The Big Con: Great Hoaxes, Frauds, Grifts and Swindles in American History

the-big-con-cover

By Nate Hendley

I am very pleased to announce the upcoming publication of my latest book, The Big Con: Great Hoaxes, Frauds, Grifts and Swindles in American History.

As published by ABC-CLIO, The Big Con covers everything from financial fraud to online scams, dubious medical remedies and famous con artists. Profiled are the likes of Bernie Madoff, Charles Ponzi (from whose name we get the expression “Ponzi Scheme”), “The Yellow Kid” and other miscreants. I explore everything from “The Nigerian Prince Letter” (infamous email scam based on a Victorian-era letter-based fraud called “The Spanish Prisoner”), “para-abnormal” fraud (learn how the Fox Sisters became superstars on the supernatural scene by secretly cracking their knuckles), to funeral fraud, malware, psychic surgery and “short” and “big” cons alike.

Also included are lengthy interviews with experts in the art of detecting “flimflam”–a term for fraudulent activity popularized by magician turned psychic debunker James Randi (who is included among the interviewees). Other interview subjects include Dean Jobb (author of a book on Leo Koretz, one of most brazen but little known con artists of the 20th Century) and Alan Abel, who has made a career out of pulling huge media hoaxes (such as setting up a school for professional beggars and an organization devoted to clothing naked animals).

ABC-CLIO is marketing The Big Con as a textbook, but it also makes for fun individual reading, for research or enlightenment.

The book took me nearly two years of research to put together, primarily spent on weekends and evenings as my daytime hours are normally devoted to magazine journalism.

The Big Con is available through publisher ABC-CLIO, Amazon and Barnes and Noble among other outlets.

(Nate Hendley is a Toronto writer and author of several books, primarily in the true-crime genre. His website at www.natehendley.com offers more details about his professional and personal background).

Crime Writer on “American Lawmen” TV Show

American Gangsters

By Nate Hendley

I appeared on the TV show, American Lawmen March 2, 2016, on the American Heroes channel. I was interviewed about the wave of bank robbing desperadoes in the 1930s, such as Baby Face Nelson, John Dillinger and Pretty Boy Floyd. Click here for the trailer (I come in at the 20 second mark).

I wrote about the FBI’s war on Depression-era bandits in my book, American Gangsters: Then and Now which is available through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Google Books and publisher ABC-CLIO.

I also wrote a separate book about criminal duo Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow (better known as “Bonnie and Clyde”) who murdered police officers throughout the U.S. during their brief mid-1930s crime spree.

My book, Bonnie and Clyde: A Biography is available through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and publisher ABC-CLIO.

(Nate Hendley is a crime writer based in Toronto, Ontario. You can find out more about his books and background at www.natehendley.wordpress.com)

Portrait of a Gangster: Vincent “Mad Dog” Coll

Vincent__Mad_Dog__Coll

Police mug shot of Vincent “Mad Dog” Coll

 

By Nate Hendley

Vincent “Mad Dog” Coll was a dangerous lunatic whose impulsive violence startled his own underworld peers.

Hot-tempered and unstable, Irish-American Coll initially made his mark as a henchman of Dutch Schultz (aka “the Dutchman”), a major crime boss in New York City in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Coll excelled as a thug but harboured dreams of greater things.

In 1931, Coll approached Schultz with a view to getting a promotion and more power within the Dutchman’s operations. Schultz turned him down flat. While Coll was terrific at maiming and killing people, Schultz had serious misgivings about his managerial potential.

Humiliated, Coll stormed off. In the spring of 1931, Coll was put on trial for carrying a concealed weapon. Schultz, who was famously tight-fisted, generously put up Coll’s $10,000 bail. When the case was called, however, Coll was a no-show and miserly Schultz had to forfeit his bail money.

In retaliation, the Dutchman murdered Coll’s brother Peter on May 31, 1931. Coll formed his own gang and began hijacking his former boss’s beer trucks and killing their drivers.

All of this led to Mad Dog Coll’s most reckless act. On a steamy summer night in late July 1931, Coll and his crew drove listlessly around New York. As they neared the Helmar Social Club on East 107th Street, Coll’s men spotted Joey Rao, one of Schultz’s friends, on the sidewalk. In front of Rao were a bunch of kids, playing.

