, Frederick George, See: Binder, Aaron M.
Chadwick, Constance Cassandra (Elizabeth Bigley, AKA: Cassie, Lydia de Vere,Lydia Springsteen, Lydia D. Scott)
, 1859-1907, U.S., fraud. Born in Strathroy, Ontario, Can., the daughter of a railway section hand, this clever con artist was able to dupe scores of gullible suckers in swindles both simple and elaborate. Her most infamous fraud was her most daring, one that briefly netted her a fortune and involved none other than one of the world's richest men, Andrew Carnegie. At the age of sixteen, Cassie, as she was usually called, tried to cash a forged check in the amount of $5,000. She was released by the court, which found her temporarily insane. But, as her future conduct revealed, such actions were normal for this adventuress. Traveling to San Francisco, Cassie gave herself the grand-sounding name of Lydia de Vere, claiming to be a clairvoyant. The beautiful young con lady insisted that she was a powerful hypnotist who could make any fortune for those willing to pay the high price for her seers services, or, worse, that she could cure any illness. After several clients found themselves still afflicted by the same deformities and maladies, their savings depleted through high payments to Cassie, the con artist fled to the Midwest.
There Cassie practiced the badger game, compromising wealthy married men with an accomplice ready to reveal extramarital scandals unless paid considerable cash. Cassie thus enriched herself for some years. She later began to assume the role of a wealthy society matron who would arrive in a large town and pretend to be related to socially prominent persons, renting mansions and running up huge debts on credit. She was so extravagant and acted with such authority that most of her creditors believed her to be a true member of the wealthy class, eccentric as most rich persons were expected to be. At one point, Cassie purchased twenty-seven grand pianos on credit (selling these off to fences). She entertained with the style of a Renaissance princess, hiring full orchestras to play in the ballrooms of her rented mansions, ordering table-glutted banquets from the best catering services. Members of the social set in each city were quickly convinced that Cassie was a genuine peer and she, in turn, used these new and influential acquaintances to secure more and more credit, hundreds of thousands of dollars worth. When her creditors began to demand payment, Cassie simply sold off her rented furniture and left town to assume a new identity in another location.
Cassie married several times, wedding well-to-do men and milking them of their fortunes. These included Dr. John Springsteen and Dr. William Scott. By the early 1890s, Cassie was in Toledo, again practicing her clairvoyant scams which had become more sophisticated than those she had practiced in San Francisco a decade earlier. Here she hired private detectives to learn all they could about her intended victims, mostly information about their tainted pasts and, after revealing these hidden scandals to shocked clients gathered about her crystal ball, she levied heavy fees for her silence, a form of blackmail that netted Cassie an average of $50,000 a year. Finally, one angry client of her spiritualist racket threatened to take her to court, and Cassie closed her clairvoyant operation. She next obtained $20,000 in forged bills from a bank employee she compromised but she was caught, convicted of fraud and forgery, and given a nine-year sentence in 1894. She was paroled in 1897 and immediately went to Cleveland where she met and married another naive elderly man, Dr. Leroy Chadwick.
As Mrs. Chadwick, Cassie traveled to New York where she rented an expensive suite of rooms in the Holland House, a socially elite hotel. Here she "accidentally" met James Dillon, a Cleveland lawyer who represented several Cleveland banks. In fact, she had chronicled Dillon's movements and knew he would be in New York on business, staying at the Holland House, which is why she went to New York in the first place. She had met Dillon briefly in Cleveland and he was pleased to see her in New York. Cassie then off-handedly asked if Dillon would accompany her on a small trip, she then being without a proper escort. Dillon agreed and both took a carriage, at Cassie's instructions, down Fifth Avenue. To Dillon's amazement, the carriage stopped in front of Andrew Carnegie's enormous residence, one recognized by anyone who moved in banking circles.
Dillon then watched Cassie go into Carnegie's residence. At the entrance Cassie asked the footman to see the butler and once inside the first foyer of the sprawling mansion, she asked the butler to see Carnegie's housekeeper and the woman appeared, not knowing who she was. Cassie pretended to be a wealthy socialite who was about to hire a domestic who had given Carnegie as a former employer on her reference sheet. The housekeeper was puzzled; no such person ever worked for Carnegie, Cassie was told. But she had the application, Cassie said, and held out a letter from the supposed job applicant. Could it be that the woman had been employed at another of Carnegie's many residences? The housekeeper asked Cassie to wait, she would check in her files. It was some time before the housekeeper returned to inform Cassie that the job applicant was an impostor, that she had never worked for Carnegie. Cassie took back the letter and thanked the housekeeper for her time and effort, that she had done her a great service in revealing an untrustworthy domestic. The housekeeper was glad to be of help, she said. With that, Cassie left the Carnegie mansion. She had been inside using up time, almost a half hour, a stall which was also part of her plan.
