, 1863-1924, U.S., fraud. One of the most spectacular medical quacks of the twentieth century, Abrams became a millionaire claiming that his electrical gadgets could cure any fatal disease, from cancer to syphilis. Contributing mightily to his success was a gullible public that believed anything possible in the infant age of radio and the harnessing of electricity.
On the surface, Dr. Abrams appeared to be an accomplished physician, obtaining his medical degree from the University of Heidelberg in 1882, or claiming to have received his degree there. He also studied at Portland University and, according to his own entry in Who's Who, did research studies in London, Berlin, Vienna, and Paris, the very seats of higher knowledge. By 1893, Abrams was a professor of pathology at the Cooper Medical College in San Francisco and there penned some sensible if not enlightening books which caused no one alarm. In one of these tomes the good doctor wrote: "The physician is allowed to think he knows it all, but the quack, ungoverned by conscience, is permitted to know he knows it all; and with a fertile mental field for humbuggery, truth can never successfully compete with untruth." With these words, Dr. Abrams outlined his own plans to jump feet first into wholesale quackery. The signs of the doctor's decision to abandon the ethics of his profession were evident some time earlier when he informed students in his course of physical diagnosis that they could attend a far more interesting lecture each evening. This was his own course, devoid of the school's endorsement, for which he charged $200 a head and in which Abrams spewed forth a puzzling new theory of medicine. When school officials learned of the doctor's side practice, he was promptly fired from his position. His answer was to set up his own clinic and quickly write and publish several books, including Self-Poisoning, Diagnostic-Therapeutics, and Spinal Therapeutics, all in 1909. These and other works described the doctor's amazing new theories which he labeled "Spondylotherapy."
It was all quite simple, really. Dr. Abrams could, by percussing (tapping) the spine or abdomen, determine any kind of disease. He could also, he insisted, by his particular method of tapping, cure those serious diseases. The AMA Journal reviewed Abrams' books and critically scalped them, but the doctor altered the reviews to make them sound praiseworthy and placed them into advertisements for not only his books but to sell-out lectures in San Francisco and in other major cities where he went on tour. To him flocked a horde of other quacks, humbugs, fakes, and doctors whose naivete was as rampant as their curiosity. For years Abrams advanced his oddball diagnostic theories, making substantial sums.
With the coming of early-day radio, mainly the crystal-set, Abrams capitalized upon the public fascination with electronic waves. "The spirit of the age is radio," wrote Abrams, "and we can use radio in diagnosis." The medium opened up great new financial opportunities to the inventive quack and he quickly produced a startling new invention, a very secret machine, which could harness radio waves and produce instant and life-saving diagnoses. He labeled his machine the Dynamizer, into which he would place a piece of filter paper which carried a drop of blood from a patient.The patient, then stripped to the waist, reclined with a wire from the Dynamizer fixed to the patient's head with an electrode. The patient at all times, Dr. Abrams demanded without ever giving an explanation, must be facing west. He would then begin percussing (tapping) on the patient's spine or abdomen and quickly diagnose the person's ailment. These miraculous determinations the doctor labeled: "Electronic Reactions of Abrams" or ERA.
To startled audiences packing his lectures, Abrams made an impressive appearance, an imposing figure with a Van Dyke beard (a "torpedo beard" as H.L. Mencken once described it) and a pince-nez from which dangled a long black ribbon. He spoke with great confidence and every articulated phrase rang with authority. Patiently, the doctor explained that every ailment had its own "vibratory rate," which, through careful use of his sensitive machine and subtle tapping, he and only he could interpret and thus define. In this way, Dr. Abrams could diagnose tuberculosis, cancer, syphilis, all manner of serious diseases. At each lecture, which often netted Abrams more than $2,000, the doctor added more and more revelations produced by his Dynamizer and his magical tapping. He could not only determine diseases through his machines and procedures, but could tell the religion practiced by the patient, but only if his subjects were Catholic, Jewish, Protestant, Methodist, Theosophist, or Seventh Day Adventist.
Thousands now flocked to see this miracle man of medicine and buy his books, as well as buy his hermetically sealed machines and lease the all-important Oscilloclast, a new invention that, when properly applied to the patient, could actually cure anyone of any kind of deadly disease or ailment. By 1920, Abrams was doing a land-office business in selling and leasing his machines to hundreds of radio-wave-using quacks. Thousands of believers flocked to receive his cure from eye-rolling disciples. Abrams then announced an even more startling discovery.
He could now dispense with the use of the dried splotch of blood from a patient. All that was really needed was the patient's autograph. From that signature, Abrams, with the help of his marvelous Dynamizer and amazing Oscilloclast, could diagnose any disease. More importantly, Abrams could now interpret the diseases of the great departed by medically examining their signatures. After some important experimentation, Dr. Abrams announced to the world that he had electronically examined the signatures of Edgar Allan Poe, Dr. Samuel Johnson, Oscar Wilde, Samuel Pepys, and even the great Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and, without an exception, all of these distinguished gentlemen had been suffering from death-dealing syphilis! In Poe's case, he had also suffered severe dipsomania.
