The World’s Greatest Con Man

By the time Victor Lustig settled in America, he had already pulled off one of the greatest cons in history. Posing as a government official, Lustig had sold the Eiffel Tower for 7, 000 tons of scrap to a metal dealer. The Eiffel Tower.

The suave, dapper Lustig had also somehow become a Count, learned five languages fluently, acquired more than 47 aliases, a trunk of disguises, and dozens of passports. His cons included every card game imaginable, as well as something he called the Romanian money box, a device which supposedly printed hundred dollar bills. He was so good that he sold one to a Texas sheriff for $123,000.

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What brought him to the attention of the Secret Service was the counterfeiting of $100 bills, which were so well done that they passed scrutiny by bank tellers. In 1935, he was caught with a key to a locker that contained $51,000 in fake bills and the plates from which they were printed.

This con finally sent to prison in Federal Detention Center in New York, from which he promptly escaped. He used a rope made out of sheets to lower himself out of the widow and down the side of the prison, in full view of dozens of witnesses. He pretended to wash the windows. He was caught in Pittsburg a few weeks later. The counterfeiting and escape caused him to sent to the inescapable Alcatraz, where, after more than 1,000 medical complaints, he died of pneumonia in 1947.

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Queen of Swindlers

“Mrs. Cassie Chadwick, whose amazing financial transactions culminated in the wrecking of an Oberlin bank, died in the women’s ward at the Ohio Penitentiary tonight at 10:15. . . “ So ended the mind-boggling story of one of the greatest swindlers in American history.

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Cassie Chadwick

Born Elizabeth Bidgley in Canada, Chadwick was only 13 years old when first arrested for forgery. Some accounts wrote that she was let go for reasons of insanity, but she lied so frequently and moved so often than newspaper stories varied. Chadwick moved in with her sister in Cleveland, Ohio, where she quickly secured a loan based on her sister’s possessions.

There, Chadwick also met Wallace Springsteen, who she married in 1883. Less than two weeks later creditors came knocking to replay the loan. He found out about her shady past, paid her debts, and immediately annulled the marriage.

Moving among towns in Ohio, she worked as a clairvoyant under the names of Mme. Marie Rosa and Lydia Devere. She married a few of her clients, inheriting $50,000 when one man died. But it was not enough. Another client she convinced to cash a number of fake checks. She must not have been psychic because she was arrested again for forgery, this time spending a number of years in prison. Upon her release, Cassie then met and charmed Dr. Leroy Chadwick, a prominent widower. They promptly married and she became part of Cleveland society, living on “Millionaire’s Row” in town. Then she began to lavishly spend money, including one Christmas where she gave a half dozen pianos as gifts. One banker later testified, “I have seen three chests full jewels owned by Mrs. Chadwick. There were diamonds worth a king’s random. Apparently she took great delight in displaying them.”

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Cassie’s mansion on Euclid Avenue

Around 1902, some newspaper accounts wrote that she went to steel tycoon Andrew Carnegie’s mansion in New York City, where she left with promissory notes for more than half million dollars from her “father.” She put them a safe deposit box at a Cleveland bank and, using the receipt, Cassie then approached other banks and capitalists to borrow money. They had all heard that she was the illegitimate daughter of Carnegie, so they gave her the loans. No one wanted to embarrass Carnegie by asking him about his child out of wedlock, so no one checked. Cassie lived a lavish life while continuing to borrow money at an alarming rate. In 1904, Collier’s wrote, “This extraordinary performance was accomplished by a woman fifty years old, with neither physical beauty or personal charm; by one whose taste in dress is totally lacking in discernment, who is rather deaf and harsh-voiced, and who, when at all excited, speaks without regard to grammar.”

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Andrew Carnegie, who said he hadn’t signed a promissory note in decades

When one creditor called in a loan in 1904, the gig was up. Soon many others wanted to be paid back but Cassie didn’t have enough to pay them back. In December she was arrested at Hotel Breslin in New York City, along with officers of the National Bank in Oberlin, OH, which lent her such huge sums in had to close its doors. The arresting officer described her as having the “kindliest, gentlest face one would ever want to see.” Her husband was arrested as well but let go.