Upon returning to the carriage where Dillon waited, Cassie climbed inside and purposely dropped a piece of paper which the lawyer retrieved. He could not help notice with gaping mouth that it was a promissory note made out to Cassie Chadwick for $2 million and it was signed by none other than Andrew Carnegie. Dillon handed this to Mrs. Chadwick, who looked embarrassed, and then, as they rode back toward the Holland House, she revealed her family secret. She was used to receiving such payments from Carnegie since she was his illegitimate daughter. Of course, Dillon and the rest of the world knew that Carnegie had never married and was a confirmed bachelor. He was a celibate who would, one could easily imagine, do everything in his power to cover up the existence of an illegitimate child to protect his sterling reputation. Cassie sighed and said that the $2 million note was her father's way of taking care of her, that she had many more such notes in her Cleveland home, more than $7 million of such notes. Dillon was stunned, telling Cassie that such notes belonged in a safe deposit box, certainly in one of the banks he represented. She shrugged and asked if he could arrange for such business when they both returned to Cleveland. Dillon, delighted at the prospect of gaining such an affluent new client, happily agreed to make such arrangements.
When both returned to Cleveland, Cassie gave Dillon the notes and these were taken to a local bank. Dillon explained the delicacy of Cassie's position, that in no way could she be challenged lest her illegitimate status be made public. In that sorry event, Carnegie himself would be scandalized and his legal wrath might be visited upon the bank, or Cleveland as a whole, for that matter. The banker, thrilled at the prospect of increasing the assets of his bank, vowed to keep Cassie's secret and then issued a receipt for more than $7 million to Cassie which Dillon slavishly delivered to Mrs. Chadwick. The Carnegie notes, of course, were forged, but the banker never bothered to examine these, taking Dillon's word for their authenticity.
After receiving the bank receipt, Cassie Chadwick became the biggest spender in Cleveland, buying jewelry, carriages, hiring a bevy of servants, purchasing a mansion and filling it with priceless tapestries, paintings. Meanwhile, the greedy bankers of Cleveland vied with each other in advancing hundreds of thousands of dollars to Mrs. Chadwick, all on the strength of her forged Carnegie notes. The reputation of Cassie's wealth spread through the social elite and even a Cleveland millionaire, Henry Newton, was glad to advance her $500,000, collecting enormous interest, of course, as were the banks. But unlike the patient bankers who happily watched the interest leap upward on Cassie's loans, Newton demanded payment of the interest due him. Cassie became hysterical, telling Newton that she had more than $10 million in securities in Cleveland's Wade National Bank. Instead of merely accepting her word and that of her bankers, Newton insisted on inspecting these notes. The documents were judged forgeries. Andrew Carnegie was contacted and indignantly denied ever having had a child and emphatically that he "knew no one named Mrs. Chadwick." The glorious ruse was exposed and Cassie was arrested.
Police found Cassie Chadwick in a suite of rooms in New York's Holland House on Dec. 7, 1904. She was in bed, shouting at officers who had to lift her bodily from her four-poster. A policewoman at the station house searched Cassie and found a money belt tied tightly about her waist. It contained more than$100,000 in cash. She was taken under guard by train back to Cleveland where thousands of curious citizens turned out to greet her in shocked silence. Cassie brazened her way through the crowds, telling one and all that she was innocent and being victimized because she was "a member of the upper class." Her aloof airs evaporated once she appeared in court and, following a quick trial in March 1905, where evidence of her guilt was overwhelming, she was convicted on six charges of fraud and sentenced to ten years in the Ohio State Penitentiary at Columbus. There, alone, dreaming of her grand schemes and
former opulence, Cassie Chadwick died on Oct. 10, 1907.
Chaperau, Albert Nathaniel (Shapiro, AKA: Albert Chippero, Harry Schwarz, R.L. Werner, Mr. White, Nathan Wise)
, prom. 1938, U.S., smug.-forg.-fraud. Albert Nathaniel Chaperau was a con man who moved among the international set. The exposure of his activities began on Oct. 7, 1938, when the SS Ile de France arrived in New York harbor carrying vacationers and German refugees. Mr. and Mrs. Nathaniel Chaperau went through customs with a large pile of luggage. None of it was opened for inspection because the couple carried Nicaraguan passports and a letter signed by the Nicaraguan consul general in New York declaring Chaperau to be a commercial attach for that country.
