Category: Biography

The Ten Con-Mandments

31-year-old billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried was recently arrested and accused of bilking his billions from cryptocurrency investors. But he’s just one of many that have fleeced the sheep of this world. Other recent con-artists include Elizabeth Holmes (of Theranos fame), Sylvia Browne (the fake psychic), Bernie Madoff (financial fraudster), and Anna Sorokin (wealthy heiress poseur).

They say there’s a sucker born every minute, and someone else born to take care of him. In fact, there have been con-artists throughout our history. For example, I could tell you about Charles Ponzi, whom Ponzi schemes are named after. He was bilking believers a hundred years ago, back in the 1920s.

But I prefer the story of another conman who was operating about the same time as Ponzi. Not only was he highly skilled at his craft, but he also left behind a legacy. The legacy of the Ten Con-Mandments. His name was Victor Lustig.

Victor was born in Austria-Hungary in 1890. And he was born with brains. He proved himself to be an exceptionally gifted student in school. But this genius, who could have made millions legitimately, was also a troublemaker. He wasn’t content making an honest living, so he committed himself early-on to a life of crime.

After graduating school in Paris, he began traveling on ocean liners that sailed between France and New York City. He would pose as a musical producer, and con wealthy passengers into investing in a Broadway play. A play that didn’t exist.

Later he moved to Paris. In 1925, Lustig happened upon a newspaper article about the Eiffel Tower. It lamented that the giant monument had fallen into disrepair, and that many favored the removal of the tower, to save money for the city.

Lustig put his genius, troublemaking mind to work at fabricating an elaborate scheme. He posed as an official from the French government, and invited a “select” group of scrap metal dealers to silently submit bids to dismantle the Eiffel Tower. He emphasized secrecy with these men, warning them that if this leaked to the public there would be a popular outcry from those who wanted to save the tower.

One of these marks was a man named Andre Poisson, and it struck Lustig that this sucker had inner insecurities, and a desire to achieve prestige within the Parisian business community. Lustig took this nutcase aside and confessed that he was a corrupt official, and was willing to accept a bribe to make Poisson the winning bidder.

Poisson swallowed the bait and proffered an inducement amounting to 70,000 francs. Lustig took the money, then quickly fled to Austria. Later, he speculated that Poisson would be too embarrassed to go to the police, and when he checked newspapers his theory was confirmed. There was not a hint of it.

So Lustig returned to Paris and attempted the same scam again. But this time the gendarmes caught a whiff of his scheme, and Lustig fled to the United States to avoid arrest.

Lustig enriched himself in the USA, deploying a variety of schemes on gullible marks. One of his most notorious was the “Rumanian Box” scam. He built a box that he claimed could duplicate any currency. However, he cautioned that it required six hours to print an identical copy, and it contained many levers and mechanisms that had to be operated just right to make the duplicates.

He would convince a mark to provide a $100 bill, to test the box. Unknown to the mark, he had already inserted his own, genuine $100 bill in the box. After this “duplicate” came out (six hours later), it was then verified at a bank to be authenticate.

Lustig sold one of these Rumanian boxes to a sheriff in Texas, for thousands of dollars. Once the sheriff realized he’d been conned, he tracked Lustig to Chicago and confronted him. Lustig then convinced the sheriff that he wasn’t operating the box properly, and as a gesture of good faith gave the sheriff a large amount of cash as compensation. But the sheriff was duped again. The money was counterfeit.

During the Great Depression, Lustig drew his aim on the mobster Al Capone. He convinced Capone to invest $50,000 in a scam he had concocted. He then stored the money in a safe deposit box. Two months later, he returned the money to Capone and sheepishly explained that the scam hadn’t worked out.

With his money back, Capone was convinced that this was an honest conman. And once Lustig sensed he’d gained Capone’s trust, he began to poor mouth. He complained that as a result of the deal falling through, he was broke and had no means to support himself. Then he convinced the sympathetic Capone to give him $5,000 to “tide him over.”

