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.

lustig_mugshot

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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