Rosa Weber, a German maid at the Park Avenue apartment of New York Supreme Court Justice Edward J. Lauer, answered the door the next day and let Chaperau in to a warm welcome from Mrs. Lauer. He handed Weber a suitcase and a hat box, which Mrs. Lauer said contained some items purchased on their trip to Europe earlier in the summer which had not been ready when they returned home.
On Oct. 21, the Lauers held a dinner party at which the guests, in their dinner table conversation, denounced Adolf Hitler. Weber flung down a plate of food and exclaimed, "Ladies and gentlemen, I am a true German. I love Adolf Hitler. If you don't stop talking against him, I will stop serving the dinner right now!" She did stop, because the Lauers instantly fired her and demanded that she pack and leave the apartment right away.
Weber got her revenge by going to customs officials in New York and accusing the Lauers of smuggling in goods from Europe, with the help of Chaperau. An investigation revealed that Chaperau had no right to use Nicaraguan credentials except to work on a movie documentary about that country. Although the consul general had given him a letter of authorization, it had nothing to do with diplomatic immunity. Customs also learned that Chapereau was wanted by the FBI as Chippero, Schwarz, and Wise, and by Scotland Yard as White for swindling and a long list of other crimes. In Chaperau's apartment, customs agents found papers indicating that he had brought in jewelry for comedians George Burns and Jack Benny.
Chaperau was charged with smuggling, to which he confessed. He also volunteered to cooperate in finding others whom he had "helped." He was fined $5,000 and sentenced to five years in prison, but President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered Chaperau released in 1940. Justice Lauer was forced to resign, and his wife was sent to prison for three months. George Burns was given a suspended sentence of a year and a day for each of nine counts of smuggling and fined $8,000. Jack Benny received the same suspended sentence and was fined $10,000. Probably the worst part of Benny's punishment, however, was a half-hour harangue by Federal Judge Vincent Leibell. The judge said, in part, "I think it was a very poor return from you to the government and the citizens of this country who have made so much of you and so much for you, to do something like this...It was mighty small of you, and I think you were letting down your country."
Chappell, George Shepard, and Ford, Corey, prom. 1929, U.S., hoax. In the 1920s a number of American and British authors attempted to capitalize on the public's insatiable demand for books and novels about the exotic South Seas. George Chappell and Corey Ford published what purported to be a true life account of the discovery of a cluster of islands known as the Filberts. The book was titled the Cruise of the Kawa, and it was issued by G.P. Putnam. The news of the expedition was greeted with a mixture of excitement and curiosity by the academic community. The National Geographic invited them to Washington for a series of meetings, and a number of readers inquired about the possibility of being included on the next sailing of the Kawa.
A companion volume authored by Corey Ford picked right up where the earlier volume stopped. It was titled Coconut Oil, the "true life adventures" of June Triplett, the daughter of Captain Ezra Triplett, skipper of the Kawa.
In the July 1929 issue of Vanity Fair, Ford's article "The Adventure Racket" criticized zealous publishers for putting out books that are two-thirds false.
Charlesworth, Violet (AKA: Margaret Cameron McLeod), b.c.1885, and Charlesworth, Mrs.
, prom. 1900s, Brit., fraud-consp. A ghastly car crash on Jan. 2, 1909, apparently took the life of Violet Charlesworth when she was thrown through the windshield and hurled to her death some forty feet to the base of the cliff along the North Wales coast. There was no blood on the windshield and the body could not be found. Newspaper reporters became more suspicious when they discovered that Charlesworth owed a considerable amount of money at the time of her alleged death.
Charlesworth was £400 in debt to Mrs. Martha Smith, and about £10,000 to her stockbrokers. In addition, a number of jewelers and car dealers were cheated by the honest-looking young lady, who had apparently lived beyond her means for many years. The erstwhile corpse was discovered very much alive by a newspaper reporter in Oban, Scot., where Charlesworth had taken the name of Margaret Cameron McLeod
. She returned to England, and attempted to raise money and repay her creditors by making appearances at music halls. Her "entertainment" consisted of standing on stage wearing the crimson cloak she was wearing on the day she disappeared. This endeavor did not earn enough to pay her debts, nor did the mysterious Alexander MacDonald
, whom she claimed had promised her £155,000, ever make an appearance. While civil suits against her were still in progress, criminal charges were filed against Charlesworth and her mother.
