My latest article for TVO.org examines the “pistol panic” that swept Ontario a century ago, prompting some very racist legislation.
At the turn of the 20th Century, two trends worried Canadians: the availability of cheap, mass-produced revolvers and the growing presence of “foreigners” (that is, anyone who wasn’t British-descended).
Newspapers conflated the issues and ran alarmist accounts about “wily aliens” and “foreigners” committing acts of violence with handguns. The media was particularly obsessed with Italians, who were viewed as prone to berserk pistol play.
In response, Ontario passed the pioneering Offensive Weapons Act of 1911, which made it mandatory to get a police permit before purchasing a handgun. A “foreigner” caught without a permit could be deported.
Other provinces passed similar legislation, then Ottawa introduced national police permit rules. American legislators took note and modelled their own statewide handgun licensing laws.
The term originated with a real person, Charles Ponzi, a self-taught money-man in the 1920s who offered a fabulous investment opportunity that provided huge dividends—for a time. Ponzi supposedly backed his business with profits from the sale of international postal coupons. He was briefly the toast of Boston and hailed as a financial genius.
For the rest, you’ll have to read my textbook, which was published by ABC-CLIO.
The documentary examines whether erratic gangster Dutch Schultz buried a treasure box filled with paper money, coins, jewels, and bonds in upstate New York in the mid-1930s. Intrepid treasure seekers are eager to locate this loot.
I offered details about Schultz’s life and legacy for the PBS documentary.
Did erratic gangster Dutch Schultz bury a treasure prior to his assassination in 1935?
With his enemies closing in, Schultz—a ruthless mobster who made a fortune through bootlegging, extortion and the numbers racket—allegedly stuffed $7 million in cash and bonds (worth over ten times as much today, factoring inflation) into an airtight safe and had it buried in upstate New York.
If true, no one has found this secret stash—so far.
I was interviewed for a TV show about Dutch Schultz and his hidden wealth.
The episode titled, “Gangster’s Gold” airs November 5, 2020, at 9 p.m. Eastern Time on Discovery Science and November 18, 2020, at 10 p.m. (check local listings) as part of Secrets of the Dead series on PBS.
True North Heists, an audiobook about Canadian bank robbers, has become a number one bestseller.
In an interview for this audiobook, I discussed Edwin Boyd (the terror of Toronto banks in the early 1950s) and Norman “Red” Ryan (a bank robber who briefly went straight before returning to bank robbing).
The audiobook is narrated by well-known Canadian actor Colm Feore. Released in late October 2020, True North Heists quickly topped the Canadian Audible bestseller list. Click here to listen to a preview.
I was interviewed for an episode of The UnXplained, a show on The History Channel hosted by William Shatner.
The episode was called “Great Imposters” and focused on the likes of Clark Rockefeller (a German exchange student who adopted multiple new identities in America), Anna Anderson (who insisted she was a member of the Czar’s royal family), and Ferdinand Demara (who bluffed his way into being hired as a naval surgeon, despite a total lack of qualifications).
I devoted a chapter of my textbook, The Big Con to famous imposters.