October 10, 1857, a baby girl was born to a farming family in Ontario, Canada. Her name was Elizabeth "Betty" Bigley. She was the fifth of what would be eight siblings. In childhood, she lost hearing in one ear and she spoke with a lisp. Because of this she was a quiet child, and like all silent introverts considered peculiar by those around them. She would drift into hypnotic spells, which she would awaken from disoriented. Wherever Betty went in those moments of introspection, one can only guess at.
When she was 22 years old, she pulled her first fraud job on a local bank in Woodstock. After a few months, authorities arrested her. Due to her age and on grounds of insanity, they released her with an admonishment not to do it again. She didn't heed the warning.
The nature of Betty's first scheme involved forging a letter notifying that an uncle had left her a small sum of money as an inheritance. The notification seemed authentic enough that a local banker issued checks to her in advance so that she could spend the money, which he believed would be deposited into their vaults very soon. The checks were real, but the funds never materialized.
Betty lay low for a while. It wasn't spent in pondering the error of her ways, instead she thought of ways to her perfect her scam.
She then headed to Cleveland to spend some time with her newly wedded sister Alice who had moved to Ohio. She promised her sister, her stay was brief until she could land a job. There was no way Betty was going to slave away at a factory or shop, instead she took inventory of any items of value in her sister's house, ranging from cutlery, furniture to paintings. With an estimate in hand, she went to a local bank and used them as collateral for a loan. Needless to say, when her brother-in-law Mr. York found out about the whole mess he promptly kicked her out.
Betty liked Ohio, so much she moved to another neighborhood in Cleveland. Her new address was 149 Garden Street. Using the funds she got from her sister's furniture, she rented a house from a Mrs. Brown. She told her landlady she was a widow. Using the pseudonym of Madame Lydia DeVere she set up shop as a clairvoyant.
In November 1882, Cassie married Dr. Wallace S. Springsteen and became Mrs. Lydia Springsteen. She told him she was heiress to a "large Irish estate". She moved to his home at 3 Garden Street. A local paper published photographs of the nuptials, and soon Dr. Springsteen had a slew of creditors, including his wife's sister, knocking at his door demanding payment for debts incurred for "wedding gifts" she had purchased. Once he verified it was all true, he kicked her out, filed for divorce which was granted in 1883. The twelve day marriage cost him quite a sum as he was forced to pay his wife's debt since his own credit was on the line. He told the press that he thought she came from a rich, aristocratic New York family.
Betty's modus operandi was new life, new name. So she then invented herself as Madame Marie Rosa (or LaRose). She scammed merchants and landlords at various boarding houses. Like all grifters, she left town and headed to Pennsylvania. Short of cash, in Erie she told the locals she was the niece of General William Tecumseh Sherman. One of her tricks was to make her gums bleed. She claimed she was hemorrhaging and quite ill. The townspeople took a collection and loaned her money so she could return to Cleveland. When they followed up for payment she forged her own death notice telling them that Marie had passed away two weeks before.
Cassie went back to the fake psychic business and set herself up as Madame Marie LaRose. She met her second husband, John R. Scott a farmer who she convinced to sign a prenuptial agreement. Farm life didn't suit Mrs. Scott, and after four years she confessed to adultery and directed her lawyer to file for divorce.
She then married a businessman named C.L. Hoover. With him she had a son named Emil who she shipped off to Canada to be raised by her family. In 1888, Hoover died and left his widow an estate worth $50,000.
However for Betty it had never really been about the money, but about the scam. She moved back to Toledo and setup clairvoyant shop as Madame Lydia DeVere.
A client named Joseph Lamb, a respectable citizen and cashier at United States Express Company paid her $10,000 so she would act as his financial adviser. She prepared a promissory note for several thousand dollars and forged the signature of Richard Young, the Iron King of Youngstown, Ohio. She asked Lamb to cash it at his Toledo bank. Due to his excellent reputation it was cashed without incident. The bank caught on after several others totaling $40,000 were honored.
In March 1890, she went to trial for six indictments of forgery in a court in Toledo. Joseph Lamb, named as her accomplice was also arrested. The charges stemmed from "uttering and publishing" forged notes. Lamb was perceived as her victim and acquitted of all charges. She was sentenced to nine and half years in the state penitentiary.
According to Betty, there's no reason why being in jail should stop your clairvoyant abilities, which is what she told the warden. She predicted he would lose $5,000 in a business deal and then die of cancer. Both things happened. She then started a letter writing campaign to Governor William McKinley (later president of the USA) claiming she was remorseful and would change her way. It worked, and after serving three and half years they paroled her.
In 1893, using the identity of Mrs. Cassie Hoover she opened a brothel in Cleveland's west side. She met a recently widowed doctor named Leroy Chadwick. Not only was he wealthy he descended from one of Cleveland's most respected families. She claimed she was a widow trying to make ends meet by running a respectable boarding house, Like all "respectable" women she promptly fainted when he pointed out the obvious, which was that the establishment was a well-known brothel. She begged him to take her away so that none would think she was involved in running it, and therefore ruin her reputation.
They married in 1897. It's unknown whether he knew she had a son which at the time of his visit. was in the care of one of the women at the brothel. He found out about the boy when she moved him into his home on Euclid Avenue. This street was known as Cleveland's Millionaire's Row. The wealthy neighbors only invited Mrs. Cassie Chadwick to functions out of obligation to her highly respected husband.
