Tag Archives: con men

Old Time Con Men: Soapy Smith

We haven’t done one of these in some time, so come with me, back to the 19th century in the American West where we shall meet the infamous Soapy Smith.

His real name was Jefferson Smith and he was born just before the Civil War in Georgia. His family was quite wealthy but lost everything during William Sherman’s devastating March To The Sea where General Sherman marched his troops through Georgia and literally destroyed everything, every house, every building, every field as they went. Alas Smith’s lands were in the way of this march and the family was ruined.

In his late teens, after his mother died he Round Rock Texas for Fort Worth and began his career as a con man.

He started simple enough, with games of 3 card monte and shell games on the street. His sleight of hand was excellent and he soon formed a little gang who specialized in these tricky little games. They would roll quickly through a town, setting up some simple games where sleight of hand could separate some citizens from their money and then roll out.

It was small time stuff. Kid’s stuff. Then Jefferson Smith started to think bigger and came up with the scam that gave him his nickname Soapy: The Prize Package Soap Racket.

He became a travelling salesman, setting up a case on a tripod in the middle of the street. He would then launch into his routine, selling soap to the crowds that would gather. While he waxed eloquent on the virtues of the wonderful soap he was selling he would pull out his wallet, take several bills ranging from 1 to 100 dollars in value and wrapping the money around a few bars of the soap. He would then wrap all the soap in paper and as his speech and demonstration came to an end, declare buying time ready to begin.

Naturally it was quite exciting. The soap sold for a dollar a bar and people would buy in order to get one of teh bars with money. Often shortly into the buying frenzy people ion the crowd would start finding the money and yell excitedly. If the soap supply started to get low and the $100 bill not yet found, the prices would go up and the crowd would even start bidding wars.

Quite smart. Do i need to tell you that no one ever got any of the money? Soapy Smith’s gang was still together, but now the gang acted as plants in the crowd. Soapy was always great at sleight of hand, right? He palmed all the money soap except for a few which would carefully find their way to the plants.

He ran this con for 20 years and it netted him a fortune. So much that he set up operations in Denver, Colorado. He built a saloon and gambling hall called The Tivoli Club. On the front door hung a sign saying “Caveat Emptor”. It became as huge as the games were rigged. Smith used his fortune to build himself a criminal empire, paying off cops, lawyers and judges. He ran businesses from fraudulent lottery shops to “sure-thing” stock exchanges, fake watch and bogus diamond auctions, stock sales of nonexistent businesses. He had a hand in criminal enterprises across the city and directly paid off both the mayor and chief of police.

The Tivoli Club is the building on the left.

By 1892 Denver was undergoing huge anti gambling and saloon reforms of which he was responsible in no small part, so he picked up and moved the Tivoli Clup to Creede Colorado, a town in the middle of a mining boom.

He brought with him Denver prostitutes to cozy up to property owners and convince them to sign over leases, and in this way acquired numerous lots along Creede’s main street, renting them to his associates. Soon he controlled the town outright.

Smith’s Orleans Club in Creede, CO is in the back of the photo, under the flag.

However boom towns are famous for the boom and the bust. As the town’s mining fortune waned Smith got word that the Denver reforms were ending, and so back to Denver he and his crew went. He became even wealthier and more powerful, but eventually a new Governor came in dedicated to reform. He even sent in militia to remove from the Denver Courthouse 3 corrupt officials he fired who refused to leave. Reforms came again, harder and tighter.

Smith used the new reforms to his advantage. He would stage raids on his gambling dens. Police in his pay would raid the room and proceed to arrest everybody. These raids were timed when big players had bet large amounts of money in poker games. The players would be given mercy and allowed to walk away. They were grateful not to be arrested and leave quickly, leaving Smith all their money.

But Smith was too big, too well known. Eventually even the corrupt officials couldn’t protect him. When Smith and his brother beat a saloon manager to death, his brother was jailed and Smith fled becoming a wanted man. He high tailed it to Alaska.

In Skagway Alaska, 1897, the Klondike gold rush was getting going and Smith did exactly what he had in Colorado, soon becoming one of the most powerful men in town. However a vigilante group opposed to him rose up, the Committee of 101. Smith set up his own  counter group, a “law and order society” and things remained tense as he proceeded to dominate the town so much so that his saloon became known as “the real city hall”.

