Please forward this error screen to 88. The 19th century saw the emergence of a new type of criminal—the confidence most famous investment banks. Cons started off small and have become bigger and more complicated. That’s probably why cons have entered pop culture.
Most people can appreciate a good flimflam for its creativity and audacity, as long as they’re not the marks. The following 10 con artists wrote the book on how to bamboozle. The crimes of William Thompson weren’t particularly brazen. Thompson was active in mid-19th-century New York City. Sporting a genteel appearance and courteous demeanor, he would walk up to affluent strangers and strike up a conversation, acting like an old acquaintance. After a few minutes of chitchat, Thompson politely asked his interlocutor if they had the confidence to trust him with their watch until the next day.
Other times, he requested a small money loan and, bafflingly, people obliged. The Confidence Man walked away with the goods while his marks sat there unsure of what had just transpired. Along with many other Americans from the Midwest, she believed that they stood to make a fortune by taking the British government to court over the improperly probated estate of famed 16th-century adventurer Sir Francis Drake. Oscar Hartzell believed the opportunity to be legit. In fact, the people behind the scam, a woman named Sudie Whittaker and her lawyer, Milo Lewis, even hired Hartzell as a recruiter.
It wasn’t until a few years later when they went to England that Hartzell understood the con. He even took advantage of infighting between Lewis and Whittaker to take over the racket. The scam continued for 15 years while Hartzell lived the good life in London. It wasn’t until 1933 that a postal inspector finally exposed the con and got Hartzell deported to the US. Although Hartzell was sentenced to 10 years, he still managed to keep the scam going for another year with the help of his brother. 20,000 a month at the peak of the fraud.
His con of choice involved enticing rich marks into fixed matches of bunco, a popular parlor game of the time. Hungry Joe’s notoriety came from some of his high-profile targets whom he swindled out of thousands of dollars. Logan, New York Judge Noah Davis, and politician Charles Francis Adams, son of John Quincy Adams. His most famous catch was Oscar Wilde.
Although Lewis was well-known to the authorities, he was finally convicted in 1885 while trying to swindle a visiting British manufacturer named Joseph Ramsden. Hungry Joe went through his routine. However, his target was still reticent. So, in a panic move, Lewis just took his money and ran.
He was subsequently caught by police, identified by Ramsden, and sentenced to four years in prison. When Hungry Joe got out, he was almost immediately convicted of another con and given another 10 years. His real name is lost to history, as are his origins. He was a 19th-century British swindler who posed as a nobleman and successfully convinced others to part with large sums of money.