Sanity, however, had not abandoned the true medical world. Doubting physicians soon began testing Abrams and his machines. Against his expressed orders, one of his Dynamizers was opened and inside was found nothing more than a jumble of madly scrambled wires attached to rheostats and electrodes that formed no logical pattern or design. Blood samples were sent to Abrams from across the country, along with substantial payments for his priceless diagnoses. One Michigan physician sent a blood sample he said came from a young woman; it was really that of healthy male guinea pig. Abrams shot back a report that the young woman was suffering from "cancer to the amount of six ohms." He added that the poor wretch also had a streptococcic infection of her left fallopian tube and another infection of the left frontal sinus. Abrams was trapped by another doctor who sent a blood sample from a rooster who was diagnosed to have cancer, diabetes, malaria, and venereal diseases.
Yet Abrams had arrived with such impact that he was now considered to be a great diagnostic authority, even though AMA experts were quietly investigating his preposterous claims. In an important paternity case, Abrams and his incredible machines were consulted. He reported that his tappings and vibratory discoveries without question proved that the man was indeed the father of the infant in question. Prominent citizens came forth to sing the praises of this new medical magician, including the widely-read Upton Sinclair, author of such important social works as The Jungle.
Sinclair wrote glowingly of Abrams as a man who could bring cures to all the world's diseases, stating in Book of Life: "So is opened to our eyes a wonderful vision of a new race, purified and made fit for life...Take my advice, whoever you may be that are suffering, and find out about this new work and help make it known to the world." Nothing daunted Sinclair's almost fanatical belief in Abrams, even after the AMA openly labeled the tapping doctor an utter quack. "He has made the most revolutionary discovery of this or any other age," Sinclair wrote in answer to the AMA. "I venture to stake whatever reputation I ever hope to have that he has discovered the great secret of the diagnosis and cure of all major diseases. He has proved it by diagnosing with taps of his own sensitive fingertips over fifteen thousand people, and my investigation convinces me that he has cured over ninety-five percent."
The AMA brought forth its findings and thoroughly denounced Abrams as a charlatan, but the doctor was by then beyond the reach of exposure. At the age of sixty, Dr. Albert Abrams caught pneumonia and promptly died on Jan. 13, 1924, leaving an estate of more than $2 million. Though the insides of Dr. Abram's phony Dynamizer boxes were opened and showed to be nothing more than a network of crazy-quilt wiring, the unwashed believers remained loyal, thousands of disciples insisting upon the validity of the machines and the tapping
procedures, as well as tens of other thousands who claimed to have been cured by ERA. Author Upton Sinclair remained one of these to his dying days.
Sinclair, in later writings, declared that the doctor's final diagnoses had been incorrect because of the proliferation of radio. When he began, Sinclair pointed out, Abrams had the airwaves to himself and his results were pure and absolute. But then came, Sinclair wrote, "complex vibrations of I know not how many radio stations" and these cluttered ERA operations and doomed the Abrams procedures to failure. All these radio stations really killed off the great doctor, said Sinclair, so that "the old man died, literally, of his bewilderment and chagrin."
, prom. 1920s, U.S., fraud. Abrams took out a large insurance policy before he went swimming at Rockaway, N.Y., in Spring 1928; his clothes were found on the beach some hours later after he had been reported missing by his wife and was presumably washed out to sea. Insurance investigators visited Mrs. Abrams in her Manhattan apartment and became suspicious since she appeared hysterical before she had been informed of her husband's probable death. The insurance settlement was withheld pending an investigation which ended some months later in Montreal, Can. Following a collision between two cars in that city, one of the drivers was knocked unconscious and taken to a hospital where authorities found many newspaper clippings concerned with the supposed drowning of Sam Abrams. The accident victim was later identified as Abrams, and he was arrested and later sent to prison for insurance fraud.
Adcox, Dr. Robert
, prom. 1920s, U.S., fraud. When a St. Louis Star reporter was assigned to establish a false identity and infiltrate a diploma mill scheme, he spent about five months and $3,000 to uncover the fraud. Dr. Adcox was a well-known St. Louis physician thought to be involved in the business of selling educational and medical degrees. In August 1923 the Star assigned Harry Thompson Brundige, a young reporter, to get a job as a salesman that would allow him to circulate freely in the city, and to break into the world of diplomas-by-mail. Brundige dropped his last name to become Harry Thompson, got a job as a coal salesman, and moved in next door to Adcock in Springfield, Mo., rapidly becoming friendly with his neighbor by pretending to come to him as a patient. When Brundige admired the doctor's lifestyle, Adcox invited him, for a price, to become a doctor, too. "If you are willing to spend your $1,000 to become a doctor, you are as good as a doctor right now," he said. The next day they left for Kansas City to visit Dr. Ralph A. Voight in Kansas City, who told Thompson that he could get him a high school diploma, three years credit from a medical school, and enrollment in the senior year course at Dr. R. Alexander's Kansas City College of Medicine and Surgery. After eight months of school, Thompson would get a diploma and be a full-fledged doctor, for a total fee, Voight explained, of $1,000.
