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Cassie L. Chadwick is known for having been a remarkable con artist. She was able to con American banks out of millions of dollars. During the late 1800s and early 1900s, she would approach these banks claiming to be the illegitimate daughter of the wealthy industrialist, Andrew Carnegie. American newspapers who covered her story would refer to Chadwick as the greatest female con artist in the history of the United States. What makes her so extraordinary is that she was able to do this during a time when women were not permitted to vote or get loans from banks.
Cassie Chadwick was born on October 10, 1857, in Eastwood, Ontario, Canada. Her birth name was Elizabeth Bigley. She had three sisters and a brother. Her mother's name was Annie and her father's name was Dan. When she was growing up, her father worked for the Grand Trunk Railway and was away from the family home for long periods of time. Chadwick was referred to as Betsy by her family. They said she would often get caught daydreaming and was known for telling outlandish fibs as a child.
First Bank Scam
When Cassie was 14, she traveled to Woodstock, Ontario. This is where she was able to open a bank account based on a questionable letter of inheritance. It was from an unknown uncle in England. It was for a small amount of cash. When she was in Woodstock, Cassie used several worthless checks to purchase things from merchants. She was arrested for forgery but the local authorities released her. This was done because of her age and some believed she did not have a sound mind.
In 1875, Cassie found out one of her sisters had married a carpenter from Cleveland, Ohio. At the age of 18, Cassie went to the United States to find her sister. She stayed briefly with her sister and brother-in-law. Cassie then moved into the lower floor of a house. She told the owner of the home she had been widowed and said her name was Madame Lydia DeVere. She began working as a clairvoyant with money from a bank loan on the furniture owned by her sister and brother-in-law.
First Marriage and Divorce
Cassie posed as Lydia DeVere and got married in 1882. Her husband was a physician named Dr. Wallace S. Springsteen. On November 21 of that year, they exchanged wedding vows and moved into the doctor's home. A picture and a story about the wedding was featured in the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper. This resulted in many people going to the doctor's home demanding payment for the debts created by Cassie. Once Dr. Springsteen verified the stories about Cassie's past, he told her to leave his home and filed for divorce. He also settled her debts.
Second Marriage and Divorce
Once her first marriage was dissolved, Cassie became a clairvoyant known as Madame Marie LaRose. She then married a farmer named John R. Scott. Cassie talked Scott into signing a prenuptial agreement because of the abuse she claimed to have experienced from her first husband. Farm life did not agree with her. After four years, Cassie went to an attorney and gave a sworn statement confessing adultery. She told her attorney to file for a divorce from Scott.
Cassie was convicted of committing forgery in 1889. She was sentenced to 9 ½ years in prison. She was paroled in 1893 and then immediately went back to Cleveland.
Cassie then took the name Mrs. Cassie Hoover once she arrived back in Cleveland in 1893. She opened a brothel on Cleveland's west side. This is where she met her next husband. He was a wealthy widower physician named Leroy Chadwick. She presented herself as a genteel widow who operated a boarding house for women. When the physician told her the boarding house was a brothel, she fainted. She was revived and screamed that she would never run that type of establishment. Leroy and Cassie were married in 1897. She developed spending habits beyond those of her rich neighbors. She was not welcomed into the wealthy social class and was considered a curious woman. Cassie would only attend social events as an obligation to her husband.
The Carnegie Con
Her most successful con began shortly after her 1897 marriage. This is when Cassie established herself as the daughter of industrialist Andrew Carnegie. It began when she visited New York City and asked a lawyer to take her to Carnegie's home. Cassie was actually visiting one of Carnegie's housekeepers. After the visit, she gave the attorney a promissory note signed by Andrew Carnegie for $2 million. Cassie then told him she was Carnegie's illegitimate daughter. The attorney promised to keep her secret. She told the attorney the industrialist was so overwhelmed with feelings of guilt he would give her huge amounts of money. Cassie claimed that she had $7 million worth of promissory notes hidden at her home in Cleveland. She told him she would inherit $400 million when Carnegie died. The attorney arranged to have her documents put in a safe deposit box.
This information about Cassie's connection to Andrew Carnegie was ultimately leaked to the northern Ohio financial markets. The banks in the area started to offer Cassie their services. During the next eight years, she used this con to obtain loans that equaled $2 million. It is estimated this amount would be equal to over $50 million in today's money. Cassie felt nobody would ask Carnegie about her because they wouldn't want to embarrass him. The interest rates from the banks were not standard and banks refused to admit they had granted them. They all believed they would be repaid by Carnegie's estate once he died.
During this time, Cassie lived a very lavish lifestyle. She purchased enough clothes to fill over 29 closets, diamond necklaces as well as a gold organ. Cassie was often referred to as the Queen of Ohio. She claimed to have given away significant amounts of money to the poor as well as to the women's suffrage movement.
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The Collapse of the Con
Cassie received a $190,000 loan from a Massachusetts banker in November 1904. The baker was stunned by the number of loans given to Cassie, and he called in his loan. Cassie was not able to pay. The banker then sued her. During this time, she had amassed over $1 million in debt. Various securities she held in different banks were proven to be worthless. Carnegie was asked about Cassie. He denied he ever knew her. Carnegie also said he hadn't signed a promissory note in over three decades.
Arrest and Third Divorce
After hearing this news Cassie immediately left for New York. She was quickly arrested at an apartment located in the Hotel Breslin. Cassie was then taken back to Cleveland. At the time of her arrest, Cassie had on a money belt with over $100,000 in it. Her husband Leroy Chadwick, and his adult daughter, quickly left Cleveland. They went on a European tour when Cassie was arrested. Before leaving, Leroy Chadwick filed for divorce.
Second Fraud Trial
During Cassie's second fraud trial, Andrew Carnegie attended. He wanted to see the woman who had conned bankers into thinking she was his heir. The trial was classified as a media circus. A Cleveland court found Cassie guilty on March 10, 1905, of conspiracy to bankrupt the Citizens National Bank. She was fined $70,000 and sentenced to 14 years in prison.
Cassie reported to the Ohio State Penitentiary on January 1, 1906. She arrived with trunks of goods for her cell. This included furniture, clothing, and photographs. The prison warden was impressed with her celebrity status and permitted her items to be placed in her cell. Cassie’s health started to get bad and she wrote detailed instructions for her funeral. She had a nervous collapse on September 17, 1907, and this left her blind. Cassie then started experiencing severe stomach and heart problems starting in October 1907.
On October 19, 1907, Cassie died in the Columbus penitentiary. She was 50 years old. Cassie's body was interred at the Episcopal Cemetery at her birthplace in Canada.
Movies and Television
A feature film about Cassie's life is scheduled to be released in 2021. It is called “The Duchess of Criminality.” She was also the subject of a Canadian television movie released in 1985 called “Love and Larceny.” The character of Cassie Chadwick was featured in an episode of the Canadian television show “Murdoch Mysteries.”
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Readmikenow (author) on December 20, 2020:
Fran, thanks. She as a fascinating person that history has largely ignored.
fran rooks from Toledo, Ohio on December 20, 2020:
Mike, great article. She certainly was resourceful but in the end, karma got her. I had never heard of her so thank you for enlightening me.