'Count' Victor Lustig (?): The 'Smoothest Con Man That Ever Lived'

EnolaGaia

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Count Victor Lustig may or may not have been the real birth name of a reknowned early 20th century con artist and fraudster who, among other things, scammed Al Capone, 'sold' the Eiffel Tower for scrap metal (twice!), conned a sheriff, and produced such a quantity and quality of counterfeit $100 bills that US authorities considered his work a threat to the American financial system.

This 2016 Smithsonian Magazine article describes his life, his fall, and the lingering questions surrounding who he really was.
The Man Who Sold the Eiffel Tower. Twice.

“Count” Victor Lustig was America’s greatest con man. But what was his true identity?

The air was as crisp as a hundred dollar bill, on April 27, 1936. A southwesterly breeze filled the bright white sails of the pleasure boats sailing across the San Francisco Bay. Through the cabin window of a ferryboat, a man studied the horizon. His tired eyes were hooded, his dark hair swept backwards, his hands and feet locked in iron chains. Behind a curtain of grey mist, he caught his first dreadful glimpse of Alcatraz Island.

“Count” Victor Lustig, 46 years old at the time, was America’s most dangerous con man. In a lengthy criminal career, his sleight-of-hand tricks and get-rich-quick schemes had rocked Jazz-Era America and the rest of the world. In Paris, he had sold the Eiffel Tower in an audacious confidence game—not once, but twice. Finally, in 1935, Lustig was captured after masterminding a counterfeit banknote operation so vast that it threatened to shake confidence in the American economy. A judge in New York sentenced him to 20 years on Alcatraz. ...

Lustig was unlike any other inmate to arrive on the Rock. He dressed like a matinee idol, possessed a hypnotic charm, spoke five languages fluently and evaded the law like a figure from fiction. In fact, the Milwaukee Journal described him as ‘a story book character’. One Secret Service agent wrote that Lustig was “as elusive as a puff of cigarette smoke and as charming as a young girl’s dream,” while the New York Times editorialized: “He was not the hand-kissing type of bogus Count—too keen for that. Instead of theatrical, he was always the reserved, dignified noble man.”

The fake title was just the tip of Lustig’s deceptions. He used 47 aliases and carried dozens of fake passports. He created a web of lies so thick that even today his true identity remains shrouded in mystery. On his Alcatraz paperwork, prison officials called him “Robert V. Miller,” which was just another of his pseudonyms. The con man had always claimed to hail from a long line of aristocrats who owned European castles, yet newly discovered documents reveal more humble beginnings. ...

FULL ARTICLE: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/man-who-sold-eiffel-tower-twice-180958370/
 

EnolaGaia

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Ermintruder

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A fascinating story, thanks so much for having posted it.

And I'm amazed by the implicit information contained within, regarding the Eiffel Tower, which (if I understand correctly) was only intended to remain standing from 1890 until 1915.... meaning it's at least 105 years past it's designed lifespan.

However....contemporary information from the Tower's management appears to think it will last forever....htpps://www.toureiffel.paris/en/news/130-years
 
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