After a series of cryptically coded telegrams announcing funds received, increases in costs, and various delays of high school diplomas and other licenses, Thompson met Voight again at the end of September, telling him he had decided not to go to school at all and insisted on receiving his diploma and license anyway. On Oct. 3, Voight gave the reporter a medical diploma and a license to practice in the state of Tennessee, making him "Harry Thompson, M.D." Thompson then decided to become a chiropractor, so Adcox and Voight arranged a meeting with Dr. Florence F. Baars. After two hours and twenty-two minutes and about $39.50 for fees and books, Thompson completed his studies. Another $89.50 for an adjusting table and spinal charts, and two additional hours of instruction prepared Thompson for his future career.
A few weeks later, he received his high school certificate by mail from the state superintendent of public instruction in Missouri and his Doctor of Medicine Degree from the National University of Arts and Sciences in St. Louis. On Oct. 15, 1923, the St. Louis Dispatch published the first of Brundige's articles and police arrested Voight, Adcox, Alexander, and Professor W.P. Sachs, a former examiner of Missouri schools. Sachs, who had been in the business of selling diplomas for eleven years, said he had sold around 5,000 bogus documents, mostly doctor's licenses. Voight explained that many of the degrees were purchased from the widows of recently deceased doctors who needed the cash.
, prom. 1940s-50s, Fr., fraud. Alberto led a ring of shrewd confidence men on the Riviera during the late 1940s, and when he heard that an ultra-conservative French millionaire was overly concerned about Communists taking over France, he set in action an impossible but extremely lucrative scheme. The 27-year-old Baron Scipion du Roure de Beruyre, who had vast real estate holdings in Bagnois-sur-Cze and villas at Cap d'Antibes, made the mistake of voicing his concerns about the Communists to a hustler named Aim Gaillard who, a short time later, introduced the baron to Raymond, who claimed that he was an inspector of the French Border Police. Raymond, as he sat with the Baron in one of his luxurious villas sipping cool drinks, confided to the nobleman that France, indeed, was in serious peril of a Communist takeover. He went on to add that the French intelligence service was in dire straits financially until it was voted new government funds and the delay would cause France to miss the opportunity to obtain priceless uranium which the country needed for its atomic weaponry.
Patriotic to the core, du Roure offered to finance the purchase of the uranium which he believed was being smuggled into France from Germany. He began to advance hundreds of thousands of francs to Alberto and his men, receiving what he thought were sealed shipments of uranium which, he, in turn, passed on to what he thought were French intelligence agents. He did this to serve his country and believed that he had to continue operating secretly so as not to alert the traitorous Communist members of France's Chamber of Deputies. For almost two years, Baron du Roure dumped $342,842 into the hands of the con men, but he eventually grew restless, asking if there would ever be an end to the purchase and clandestine delivery of the uranium shipments. Alberto concluded that his sucker had been bilked up to a point where the ring now risked exposure. He informed the baron that his services were no longer needed and that the government would soon be returning his money with considerable interest. Moreover, added Alberto, France intended to award du Roure with the distinguished Legion of Honor medal.
When the list of official recipients of this award was announced on Dec. 31, 1952, and the baron found that his name was not on it, du Roure angrily called the Deuxime Bureau, France's official intelligence agency, and complained that he had been insulted, that he had given his efforts and money to save his country from the Communists and now, though promised, he was not to be recognized by France. The baron was told that no Inspector Alberto existed. Du Roure mentioned several other French officers of the Bureau, but he was told that these men did not exist either. Realizing, finally, that he had been mulcted, the baron went to authorities and told them where he had buried the secret uranium shipments. These were first examined with Geiger counters and then opened to reveal packages of sand and others with tap water.
The con ring, however, exposed itself when several of its members began to spend lavishly, and Alberto was tracked down as were Louis Gagliardoni, who had impersonated a general of French intelligence named Combaluzier, and Marius Carlicchi, who had pretended to be another intelligence officer, Colonel Berthier. All three confidence men were tried in Paris and, as the ridiculous swindle was unraveled the presiding judge had to stifle laughter at the scheme. "I congratulate you on your imagination," the magistrate told Alberto, "but how were you able to tell the baron such stupendous tales without ever laughing?" Alberto shrugged as he stood before the bench and replied, "He just believed everything." Alberto and Carlicchi were sentenced to four years in prison in June 1953, and Cagliardoni received eighteen months. Go-between Galliard was found harmless but he reveled in the baron's gullibility. "The baron was my pearl," he told a reporter, "and let me tell you, a man's got to crack a lot of oysters before he finds a pearl like that."
