Nerves of Steal: Cassie Chadwick, “Patron Saint of Confidence Women”
Like many bank robbers, Cassie Chadwick proffered a note to her victims. Early in her criminal career, when she was just 22 years old, that elegant, imaginative note simply stated that because she was an heiress to $15,000 people could feel confident in extending her credit. So many did until she was declared insolvent and insane, and released to the custody of her father. This result she regarded as a challenge to refine her technique.
Later on her specious notes grew more sophisticated but that hardly mattered; bankers and attorneys rarely troubled to inspect Chadwick’s forged drafts and IOUs. They merely loaned her extravagant amounts of money on zero collateral. Because Chadwick readily conveyed the impression that she already had plenty of money, lenders had no qualms about providing her with even more.
In return she accepted usurious interest rates and gave her guarantors handsome bonuses (drawn from their own loans) with the promise of more to follow. What ultimately followed for many was default and ruin, but in the meantime Chadwick lived in regal splendor. The reader has no doubt heard of Charles Ponzi, whose name graces a type of pyramid scheme wherein the dividends of early investors are paid by the capital of more recent subscribers. In 1920 Ponzi was proclaimed “a piker alongside famous Cassie Chadwick.”
Charles Ponzi, “520 Per Cent” Miller and John Law, of the Mississippi Bubble fame, are three men whose place in history as Blowers of Bubbles is secure.
Even these three “wizards” must bow to a woman!
For Cassie Chadwick’s game was hoodwinking conservative bankers! Ponzi is a piker compared to Cassie.
Cassie Chadwick’s whole life was “outside the pale”—full of criminal tendencies. Like Ponzi, she served time for forgery. Once she was declared insane.
In the early nineties she was a clairvoyant in Cleveland, marrying Dr. Leroy S. Chadwick, a Cleveland physician, in 1896.
From 1896 until 1904 there ensued a period of eight years of frenzied finance; eight years of “duping” by one means or another—mainly it was said, by sheer personality which at times bordered on hypnotism—the most conservative bankers in northern Ohio, New York and Boston!
She borrowed over a million on nothing!
Chadwick was not considered especially educated or socially graceful. Although she dressed well, she still failed to fit in with the elite demographic to which she aspired. She didn’t come from money, but she was highly imaginative in describing where in fact she did come from. She used at least a dozen aliases and had had as many as four husbands by 1907 when she died in prison in her fiftieth year. One marriage lasted only eleven days. Her then-husband was justifiably suspicious when the nuptial furniture was repossessed shortly after their wedding; his bride had already mortgaged it.
Perhaps her seemingly effortless ability to inspire confidence was due to her alleged powers as a hypnotist and clairvoyant. Was she in fact the illegitimate daughter of Andrew Carnegie or the niece of one of his associates? Chadwick cultivated these myths, and they seemed plausible to many. At any rate her insinuations were so fantastic yet unmentionable that they went unchallenged for eight years, resulting in millions of dollars of loan defaults and the failure of Citizens National Bank in Oberlin, Ohio, when the pretense unraveled.
The writer of “The Great Chadwick Drama” in a 1904 issue of the Philadelphia Inquirer relied on a theatrical metaphor in describing the rise and fall of Cassie Chadwick. The disappropriated students were from Oberlin College whose financial stability Chadwick seriously undermined. Andrew Carnegie would later rescue the school’s students and fund the library there.
The plot concerns more than a million dollars given up to a mysterious woman apparently without financial assets. It involves the reputations of prosperous bankers, the ruin of many well-to-do persons, the loss of education to hundreds of college students, and finally fetches in the name of the greatest ironmaster of modern times.
Deceit, forgery, lying and other crimes are prominent. There is the shadow of a previous career in jail, the story of wasting money with a prodigality that would make an Oriental despot weep, and lastly there is a jail holding the woman who has played the star part so long.
Cassie Chadwick was not a physically imposing woman. Her prison record from 1891 when she was convicted of forgery as Lydia Devere described her as a woman of 28 (she was actually 33 at the time) with the following characteristics under the Bertillon criminal biometric system:
Eyes, chestnut brown; hair, black; complexion, common; forehead, high and full; brows, arched and approached; ears, large and stand out; chin, small; medium build; ears pierced; burn scar on right elbow.
Ah, but those eyes were sufficiently persuasive for her to intimidate even her prison matron, and hold both men and women under her sway.