Without hesitation, Coll and another goon drew their weapons and began to shoot at Rao, through the crowd of terrified kids. The bullets fatally wounded a five-year-old boy and injured several other kids. Rao escaped unharmed.

After this incident, Coll was dubbed “Mad Dog” by the press. Even other hardened gangsters were appalled at his behaviour.

Coll met a fittingly violent end in February 1932 when his enemies tracked him down as he made a phone call in a pharmacy.

Here’s an excerpt from my book, Dutch Schultz: The Brazen Beer Baron of New York , describing what happened next:

About ten minutes into Coll’s conversation, a limousine containing three men pulled up outside. Bo Weinberg, who was rapidly becoming Schultz’s top enforcer, was driving. He stayed at the wheel and left the motor running as the two other occupants got out. One man stood watch by the curb while his partner sauntered into the pharmacy with a Thompson machine gun. The gunman told customer to “keep cool” as he approached Coll’s phone booth.

Standing only a few feet away from his target, the gunman leveled his weapon and sprayed the phone booth with automatic fire. Mad Dog Coll didn’t have a chance. As the U.S. military experts who developed the weapon noted, the Thompson machine gun was fantastically lethal at close range. It literally cut its victims apart.

The heavy slugs tore through Coll’s body and gouged huge holes in the wall behind him. By the time the shooting ended, the phone booth looked as though it had been hit with an artillery barrage.

With shell casings littering the floor, the machine-gunner raced out of the pharmacy. Corn plasters, cough syrup, and bandages fell from the shelves as he brushed against them in his haste. Horrified clerks and customers stared gap-jawed as the man ran past, still gripping his smoking Thompson.

Needless to say, no one in the New York underworld was too upset by Coll’s death.

Dutch Schultz: The Brazen Beer Baron of New York, is available through Amazon.ca (Canada) Amazon.com (United States), Chapter’s, Barnes and Noble and publisher Five Rivers.

The story of Dutch Schultz and Mad Dog Coll is also detailed in my book, American Gangsters: Then and Now which is available through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Google Books and publisher ABC-CLIO.

(Nate Hendley is a crime writer based in Toronto, Ontario. You can find out more about his books and background at www.natehendley.wordpress.com)

TV Show About a Brave New York Cop

Joe_petrosino

By Nate Hendley

I will be offering commentary on tonight’s episode of “American Lawmen” on the American Heroes Channel (AMC, formerly the Military Channel).

The episode, which airs February 24, 2016 at 10 pm, looks at Joseph Petrosino, a brave turn-of-the-20th-Century New York City cop who fought the Black Hand extortion racket in the United States and the Mafia in Sicily.

I was interviewed about Petrosino for this episode.

My book, The Mafia: A Guide to an American Subculture, is dedicated to Petrosino, still the only New York City policeman killed on a foreign mission.

My crime blog offers some background details about Mr. Petrosino and his ill-fated mission against the Sicilian Mafia.

This newspaper article has information about a Petrosino exhibit in the New York City Police Museum.

For further reading, my book The Mafia: A Guide to an American Subculture, is available through Barnes and Noble, Amazon directly from publisher, ABC-CLIO.

Click here to see a trailer about the Petrosino episode.

(Nate Hendley is a Toronto-based author and writer. Click on this link for information on his books. Click here for his website)

 

Doomed Daltons

By Nate Hendley

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(Photo: The Dalton Gang, after the raid)

The Dalton Gang were a group of Old West bandits doomed by their own daring.

The Gang consisted of brothers Bob, Grat and Emmett Dalton, augmented by additional outlaws, Bill Doolin, Dick Broadwell and Bill Powers.

By the early 1890s, the Dalton Gang had established quite a reputation for successfully robbing trains and raising mayhem. The bandits were tough and violent, and often compared with the James-Younger Gang, headed by Jesse James and his brother, who terrorized the West in the 1870s.

In 1892, Bob Dalton came up with an audacious plan: the Dalton Gang would rob two banks at the same time, in broad daylight. The banks Bob had in mind were the First National Bank and the C.M. Condon Bank in the boys’ old hometown of Coffeyville, Kansas.

