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Victor Lustig
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    (January 4, 1890-March 11, 1947)
    Born in Hostinne, Austria-Hungary (now located in the Czech Republic)
    Con man
    Best known con was selling the Eiffel Tower to a scrap metal dealer (1925)
    Second-best known con was the ‘money box’: a steamer trunk-sized box that would, in six hours’ time, duplicate a $100 bill, with the duplicate being accepted as genuine at a bank
    Died of pneumonia in the Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in Springfield, Missouri
    He falsely claimed to be a count.
    For one of his first cons, pulled on transatlantic liners, he would pose as a Broadway producer and convince first class passenger to invest money in nonexistent plays.
    He was an enthusiastic bordello customer, who he would pay his ‘date’ by slipping a folded $50 bill into her stocking, with the warning that if she took it out before morning, it would turn into tissue paper.
    When the prostitute inevitably took an early look, all she would find was tissue paper, which Lustig had substituted for the $50 through sleight of hand.
    After demonstrating his money box to a mark, he would indicate his need for more funds to build a faster machine and offer to sell the one he had for $10,000 (or whatever he figured he could get away with).
    Six hours after the sale, another $100 would be produced. After another six hours, nothing would happen because the two genuine $100 bills the machine had been pre-loaded with had been used up. By this point, Lustig had made good use of his twelve-hour head start.
    After reading a newspaper article about the costs of maintaining the Eiffel Tower, he used forged government stationery to pose as the Deputy Director General of the Ministry of the Mail and Telegraphs and summoned a group of scrap metal dealers to a meeting.
    He told them that the government had decided to tear down the Eiffel Tower and sell the metal as scrap, but that the plans would have to be kept secret until the demolition work actually started to avoid a public outcry.
    After picking a likely mark, he dropped a few hints about how difficult it was to make ends meet on a government salary and extracted a large bribe along with a downpayment on the scrap metal contract.
    When the mark was too embarrassed to go to the authorities, Ludwig repeated the scam on a second group of dealers; this time his victim went to the police and Ludwig fled for America.
    In the 1930s, he became a partner in a large-scale counterfeiting operation.
    When he dumped his mistress for a younger woman, she turned him in to the authorities, resulting in his arrest (1935).
    When a Texas sheriff taken by his money box scam tracked him to Chicago, Lustig managed to convince him the box was legit, he was just operating it incorrectly. (He then bought the box back from the sheriff – using counterfeit bills.)
    When another money box mark, brothel owner Billie Scheible, had her underworld contacts track him down, he refunded her the $10,000 she had paid, then convinced her to buy $15,000 in worthless stocks.
    He once approached Al Capone for $50,000, promising he could double it in sixty days.
    Instead, he placed the money in a safe deposit box.
    After the sixty days were up, he told Capone the deal had fallen through, and apologetically handed back the original fifty grand.
    Capone, declaring ‘I take care of guys who play square with me,’ rewarded his apparent honesty by handing over $5,000 from his roll – which was what Lustig had been after in the first place.
    One day before his trial on counterfeiting charges was to start, he escaped from the Federal House of Detention in New York City by tying nine bedsheets together and lowering them out of a lavatory window.
    As he climbed down, he noticed pedestrians watching him, so he went through the motions of cleaning the windows on each floor until he reached the street, then ran off.
    His escape went unnoticed by the authorities until a puzzled bystander asked one of the guards at the building’s doors, ‘Do you know your window cleaner has run away?’
    He was recaptured 27 days later in Pittsburgh, and was eventually sentenced to 15 years in prison for counterfeiting and an additional five years for his escape from jail.

Credit: C. Fishel

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