“Cassie L. Chadwick, or ‘Mme. De Vere,’ for that was the name I knew her under, was the most remarkable woman I ever met in my life, and her escapades since she left the penitentiary do not surprise me in the least,” said today Mrs. Flora Kissinger, matron of the Ohio penitentiary, during her incarceration from 1891 to 1893. “She was possessed of wonderful hypnotic powers, could foretell the future, and even as a convict could bring to her men who were the cream of society, and by force of her power compel them to do her bidding.” Mrs. Kissinger is in a position to judge women, having been in charge of them for nearly 20 years, and when she stated that no one could resist the force of Mme. De Vere’s eyes, she made a declaration which might explain the woman’s peculiar power over the financiers who have been her dupes.
Cassie Chadwick was born Elizabeth Bigley, the fifth of eight children to working-class parents in a small town in Ontario, Canada, in 1857. She was notably self-absorbed as a child, had some difficulty hearing, and spoke with a slight lisp which followed her into adulthood. While still a youth she evinced a fondness for fine and fancy things. She was said to have a gift for imitation.
In November 1879 she was arrested for forging checks drawn on the accounts of several wealthy farmers in nearby towns. She was judged to be insane and released to her father’s custody. Her sister Alice described how Elizabeth initially came to America.
“About 1882 she came to live with me at my home in Cleveland. About that time I was compelled to leave the city to go to Woodstock [Ontario] for my health. I left my sister Elizabeth in charge of the house, and during my absence she mortgaged all the furniture, giving her name as Mrs. Alice M. Bestedo. I came back and learned of her doings, but did nothing in the way of prosecuting her. She went to live in several rooming houses, and even there borrowed money by mortgaging furniture that did not belong to her.
“From one house to another she went and repeated the operation, using different names. She did not seem to think what she was doing. I paid many of her debts and squared matters for her. At that time I began to think that she was unbalanced. She told me that she did not know what prompted her to do the things she did.”
While in Cleveland masquerading as an Irish heiress, Bigley married Dr. W.S. Springsteen; the marriage lasted less than two weeks. Her husband discovered his wife’s penchant for deception and promptly divorced her early in 1883. She went back to Ontario for several years, possibly marrying a John R. Scott while there. Apparently she also reported herself as dead to escape creditors.
When she returned to Ohio around 1887 she lived in Cleveland and Toledo as Lydia Scott, Lydia Devere, and under other names. During this time she worked as a clairvoyant and possibly ran a small brothel from her rooms. Yet another marriage was perhaps consummated with a Dr. C.L. Hoover with whom she had a son, Emil. Although much of Elizabeth’s biography up to this point is speculative, her son actually existed and survived her.
Another fact is also certain. In 1890 as Madame Devere, Elizabeth Bigley was arrested in Toledo, Ohio, with an accomplice, Joseph Lamb, on charges of forgery. Lamb was a well-regarded local express agent on whose reputation Bigley/Devere traded to the extent of $40,000. During this exploit she styled herself as Florida Blythe, a wealthy Cleveland woman whose identity Bigley assumed.
At 8 o’clock tonight Joseph Lamb and Madame DeVere, the clairvoyant, who have figured so prominently in the Brown forgeries, were arrested and lodged in the Central station. The warrant was sworn out by the First national bank officials who, it will be remembered had the $25,000 note presented to them for collection. This morning the bank officials held a meeting to take action on the matter, and it was the first move they have taken since the matter has been made public. It is claimed that Madame DeVere forged the notes and then gave them to Lamb for disposal. For some time past Lamb and the madame have been intimate friends and many strange stories have been afloat as to their actions. On account of Lamb’s high standing in the community and the responsible position he held in the employ of the United States express company, very little reliance was put in the stories. It appears that the madame has quite a romantic history and has been known as Lydia D. Scott, Mary Hoover, Lizzie Hoover, Lydia Clingan and several other aliases, and whose right name is given as Louise Bagley. During her lifetime she has had a most remarkable career and one, too, that has a history.
Bigley/Devere spent three years of a nine-year sentence working as a seamstress behind bars. Following a concerted letter-writing campaign she was paroled in 1893 by Ohio Governor William McKinley, who would later become President of the United States. Upon gaining her freedom she worked briefly as a millinery salesperson before resuming her career as a seer and madame in Cleveland.
While perhaps engaging in prostitution as well as prognosis, she encountered widower Leroy S. Chadwick, a Cleveland physician of impeccable credentials. The doctor suffered from orthopedic complaints which the future Mrs. Chadwick was able to ameliorate with massage. When he informed her that her boarding house was in fact devoted to carnal pursuits, she promptly swooned, then begged him to take her away from such moral turpitude. He agreed to the extent of marrying her.