Mrs. Charlesworth and her daughter were arrested in Moffat, Scot., on Feb. 7, 1910, on charges of attempting to obtain money under false pretenses and conspiring to commit such a crime. On Feb. 23, 1910, the trial took place at the Assizes before Justice Darling, with Ryland Adkins and Moresby White prosecuting and Mr. Friedman defending Violet Charlesworth. Mr. H. Maddocks defended her mother. Darling sentenced each to five years of penal servitude after a jury found the pair Guilty. The sentence caused Mrs. Charlesworth to collapse and her daughter to turn pale, likely the reason Darling reduced their sentences two days later to three years of penal servitude.
, 1752-70, Brit., forg.-suic. Thomas Chatterton entered the world of literary forgery with a poetic work entitled "Elinoure and Juga." He was eleven at the time. Chatterton's greatest accomplishment was the alleged work of Thomas Rowley, a priest during the reign of King Henry II at St. John's Church, a work which he claimed to have "discovered" in 1768 at the Church of St. Mary Redcliffe in Bristol, England.
Even at such a young age, Chatterton was able to convince a number of people of the authenticity of the manuscript, A Description of the Fryars Passing Over the Old Bridge. A surgeon named William Barrett in his History of the Antiquities of the City of Bristol included Chatterton's works by Rowley and even used others as source material. Antiquarian Society president and Exeter dean Dr. Milles believed the Rowley poems to be genuine, as did the president of Oxford's St. John's College, Dr. Fry. The brilliant youth was so encouraged by his remarkable success that he gave Horace Walpole some manuscripts to include in Walpole's work, Anecdotes of Painting in England. Walpole was not easily fooled, however, and the forgery was soon found out. As a result, Chatterton killed himself by taking arsenic.
After his death, Chatterton's fame increased as many poets came to believe that he was a genius. Percy Bysshe Shelley honored Chatterton in his poem "Adonais," and John Keats dedicated his poem "Endymion" to the youth's memory. Also in Chatterton's memory is the inscription, taken from his will, on a monument in the churchyard at Redcliffe: "Reader! judge not! If thou art a
Christian, believe that he shall be judged by a Superior Power. To that Power only is he now answerable."
Chilson, Benjamin A.
, prom. 1900-06, U.S., fraud. A former veterinarian and specialist in paints and dyes, Benjamin A. Chilson, called "king of the ringers" by journalists, was a swindler who altered the appearance of a fast horse, switched it for a slower horse, and collected a large sum when the fraudulent horse won on long odds. The cheat usually raced the painted horse in the last race of the day because the judges were leaving to go to the next track.
Carrying out his racing scam, Chilson's largest haul was in Morris Park when he switched McNamara
for Fiddler on Oct. 3, 1903. Using McNamara
and another horse, Freckman, his success continued in races all over the country. Meanwhile, detective Robert Pinkerton was beginning to inquire into reports of Chilson's ringing. And, with the aid of small cameras, Pinkerton's agents chronicled Chilson's operations. By 1906, the Eastern Jockey Club and the California Jockey Club, powerful racetrack governing organizations, had barred Chilson from the racetracks. In addition, Pinkerton was fighting to get bills passed in New York that would outlaw ringing.
, 1888-1948, Brit., fraud. Reverend Harry Clapham was ordained a minister at McGill
University in Montreal. He moved to England, where he became the vicar of St. Thomas in Lambeth. It was an old and decrepit church. Lacking the funds to pay for renovation work, Reverend Harry Clapham developed the following scheme. He secured a list of people who routinely contributed to charity. He hired a small staff and sent out 200,000 letters a year asking for help. Most of the money that was received went directly into Reverend Clapham's ninety-one bank accounts. Clapham's elaborate swindle continued for nearly fourteen years.
"God has blessed me with a legacy," he replied, when asked about his expensive tailored suits and the deluxe cruises he took all over the world. It was not long before the Charity Commissioners began to take notice of Reverend Harry and his able assistant Constance Owens, known simply as "Sister Connie." Aided by the disclosures of W.A. Hewitt, who had once worked as Clapham's curate, Scotland Yard initiated an investigation.
Clapham was arrested after applying to the Cholmondeley Trust for financial help. To qualify for a grant, the recipient's income could not exceed £400.
The Reverend was arrested and charged with receiving money under false pretenses. In June 1942, he began serving a three year sentence at Parkhurst Prison after being found Guilty on twenty-one counts of fraud. Due to failing health, Clapham was eventually released from prison. Afterwards, moved to the country to live in a house with "Sister Connie." Clapham died shortly afterwards in 1948, and at the time of his death the defrocked Reverend left an estate valued at £9,000.