Allen, George E
. (AKA: Dr. Jesse Fairchild Adams), 1920-, U.S., fraud-impersonation.
Allen served as the chief physician of the Tennessee Department of Corrections for thirteen months before investigators learned that he was an impostor. Allen, as Dr. Jesse Fairchild Adams, was hired on Aug. 7, 1978, to head the state's inmate medical program where he treated convicts and supervised a staff of seventy, including six doctors, until an anonymous tip claiming he was not really a doctor began an investigation that led to his arrest in September 1979.
Allen, an acquaintance of the actual Dr. Adams, a retired Navy surgeon, was charged with six counts of practicing medicine without a license. On July 18, 1980, he was convicted and sentenced to one to four years for fraud. Allen served over two and a half years and was released on Feb. 8, 1983.
, prom. 1922, U.S., fraud-arson. Katherine Allers was a stately, middle-aged Brooklyn woman who tried but failed to bilk an insurance company with a fraudulent fire claim. On Mar. 22, 1922, at a city real-estate auction in Brooklyn, N.Y., Allers purchased a run-down mansion on East 53rd Street and Avenue M in the Flatlands section. The city stipulated, however, that she clear the property within thirty days to make way for a roadway about to go through.
Allers insured the house for $5,000 and the furniture for $2,500 before setting two separate fires with kerosene-soaked rags and a candle. Appearing before Supreme Court Justice Harry Lewis in Brooklyn, she accused Fire Marshal Brophy of offering to split the insurance money in exchange for a confession.
Judge Lewis rebuked Allers for giving false and malicious testimony. He then sentenced her to five to ten years in the Auburn Prison.
Ammon, Robert A
.. (AKA: Colonel) prom. 1899, and Miller, William F., prom.
1899, U.S., fraud. In 1899, a down-and-out Wall Street hanger-on named William Miller engineered a financial swindle that netted $430,000. But by the time Miller went to prison, his partner, "Colonel" Robert Ammon, had seen to it that he barely had a dime to show for it.
Miller rented a suite of offices on Floyd Street, Brooklyn, in February 1899. He printed handbills and circulars soliciting funds for investment. Promising inside information on hot stock tips, the sham business grew and prospered. The Franklin Syndicate, as Miller called the firm, attracted investors from across the United States and Canada.
Miller sent interest checks to the out-of-towners to ensure their continued support. When the Franklin Syndicate grew too large for Miller to handle by himself, he hired two business agents, Rudolph Guenther and Edward Schlessinger, who in turn introduced him to one of New York's cracker-jack lawyers, the self-styled "colonel," Robert A. Ammon.
Ammon, a veteran of the bucket shop racket, took charge. He incorporated the business and placed $100,000 in a certificate of deposit with Wells Fargo. By this time there were rumors that Miller was running a green goods game, and that the Franklin Syndicate was little more than an elaborate swindle. This was true, of course, but Ammon hotly denied the allegations and demanded retractions from the papers.
At the Boston office, investors staged a run on the bank, taking home $28,000 in Franklin Syndicate cash. In New York, the police were closing in. Ammon advised Schlessinger to flee to Canada, while he cleverly tucked away $30,500 with Wells Fargo. But in order for the state to prosecute, it had to prove that this was the same money Miller stole from his customers.
William Miller was brought back to New York and prosecuted by Kings County District Attorney John Clark on the strength of Ammon's testimony. Meanwhile, Schlessinger absconded to Europe with $175,000 and lived the life of a high roller.
Miller, by this time penniless, was convicted and sent to Sing Sing for ten years. While in prison, he was persuaded by the district attorney to give evidence against Ammon. His story was convincing, and Ammon was convicted, despite his plea that he had acted only as Miller's counsel and was therefore somehow immune. Miller served half his sentence before Governor Frank Wayland Higgins of New York pardoned him. Ammon went to Sing Sing, where he used his money and influence to gain privileged treatment. See: Miller, William Franklin
, 1829-73, and Slack, John, prom. 1870s, U.S., fraud. Philip Arnold and John Slack had the distinction of being the only two confidence men to ever successfully salt a diamond mine in the U.S., a scam that fleeced the pockets of some of America's richest men. In the summer of 1871, both Arnold and Slack went to the offices of George Roberts, a mining promoter, showing him a sack of diamonds, emeralds, and rubies, saying that they had discovered a high plateau in Wyoming which was loaded with every known rare gem in the world. This occurred, of course, at a time when lapidary experts were extremely limited in their ability to determine the value of true gems. The jewels left by Arnold and Slack were valued at being worth more than $300, 000, even though the con men had spent only $20,000 in buying industrial gems to use as their lure. Arnold and Slack asked the mining promoter if he thought he might be able to put together a financial group to invest in developing the diamond field they had found. They were willing, of course, to give controlling interest in the field to the investors; they were but simple farmers and prospectors who sought only to make a "reasonable profit" from their discovery. Roberts contacted more than a dozen multimillionaires, including William C. Ralston, president of the Bank of California; General George H. Dodge, August Belmont, Henry Seligman, General George P. McClellan
, General Samuel L. Barlow, and General Benjamin F. Butler. Baron Rothschild got involved through his U.S. representative and London millionaires Asbury Harpending, William Lent, and Alfred Rubery also asked to invest. It was an "insider's" investment, one which would reap untold billions in rare gems.