The newly minted Mrs. Chadwick then embarked upon a career of leveraging her husband’s position and resources to achieve peak opulence. In this she succeeded, nay, excelled. Cleveland society was both enthralled and aghast. It cannot be said that Cassie L. Chadwick did anything by halves. It was not enough that she owned a pipe organ; hers had to be gold. Why suffer only one Oriental rug underfoot when three would do better? She bought pianos in quantity, and then gave them as gifts. There was a $20,000 pearl necklace which eventually endowed dancer “La Petite Adelaide” upon Mrs. Chadwick’s dissolution.
Jewelry was among the fads of Cassie Chadwick of frenzied finance fame. Among them was a pearl necklace worth $20,000, which for many months reposed in a safe of Chas. F. Leach, collector of customs at the port of Cleveland. It was held for duty, and after the crash, when creditors big and little jumped upon the woman who pulled the wool over the eyes of expert male financiers, the pearl necklace was seized with the rest, and a Baltimore jeweler finally bought it.
It is now owned by La Petite Adelaide, the toe dancer who does her stunts nightly both at the American music hall and in “Up and Down Broadway” at the Casino, New York. The danseuse exhibits her treasure at the Hotel Flanders and incidentally upon her neck. She says she paid $20,000 for it, and the press agents say amen and swear to it.
The necklace contains 225 pearls, each weighing 3-1/2 grains, and 140 small diamonds aggregating 10 karats.
Regarding jewels, in addition to her other accomplishments Cassie Chadwick was reputed to have been a consummate jewel smuggler. To finance her lifestyle and shelter her assets, Chadwick relied on loopholes and laxity in customs enforcement.
[Throughout] the erratic and varied criminal career of Mrs. Cassie L. Chadwick, whose persuasive eloquence caused some of the shrewdest financiers of the country to part with their money, there was never a hint that she was a smuggler.
The singular woman whose vast swindling operations in other respects attracted the attention of the entire world, was a smuggler of diamonds and other jewelry on a most colossal scale, according to revelations now made.
During her life time she is declared to have smuggled into the United States merchandise, mostly jewels, worth $2,000,000. With the 60 per cent tariff added, the value would be swelled to over $3,000,000.
Of all the real or spurious assets associated with Cassie Chadwick, one of the most surprising is detailed in a 1908 issue of the Trenton Evening Times. That article described how novelty currency intended to lampoon Chadwick’s free-and-easy approach to money was banned by the U.S. government after it was successfully passed off as legal tender.
The printing of “Cassie Chadwick Money” must be discontinued. Chief Wilkie, of the Government Secret Service, will request District Attorney Baker to suppress the local enterprise. The Federal Book Company, of this city, prints the money and sells it to stores dealing in novelties.
The Cassie Chadwick currency bears a likeness of the celebrated easy-money adventuress, as well as a photograph of a “busted bank.” Two years ago, when it was designed, a sample was submitted to Assistant Secretary Keep, of the Treasury.
Speaking of imitations, Chadwick’s name became shorthand for copycat swindlers and was applied to similar devotees of avarice and deception around the world. There was Meta Kupfer in Berlin, Germany; Josephine Leslie in England; Russian national Olga Segalovitch Stein who was deported from New York in 1908; and Italian immigrant Angelina Garramone who was feared as a necromancer as Devere was feared for her alleged hypnotic powers. These notorious sisters in crime can all be found in Readex’s America’s Historical Newspapers, but we’ll limit ourselves to the one who provides the quote used in the title of this blog post.
Facing an ugly charge of forgery, Aimee Lloyd, daughter of well known Rochester, Minn. people, and is awaiting events in jail.
In the meantime, police of several cities among them Washington, D.C., are busily looking up her record, and the young woman promises to become as famous as the patron saint of confidence women, Cassie Chadwick.
Superintendent Sylvester, of the Washington police, has wired the Rochester authorities to hold the girl until officers from the National Capital arrive to identify her, and her alleged speculations may become of national interest.
Reports from San Francisco, Los Angeles, Winona, Minn; Clinton, Iowa and other places would seem to point to her as the woman who has recently worked these places.
The Washington police believe she is the famous “woman in brown” who successfully worked several swindling schemes and got away with them. She gave the name of Aimee Lloyd at places.
Much ink was spilled discussing why Chadwick behaved as she did beyond a simple desire for fine things. Her sister Alice pointed out that Elizabeth did become legitimately rich following her marriage to L.S. Chadwick, who owned a mansion on Cleveland’s exclusive Euclid Avenue.
If the “hoodwinker of bankers” had been satisfied with mere wealth and privilege, she might have declared victory and gained acceptance into Cleveland high society when she married Chadwick. In Oscar Wilde’s 1893 play, A Woman of No Importance, one of the characters states, “Moderation is a fatal thing….Nothing succeeds like excess.” Perhaps this was Chadwick’s mantra until 1904 when Brookline, Mass., banker H.B. Newton legally called Chadwick’s bluff to recover $190,800. It turned out that her promissory notes purported to be drawn upon Andrew Carnegie were just so much worthless paper.