Cassie was returned to Cleveland to stand trial, where she was met by angry crowds of up to 10,000 people. Her home and valuables, including an $8,000 organ and $3,000 silk rugs, were appraised and put up for auction to try and settle the debts. But it was not nearly enough to cover the huge sums she has borrowed, which are thought to be more than $10 million,although the precise figure will never be known. She was sent to prison, where, at age 50, she died of a nervous breakdown in 1907.

Posted in American History Kids, swindlers

Hitler Inspired by Henry Ford

Henry Ford was a genius at innovation, creating the first mass-produced automobile, which made him rich. However, he also had a stubborn conviction in his own beliefs, no matter how far-fetched.

In 1919 Ford bought The Dearborn Independent, billing it as the Chronicler of Neglected Truth. He wrote opinionated articles, including a 91-week series entitled “The International Jew: The World’s Problem,” which stated that there was a “Jewish conspiracy to control the world.” He told The New York Times in 1922 about how he met two Jews on a ship and they convinced him “about the power of the Jewish race, how they controlled the world through their control of gold and that the Jew, and no one but the Jew, could stop the war.” Ford blamed Jewish financiers for everything from starting WWI to attempting to undermine Ford Company sales. He said in another NYT interview that the Jew “is the cause of all the abnormality in our daily life because he is the money maniac. Once cannot blame him as long as he is able to play his game.”

The Dearborn Independent was distributed throughout the country’s Ford dealerships, reaching a circulation of 900,000 by 1925. Also, because Ford was one of the richest and most influential men in America, everything he said was news. So the word spread about this beliefs and strong anti-Semitism.

 

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In 1922, rumors began surfacing that Ford helped finance Adolph Hiter’s rise to power in Germany. There was a huge influx of cash to Hitler’s campaign, and Ford’s portrait and bound copies of “The International Jew” series were seen in Hitler’s first Nazi Party Office. In his 1925 book Mein Kampf, or My Struggle, Hitler wrote, “”It is Jews who govern the Stock Exchange forces of the American union. Every year makes them more and more the controlling masters of the producers in a nation of one hundred and twenty millions; only a single great man, Ford, to their fury, still maintains full independence.” In February 1924, Ford met with Hitler’s representative, Kurt Kudecke, in his home. Hitler was supposed to have said, “You can tell Herr Ford that I am a great admirer of his. . . I shall do my best to put his theories into practice in Germany . . . . I regard Henry Ford as my inspiration.”

Facing a $1 million libel suit in 1927, Ford retracted the attacks against Jews he made, writing that he wants to “make amends for the wrong done to the Jews as fellowmen and brothers, by asking their forgiveness for the harm I have unintentionally committed.” He stopped his crusade in The Dearborn Independent. But that didn’t mean his beliefs had changed, he was just not as vocal.

On July 30, 1938, Henry Ford was presented with the Grand Cross of the Supreme Order of the German Eagle on his 75th birthday. He is the first American recipient of the highest honor Nazi Germany could give to any foreigner. In response, American Jews boycotted Ford vehicles. To win them back, Ford made another retraction stating in a letter that “I do not subscribe to or support, directly of indirectly, any agitation which would promote antagonism against my Jewish fellow citizens.”Henry Ford receiving the Grand Cross of the German Eagle from Nazi officials. 1938

Some historians have claimed that when Ford saw newsreels of the Nazi concentration camps, it caused one of the strokes that eventually killed him age 83 in 1947.

Posted in American History Kids, automobile

The Mummy Bride

Karl Tanzler, who introduced himself as Count Carl Von Cosel, was a German immigrant with a wife and two daughters when he began his spiritual quest to meet his true soul mate. In his memoir, he wrote that she visited him in his dreams, “Spellbound I saw, framed in long, dark black tresses, a young girl’s face, so beautiful I can’t attempt to describe it. For a fleeting second I saw the girl smile at me, a wonderful smile. . .”