The con men passed several tests set for them by the investment consortium, taking representatives of the millionaires to the Wyoming field—blindfolded for the last part of the trip on muleback--where they were shown a plateau of 6,500 feet which they had salted with another $50,000 in industrial gems Arnold had purchased in Antwerp. The representative was allowed to fill a sack full of the gems and cart this back to civilization where such distinguished jewelers as Charles Lewis Tiffany turned them over to their inexpert lapidaries who pronounced them priceless. The consortium coughed up $100,000 as a down payment to Arnold and Slack and continued to give them similar amounts regularly over the next two years to develop the field, holding a claim on the area. Of course neither Arnold nor Slack developed anything, except their own bank accounts. They pocketed at least $500,000 in payments from the consortium before departing the West. Slack was never seen again but Arnold boldly returned to his native Elizabethtown, Ky., where he bought an estate. When the bilked millionaires discovered that they had been conned, most of them kept quiet, lest the world mock them for their greed and lack of common sense, let alone the shabby business acumen they had displayed.
One of the suckers, William Lent, did admit to having been taken in this preposterous scam and filed suit, which is how the details of the impossible fraud came to light. There was little chance of Lent winning his suit since Arnold would be tried in his home town where his friends admired him for suckering some of the world's richest men. He nevertheless refunded about $150,000 to Lent to get rid of the suit. Arnold was still left with about $250,000. This money went to his head, however, and he soon had visions of becoming an international financier himself. To that end he opened a bank in Elizabethtown but his financial glory was short-lived. An enraged banking competitor let loose a blast from a shotgun into Arnold's back as he strolled down the street one day, and the con man died a short time later from these wounds, coupled with pneumonia.
Arnstein, Jules W.
, (Arndstein) (AKA: Nicky; Nick Arnold; Nicholas Arnold; Wallace Ames; John Adams; J. Willard Adair), prom. 1910s-20s, U.S., fraud-rob. Arnstein was a dapper, handsome crook who wore Bond Street clothes, ate in the best restaurants, and stayed in the finest hotels in America and Europe. He liked everyone to think that he was an international gambler, encouraging the romantic image he had of himself, especially in the women who loved him. One of these was the Broadway comedienne, Fannie Brice, who squandered her fortune on him and his worthless ways. He was arrogant, selfish, and vain as a strutting peacock, but full of color and had a great sense of offbeat humor. Coupled with his intriguing personality, Arnstein's image was expanded by the notorious and flamboyant characters about him, his financial backer, Arnold Rothstein, whom he admired and followed into gambling disaster and his celebrated lawyer, William J. Fallon, "The Great Mouthpiece" for America's most infamous criminals, not the least of whom was Arnstein.
Gambling, the obsession that was to grip Arnstein all his life, was utterly foreign to his hard-working, middle class parents, immigrants who struggled to maintain respectability. His father, a Jew born in Berlin, fought gallantly in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 and was decorated several times. He later immigrated to the U.S., settling in New York. Arnstein's mother was Dutch, reared in the Episcopal Church and when she married his father, it was agreed that the family would attend St. Joseph's Episcopal Church in New York City. The gambler proudly told his friends in later years that he was a communicant in the church through his teens, adding, "No boy could have been brought up with more love and care than was I, and I always have loved the beautiful things of life--beautiful pictures, good books, and birds and flowers. My fondness for gambling, however, led me to live a life rather apart from my family. It is one of the penalties I have paid for my fondness for the cards, the dice, and the horses."
Arnstein, in addition to sharping transatlantic passengers at cards on luxury liners, beginning about 1910, was a deft confidence man, mulcting victims in a variety of con games. His first arrest was one of an international nature. In 1912, Arnstein bilked an American businessman, William E. Shinks, of Springfield, Mass., out of $15,000 but fled to London. There, with dyed blonde hair, he and some others busied themselves in fleecing British blue bloods. He was arrested in London for the Shinks scam by two New York detectives, Barney Flood and Joseph Riley. The detectives had gone to London to arrest two American racketeers who had eluded their handcuffs after posting a $100,000 bail in the British courts. Flood and Riley then received a cable to arrest Arnstein on the Shinks job. The detectives found their man at the Savoy, living royally and calling himself James Wilfred Adair. When they approached him in the hotel foyer, Arnstein, affecting a British accent, "Raaly, this is a surprise. You quite have the advawntage of me, don't you know. I really cawn't say that I evah saw you befoah."