In later interviews, Emmett stated that Bob was motivated by a burning desire to outdo the James-Younger Gang. Jesse James and his crew had pulled off many daring feats, but never did they try to rob two places in the same town at the same time. And for good reason, as it turned out.

On October 2, 1892, the six members of the Dalton Gang set out on horseback. The men wore long coats and were heavily armed, with revolvers and Winchester rifles. They reached the vicinity of Coffeyville after two days of riding. On the morning of October 5, 1892, they set out for Coffeyville. Doolin discovered his horse had gone lame and left the group to find a replacement. This turned out to be an incredibly lucky break for the outlaw.

Around 9 am, Grat Dalton, Powers and Broadwell entered the Cordon Bank while Bob and Emmett Dalton entered the First National Bank.

Things began to go wrong almost right away. For a start, the townspeople of Coffeyville were not easily intimidated. Shortly after the Dalton Gang took over the two banks, Coffeyville residents armed themselves and began shooting at the bank windows. Gang members stole what they could then raced outside, exchanging gunfire with the locals.

Here’s an excerpt from my book American Gangsters: Then and Now, describing what happened next:

Bob and Emmett raced north, then went west on Eighth Street, past a grocery store. Looking south, they saw Coffeyville residents peppering the Condon Bank with gunfire. Figuring the townspeople might not notice them in all the confusion, Bob and Emmett hit the open street, racing with the money-sack to their horses. A resident named George Cubine, armed with a pistol, spotted the two brothers. Cubine was standing on the street with Charles Brown, an older man who did not have a gun on him. Cubine fired at the two Dalton brothers and missed. Bob and Emmett both fired back and killed the man. Brown tried to retrieve Cubine’s revolver but was shot dead by Bob.
The gunplay with Cubine and Brown drew the attention of the townspeople who had been concentrating on the Condon Bank. Cashier Ayers and his son and a third man ran into the hardware store and grabbed weapons. Ayers secured a rifle, which he positioned through the door jamb, aiming at Bob and Emmett down the street. Bob spotted the cashier and reacted first. He fired a shot that hit Ayers in the head, seriously wounding him.

Bob and Emmett kept running. A clerk named Mat Reynolds jumped out from the front door of the hardware store. Looking south, he missed Bob and Emmett (who were heading north). Reynolds aimed his rifle at the three men rushing from the Condon Bank. He levelled his weapon and fired, hitting Bill Powers. Critically wounded, but still on his feet, Powers cursed and shot back at Reynolds, wounding him in the foot.
Grat, Broadwell and the badly wounded Powers raced down the alley where they had left their horses. There was a livery stable connected to the alley owned by Coffeyville resident John Kloehr. Hearing the commotion, Kloehr grabbed a rifle and began rushing towards the spot where the Dalton gang had tied their horses.

Skipping ahead a bit, things continue to go poorly for the Gang:

By this point, Emmett was the last man standing. He had managed to mount his horse, but didn’t realize his brother, Bob was dying. The horses next to Emmett, belonging to Bob and Powers were both shot and killed, but Emmett stayed mounted. Emmett took a round in the arm then another bullet pierced his hips. It was only as he started to ride out of town that he noticed Bob wasn’t with him. Emmett turned his horse and raced to where Bob lay by the shed. He leaned over his critically injured brother just as Seaman let loose with both barrels of his shotgun. Emmett was hit in the back and fell off his horse, landing next to his dying brother.

In the end, everyone in the Dalton raiding party except Emmett were killed. Emmett somehow managed to survive to bear witness to the spectacular failure of the Dalton Gang’s double-bank robbery.

American Gangsters is available through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Google Books and publisher ABC-CLIO.

(Nate Hendley is a Toronto-based author and writer. Click on this link for information on his books. Click here for his website)

Solving the Century-Old Mafia Murder of a New York Cop

American Mafia

By Nate Hendley

Police in Italy claimed to have solved the decades-old murder of New York City police officer Joseph Petrosino in Sicily.

Petrosino was one of the bravest law officers ever to walk a beat. He’s also the man I dedicated my book, The Mafia: A Guide to an American Subculture, to.