Soapy Smith’s saloon in Skagway, Alaska

On 7 July 1898, , a returning Klondike miner named John Douglas Stewart came to Skagway with a sack of gold containing $2,700.Three gang members convinced him to participate in a game of 3 card monte. When Stewart balked at having to pay his losses, the three men grabbed the sack and ran. The “Committee of 101” demanded that Soapy return the gold, but he refused, claiming that Stewart had lost it “fairly”.

The next night the Commitee of 101 organized a meeting on the wharf. Smith showed up with a Winchester rifle on his shoulder. A gaurd named Frank Reid blocked his way and the two began arguing. The argument got heated and thus the Shootout on Juneau Wharf began. Smith was shot 3 times by a second guard protecting Reid. One of the bullets was a direct hit to the heart and Smith died on the spot. Reid was shot himself and also died 12 days days later

The 3 gang members who had grabbed the sack of money were arrested and sent to prison.

The town of Skagway, Alaska continues to hold a wake every year on the anniversary of Smith’s death.

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Posted by on September 2, 2012 in Uncategorized


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Princess Caraboo

A Painting of Princess Caraboo

Totally true story.

1817. Almondsbury in +.

On the evening of Thursday, April 3rd a bizarre young woman with black hair, black eyes and a black turban showed up at the house of a cobbler. The woman spoke an indecipherable language, but seemed to want somewhere to sleep.

In those days in England being homeless was against the law, as was begging. Beggars and homeless (or homeless beggars) were sent to work houses, prison or even Australia. The cobbler’s wife ahd no idea what to do with the stranger so followed the law and took her to the Overseer Of The Poor.

The Overseer however, was bewildered by the girl. He attempted to discover which language she spoke and when he could not, decided to take her to the Magistrate, whose wife had a Greek manservant familiar with many European languages. The girl has distinctly European characteristics, and so he hoped to find out her story.

Thus the Magistrate, Samuel Worrall came to meet the girl. However neither the servant, nor anyone else at his home could decipher the girl’s speech. All she had in her pockets was a few coins, one of them counterfeit, an offense punishable by death, and a bar of soap wrapped in a piece of linen. Her hands were quite well manicured and soft, showing no signs of real work. She had strange marks on the back of her head.

They sent her to a local inn to stay the night. When she saw a picture of a pineapple on the wall she pointed to it excitedly and said “Ananas!” over and over again. The innkeeper watched her pray strangely many times (to Allah Tallah)?, decline all meat and refuse to sleep on the bed, only sleeping on the floor.

By the time, several days later, she was taken to St. Peter’s hospital in Bristol to await trial for vagrancy all they had managed to figure out was that her name was Caraboo.

At the hospital the girl continued to refuse all sorts of food (including meat), not sleep in beds and pray in her strange way. Finally, however, a Portugese travellor heard her talking and understood her (to a degree). Her story came out:

She was a princess from an island called Javasu, who’d been abducted from her homeland by pirates. During the long, arduous ship ride that followed she managed to jump overboard while the ship was in the Bristol Channel. She swam to shore and wandered until she reached the cobbler’s home where she was first seen.

Upon hearing this, Samuel Worrall immediately brought the princess back to his hometown of Knole to live at his home.

“During her time at Knole the princess delighted the Worralls and their visitors with her idiosyncratic behaviour. She fenced and used a  home-made bow and arrow with great skill, danced exotically, swam naked in the lake when she was alone, and prayed to her supreme being ‘Allah Tallah’ from treetops; all the while maintaining her unusual eating and drinking habits and strange language.”


One Dr. Wilkinson, identified her language using Edmund Fry’s Pantrographia (a book which contained the alphabet of over 200 languages across the globe) and stated that the marks on the back of her head were the work of oriental surgeons.

And thus Princess Caraboo came to stay in Gloucestershire England.

The End.

Except for, as Columbo would say, one last thing.

Each week more and more gentlement and ladies came to check out the princess and her exotic behavior would grow and grow, as would the complexity of her language. She was asked to write something and the writing sample was sent to Oxford. It was returned with only the word “Humbug.”