"Cut the act, Arnstein," Flood told him; he had met Arnstein years earlier when busting up crap and poker games in New York. "You're going back to the States with us."
Arnstein maintained his phony identity and accent all the way back to the U.S. on board a luxury liner and right into a New York court where he managed to post $25,000 bail (provided by his father who thought his son could do no wrong). Arnstein's lawyer, William Fallon, tried mightily to wiggle his client out of a conviction in the Shinks case but the prosecution by District Attorney Charles S. Whitman was doggedly effective and Arnstein was eventually convicted, being sentenced to serve two years in Sing Sing by Judge Otto Rosalsky. Arnstein arrived at Sing Sing on Mar. 18, 1916, and became a model prisoner of trusty status. Whitman, then governor, pardoned him on July 16, 1917, with almost nine months taken off the con man's sentence.
The short time Arnstein spent in Sing Sing was due to his powerful friends, both criminal and political. He was a friend and sometimes employee of Mr. Big, Arnold Rothstein, and the client of William J. Fallon whose political links to local and state politicians were strong. Moreover, Arnstein had met the internationally celebrated Ziegfeld comedy star Fannie Brice in London in December 1913 when Brice was starring at the London Palladium. For propriety's sake, the comedienne later claimed she met Arnstein in Baltimore in 1914. She was married to hotel and barbershop owner Frank White whom she divorced in 1913. Arnstein was also married, having wed Carrie Greenthal on May 5, 1906. While Arnstein was a prisoner at Sing Sing, Fannie visited him as often as permitted, spending a fortune in fees to Fallon to get him out. She reportedly sold a good deal of her jewelry, getting only $20,000 for gems that were worth ten times that amount, to keep Arnstein comfortable in prison.
Fannie Brice, a fool for love, also had to deal with Arnstein's estranged wife who filed a $100,000 suit against her for alienation of affection. Fannie paid her off and she and Arnstein were married in Brooklyn, date uncertain. The couple settled down and produced two handsome children. Arnstein told a reporter, "I love a home, a fireside. I think of my wife waiting for me, with the children and my heart warms. A wife and children, and the future to look forward together." While Arnstein played the family man to the press, he continued his liaisons with the underworld, often becoming the front man in enormous white collar robberies. He appeared to mastermind these robberies on Wall Street, particularly those of negotiable bonds, but the man who pulled the strings was his idol, Rothstein. "I have a gambler's heart," Arnstein once confided in a friend. "It is a great thrill to me to play a game. One of the biggest kicks I ever got was when I saw Arnold Rothstein lose $500,000 once on the turn of a card without a sign of emotion."
It was Rothstein who was undoubtedly behind the theft of $5 million in Liberty Bond thefts which began in 1918. Messengers carrying these bonds from one Wall Street broker to another, as forms of collateral on various investments, were provided with no security guards and the runners were easily held up. The bonding houses which insured the bonds for the broker were the real losers, having to shoulder the loss. Police began to tail the messengers but this proved an almost fruitless task in that there were so many messengers picking up Liberty Bonds by the scores and at all hours without notice, that officers found it impossible to keep track of the deliveries. Finally, on Feb. 2, 1920, police followed a messenger from Parrish and Company on Broadway and interrupted seven men who, minutes later, were in the act of holding up the runner at gun point. Among the seven stickup men was Joseph Gluck, a man with a long history of assault and armed robbery. He was the acknowledged ringleader of the holdup gang but Gluck refused to talk, insisting that he would wait to hear from his lawyer. Neither his lawyer nor his bail bondsman appeared and Gluck languished in the Tombs.
Incensed at being ignored by his bosses, Gluck made a deal with the district attorney, getting a suspended sentence for informing on the top people in the bond theft ring. These included Nick Cohen whom Gluck said recruited him for the robbery band and Cohen's underboss, William Furey, his liaison to Cohen. Only once, Gluck said, did he get a glance at the man he called "Mr. Arnold, the mastermind" of the bond robberies. It was to Arnold that the bonds were delivered and he, in turn, fenced them for half of their worth, Gluck surmised, keeping the lion's share of the profits for himself. (The truth was that Arnstein turned over more than $5 million in stolen bonds to his mentor, Rothstein, and received one-fifth on the dollar, a considerable amount but from which he had to fund the entire robbery ring.) At first police thought that the mysterious "Mr. Arnold" was none other than the notorious gambler Arnold Rothstein, but when pictures of Rothstein were shown to Gluck the bandit shook his head. He described "Mr. Arnold" as tall, handsome, slender, very sophisticated with a handsomely waxed mustache that was slightly turned up at the ends. This fit the description of Nicky Arnstein and Gluck nodded
instantly when shown Arnstein's photos. An all-points bulletin was issued to arrest Arnstein. But the dapper gambler knew all about Gluck and the non-stop confessions he made to the police. Cohen and Furey, who had also been arrested, joined with Gluck in identifying Arnstein as the boss of the bond thefts.