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Karl was in his fifties and working as an x-ray technician at a hospital in Key West, Florida, when he finally met her in human form. Elena Hoyos was a lovely twenty-two-year old Cuban performer suffering from tuberculosis. Karl spent money and countless hours trying to help heal her. When she died in 1931, he convinced her family to allow him to build Elena a huge mausoleum that he visited every night.

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After two years of constant visits, he claimed that she sang to him, asking him to take her home. So he did. He stole her casket, put it onto a wagon, and brought it to his yard, where he had been building a plane. He later wrote, “A wonderfully elated feeling took complete possession of my entire being . . .Undisturbed, I had now moved my beloved into the cabin of the plane, She now had taken full possession of it.”

For seven and half years Karl lived with Elena’s corpse. To slow decomposition, he covered her skin in wax and replaced her eyes with glass. He made a wig out of hair her family had given him and replaced her joints with wire. He dressed her in silks and sprayed a ton of her perfume. Over time he began sleeping in the same bed as her.

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Elena’s sister eventually determined that Karl had stolen the body. He was arrested for “malicious and wanton disregard for a burial vault.” Elena’s family took her body and buried it in a secret location. Karl was eventually let go and moved to small Florida town. He died there in 1952. Authorities who found his body also discovered a life-size replica of Elena, which Karl had built using a death mask he had made of his beloved.

Posted in American History Kids, hospital

Prison Couldn’t Stop Him

Known as a charming burglar, Frank “Jelly” Nash was said to have committed more than 200 robberies during his lifetime. He began in his early twenties, with his first arrest coming in May 1911 for robbing a store in Oklahoma. He was not convicted then, nor for the half dozen arrests that followed.

However when he murdered his accomplice, Nollie Wortman, in 1913, he was sentenced to life in prison. Nash convinced the warden to let him out to fight in World War I. After the end of the war in 1918, he was given a full pardon.

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A year later, he was arrested again for robbing a bank. While serving a 25-year sentence, he met Al Spencer, who escaped in 1922. Soon after, Nash was given a 60-day leave from prison for “business reasons,” which was insane when your business was illegal. He joined up with Al Spencer’s gang and began robbing banks again. On August 20, 1923, they robbed the Katy Limited train in Okesa, Oklahoma, getting away with 20,000 Liberty Bonds. Nash fled to Mexico but, with a reward on his head, he was quickly arrested near El Paso. In 1924, he was given a 25-year sentence for mail robbery and sent to federal prison in Leavenworth, Kansas.

While at Leavenworth, he became a trusty. In 1930, he simply walked out of the prison with a set of Shakespeare plays and escaped to Chicago. There he continued to rob banks, as well as perpetrating a number of other crimes including helping others escape from Leavenworth.  To avoid capture, he wore a toupee and grew a mustache.

In June 1933, Nash vacationed under an alias in Hot Springs Arkansas. While having beer at the White Front Cigar Store, he was arrested by two FBI agents and a chief of police familiar with Nash. As everyone though Nash was a legitimate businessman, including his poor wife, they assumed he had been kidnapped.

Before the lawmen and Nash had climbed aboard the train to Kansas City, news of his capture got out among the underworld. Soon plans were made by his cohort Verne Miller to grab Nash as the lawmen transferred him from the train at Union Station to a car that would take him back to the prison at Leavenworth. Miller enlisted two outside guns, said to be Charles “Pretty Boy” Floyd and Adam Richetti, to help back him up with machine guns.

On Saturday morning, June 17, the gangsters arrived early and sat in their car parked in front of the station.  The train carrying Nash pulled in and 7:15 and the police and FBI armed with shotguns and pistols fanned out around him as they escorted him to the car. Nash went to the back seat, where prisoners normally sat, but was directed to the front. That’s when the gangsters jumped out of their car, yelling “Put ‘em up! Up! Up!” One of the lawmen shot Floyd in the shoulder, causing the gangsters to open fire.

In less than two minutes, more than 100 shots were fired and four lawmen and Nash were dead in what was later known as the Kansas City Massacre.

Kansas City Massacre

Posted in gangsters