“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.
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.”
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.”
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.