Here’s what I wrote about Petrosino:

“At the turn of the twentieth century, Lieutenant Joseph Petrosino headed up an “Italian squad” that dealt with issues in that community. One of the biggest issues facing Sicilian and Italian American immigrants was the presence of “The Black Hand.” A forerunner of the Mafia, the latter was a loose band of Italian Americans who used the (largely fictitious) specter of an underworld gang called “The Black Hand” to extort money from their countrymen. The fearless Petrosino made hundreds of Black Hand arrests and wasn’t above beating up suspects in the street for added humiliation.

In March, 1909, Petrosino traveled to Palermo, Sicily, to investigate Black Hand links with the Sicilian Mafia. On March 12, 1909, he was murdered, almost certainly by Mafia assassins. He remains the only New York City police officer killed while on assignment in another country. When his body was returned to the United States, an estimated 250,000 people viewed his coffin as it passed by on the streets of New York, mourning a brave cop.”

And now, over a century later, Italian police claimed that the long-standing mystery of who killed Joseph Petrosino has been resolved at last.

For further reading, my book The Mafia: A Guide to an American Subculture, is available through Barnes and Noble, Amazon or directly from the publisher, ABC-CLIO.

(Nate Hendley is a Toronto-based freelance writer and true-crime author. His website is located at www.natehendley.com)

Gangster Boss Profile: Dutch Schultz, Beer Baron and Numbers King

Dutch Schultz shot

By Nate Hendley

Dutch Schultz (real-name Arthur Flegenheimer) was a highly eccentric, highly successful Jewish-American gangster. He rose to prominence peddling awful bootleg beer during Prohibition in the 1920s. His product was lousy but his sales methods were persuasive (when faced with a stubborn speakeasy manager, Schultz had the man kidnapped, hung by his thumbs from a meat-hook and tortured).

If beer made Schultz rich and powerful, it was ‘numbers’ that pushed him into the criminal stratosphere. The numbers racket was simply an illegal lottery. People bet on a three-digit combination, from 000 to 999. The gangsters who ran the racket selected winning digits on the basis of objective statistics, such as sports scores. Anyone who had bet on the winning numbers received a small cash payment.

The numbers racket was hugely popular in New York City, particularly with African-Americans. It was cheap (most bets were for pennies), easy to play and offered a low-risk way to gamble.

In the early 1930s, the highly profitable Harlem numbers racket was controlled by African-American mobsters. Established Italian and Jewish gangs of the era turned their noses up at numbers, treating the racket with racist contempt.

Schultz had better business sense. Through intimidation and violence, he soon took control of the Harlem numbers scene. To the astonishment of his peers, Schultz was soon pulling down millions of dollars in profit on numbers.

Schultz was not popular with his fellow gangsters. He dressed like a slob (which offended more sartorial-minded mobsters) and wasn’t much of a team-player.

Despite this, Schultz maintained an incredible winning streak—for a while. He managed to beat two income tax raps, of the variety that had brought down mighty Al Capone in Chicago. His luck ran out, however, when Special Prosecutor Thomas Dewey set his sights on the Dutchman (as he was called, colloquially).

Unnerved by Dewey’s aggressive investigation into his business affairs, Schultz announced that the Special Prosecutor had to be killed. This alarmed his gangster peers, who had no compunctions about murder but avoided killing cops, judges and prosecutors for fear of massive retaliation.

A “hit” was ordered on Schultz, to stop him from assassinating Dewey. On October 23, 1935, a pair of professional killers burst into a New Jersey restaurant where Schultz was meeting with some cronies. The killers shot each man in Schultz’s party, including the Dutchman. A photographer who arrived on the scene captured the classic picture shown above, of Schultz splayed over a table.

Schultz survived the shooting–for a time. He lingered in hospital in a high-fever delirium, babbling insanely.

