May 4, 1838 King of Cons

Today in History

In January 1848, a carpenter and sawmill operator named James Marshall discovered gold on the American River near Coloma, California. Some 300,000 flocked to the “Golden State”over the next few yearsfrom the United States and abroad, in search of fortune. For most, the “California Gold Rush” was tedious, dirty and difficult work. For Jefferson Randolph “Soapy“ Smith and his merry band of grifters, it was easier simply to fleece the miners out of their hard won gains through rigged poker games, scam three-card Monty and a catalog of petty deceits.

Between 1869 and 1872, the German actress and amateur “banker” Adele Spitzeder became the wealthiest woman in Germany, handsomely rewarding suckers…err…investors, with cash derived from new marks. Sarah Emily Howe ran the same con throughout the 1870s and ’80s through the “Ladies Deposit Company”, of Boston.

In the 1920s, Italian swindler Carlo Ponzi elevated this “rob Peter to pay Paul”…

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