Before there was Anna Delvey, there was fake heiress Cassie Chadwick.
Though separated by more than a century, the two scammers who lived lavishly had much in common. Both spun schemes of nonexistent ties to wealth that duped people and deceived banks and businesses. Both ended up serving time for their crimes. And both captured the press and public’s attention: Delvey’s tale soon will be a Netflix show and Chadwick’s name was emblazoned on fake money and tonics.
Indeed, Chadwick was so well-known during her time that con artists – especially women – that came after her were known as ‘Cassies,’ according to a new book.
And while Russian native Anna Sorokin achieved her Manhattan glitterati moment in the sun by passing herself off as a German rich kid that oozed $100 bills, Canadian-born Chadwick boldly sparked the rumor that she was the illegitimate daughter of one of the world’s richest men, Andrew Carnegie. She then forged the steel magnate’s signature to borrow money from Ohio banks and others.
Chadwick is believed to have netted at least $633,000 in the early 1900s – about $18.7 million in today’s dollars – with some estimates going as high as $2 million back then.
‘The con woman’s likability is the single most important tool she has, sharp as a chef’s knife and fake as a theater mask,’ Tori Telfer wrote in Confident Women: Swindlers, Grifters, and Shapeshifters of the Feminine Persuasion. Telfer’s new book explores the dark side of the racket from before the French Revolution to Wang Ti, who recently conned China’s athletes and celebrities to the tune of about $8.5 million.
‘The fact that we like con artists so much is probably the greatest con of all time. How did they pull it off, these criminals, creating a world in which we call them “confidence artists” while other criminals get unembroidered titles like “thief” and “drug dealer”?’
Cassie Chadwick, above in 1904, was a con artist who went by many names and had a repertoire of ruses. Her first known scam was committed at 13 in her native Canada when she convinced a bank to give her checks based on a bogus inheritance. She was arrested but let off with a warning. By 22, she was a fake heiress with $15,000. Eventually, she left Canada for Cleveland and became notorious for claiming she was Andrew Carnegie’s illegitimate daughter and bilking banks out of thousands of dollars. She is featured in Tori Telfer’s new book, Confident Women: Swindlers, Grifters, and Shapeshifters of the Feminine Persuasion
Andrew Carnegie was born in Scotland in 1835 and moved to the United States when he was young. He worked his way up from telegraph messenger to investor to founding the Carnegie Steel Company in Pittsburgh. In 1901, he sold his steel business for $480 million, which is around $14.8 billion in today’s money. It made the industrialist, who later gave away much of that fortune, one of the richest men in the world. Carnegie, above in 1896, focused much of his philanthropy on libraries. According to History.com, he ‘eventually underwrote the construction of 2,811 libraries around the world’
Chadwick successfully pulled off the audacious scam that she was Carnegie’s illegitimate daughter and one of his heirs from 1902 to 1904. She forged the steel magnate’s signature and Ohio banks loaned her thousands of dollars. In November 1904, the game was up when one of her creditors, Herbert Newton, a Boston investment banker, sued her for over $190,000, which was her loan plus interest. News of the lawsuit spelled the end of the con and Chadwick was arrested that December, and her mugshot is seen right. After her arrest, it came out that she had previously served time in prison and that mugshot is seen left
Chadwick would go by many names but her first was Elizabeth Bigley. ‘Betty,’ as she was called, was born into a big family in October 1857. She grew up poor in a small Canadian town and due to hearing loss, spoke with an impediment. ‘Her classmates found her “peculiar” and she turned inward, sitting in silence by the hour,’ according to a Smithsonian Magazine article.
Her sister told reporters later on that Chadwick ‘had been possessed of a mania from childhood to acquire great wealth quickly,’ according to Telfer’s book, Confident Women. Through a representative, Telfer declined DailyMail.com’s interview requests.
At 13, she committed her first fraud. Chadwick convinced a local bank to issue her checks based on a bogus inheritance to get cash advances. ‘The checks were genuine, but the accounts nonexistent,’ according to the article. This worked until she was arrested and let go with a warning.
But Chadwick was just getting started.
By 22, the fake inheritance had increased substantially and to bolster her claims, she had cards made that stated ‘Miss Bigley, Heiress to $15,000.’ With her card in hand, Chadwick was able to persuade shopkeepers to let her write checks for more than an item cost. They then gave her the difference in cash.