Clarke, Mary Anne (Mary Anne Thompson)
, 1776-1852, Brit., fraud-libel. London-born Mary Anne Clark, born Thompson, received her education at Ham, her schooling financed by a gentleman named Day, who reportedly planned to marry the girl. At sixteen, however, the girl married a youth named Clarke and five years later, with her husband bankrupt and a drunk, she struck out on her own, becoming the mistress of Sir Charles Milner. She then became the mistress of Sir James Brudenell. The beautiful Mrs. Clarke was an expert flimflammer, bilking both of these gentlemen out of considerable money. After bilking several merchants, the alluring Mrs. Clarke began appearing on the stage, taking roles in plays produced for the Haymarket. From the audience of admiring males, she selected more victims, including Lord Barrymore and the Duke of York.
After becoming the Duke of York's mistress, Mrs. Clarke began to sell more than her body. She convinced wealthy lovers that she could secure military commissions for them through her political contacts, chiefly through the Duke of York. She sold commissions by the score at £900 each, considerably less than the average £2,500 the government charged. Most often these commissions were awarded to Mrs. Clarke's patrons. She grew rich, purchasing a mansion in London and a country estate. Then, on Jan. 27, 1809, Colonel Gwyllym LloydWardle
rose in the House of Commons to denounce her, stating that she had for years been selling commissions through her patron, the Duke of York. The Duke was examined and exonerated.
Mrs. Clarke was not prosecuted but she lost her political protection and her sponsoring nobles soon ignored her. She maintained her larcenous ways and high-handed lifestyle but she ran afoul when she denounced the Irish Chancellor of the Exchequer, passing certain remarks about him after he labelled her a "fallen woman." She was sued for libel and lost, serving nine months in prison. In disgrace, Mrs. Clarke left England, but took her considerable fortune with her, buying a huge estate in Boulogne where she became one of the most sought-after mistresses of her day. She died in luxury at her estate on June 21, 1852.
, prom. 1950s, U.S., fraud. Edwin Cole, a confidence man with a slick presentation, worked his scams for more than thirty years, making more than $1 million.
Near the end of his career, he bilked seven citizens of Wilmington, Del., of approximately $70,000. Cole then went to New York where he met a French woman and her husband and swindled them out of more than $20,000. Typical of his other schemes, he persuaded them to invest $1,600 in a gold mine and gave them a return of $200. They then invested $4,500 with a return of $3,000, and then they invested a further $18,500, including all their savings plus a $10,000 loan from his parents. This time there was no return. The couple filed a complaint with the Postal Inspection Service, and Inspector Tarpey tracked the cheat. The 68-year-old Cole was convicted. The federal judge who handed down a five-year sentence told him, "Weighing your age against what you have done, I am imposing this sentence. Your history indicates that there is not much hope of your ever being rehabilitated."
Colgrove, Chester Walker
, prom. 1940s, U.S., fraud. Throughout the 1940s Chester Colgrove of California marketed a suspicious potion designed to cure psoriasis, leg ulcers, eczema, and athlete's foot. Colgrove called the substance "Colusa Natural Oil," and he promoted the product in various magazine publications with "before and after" testimonials. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) brought charges against Colgrove for misbranding, which resulted in a court-imposed $1,500 fine.
Colusa Natural Oil was a petroleum-based by-product of Colgrove's earlier, unsuccessful ventures. Before he turned his attention to skin medicine, Chester Colgrove got himself into legal trouble because of various oil and insurance schemes. Following his conviction for misbranding, Colgrove picked up where he left off, this time exercising greater care in his packaging and advertising. The FDA however, was not impressed. They brought the matter before the courts accusing Colgrove of criminal contempt for violating the earlier injunction.
Using semantics, Colgrove sought to prevail against the FDA. He contended he was not a doctor and therefore had not prescribed the substance. His ploy did not work and the original injunction was upheld.
Collins, Dapper Dan (or Don), See: Tourbillon, Robert Arthur
, 1946- , Switz., fraud. By manipulating international funds to gain a large profit from the depreciating American dollar, foreign-exchange clerk Marc Colombo gambled away more than £32 million from Britain's Lloyds Bank.
Colombo worked at the Lugano, Switz., branch of Lloyds, and was responsible for buying foreign currency with Swiss francs. Beginning in November 1973, Colombo bought thirty-four million U.S. dollars over three months with Swiss francs from Lloyds Bank, betting that the dollar would continue to fall. Colombo lost the bet, and seven million francs in bank funds.