In 1905 journalist Charles T. Henderson wrote at length in the Plain Dealer of “The Real Mrs. Chadwick” in “A Story of Financial Mania & Dual Personality.” He described her as being “unhuman” in her transcendence even of the positive qualities normally associated with accomplished men.
In this respect Mrs. Chadwick’s secret is unhuman. She had a compelling power that great men have, only it was greater. She had a truly subtle power to borrow money. It is useless to attempt to analyze it beyond that. This was the predominant trait in the Mrs. Chadwick that appeared to the world. Of course, there was the pleasing air, the fascinating blandishments, the artful flattery and the precisely proper treatment that she accorded each man according to his nature as she was able to divine it.
But all these will not enable you to borrow money. You cannot walk into the office of a bank president, tell him a good story, inflate him with some mythical creation of your own fancy, swap a good yarn or two with him and then, provided even that you wear good clothes and revel in the delight of a fresh collar and a clean shave, expect to enjoy the entre into his treasure vaults.
If you don’t believe that, just try it. The banker may slap you on the back, tell you what a rattling good fellow you are, assure you of his belief in your ultimate success and, proffering a 10-cent cigar, invite you back again. But you won’t need a wheelbarrow to take away the financial results of the interview. And bear in mind this fact, Mrs. Chadwick’s stock in trade was a story of such pitiable weakness and sham that the greatest captain of industry the world ever produced could not make you believe it at the point of a 38-caliber gun. An even mediocre “strong arm” man uses a better one every day.
Speaking of “the greatest captain of industry the world ever produced,” Andrew Carnegie must be mentioned. Chadwick traded shamelessly on the man’s name and reputation by presenting herself as his illegitimate daughter, and then displayed such stupendous (and badly executed) promissory notes as to celebrate her ability to blackmail her own “father.” But Carnegie himself chose to view Chadwick’s imposture in a more favorable light. He attended her trial in Cleveland under subpoena and in order to acquaint himself with Chadwick. When asked whether he wished to press charges against her, he replied,
Why should I? Wouldn’t you be proud of the fact that your name is good for loans of $1,250,000, even when someone else signs it? It is glory enough for me that my name is so good, even when I don’t sign it. Mrs. Chadwick has shown that my credit is A1.
Chadwick evinced a fascination with the business mogul years before he declined to charge her with fraud. In 1904 a writer in the Emporia Gazette described behavior that today sounds like an incident of stalking.
Almost ten years ago, when Mr. Carnegie and his family were enjoying their usual summer outing at the top of the Alleghany mountains in one of his large cottages there, a strange woman known as Mrs. Hoover came and took up her residence at the Mountain House. She dressed richly and showed evidence of having much money at her command. She quickly ingratiated herself into the good will of many of the men visitors at the hotel and she made no secret of her wish to penetrate the wall of conservatism which Mr. Carnegie and others had thrown round their cottages.
She approached several persons after a week’s acquaintance, asking that she be introduced to Mr. Carnegie, but this was never done, for those who knew Mr. Carnegie well knew that to introduce a woman to him would cost his friendship.
From telling fortunes to losing fortunes, Cassie Chadwick developed a powerful grip on the popular imagination. Just a few years prior to her departure from life in 1907 the following poem originally published in 1904 signaled her arrival at the pinnacle of infamy.
On the Pecuniary Collapse of Mrs. Chadwick.
“Cassie Hoover!” “Cassie Hoover!” wails the Buckeye in distress;
“Cassie Hoover!” moans the “come on;” “Cassie Hoover!” howls the press.
“Cassie Hoover!” “Cassie Hoover!” Brookline swells the doleful sound.
And the goldsmiths and hotelmen holler “Hoover” all around.
The jaws of all the easy marks droop down in gloom intense;
The plaintive old get-rich-quick path betrays her footsteps’ dents;
And the money lender’s wallet seems to wait for her to come
And swap its swollen wad for I.O.U.s and chewin’ gum.
They’s sorrow in the wavin’ limbs of all the buckeye trees.
And sorrow deep in Oberlin and on Lake Erie’s breeze,
And all the swaller-anythings drains deep the painful cup,
And Pittsburg’s geese go quackin’, “Cassie Hoover’s busted up!”
“Cassie Hoover!” “Cassie Hoover!” wails the Buckeye in distress;
“Cassie Hoover!” moans the “come on;” “Cassie Hoover!” howls the press.
“Cassie Hoover?” “Cassie Hoover?” says Carnegie. “Who is she?
Never heard of Cassie Hoover. Never had a note of me.”