Arnstein was nowhere to be found. Fannie Brice told detectives that her husband was off somewhere playing cards. When told that her husband was the mastermind behind the bond thefts, Fannie laughed uproariously. "Nicky? My Nicky?" she told detectives. "Nicky Arnstein couldn't mastermind an electric light bulb into a socket!" To Fannie Brice, Nicky Arnstein was a sweet, ineffectual gambler, a charming man who was fun to be with, a tender-hearted husband who doted upon their children. She would cling to her romantic image
of Arnstein until the day of her death in 1951, saying many years after they had divorced, still in love with the rogue, "He stood for manners, education, good breeding, and an extraordinary gift for dreaming." No, certainly, her Nicky could never have been behind the notorious Wall Street robberies.
The fugitive was far from New York at this time, having gone to Pittsburgh and registered at a posh hotel to wait for a deal to be made by his lawyer Fallon. He still had Arnold Rothstein behind him and was confident that he would never serve another day in prison. Rothstein continued to support his colorful lieutenant, calling in Fallon and ordering him to establish bail for the missing Arnstein. Fallon began negotiating for his client Arnstein. Officials insisted that a $100,000 bail be set but Fallon argued them down to $60,000. When this was arranged, Arnstein slipped into New York City in May 1920 and, in keeping with his whimsical nature, suggested that he turn himself into the police in a spectacular fashion. He, Fannie Brice, Rothstein, and William J. Fallon got into Rothstein's blue Cadillac Laudelet and drove it behind the tail end of the annual police parade, driving down Fifth Avenue to take cheers and waves from thousands of spectators, including many dignitaries on the reviewing stand, among them the police commissioner and the mayor. The car pulled up in front of a fashionable speakeasy owned by Thomas E. Foley, Big Tom of Tammany fame. Rothstein and Arnstein went across the street to the Criminal Courts Building to arrange Nicky's bail while Fannie Brice, Fallon, Donald Henderson Clarke, a newsman friendly to the Arnsteins, and bondsman Harold Norris, stepped into Foley's for some drinks.
When Fallon later looked out the window of the saloon, he saw that Rothstein's expensive car was gone, stolen. He turned to Foley's manager, Michael N. Delagi and told him that Rothstein would have his head for allowing his Cadillac to be stolen. The much-frightened Delagi immediately got on the phone and made several calls, saying that the car stolen from in front of Foley's place belonged to Mr. Big. The vehicle reappeared within thirty minutes. Inside of it was the notorious Edward "Monk" Eastman, and three of his goons. Eastman was apologetic, saying his boys had no idea that the car belonged to Mr. Rothstein. "You was lucky callin' so quick," Eastman added, since the car was already in a garage and a crew was about to dismantle it and sell its expensive parts. (Eastman, once an underworld powerhouse, would be murdered only seven months later.)
Fallon made legal history in his defense of Arnstein, telling his client to refuse to answer the court's questions on the grounds that "they would tend to incriminate and degrade" him. He carried this argument all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court where the court agreed with Fallon, upholding the rights of an accused under the Fifth Amendment. It was the Arnstein case that set the precedent for all witnesses who were to later "take the Fifth." Fallon had more tricks up his sleeve. He insisted that his client be tried in a federal court in Washington, D.C., since his client could not get a fair trial in New York where prejudice ran high against him. Of course, the real reason was that Fallon knew Arnstein, with several eye-witnesses testifying against him, stood no chance of acquittal. In New York the minimum penalty for robbery was twenty -five years but the same offense in federal court could only bring a 2-year sentence. Once tried in the federal court, New York had to drop charges against Arnstein so as not to violate the "double jeopardy" rule of the Constitution. Arnstein was convicted of the bond robberies and sent to Leavenworth on May 16, 1924. He emerged a free man on Dec. 21, 1925, having
served only a year and a half. Again, faithful Fannie Brice was waiting for him.
The marriage, however, was worn out with Arnstein's antics. He abused Fannie mercilessly, telling her that her most popular song, "My Man," made people think she was singing about him and that the lyrics condemned him as an insensitive brute. When she had her Roman nose changed to a Grecian nose (by plastic surgeon Dr. Harry Schierson), he told her she was now so beautiful that it made him feel insecure. But it was Arnstein's insatiable gambling and philandering with other women that undid the strong emotional ties Fannie Brice had wrapped about their union. She finally divorced the errant Arnstein in 1927 on grounds of adultery, stating that she had found her husband with another woman in a Chicago hotel room. The films based on the Brice-Arnstein relationship were, of course, highly fictional. Nicky Arnstein was therein portrayed as a man of considerable depth and intelligence. He was nothing more than a cheap crook with a thin veneer of urbane manners glossing over a wholly larcenous nature. Only Fannie Brice saw Nicky Arnstein as someone worthwhile and when she left him, he was exposed for the opportunist he was. He lived out his life in obscurity in southern California.