Newspapers ran stories on her, her portrait was painted, her likeness drawn and printed. She became famous. Aaaaaaaaaaaand that’s when it all fell apart.

“A Mrs. Neale, who ran a lodging house in Bristol,  read the description of the princess in the Bristol Journal and recognised her immediately. A couple of months earlier the girl had been a lodger at a house which she kept with her daughters, and she’d sometimes entertained them by speaking in her own made up language. When she left the house she’d been wearing a turban. ”

In addition, a wheelwright’s son (wheelwright= someone who makes and fixes…. bueller?…. yes, wheels) claimed to have met the princess two days before she showed up at the cobbler’s and eaten meat and drunken rum with him at a public house.

Confronted, she broke down and admitted she was in fact, Mary Baker, a cobbler’s daughter from Witheridge, Devon. She had wandered all over England as a servant girl, never able to stay anywhere for very long. Indeedn, every spring and autumn she would have a hard time resisting the urge to wander off. She had cared for children, had an excellent memory and imagination and had been fooling around with her own little invented language for years.

The Worralls were shocked, scandalized and immediately put Mary Baker on a ship for America where her notoriety had reached but her exposure had not. Mary tried to keep the princess thing up for awhile, but after a few months all traces of her were lost.

She seems to have returned to England four years later and after giving the Princess thing a few more failed attempts, eventually settled down in Bristol and had a daughter. She sold leeches to the Bristol Infirmary and eventually died in 1865 at 75. She was buried in an unmarked grave in the Hebron Road cemetery in Bristol.

The actual end.

P.S.: Apparently there is a 1994 film about all this called, appropriately enough: Princess Caraboo. I have not personally seen it, but it’s out there if you want to.


Posted by on January 21, 2012 in Uncategorized


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Old Time Cons: The Kansas City Shuffle

As part of our continuing series on old time con men, today we’re going to feature not an actual con man, but a con itself. The infamous Kansas City Shuffle.

The con has been around with that name since the beginning of the 20th century and in 1926 was immortalized by musician Bennie Moten is his song The Kansas City Shuffle which does indeed refer to the con.

So what is a Kansas City Shuffle? Well, it’s basically a con which revolves around someone being tricked by thinking that they’re being tricked. Get it?

See, that’s why it’s so brilliant. It’s a con which requires the mark knowing that he’s being conned. All con-games rely on misdirection to some degree, but normally the conman doesn’t want the mark to know there’s a con going on. In a Kansas City Shuffle, 3 requirements must be met:

  1. The victim must suspect that it’s a con-game
  2. The victim must think that they’ve figured out how to beat the con
  3. The victim must be wrong about what the con is.

“All three elements must be present. If the victim doesn’t suspect that they’re being conned, it’s not a Kansas City Shuffle. If the victim doesn’t set themselves up for the real con by doing something to beat the con they think they’ve spotted, it’s not a Kansas City Shuffle. If the victim is right about what the real con is, it’s not a Kansas City Shuffle.”

Example? Anybody watch Lost? Okay, late season 6, Locke/The Man in Black pulls one. He explains to the surviving castaways that he wants them to leave the Island with him in a plane. The good guys however decide to double cross him and lock themselves inside Widmore’s submarine. It looks like they’ve outsmarted him…that is, until Locke/The Man in Black grins and says to his companion Claire, “You don’t want to be anywhere on that sub.” Because he snuck a bomb onboard and by attempting to outsmart him, the castways actually fell for his trap. Bomb goes off, several main characters die and the four survivors barely escape and are left to sob on a beach at night.

In a second layer to that con, The Man in Black cannot kill the castaways himself (if you haven’t sen the show don’t ask and don’t worry) so he lets them think that he conned them into locking themselves in the submarine with a bomb. They discover the bomb before the timer runs down so they figure that they can just disarm the bomb to neutralize the trap. However, ‘disarming’ the bomb actually arms it so the castaways are causing their own deaths which is the Loophole Abuse the Man In Black needed. Ironically Jack figured it out ahead of time but the experienced conman Sawyer insisted on pulling the wires on the bomb. (thanks to TV Tropes for all that. I’ve basically lifted most of this from them)

And we have a Kansas City Shuffle. The show Hustle uses it every 3 episodes. Basically, whenever the mark figures out they’re being conned, you can bet the gang WANTED them to figure it out and there is another layer of con happening. As far as film and TV goes most of this goes back to the classic movie The Sting. While the main con in The Sting is a con known as The Wire, there is also a Kansas City Shuffle in play.