To recoup his losses, he set up financial transactions totaling £4,580 million over the next nine months, again gambling on the fluctuating dollar. When Colombo bet the dollar would rise, it fell, and when he wagered that it would fall, it rose. He repeatedly exceeded the bank's £700,000 daily limit on transactions.
In August 1974, Colombo's scheme was uncovered when a banker he had been dealing with mentioned the Lugano bank to a senior Lloyds official. The Lloyds banker traced Colombo to the Lugano branch and quickly relieved him of his duties. Colombo and Lugano branch manager Egidio Mombelli were flown to London for questioning by Lloyds officials.
Lloyds' accountants discovered that Colombo still owed £235 million on deals already negotiated, and that his manager had authorized transactions without knowing anything about them. Lloyds took steps to cover their expected losses and, when the dust had settled, lost £32 million on Colombo's transactions.
In 1975, Colombo and Mombelli appeared in a Lugano court on charges of criminal mismanagement, falsifying documents, and violating Swiss banking codes. Mombelli was sentenced to six months in jail and fined £300 for failing to detect Colombo's actions. Colombo got an eighteen-month suspended sentence and a £300 fine. He testified that he had gambled the money only to increase the bank's profits, and maintained that had Lloyds not prematurely interrupted his transactions, he would have garnered the bank £11 million in profit.
, 1887-1933, U.S., pros.-fraud-theft. Involved with the mob on the East Coast for years, Chic Conwell was born in Philadelphia and began a life of crime after marrying a chorus girl. He started as a pimp, became a professional pickpocket and shoplifter, and eventually had minor success as a confidence man. He went to prison three times. At the time of his death, he had given up crime.
Cook, Dr. Frederick A.
, c.1865-1940, and Cox, Seymour E. J., prom. 1923, U.S., fraud. When Dr. Frederick Cook was sentenced to prison, Federal Judge John M. Killits said angrily, "Cook, this deal of yours is so damnably rotten that it seems to me your attorneys must have been forced to hold their handkerchiefs to their noses to have represented you. It stinks to high heaven. You should not be allowed to run at large."
Cook was a physician who instead sought fame and fortune as an explorer. He did some sincere exploration of the arctic regions, but felt what he had actually done was ineffective. Initially he simply claimed that he had climbed Alaska's Mt. McKinley
. Under photographs of him and some friends supposedly at the summit, he wrote, "The soul-stirring task was crowned with victory; the top of the continent was under our feet." It wasn't until the great peak was actually climbed, in 1913, that it was discovered that the scenery shown in Cook's pictures was far below the summit.
In 1891, Cook went to Greenland and spent the winter with Robert Peary and six others exploring that vast, unknown island. Two years later, he spent a winter locked in a boat in the Antarctic, keeping Roald Amundsen and the crew alive through a scurvy epidemic. On another Antarctic trip in 1899, Cook prepared, from someone else's manuscript, a grammar and dictionary of a Patagonian language. His plagiarism was detected before the work could be published, and his academic reputation was ruined.
In 1909, after his friend Peary had reached the North Pole, Cook claimed that he had previously achieved the feat with two Eskimos. He submitted a journal to the University of Copenhagen, but they did not accept his proof. They suspected that he had spent the winter in an Eskimo village. However, he went through the rest of his life claiming the honor.
Dr. Cook became involved with confidence artist Seymour E.J. Cox, who had been in the fraud business since he was fifteen. Cox used Cook's famous name to entice investors into an oil stock swindle. This "stock reloading" swindle produced great quantities of cash for Cox and his partners. The men were tried for that scheme in 1923. Cox was fined $8,000 and sentenced to eight years in prison. Dr. Cook earned the judge's wrath, a fine of $12,000, and fourteen years and nine months in prison. See: Cox, Seymour Ernest J.
Corrigan, Michael (AKA: Major Corrigan, Michael Cassidy)
, d.1946, Brit., fraud. Michael Corrigan was both charlatan and faker, an astute con-man who pulled off some of the most ingenious swindles in Britain between the two wars. It is believed he was born in Fermoy, Ireland, but he gained his wealth in Britain, posing as a wealthy tycoon who speculated in Mexican silver and oil concessions.