Cassie tried everything to impress her prominent neighbors, which included the Rockefellers, the Hannas, the Hays and the Mathers. She bought everything without asking the price. Among one of her possessions was a chest containing eight trays of diamond and pearls valued at $98,000. A rope of pearls alone was inventoried at $40,000.
Her clothing and hats were custom made from ateliers in New York. She insisted on paying top dollar for everything.
However since none of this wealth stilled her compulsion to cheat, following her marriage she started her most notorious con game. It was to establish herself as Andrew Carnegie's illegitimate daughter.
.During a visit to New York she asked her husband's acquaintance, a lawyer named Mr. Dillon to take her to Carnegie's address. She gained admittance to the house while he waited in the carriage. She told the housekeeper she was there checking on credentials for a new employee which claimed she had worked for the Carnegies. The housekeeper denied knowing this person, but the visit served its purpose which was to convince Dillon that she was allowed entrance into the millionaire's mansion.
While in Dillon's presence she dropped a paper, which he recognized as a $2 million promissory note signed by Carnegie. She made him promise to keep her secret. She explained that Carnegie was so overcome with guilt that he showered his illegitimate daughter with money. She told the wide-eyed attorney that she held $7 million in promissory notes, and stood to inherit $400 million upon her father's death. He was so convinced by her story that he arranged for a safe deposit box to store he document.
Mrs. Chadwick knew perfectly well that Dillon would not keep the secret and soon the information leaked to the financial markets in Ohio, and banks fell over themselves offering their services.
The Carnegie name was so powerful that for the next eight years she obtained loans totaling $2 million (over $50 million in today's currency). She banked on the fact that none would question Carnegie about an obviously embarrassing subject. The bankers also painted themselves into a corner by granting the loans with usurious interests which they did not want admit they had offered.
Cassie Chadwick bought clothes she never wore, diamond necklaces and a gold organ. She became known as the Queen of Ohio. She claimed she gave money to the poor and the suffrage movement, but this might have just been a small lie among the whopper she lived in year to year.
She was able to stave off her creditors by paying off older loans with proceeds from a new loan.
The Queen of Ohio's reign came to end in November 1904. Herbert B. Newton a Massachusetts banker learned of her other loans after granting her one for $190,000. They had met at church. They were both members of the Euclid Avenue Baptist Church. Fearing he would not be repaid, and not wanting to wait for Carnegie's death he called the loan in. She didn't pay, so the bank sued. She had debts totaling $1 million and it became evident that her securities were worthless.
Carnegie when asked denied ever meeting her, and that he had not signed a promissory note in over thirty years.
Mrs. Chadwick fled to New York where she was arrested. She was wearing a money belt with $100,000. Dr. Chadwick and his adult daughter thought it was an opportune time to take an extended trip to Europe. He stopped at his lawyer's office though and filed for divorce.
Citizen's National Bank of Oberlin was forced into bankruptcy since they had loaned her $800,000.
On January 1, 1905 Dr Chadwick was arrested as soon as the ship he was traveling on docked. He was charged by the State of Ohio for aiding and abetting his wife. Two years later impoverished and without recourse he clerked in his brother's furniture store in Jacksonville, Florida. He had not gone to see his estranged wife in several months. His plans were to practice medicine once he was licensed to do so in the state.
On January 12, 1906 a heavily-veiled Cassie Chadwick arrived at the Ohio State Penitentiary to serve her ten year sentence. She had already purchased rugs to be in place in cell when she arrived.
In June her Parisian gowns and furniture were sold for over $4000. The purchaser planned to sell them as souvenirs. This was one of several auctions held to in order to recover money for the creditors who proved they had a valid debt to be satisfied.
In September, Cassie Chadwick's mother passed away. She lived in Pennsylvania, and only her daughter's notoriety caused a note to be made of her death.
September 1907, while being visited by her son Emil, Cassie Chadwick had some type of stroke which left her blind. She was already being treated for a nervous condition by the prison physicians.
October 10, 1907 on her 50th birthday, after falling into a coma, she died with only the prison personnel by her side. She had wasted away, and lost thirty pounds since entering the prison. Her son who lived in Cleveland had been summoned, but arrived fifteen minutes after her death.
Within a month of her death the charges pending against her husband were dismissed. In August 1908, he filed for bankruptcy to discharge debts in excess of $600,000. He died in 1924 and was buried in Jacksonville, Florida.
Cassie was buried in her hometown of Eastwood, Ontario. Allegedly she wrote letters to Emil before her death; one of which asked him to get money from her hiding place to buy a tombstone for the family plot in Ontario.
Emil's luck with the women was not the best, since in 1908, his wife was involved in a historic train crash where five Pullmans went off a 25-foot trestle over Copper Mine Creek about 30 miles outside of Atlanta taking 200 passengers with them. The train was bound for Florida.
To this day the full extent of Cassie’s spoils remains unknown—some historians believe that many victims declined to come forward—but the most commonly cited sum is $633,000, about $16.5 million in today’s dollars.
Source - Smithsonianmag
Stranger Than Fiction Stories by Marlene Pardo Pellicer