The term comes from the actual location of Kansas City. You’ve all heard of Kansas City, right? Famous town. Big city. Lots of action. Home of the blues and jazz. You want to go to Kansas City, you gotta go to Kansas, right?

Wrong. Actually Kansas City is in Misssouri, right on the other side of the river from Kansas.  But wait, not just on the other side of the river from Kansas, but ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE RIVER FROM KANSAS CITY, KANSAS. Only Kansas City, Kansas is a tiny little dump of a place and NOT the great Kansas City at all. Which is in Missouri. Across the river. Hence the famous phrase “”when they look on one side of the river, you’re on the other”, but in fact you are exactly where you said you’d be, Kansas City.

I should also mention, the entire movie Lucky Number Slevin starring Bruce Willis is one giant Kansas City Shuffle. However, since you cannot google Kansas City Shuffle without pages upon pages of this movie coming up, i thought i’d avoid and talk about other examples.

One last one. I own a pub and throw a pub quiz. Teams can enter and the winning team will win a year’s supply of beer. You want to assemble a team and enter, just to beat me and take my beer, but you also think i’m a slimeball and don’t trust me. You suspect i’m rigging the quiz and so you sniff around and find the team i’m secretly backing in order to win the game myself and avoid paying out the prizes. You sabotage my winning team and win the game. I however WANTED you to win all along for my year’s supply of beer is actually non-alcoholic beer. Had one of the other legitimate teams won, they would have been outraged, but since you already hate me and i wanted to screw you over, i picked you to win, made a killing in business off the whole quiz which brought in droves of people, and got rid of a heap of worthless beer that was taking up much needed space in my cellar.


Posted by on September 21, 2011 in Uncategorized


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Old Time Con Men: Victor Lustig

1890 – 1947 Another one of the great old time con men was “Count” (yeah right) Victor Lustig. He is most famous for selling the Eiffel Tower, but his cons are many, notorious, and the famous 10 Commandments for Con Men is attributed to him:

  • Be a patient listener (it is this, not fast talking, that gets a con man his coups).
  • Never look bored.
  • Wait for the other person to reveal any political opinions, then agree with them.
  • Let the other person reveal religious views, then have the same ones.
  • Hint at sex talk, but don’t follow it up unless the other person shows a strong interest.
  • Never discuss illness, unless some special concern is shown.
  • Never pry into a person’s personal circumstances (they’ll tell you all eventually).
  • Never boast – just let your importance be quietly obvious.
  • Never be untidy.
  • Never get drunk.

Lustig was born back in 1890 in Czechoslovakia and in his late teens and very early 20s made his living as a gambler, proficient at billiards, poker, and bridge, and he would work the trans Atlantic cruise ship circuit.

When WWI broke out, he headed to the States and began more inventive conning. In 1922 he landed in Missouri and expressed great interest in a dilapidated old farm that was unwanted and which a bank had repossessed. He adopted for the first time his role of a Count and gave a sob story of how his life of nobility in Austria was destroyed when the country was overthrown as a result of the First World War.  He claimed to have come to America to rebuild his life with what was left of the family fortune and begin a new life of farming.

Lustig offered the bankers $22,000 in Liberty bonds to buy the farm and they gladly took it.  Moreover, he also convinced them to exchange an additional $10,000 of bonds for cash so that he would have some operating capital until the farm became productive.  The bankers gladly obliged.  They were so excited to be rid of the worthless farm that they had no idea that the Count had switched envelopes and made off with both the bonds and the cash.