Here’s an excerpt from my book, Dutch Schultz: The Brazen Beer Baron of New York, available through Amazon.ca (Canada) Amazon.com (United States), Chapter’s, Barnes and Noble and publisher Five Rivers:

October 24, 1935 The Dutchman was dying. The bullet in his gut had caused massive internal injuries and sent his temperature soaring. Staring fixedly at the ceiling from his hospital bed, Arthur Flegenheimer – aka Dutch Schultz – cried and babbled. In his delirium, he began weaving a weird tapestry of unconnected phrases, names, and oaths. A police stenographer sat by the gangster’s side, taking down every word. The authorities hoped Schultz might reveal Mob secrets in his final monologue. But Dutch proved as elusive in his dying hours as he had been in life. “No, no. There are only 10 of us and there are 10 million fighting somewhere in front of you, so get your onions up and we will throw up the truce flag,” he raved. “Oh, please let me up. Please shift me. Police are here. Communistic … strike … baloney … honestly, this is a habit I get; sometimes I give it and sometimes I don’t. Oh, I am all in. That settles it. Are you sure? Please let me get in and eat. Let him harass himself to you and then bother you.” None of it made any sense to the police. They kept listening, however, as Schultz rambled on, his mind journeying back and forth over the course of his brief, but spectacular, criminal life.

Dutch Schultz new

(Nate Hendley is a crime writer based in Toronto, Ontario. You can find out more about his books and background at www.natehendley.com)

(Here are my crime books at Amazon, Barnes and NobleGoogle Books, my publisher ABC-CLIO, my publisher Five Rivers and my publisher Lorimer)

 

 

Why I Write About Crime

Al Capone book

By Nate Hendley

I always wanted to write a book. About ten years ago, I noticed a bulletin from the Professional Writers Association of Canada, a group I belong to. According to the bulletin, an Alberta-based publishing house called Altitude Publishing was looking to expand east. The company specialized in short, punchy Canadian non-fiction, primarily of a historical nature. Altitude was looking for Ontario stories and Ontario authors.

It so happened that a well-known Toronto bank robber named Edwin Alonzo Boyd had just died.

Boyd led a group of bank robbing bandits that the press dubbed “The Boyd Gang”. The Boyd Gang held up a number of banks in Toronto in the early 1950s. Toronto was a pretty boring place at the time, so the gang made for sensational headlines. It helped that Boyd had movie-star good looks and liked to leap flamboyantly on top of bank counters, gun in each hand.

I cobbled together a book query based on Boyd’s life and emailed it off to Altitude. They liked the query and asked me to write a chapter outline. This was done, and the next thing I knew I had a contract to write a book. The end-result was a title called Edwin Alonzo Boyd: The Life and Crimes of Canada’s Master Bank Robber.

I will always remember the wonderful day when a box arrived via courier containing advance copies of my book—proof positive that I was now a published author.

My Boyd book made decent sales and Altitude asked if I felt like writing another book. They sent me a long list of topics they were considering and wanted to see if any of them captured my interest. One of the topics was on the Black Donnellys—an ill-fated family of brawling Irish-Canadian farmers who lived near London, Ontario in the 19th Century. The Donnellys became the subject of my second book.

For those who don’t know, the Donnellys were involved in endless feuds with their neighbours. Barns were burned down, cattle murdered, people beaten. The neighbours eventually got fed up and formed a vigilante group. One cold evening in February, 1880, these vigilantes paid a visit to the Donnelly homestead. Bad things resulted, the details of which you will have to find out for yourself, perhaps by reading my book.

I became Altitude’s go-to guy for crime books. They kept asking me to do new crime titles and I kept obliging. Within a couple of years, I had biographies on Jewish gangster Dutch Schultz and Chicago crime czar Al Capone to my name.

Tragically, Altitude Publishing went out of business in 2007.

By that point, however, I had already moved on.

An American company named Greenwood that specialized in text books for high-schools and junior colleges, spotted my book on Schultz and got in touch. Greenwood asked if I would write a book about the murderous bandits, Bonnie and Clyde. This was done. Greenwood got swallowed up by another U.S. publisher called ABC-CLIO. Greenwood/ABC-CLIO has published three of my books: the aforementioned Bonnie and Clyde, and tomes on American Gangsters and the American Mafia.

I like writing about crime because it lends itself to colourful description and fast-paced writing. Crime, like sex, love and war, will never disappear so there’s always a fresh stock of stories to write about. True-crime is a wide reaching genre that allows writers to insert social or political commentary when appropriate. My book on Bonnie and Clyde for example, discusses the impact of the Great Depression on the United States and fast cars and machine guns on the criminal demimonde of the time.