In 1922, Corrigan rented an office in Kingsway, but he declared bankruptcy when his investments proved to be false. When his creditors called, they found that Corrigan had vanished. A year later he borrowed £40,000 from a businessman to invest in Mexican oil stocks. He received another £35,000 from the owner of a coal mine. This was enough for him to live in the lap of luxury. He married a woman who owned a stable of fast horses in Belgium and, deciding that the nebulous title of Major was not quite up to his elitist standards, Corrigan
promoted himself to Flight Commander of the Royal Naval Air Service. He claimed at the time to be a recipient of the Belgian Legion of Honor.
All this time, Corrigan was virtually unknown to the police. He was arrested in Belgium in 1926 and imprisoned for one month on a charge of fraud. After his release, he introduced himself to the mother of a wealthy young socialite as the president of the Standard Oil Company, with a corresponding rank of General in the Mexican Army. Having won her over, he persuaded the mother to give him £10,000.
Corrigan was convicted of fraud in 1930. He was sentenced to five years in prison, but survived this ordeal to return to Britain as a wealthy arms dealer. During the war, the arch-swindler continued merrily down the path of crime. He purchased large tracts of non-existent English land for South American millionaires, and secured a contract to cut and export balsa wood from the Guatemalan government. He involved himself in a range of other interesting but bogus schemes
Corrigan was arrested for the last time in 1946. Facing another long prison sentence, he hanged himself in his jail cell at Brixton on Oct.16. It was an ignoble ending to a tainted but colorful life.
Cox, Seymour Ernest J.
, prom. 1920s, U.S., fraud. One of the most blatant sellers of phony stock during the 1920s, when America was enamored of Wall Street, was Seymour Ernest J. Cox, a dapper, smooth -talking character who specialized in oil stock promotions. Cox, who was called "the arch pirate" of oil speculations, began his criminal career in Illinois where he was sent to jail at age fifteen for forgery. Upon his release, Cox went to Michigan where, in 1911, he was again convicted of fraud and sent to prison. In 1914, Cox served time after being convicted of using the mails to defraud. Upon his release, Cox went to Oklahoma and Texas, where he began to sell fake potash and oil stocks, bilking more than 16,000 purchasers out of an estimated $7 million, all before 1920.
This inventive hustler was, perhaps, the first con man to use an airplane in promoting his stock swindles. Cox rented a plane to fly over oil fields that were "off limits" to the public. He would take notes about those locations where he could see intense activity and large numbers of oil drilling crews, reasoning that "gushers" were soon expected. He filed reports on these oil operations to his stockholders, telling them that his companies owned portions of these oil operations. When official reports were released on the productivity of these new wells, Cox would sell his customers even more shares of phony stock in these operations, oil wells in which Cox had no business interests at all.
Cox was clever, challenging his prospective victims by writing them letters in which he would ask: "Are you sure that you would like to own an oil well? Are you absolutely certain you care to assume the responsibilities of becoming a millionaire?" Then Cox would send follow-up letters to prospects, knowing they were holders of worthless oil stock, convincing them to exchange their certificates for equally valueless stock he would issue in firms that ostensibly were beginning new oil fields, but which, in reality, had no field operations whatsoever. This was known in the parlance of con men as "stock reloading." In 1923, Cox and eleven others, including the celebrated adventurer, Dr. Frederick A. Cook, were convicted of stock swindling. Cox was fined $8,000 and sent to prison for eight years. Cook, the most famous of the group, was fined $12,000 and sent to prison for fourteen years. See: Cook, Dr.Frederick A.
Crane, William (AKA: John Lawson, John Larsen), and Tracy, Christopher (AKA: Charles J. Tracy, Toppin, Topping, Charles Tompkins), and Wyatt (AKA: Fred Williams)
, prom. 1905, Case of, U.S., fraud. John Felix, a German-born businessman and prominent New York City gambler, was contacted on Feb. 1, 1905, by a gentleman calling himself Nelson, who said he was an employee of the Western Union Telegraph Company, which provided New York poolrooms with race track results. But Nelson was actually one of a gang of "wire tappers" and expert con men. The wire service was manipulated by crooked bookies and swindlers who held back race results for a few minutes so poolroom operators could cheat a "sucker" out of his money. Felix was assured that he could parlay a $50,000 bet into a quarter-million-dollar windfall at the poolroom on East 22nd Street.
