In 1928, the Ohio-born inventor Robert Condit wanted to make a pioneering flight like Charles Lindberg the year before. But instead of traveling around a portion of the earth, he wanted to leave it entirely. Destination: Venus. Condit had built a rocket of sorts, and planned to launch from Florida in March, but postponed due to imperfect atmospheric conditions. Between then and August, he made his way to Baltmore, where he worked with the brothers Sterling and Harry B. Uhler to make or modify his space craft. Harry remembered their efforts well, recounting the events leading up to an actual attempt to launch the craft (PDF with photos), made of varnished sailcloth, wrapped around a structure of angle iron ribs, bolted into shape. [more inside]
Victor Lustig escaped from prisons, fooled Al Capone, and counterfeited millions of dollars. Oh, and he sold the Eiffel Tower for scrap iron.
From Vanity Fair, The Murder Hustle: In 1988, 'When businessman Gene Hanson died in a California doctor's office, his partner, John Hawkins, a former Studio 54 bartender, got $1 million in insurance. Nine months later, Hanson was caught in Texas with a new face and a new name, Wolfgang Von Snowden. He and the doctor are awaiting trial for murder. Hawkins, a scam artist and sex addict, has disappeared with the money. Ann Louise Bardach investigates three double lives in the business community of Columbus, Ohio, the Genet underground of West Hollywood, and the luxury condos of Miami's Biscayne Bay.' Part 1. [more inside]
The United States Secret Service is warning about an old scam that's recently popped up again in New England: black money. [more inside]
Quack and fugitive from justice Professor Bill Nelson, inventor of the Quantum Xrroid Consciousness Interface, sings of his noble struggle against the evils of conventional medicine! Via Ben "Bad Science" Goldacre. [more inside]
Soapy Smith was "the king of the frontier confidence men." Born Jefferson R. Smith, he gained the nickname "Soapy" after running a successful scam that the Denver newspapers dubbed "The Prize Package Soap Sell Swindle." He ran criminal enterprises in Colorado and Alaska until his death at the hands of vigilantes in 1898. Every year his descendants hold a wake in his honor. His story has inspired several books and movies. The Soapy Smith Preservation Trust maintains an extensive archive of his life and times.
Do you know your close-up con games? Some classics: the Tip, the Jamaican Switch, the Wire (and its incredibly complicated cousin, the Rag), the Texas Twist, the Pigeon Drop, the Spanish Prisoner (or Nigerian Scam) and the ancient pig-in-a-poke. Also, learn the argot of the classic con artist, view some videos of card scam moves and discover some patter as well, or just see how the language of the con has been used in one of the more famous papers in sociology.
Scam: From 1920 to 1933, Oscar Merrill Hartzell bilked thousands and thousands of people out of millions and millions of dollars in the midst of a Great Depression. But when he was forcably returned to the US to face trial, the "common man" hailed him as a hero and savior. As the author of (the highly recommended) Drake's Fortune notes, confidence artists are a perverse echo of the classic Horatio Alger story, as swindlers build wealth by dint of ingenuity, perseverence, and breath-taking chutzpah. Perhaps that is why we love to read books and see films of their exploits. But it doesn't explain why we keep falling for the same ruses over and over again.