I am currently working on a title about American scams, cons, frauds and hoaxes and keeping an eye out for stories of new crimes that might warrant a new book.

(Here are my crime books at Amazon, Barnes and NobleGoogle Books, my publisher ABC-CLIO, my publisher Five Rivers and my publisher Lorimer)

(For more info on my books, please visit my website at www.natehendley.com)

Originally posted on:  http://rosemarymccracken.wordpress.com/2013/11/26/nate-hendley-on-true-crime/

Excerpt from Steven Truscott: Decades of Injustice

By Nate Hendley

My new book, Steven Truscott: Decades of Injustice, will be released this November.

Steven Truscott was an ordinary, 14 year-old boy living with his parents on a Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) base near small-town Clinton, Ontario. When a classmate, Lynne Harper, was found dead and raped in June, 1959, Truscott (the last person seen with her) became the prime suspect. Virtually no physical evidence tied him to the crime, but police were convinced they had their man, or boy as the case was.

From the book:

“The policemen worked Truscott over in turns. One man would question the boy while the other left the room. Then the second man would come in and take over the interrogation. Police wanted Truscott to admit to raping and murdering Harper. The boy refused to oblige and stuck to his story about biking Harper to the highway. Throughout the ordeal, Truscott didn’t cry or break down, remaining true to his family’s stoic code.

After unsuccessfully attempting to get the boy to confess, Inspector Graham and Constable Trumbley drove Truscott back to the guardhouse at the RCAF base. It was around 9:30 pm at night.

In Clinton, Daniel and Doris Truscott were extremely worried. Steven hadn’t come home for dinner and now he was missing. Did the same killer who abducted and murdered Lynne Harper strike again?

Inspector Graham related what happened next in his official report: “We took Steven back to the guardhouse on the RCAF base and at 9:30, Sgt. (Charles) Anderson left the guardhouse to make arrangements for the boy’s father to come to the guardhouse.”

Truscott would later deny this was the case, and said his father had to find out on his own where his son was being held. Regardless, once Daniel Truscott got word his son was at the RCAF guardhouse, he raced to the scene.

When later questioned about the guardhouse faux pas, Inspector Graham stated, “About 9:40 pm, Warrant Officer Truscott met me in the passage way outside the office in which Steven was seated with Trumbley. The father asked me in a belligerent manner how and where Steve had been picked up.”

It’s unclear if Daniel Truscott was indeed in a fighting mood or just simply deeply concerned with what was happening to his son. He fruitlessly tried to get the police to release Steven. Warrant Officer Truscott wanted to take the tired boy home and let the police resume their interrogation in the morning. The police refused to consider this request.

Their interrogation of Truscott in the guardhouse resumed.

Legally, Daniel Truscott could have removed his son from the guardhouse at any time. His son still wasn’t under arrest which meant police couldn’t hold him against his will. Only no one explained this to either father or son.”

Steve Truscott: Decades of Injustice, is available through Chapter’sAmazon.com (United States), Amazon.ca (Canada), Barnes and Noble and publisher Five Rivers.

(Nate Hendley is a Toronto-based author and writer. Click on this link for information on his books)

Steven Truscott: Decades of Injustice

By Nate Hendley

My book, Steven Truscott: Decades of Injustice, was released in fall, 2012.

Imagine being a 14 year-old boy who takes a classmate on a bike ride one spring evening. In the days to follow, the classmate is found dead and you stand accused of rape and murder. There’s no direct physical evidence tying you to the crime, but that doesn’t matter. In a lightning fast trial you are convicted and sentenced to death. As far as the press and public are concerned, you are guilty and deserve to die. Such was the fate of Steven Truscott, living with his family on an army base in small-town Ontario in 1959. Read the shocking true story of a terrible case of injustice and the decades long fight to clear Truscott’s name.

Steven Truscott: Decades of Injustice is available through Chapter’sAmazon, Barnes and Noble and publisher Five Rivers.

(Nate Hendley is a Toronto-based author and writer. Click on this link for information on his books)