The bankers hired a private detective who captured him in a New York City hotel room. Now, here is just how good of a con man Lustig was: During the long train ride home, Lustig convinced his captors that if they actually did press charges against him, there would be a run on the bank by its depositors and the bank would fold.  Furthermore, and with balls the size of watermelons, Lustig insisted that they should give him $1000 for the inconvenience that the arrest has caused him.  Unbeleivably, the argument worked and “Count” Lustig walked away to freedom not just with the orginal score, but with an extra $1000 in his pocket.

Yes, he sold the Eiffel Tower, just after an article was published in the paper stating that the French government wasn’t sure how to afford its upkeep. One of his best scams, though, and my personal favorite, was the Money Printing Machine. Yes, a machine that prints $100 bills. Add some chemicals, operate the complex system of polished knobs and dials just the right way, and every 6 hours the machine will spit out a $100 bill.

Known as The Rumanian Box, it was a handsome mahogany box measuring approximately 12 inches square with a narrow slot cut in either end. He would sell the machine for $25,000 ($240,000 in today’s prices). Naturally he would show the process to the mark and indeed it would print a $100 bill. It in fact came loaded with 2 $100 bills. Thus, he would have 6- 12 hours after the sale to get out of town before the mark became wise.

However, one of Lustig first victims tried for weeks afterwards, assuming he was screwing up the procedure. Realizing people were even more gullible then he had assumed proved beneficient, for one day in Oklahoma  he was arrested on non-related fraud charges.  He pulled out his magic box and convinced the sheriff (and county treasurer) that he could have the machine in exchange for $10,000 and his freedom (they could claim that Lustig had escaped).

It was a deal that the sheriff couldn’t refuse.  However, eight months later, the sheriff caught up with Lustig in Chicago and pointed a gun at the Count’s face.  Lustig talked his way out of the predicament by explaining that the sheriff did not follow the proper sequence of turning the knobs.  Lustig then returned the $10,000 (can’t win ’em all…).  The sheriff was later arrested down on Bourbon Street for passing counterfeit $100 bills and sentenced to federal prison in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania.

Someone bet Lustig he couldn’t take Al Capone. A good bet, for Al Capone is not someone to fuck with. Lustig took to the bet. He took a safe but crafty approach to getting Capone to give him cash. He convinced Al Capone to invest $50,000 in a stock deal. He then simply kept Capone’s money in a safe deposit box for two months, after which he returned it to him, claiming that the deal had fallen through. Impressed with Lustig’s integrity, Capone gave him $5,000, and boom. The bet was won.

He eventually was arrested on counterfeiting charges, turned in by a jealous girlfriend when she found out he was sleeping around on her with his counterfeiting partner’s mistress. The day before his trial he escaped from a high security prison (bedsheets made into a rope out the window. the trick was getting the extra bedsheets: When first placed in the prison, Lustig noticed that when the attendants brought clean bed sheets to the cells, they would simply ask how many beds were occupied and hand over the required number.  When they came around to collect the soiled linens, they never counted how many were returned.  This set Lustig’s plan into motion.  A couple of weeks before his escape, Lustig simply added one to the number of occupied cots and accumulated nine sheets that he stored in a slit in his mattress.  At night, while all of the other prisoners were listening to a radio show, Lustig tore the sheets into long strips and fashioned a crude rope.)

However, 27 days later he was recaptured in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and that was it for him. He was sentenced to 20 years in Alcatraz, and 12 years later died in prison of pneumonia.

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Posted by on September 6, 2011 in Uncategorized


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Old Time Con Men: George Parker

And if you believe that, i got a bridge i’d like to sell you…

This is a phrase embedded in American culture, and refers of course to selling some idiot the Brooklyn Bridge. This all comes from one man: George Parker (1870-1936).

In fact, he was SO good at selling public landmarks that he sold the Brooklyn Bridge TWICE A WEEK for YEARS. Parker convinced businessmen that the city needed money and was selling off some assets (nowadays one could pull the same con in the name of “privatization”) and a person who owned the bridge could make a fortune charging motorists a toll to cross it. The police routinely had to come round and stop the “new owners” from erecting toll booths.

He would rent and furnish impressive offices full of hard working employees (other con men) to impress and convince his marks, switching such offices regularly. He impeccably forged documents offering proof of ownership on multiple properties.