In 1930, Lustig began a counterfeiting operation with two men in Nebraska. The men, one a pharmacist and the other a chemist, turned out to be very proficient at creating fake currency. Lustig masterminded the distribution of the fake bills. Over the next five years, these counterfeiters managed to dilute the U.S. economy with thousands of dollars worth of phony money, before any suspicion was aroused.

But his scheme fell apart in 1935 after his girlfriend learned that he had a mistress on the side. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. In anger, she placed an anonymous tip with federal authorities, and Lustig was arrested on May 10, 1935.

Victor Lustig’s mug shot. How could you not trust a face like this?

But it’s one thing to arrest such a skilled con-artist. It’s quite another thing to hang onto him. The day before his trial, Lustig faked an illness, then rappelled his way to freedom from the Federal House of Detention in New York City, using a specially-made rope. Unfortunately for him, he only made it as far as Pittsburgh, where he was recaptured 27 days after his escape. He was sentenced to serve 15 years in Alcatraz for counterfeiting, plus an additional 5 years for his escape.

But in the end, Lustig lived up to his form and got the better of the judge. On March 9, 1947, he cheated his way out of what remained of his long prison sentence. He did this by contracting pneumonia and dying at a medical center for federal prisoners.

Victor Lustig died a legend. He was one of the most successful con-artists who ever lived (if you want to call dying in prison a success), and he set the standard high for any grifter who wished to follow in his footsteps. This standard was formally established by a list he supposedly created, known as the “Ten Commandments for Con Men.”

I like to call them the “Ten Con-Mandments.”

If you would like to become an accomplished con-artist, study these con-mandments carefully. They are the product of one of the finest flim-flammers in the world. If you take them to heart, you too might enjoy the same success as Victor Lustig. That is, until you end up in the slammer.

The Ten Con-Mandments

1. Be a patient listener (it is this, not fast talking, that gets a con man his coups).
2. Never look bored.
3. Wait for the other person to reveal any political opinions, then agree with them.
4. Let the other person reveal religious views, then have the same ones.
5. Hint at sex talk, but don’t follow it up unless the other person shows a strong interest.
6. Never discuss illness, unless some special concern is shown.
7. Never pry into a person’s personal circumstances (they’ll tell you all eventually).
8. Never boast—just let your importance be quietly obvious.
9. Never be untidy.
10. Never get drunk.

Who the Hell Am I?

Hoowee! It been a long while! Me brain be dimming. So ain’t it about time we play another fun and exciting game of Who the Hell Am I? We gots to sharpen up our brains and get smart!

In this game you get 10 clues to guess the name of a famous person. These clues are numbered countdown-style, 10 to 1, with the first clue numbered 10. Your score is determined by the highest numbered clue that evokes the correct answer.

At the end of the clues you can click a link for the answer. However, the link is numbered zero, so if you haven’t figured out the answer by the time you click it, you get no points.

Who the hell am I?

10. I was born in Boston, in 1929, the grandchild of European Jewish emigrants. My paternal grandfather’s name was Abraham Isaac Waremwasser. My father was born with the name of Louis Abraham Warmwater, but later in life he shortened his last name. This shortened last name became my last name.

9. My father was in show business, where he made and lost several fortunes producing Broadway shows, the Ziegfield Follies, and directing the entertainment at the Tropicana Resort and Casino in Las Vegas. I was surrounded by celebrities while growing up. This helped me later in life, as a celebrity interviewer, because I was accustomed to being around famous people, and was never in awe of them.

8. I was married four times, but none of my marriages lasted long. I got romantic with the gangster attorney Roy Cohn, when I was in college, after he helped get an arrest warrant against my father dismissed. Roy also helped me to adopt a daughter. Roy and I remained close until his death from AIDS in 1986.

7. I began my television career in 1953, as a writer-producer of a TV show in New York City called, Ask the Camera, which was directed by Roone Arledge. During my long career in television, I became known for “personality journalism” and “scoop” interviews.

6. In the early 1960s, I was hired by NBC to work on the staff of The Today Show. During that decade I gained renown for my interviewing skills. However it was widely believed that a feminine type like me could never be taken seriously at reporting hard news. And when the host of The Today Show, Frank McGee did joint interviews with me, he insisted upon asking the first three questions.