Eventually, the law caught up to Chadwick and she was arrested for using counterfeit money. She got out of that forgery charge by acting erratic and was found not guilty by reason of insanity, according to Confident Women. It was time, as Telfer put it, for ‘a bigger stage’ and so Chadwick headed to the United States to live with her sister, Alice, and her husband.
‘She needed a country obsessed with finding the next great thing, a country that couldn’t help being impressed by heiresses, a country where the lines between dreams and scams were continuously, thrillingly blurred,’ she wrote.
In Cleveland, Chadwick’s new money-making method was to use the couple’s furniture as collateral for her loans. This did not go over well with her brother-in-law and she was kicked out.
While she stayed with this scheme for a time, Chadwick also sought out the city’s wealthy men. Though described as ‘plain,’ one of her features was often highlighted – her eyes. One newspaper called her ‘the Lady of the Hypnotic Eye,’ according to the Smithsonian Magazine article. When Dr. Wallace S Springsteen met Chadwick, he was smitten and they married in late 1883. However, once he discovered her debts and lies, he divorced her 12 days later.
Springsteen was her first, but not last, husband.
Anna Delvey was once part of the jet set. She seemingly was a German trust fund kid whose father sold solar panels or was an oil baron or a diplomat. Looking to start an ‘arts club,’ she tried to secure loans for millions, according to Jessica Pressler’s 2018 article in New York Magazine. She convinced one bank to give her a $100,000 line of credit, according to the article. Eventually, her fraud – and her real name – were uncovered. Anna Sorokin was found guilty of several charges, including grand larceny, and stole over $200,000. Sorokin, above, during her trial in April 2019
Chadwick then moved around the country with different cons. In Erie, Pennsylvania, she somehow ‘had learned to make her gums bleed on command’ to feign illness to gain people’s sympathy. They then gave her money that she promised to pay back. Instead, she took off. In Buffalo, she was a psychic called La Rose, according to Confident Women.
She headed back to Cleveland and opened up some type of business – either a brothel or a boarding house, depending on the account. Regardless of what kind of establishment it was, Telfer notes ‘she zipped through several more husbands around this time,’ and had a son named Emil.
Next up was Toledo where Chadwick was calling herself Madame Lydia De Vere and once again telling fortunes. She was also offering stock tips to certain clientele, whom she asked to lend her money. She forged these rich men’s signatures for loans to rake in $40,000, according to the book.
There was no leniency for Chadwick when she was caught this time. She was sentenced to nine years after being found guilty of forgery. After getting out in two years, she returned to Cleveland.
It is unclear where she met Dr. Leroy S Chadwick, a wealthy widower from a prominent Cleveland family. Like other aspects of Chadwick’s life, the details vary depending on the account. The couple married in 1896, according to Confident Women.
Chadwick was now rich enough to buy whatever she wanted: A pipe organ, a set of golden chairs, jewel-encrusted silver dishes, 90 pairs of gloves, emeralds, pearls, furs and so much more. She was also generous and purchased eight grand pianos for friends, paid for trips to Europe for society girls, and bought clothes for her maid, and toys, food and gifts for those in need, Telfer wrote.
And yet, she couldn’t stop scamming.
Chadwick grew up poor in a small town in Ontario, Canada. Her sister told reporters later on that Chadwick ‘had been possessed of a mania from childhood to acquire great wealth quickly,’ according to Telfer’s book, Confident Women. After she married Dr. Leroy S Chadwick, a wealthy widower from a prominent Cleveland family, in 1896, she was able to buy whatever she wanted. Above, the Chadwick’s mansion on Euclid Avenue, a section of which was then known as Millionaires’ Row, in Cleveland in an updated photo
Cleveland’s upper crust didn’t really accept Chadwick, according to the book. Nonetheless, she gave away eight pianos and paid for 12 society girls to go to Europe. She spent money like water and brought: A pipe organ, a set of golden chairs, jewel-encrusted silver dishes, 90 pairs of gloves, emeralds, pearls, furs and so much more. She was also bought clothes for her maid, and toys, food and gifts for those in need, Telfer wrote in Confident Women. Above, John D Rockefeller’s mansion on Euclid Avenue in an undated photo. It cost $40,000 – over $740,000 in today’s money – to build the Standard Oil baron’s home in 1868
Above, Euclid Avenue in Cleveland circa 1897. Some 40 mansions of the wealthy, including industrialists like Rockefeller, dotted what was known as Millionaires’ Row from around the 1860s to 1920s. The prestigious address was once called the ‘Showplace of America,’ and was where Chadwick lived with her husband. After her arrest and the uncovering of her fraud, Cleveland ‘high society reeled,’ Telfer wrote
Citizen’s National Bank of Oberlin loaned Chadwick $240,000 and when her con was revealed, there was a run on the bank that sent it into bankruptcy, according to Oberlin’s Carnegie Library website. Some Oberlin College students lost their savings, according to the website. The clergy of one of those students wrote Carnegie about the situation. The steel magnate then donated money to build the college’s library, which named after him, and is seen above
At first, she bamboozled bankers for loans with a tale – backed by fake paperwork – that she was an heiress that feared her husband’s wrath because of spending. This ruse, however, was soon to become grandiose.