One method of gaining marks was simply to hang around the bridge for hours at a time, casually striking up conversations. He would mention how he was going to set up a toll booth to collect fare, and would offer the mark a job working the toll booth and collecting tolls. Later he would confess that being an engineer, he wasn’t so savvy at the business aspect of the plan. Indeed, he had other bridges to build and wanted out of the whole thing. Other times he would be a government official. The mark would offer to take it off his hands and boom.

Sometimes, if the mark couldn’t pay the entire price, Parker would “loan” the mark some of the money needed to buy the bridge. He first tried the scam when he was just 20 years old, convincing a tourist to come to New York to potentially buy the bridge. It worked and he ran it for the next 45 years.

He sold Madison Square Garden numerous times, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Statue of Liberty, and would pose as General Grant’s grandson and sell Grant’ tome.

His success in legendary. However, all good things come to an end and finally, in 1928 he was arrested and sentenced to a life term in prison, which was the next 8 years. He was actually extremely popular in prison, both among the other inmates and the guards who delighted in hearing his exploits.


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Posted by on August 1, 2011 in Uncategorized


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Old Time Con Men: Joseph Weil

One aspect about the era spanning from the lat 1800s to the second world war that is one of the most colorful is the old time con men. In this series we’ll touch upon some of the most intriguing.

We begin, Ladies and Gentlemen, with one of the best and most clever: Joseph Weil.

“The desire to get something for nothing has been very costly to many people who have dealt with me and with other con men. But I have found that this is the way it works. The average person, in my estimation, is ninety-nine per cent animal and one per cent human. The ninety-nine per cent that is animal causes very little trouble. But the one per cent that is human causes all our woes. When people learn – as I doubt they will – that they can’t get something for nothing, crime will diminish and we shall live in greater harmony.”

Nicknamed ‘The Yellow Kid’ after the Yellow Kid in the comic strip Hogan’s Alley and The Yellow Kid, Weil was born in 1875 in Chicago. At the age of 17 he was involved in the load sharking industry and he saw some of his peers pocketing some the money they were otherwise obligated to hand over to their bosses. And this being Chicago, you can only imagine those bosses. He started a little protection racket, promising to keep it all hush hush for a small piece of the pie.

Mkaing his rounds in the loan sharking industry he became acquainted with Doc Meriwether, a big time con man, and Doc soon took Weil under his wing and taught him the tricks of the trade.

One of Doc’s Main swindles was Meriwether’s Elixir, good for whatever ails man or beast, but particularly helpful with tapeworms. During that period tapeworms were a bit of a boogeyman, thought to be responsible for a myriad of afflictions and actually responsible for none. Doc’s Elixir, whose chief ingredient was rainwater, mixed with with some cascara and alcohol cleared it right up.

We are talking literally, about the set up on the back of a wagon. Doc would roll up, park his wagon, couple of girls would do a little dance, Weil would act as either a barker or a shill (a plant in the crowd) and thus Doc would sell his magic elixir and make a killing.

From there Weil struck out on his own and gradually became one of the most successful con men of all time. His secret wasn’t that his cons were always more imaginative than the standard long cons of the day, (although they were indeed pretty imaginative. Honestly, a lot of his stuff is straight out he BBC series Hustle) his real secret was that he was an extraordinary judge of both character and psyche. He could tell exactly where the mark was in his head and play or change to it.

Some of his cons were as follows:

The Racehorse Con.

Weil and a partner would pose as representatives of The American Turf Association, who control  most of the better racetracks in the country. They would approach, say, the an Olive Oil Importer. They needed olive oil to bathe the horse in and give them their sheen. A large order would be discussed, but halfway through the meeting Weil would excuse himself to make an important call.

The mark would wonder what such a call could be to walk out on a meeting and Weil’s partner would begrudging tell him Weil did this every day at the same time and he was calling a betting commissioner. He explained how Weil mysteriously cleaned up at teh track and would show the mark a newspaper clipping from The Racing Form about Weil’s character and how he was so successful at the track.

When Weil returned the mark would question him and gradually drag out fo him that he was getting inside information. The mark would then ask if Weil could place a bet for him. Weil would begrudgingly agree, but just this once. Off to the back they’d go to get a sizeable stack of cash to make the one sure bet…

badda bing, badda boom.