5. Frank McGee died in 1974, and I was named to replace him, becoming the first female co-host of a U.S. news program. In 1976, I was signed to a five-year, $5 million contract, to co-anchor the ABC Evening News, with Harry Reasoner. This made me the highest-paid news anchor, either male or female. This also made me the first woman to co-host a network evening newscast.

4. I was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame in 1989. In 1999, a record 74 million viewers watched me interview Monica Lewinsky. And I’ve interviewed every sitting president from Richard Nixon to Barack Obama. I also interviewed Donald Trump and Joe Biden when they weren’t presidents. In fact, my very last on-air interview was with presidential candidate Donald Trump, in December 2015.

3. In 1997, I became a co-creator and co-host of the daytime, all-female talk show, The View. I retired from co-hosting this show in 2014.

2. I was sometimes lampooned by comedians. In one interview, I gave them comic material after asking Katherine Hepburn, “If you were a tree, what kind would it be?” I also became the bizarre butt of jokes after comedienne Gilda Radner famously mispronounced my name, while imitating me.

1. I died less than two months ago, on December 30, 2022, at the age of 93.

0. Still can’t put your finger on my name? Then put your finger on your mouse and click on this link, to learn it on Wikipedia. Or you can click this link, and get a big hint from Gilda Radner. But no matter what you do, I’m sad to report that you’ve lost. You get zero points.

Who the Hell Am I?

How about we play another fun and exciting game of Who the Hell Am I?

In this game you get 10 clues to guess the name of a famous person. These clues are numbered countdown-style, 10 to 1, with the first clue numbered 10. Your score is determined by the highest numbered clue that evokes the correct answer.

At the end of the clues you can click a link for the answer. However, the link is numbered zero, so if you haven’t figured out the answer by the time you click it, you get no points.

Who the hell am I?

10. I was born in 1908, and died of cancer in 1989. I was in show business, and my acting career spanned nearly 60 years. I’m often depicted smoking a cigarette, in movie scenes. In fact I was addicted to cigarettes, chain-smoking 100 per day, late into my life.

9. Four years before my death, I disinherited my daughter after she published a memoir that accused me of being a bully and an alcoholic. I never got over this backstabbing book.

8. I’ve won two Academy Awards, and was the first person in show biz to be nominated for 10 Academy Awards.

7. I came to Hollywood in 1930, at age 22. I failed my first two screen tests, but finally landed a movie role, due to my unusual eyes. But the movie was a dud. In 1932, after six failed movies in a row, I was fired by Universal Studios. That same year, as I was preparing to leave Hollywood, I was hired by Warner Brothers and got a role in a successful film.

6. In 1934, after more than 20 film roles, I finally got my big break when I starred in the movie Of Human Bondage. My role as a mean, vicious, manipulative person, won critical acclaim, turning me into a major star. There was widespread outrage when I was not nominated for an Academy Award, and this led to a change in the way the Academy votes for nominees.

5. The voting change helped, because in 1935 I won my first Academy Award, playing the role of a troubled Broadway star in the movie Dangerous.

4. In 1949, I became the highest-paid woman in the United States. And in 1977, I became the first woman to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Film Institute.

3. One of my most famous quotes is, “Fasten your seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy night,” from the 1950 movie, All About Eve.

2. I had a career-long running feud with actress Joan Crawford. She and I co-starred in the 1962 movie, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? In one scene, I push Joan down a flight of stairs. I consider this scene to be the most enjoyable time I ever had with her.

1. In 1981, the best-selling record for the year was a song by Kim Carnes, about my unusually big, beautiful eyes. It topped Billboard’s Hot 100 for nine weeks.

0. Still flummoxed? You can click on this link and read all about me on Wikipedia. Or, you can click on this link and learn my name from Kim Carnes’ 1981 hit song. But either way you look at it, you get zero points.

"Depths of Poison" Book 2

Scroll down to read the sequel.

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