Andrew Carnegie was born in Scotland and moved to the United States when he was young. He worked his way up from telegraph messenger to investor to founding the Carnegie Steel Company in Pittsburgh. In 1901, he sold his steel business for $480 million, which is around $14.8 billion in today’s money. It made the industrialist, who later gave away much of that fortune, one of the richest men in the world.
One year later, Chadwick began the con that made her infamous. In 1902, she traveled to New York City and orchestrated an ‘accidental’ encounter with James Dillon at a ritzy hotel on Fifth Avenue. She asked the lawyer to accompany her to the house of her ‘father.’
Lo and behold, the carriage pulled up to Carnegie’s mansion. With the pretense of checking the credentials of a maid she wanted to hire, she spent nearly half an hour speaking with the head housekeeper. When she went back to the carriage, Dillion asked who Chadwick’s father was. The con artist told him she was the illegitimate daughter of the steel magnate, who out of responsibility and to assuage his guilt, gave her money. And she was set to inherit millions.
Chadwick asked him to keep her secret, which she knew Dillon couldn’t do. ‘Before long, every mogul in Cleveland knew that Cassie was the secret love child of the steel tycoon. Of course, no one would dare to ask Carnegie if the scandalous story was actually true, which meant that Cassie was safe in her lie,’ Telfer wrote.
To support the claim, she tricked a banker into putting the made-up assets on official stationary. The gossip, document and Carnegie’s forged signature led banks to lend her thousands of dollars. Citizen’s National Bank of Oberlin loaned her $240,000 and when her ploy was later uncovered, there was a run on the bank that sent it into bankruptcy, according to Oberlin’s Carnegie Library website.
From 1902 until she was arrested in 1904, Chadwick managed to keep the con going with ‘a whole bag of tricks,’ Telfer wrote, which included showing off her wealth, throwing parties where her servants played the roles of rich wives, and, at one point, hiring an actor to play Carnegie’s representative.
Chadwick had plans to flee to Brussels and sent her husband ahead of her to Belgium. In November 1904, Herbert Newton, a Boston investment banker, sued her for over $190,000, which was her loan plus interest. News of the lawsuit spelled the end of the con and Chadwick was arrested that December.
‘It has been said repeatedly that I had asserted that Andrew Carnegie was my father,’ she said, according to the Smithsonian article. ‘I deny that, and I deny it absolutely.’
Nonetheless, a jury found her guilty of ‘conspiracy to defraud a national bank and sentenced to 10 years in the penitentiary’ in March 1905, according to the article.
The sensational story was splashed in newspapers around the country and Chadwick was dubbed the ‘Witch of Finance’ and ‘Queen of Swindlers,’ according to the book.
Chadwick died in prison in October 1907, but, for a time, her notoriety continued.
Telfer noted that just as entrepreneurs and philanthropists that followed Carnegie were compared with the industrialist, so were scammers to Chadwick. She wrote: ‘But none of them managed to become quite as famous. For a while, in America, she was the original scammer – and everyone who came after her was, inevitably, a little less interesting.’
Although she started conning at a young age, Chadwick was able to avoid prison for years. However, in Toledo, she was calling herself Madame Lydia De Vere and telling fortunes. She was also offering stock tips to certain clientele, whom she asked to lend her money. She forged these rich men’s signatures for loans to rake in $40,000, according to the book, Confident Women. She was sentenced to nine years after being found guilty of forgery. Above, a description of Chadwick with that De Vere alias during her time at the Ohio State Penitentiary
It is unclear why Chadwick continued to con after she married Dr. Chadwick. Her fraud gripped the nation and its newspapers. Andrew Carnegie attended her trial. She was sentenced to ten years and died in 1907 in prison. Telfer noted in Confident Women that Chadwick’s notoriety lived on and scammers – especially female ones – that came after her were called ‘Cassies.’ Above, mugshots of Chadwick in 1906