The Faro Bank Pay Off.

So Weil hires a bunch of guys to play their various parts.

A rich woman wants to lease her 9 bedroom apartment on the Gold Coast for several months while she goes abroad. Weil rents it and to insure he gets it, pays in advance.

He and his crew set up an upper class gambling den in it, and declare it to be one of a small number of real clubs set up by a millionaire named Jettison who catered to the socially elite. The apartment was so luxurious that by the time Weil was done putting the games in, it looked like exactly what one would imagine such a gaming room to look like.

Next Weil approached mark 1. Mark 1 was not rich, but his close friend, mark 2 was. Mark 2 was the real mark, but he comes in much later.

Weil’s “uncle” works in the upper class club. After years and years of didicated service he’s being let go and screwed out of his pension, so before he goes he wants to screw the club. He needs mark1 to help. Weil’s character can’t help of course since it being his uncle, he’s known there and winning to big for him would be suspicious.

Weil’s uncle deals the game called Faro Bank. The Uncle teaches Mark1 is to play it and to pick up on his signals. Mark1 will go to the club, play the game with the uncle dealing, make a killing and split it with the uncle.

The game Faro Bank

Got it?

Mark1 will of course buy in a large amount: $50,000. (this is 1910 remember) Mark 1 doesn’t have the kind of money to buy in such an amount, but no matter. The club being upper class and with a selective clietelle, accepts checks. Makr1 will just use a check and deposit the money needed to cover it eh next day with his winnings.

Mark1 goes to the club, plays the game and wins big. $300,000 kind of big (and we’re talking early 20th century money) Mark1 goes to cash it, a veritable fortune, but the “pitboss” makes trouble.

The pitboss points out makr 1 is not a member, merely a guest invited by Weir’s character. Guests do not have check writing priviledges. Rules are rules. The winnings are indeed mark1’s to have, but the check will not do. He must buy in in cash. And no, he cannot use his winnings to do such a thing. Pitboss has no intention of bending the rules of the Gaming Comission. Everything must be above board.

Oh no… what to do what to do. Weir does not know anyone with that kind of cash. They are lost. Oh, but mark1 points out he does know someone with that kind of cash. He knows mark2, who he certain he can get to cover it.

So mark2 is brought in. Furthermore, unlike mark1, who is quite honest about his lack of knowledge about many things, mark is always int he know about everything. The next day, mark2, Weil and his “uncle” go back to the gambling den. Alas, pitboss is not there and has the money stored in the vault.

Hmm. Well now, while they wait why don’t they teach mark2 the game Faro Bank and he can use the $50,000 he brought to just buy in and win himself?

And so they play. And oh how mark2 begins to win. Last turn comes. The uncle signals mark2. Mark2 bets and goes all in. The uncle furiously signals to withdraw the bet. This is caught by the current pitboss who insists the bet stands. The hand loses. All is lost. Uncle and mark2 and Weil are kicked out of the club.

But here’s the kicker. What ultimately loses the hand is that the uncle signals mark2 to bet on the high card first, thus mark2 bets on the ace first.

Well for heaven’s sake! Don’t you know in Faro Bank the Ace is the low card?!? Mark2 had made out like he had some knowledge of the game. And thus mark2’s know it all attitude is used against him AND mark2 believes he’s the one who screwed up and lost the cash so he doesn’t blame anybody.

Badda bing badda boom.

Weil’s done phony oil deals, he’s been a chemist who figured out how to copy dollar bills,  he’s sold lots of land for lots of reasons (gold on it, oil in it, you name it), and tons and tons of stocks. In the 20s before the crash it was easy as cake to sell stocks and Weil made most of his monye off of stock selling. He hustled over $8 million dollars in his lifetime, only spent 3 years in jail, and died at age 100. He even wrote a book “Yellow Kid” Weil: The Autobiography of America’s Master Swindler. Which can be read in its entirety here.

Weil is legendary and one of the most sucessful con men of all time and one of the more colorful characters of  early 20th century America and grifter history.

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Posted by on July 30, 2011 in Uncategorized


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