Nelson showed Felix a room disguised as a busy off-track betting parlor, then introduced him to McPherson
, who laid out the plan. Assuming they could find someone with the right amount of cash, they could all stand to make a handsome profit by getting the bet down. Felix would place his $50,000 bet during the three minute "delay." The next day, Feb. 2, Nelson escorted Felix to the Fifth Avenue Hotel to a room packed with gamblers placing large wages on the races. Nelson showed Felix to a telephone where McPherson
's call was to arrive. After a few minutes, "Mac" called to say that the winner in the third race was Colonel Starbottle, and Felix soon saw the result confirmed. When Felix heard that the winner of the fourth race was Old Stone by a nose, he played the horse at five to one odds. Old Stone was first announced as the winner, but because the jockeys had worn the same colors, the track announcer had made a mistake, and the real winner was Calvert, with Old Stone finishing second. Mr. Felix left the building, and the conmen divided their earnings, which, after expenses, came to $48,400.
Two days later Felix identified the swindlers to police. Nelson was really confidence trickster William Crane. McPherson
was Christopher Tracy, a veteran swindler, and the cashier who took the $50,000 was a man named Wyatt, who was never found. Crane and Tracy were arrested and brought before Judge Warren W. Foster in the General Sessions Court on Feb. 27, 1906. Defense attorneys cited an old statute which held that a person is not liable for the gullibility of others, and thought the jury found the two con men Guilty, Judge Foster overturned the verdict on these grounds. In the next session of the New York Legislature the penal code was amended to make wire-tapping a criminal offense.
Crook, Japhet (AKA: Sir Peter Stranger)
, c.1731, Brit., forg.-fraud. Today he would get off with a steep fine and short jail term. In eighteenth-century England, because the people liked him and the court was lenient, Japhet Crook got off with public torture and life in prison.
Crook lived a life of crime. Posing as Sir Peter Stranger, he quite handily forged deeds of conveyance to swindle a couple out of 200 acres of prime Clacton-on-Sea land. The court sentenced Crook to stand in a pillory for one hour, after which hangman Jack Hooper would slice off both his ears "close to his head," then slit his nostrils and sear them with a hot iron. Crook would then forfeit all his property and live out the rest of his days in prison. Crook used the pillory punishment as an opportunity to make new friends. He stood at Charing Cross and joked with the crowds that gathered. The villagers, who already regarded the convicted deed-forger as some kind of hero, were most impressed with his bravery. No stones, no rotten eggs, not even harsh words were thrown Crook's way. The accused man stood stolidly while his ears were removed and his nostrils slit. It wasn't until the burning iron was brought near him that Crook displayed normal human fear. At the first touch of the red-hot iron to his nostrils, he sprang from his chair with a yelp. Because Crook had proved himself brave throughout most of his punishing ordeal, authorities ended the torture and allowed the condemned man one final indulgence at the nearby Ship Tavern. Bloodied from his legal mutilation and drunk from the drinks bought him by his newly made fans, Crook stumbled into his life-long prison term, never to be seen or heard from again.
, prom. 1920s, U.S., fraud. An attractive southern belle, reportedly from Natchez, Miss., Lulu Cummings was one of the most charming con artists working hotel scams. She would call a hotel in a distant city, pretending to be her own secretary and arrange to have the best suite available for her employer, the wealthy widow Mrs. Lulu Cummings--this being during the 1920s, decades before credit cards. When Mrs. Cummings appeared, she was attended by her own servants and was accompanied by a dozen trunks. She dripped with jewels and furs and the hotel management would invariably treat her as a regal lady of social prominence. The press would be alerted and the social columns soon filled with long interviews and profiles on the beautiful, rich widow. Mrs. Cummings would then be invited to a bevy of balls, banquets, and high society functions. She would have dozens of men asking to squire her about and, with very little prompting, local jewelers and merchants sold necklaces, rings, paintings, wardrobes to her.
Cummings would purchase these items by having them charged to her hotel bill. After a few weeks, she would suddenly be called back to Mississippi or Georgia. A close relative was at death's door, she would hastily explain, and she had to go immediately to the stricken person. She would leave a check to cover her bills and depart with maids, footman, and trunks of loot. Of course, the hotel managers soon learned that Mrs. Cummings was a flagrant fraud. Her check would bounce within a few days. Meanwhile, the con artist had made off with thousands of dollars worth of gems and goods.
Cummings was only once tracked down by a detective hired by an irate hotel owner, confronting her with a bill for $10,000 and telling her that if it was not paid within a half hour, she would be arrested. Cummings contacted some gentlemen admirers and, within twenty minutes, the amount was paid in cash. At the time, Cummings was housed in the best suite of rooms in the best hotel in Louisville, Ky., living grandly, on an imagined reputation.
From the World Encyclopedia of Con Artists and Confidence Games