, d.1853, U.S., gamb. Ashby was an unusual sharper in that he preyed almost exclusively on his fellow gamblers, plying his tricks on the Mississippi in the heyday of the riverboats. He worked with a young man made up to look like the worst kind of country jake, ostensibly a dimwitted fellow, accompanied by his senile father who was dressed in derelict clothing and worked a discordant, out-of-tune fiddle. The father, of course, was Ashby, who
would hover about the table where his son had been inveigled into a crooked game of cards. He would play the fiddle in fits of inspiration and then pause, saying he could no longer remember the tune he had begun. The young man, however, won against the best of the riverboat sharpers, this being attributed to "beginner's luck." The real reason for such marvelous fortune was Ashby's irregular fiddling. He would spot an opponent's hand and signal to his "son" what the player was holding through a few notes he played. Ashby was quite successful with this scam for several years until the act began to wear thin and gamblers began to recognize the old man. He quit the riverboats and resettled in St. Louis, where he ran a large Faro bank. Ashby grew wealthy and adorned himself in fine clothes. His fingers shone with huge rings bearing large jewels, diamonds bedecked his brocaded vest, and he wore gold bracelets and earrings. James Ashby was a walking Christmas tree, and when he died, his fellow gamblers said that he literally crushed the life out of himself with the weight of so much gold and so many gems.
, b.1891, and Ault, Robert Eugene, b.1910, U.S., fraud. Ault and her grown son Robert owned a filling station near Decatur, Ill. before the onset of the Great Depression. Like many small business people with big dreams, Ault believed her pot of gold was just around the corner if only the right break came her way.
One day in 1930 she decided to take matters in hand. With her son at her side, she drove to River Forest, a Chicago suburb, where she told her brother Lorenson Bandy about a certain bootlegger named Max Orendorff who was incarcerated in the federal penitentiary in Atlanta. The mysterious Orendorff made his millions with Al Capone after the Chicago gangster rose to prominence in 1925, according to Ault. If there was a way to free Max from prison, he would make them all rich. Intrigued, Bandy agreed to do what he could.
Several trips allegedly were made to Atlanta before the news came out that Max had been freed. Then he died, leaving oil lands and real estate valued at $50 million to the Aults--provided Bandy could recruit "investors" to put up money to defray the legal expenses of selling the assets. Letters were sent out to prominent U.S. citizens promising a 200 to 1 return on every dollar invested. Such public figures as crime-fighter Thomas Dewey, Judge Harlan Stone of the Supreme Court, and Winthrop Aldrich of the Chase Manhattan Bank were advertised as investors by the Ault's "solicitor" James Cleary, who never existed.
And neither did millionaire bootlegger Max Orendorff; Robert Ault and his mother had perpetrated a colossal hoax. They were charged with mail fraud in March 1930. Banker Aldrich traveled to Danville, Ill. to testify that he never in his life had the pleasure of making Mrs. Ault's acquaintance. The conniving pair were found Guilty, sentenced to ten years in prison, and fined $3,000 each.
Ault, Robert Eugene, See: Ault, Maude
, prom. 1920s, U.S., fraud. Aycock was a blatant quack who sold a bogus medicine called Tuberclecide which he claimed would provide a complete cure for tuberculosis, especially in children. Aycock's medicine consisted of creosote carbonate and little else, yet he peddled endless quantities of this useless "cure-all" from 1918 to 1928 without legal restraint, even though there were dozens of court hearings about the drug and Aycock's total lack of medical qualifications. In one of his many booklets, distributed by the tens of thousands, Aycock claimed that Tuberclecide was one of "the greatest inventions of modern times that have benefited mankind." Especially cruel was the fact that this wholly ineffective elixir was sold at considerable cost to tens of thousands of parents desperate to help their children who were stricken with tuberculosis and found it did nothing to aid the victims. Physicians called in to condemn the phony drug were so ambiguous in their evaluations that the courts found it impossible to condemn the drug or its promoter.
Aycock, in his own defense, pretended it was a miracle which had cured his own tuberculosis, and he was merely trying to help mankind, at a slight fee, of course. "I am like Jesus Christ opening the eyes of the blind," he stated, full of pretended innocence, at one hearing, "and when critics asked how it was done, he said, 'I do not know. I was blind but now I see.' That is all I can say. I took it and I got well. That is all I know." Finally, a federal circuit court decreed in 1928 that it agreed with the U.S. Postmaster General, that Tuberclecide was absolutely useless and that Aycock's promotion and selling of this quack medicine was a fraud. Aycock, however, ceased his sale of Tuberclecide and retired on the vast riches it had brought him.
From the World Encyclopedia of Con Artists and Confidence Games