One of the most fascinating financial fraudsters of all time was a Canadian woman who eventually went by the name of Cassie Chadwick. Born Elizabeth Bigley in 1857, she began her life of crime at the tender age of 13 by defrauding a local bank out of money — she’d convinced them that a non-existent uncle had died and left her his entire estate. As it turns out, this youthful indiscretion was merely the beginning of a trend Cassie would continue her whole life. From practicing clairvoyant to Andrew Carnegie’s heiress, Cassie Chadwick took the public, a small handful of husbands and a couple of banks for a crazy, lie-riddled ride.
If you decide to earn an Executive Master of Science in Economic Crime Management, you will certainly come across all types of fraudsters, but few will match the poise and ambition of Cassie Chadwick. A remarkably gifted liar and conwoman, she spent her life lying, profiting and occasionally, suffering from it. From her humble start as a bad check-writing teenager in Canada, she moved to Cleveland, Ohio where she set up shop as a clairvoyant named Madame Lydia DeVere. In 1882, after the local paper announced she had married Wallace S. Springsteen, people came out of the woodwork — including one of her sisters — claiming (rightly) she owed them money. Alarmed at the debts he may be on the line for, Springsteen quickly divorced her.
Undeterred, Lydia Springsteen, as she had begun calling herself, once again turned to her gifts as a clairvoyant. As Madame Marie LaRose, she was able to wed a farmer, John Scott. After four years, she filed for divorce and then, gave birth to a son, who was kept quiet — his true origins being somewhat suspect. In 1889, posing as fortuneteller Lydia Scott, she was arrested, tried and convicted of forgery, and she served four years at a prison in Toledo. Upon release, she promptly set up shop as brothel owner, Cassie Hoover, and began the work that was to become her greatest con. Somehow, she had managed to get into the good graces of a well-respected and widowed doctor named Leroy Chadwick. They married, and she became a centerpiece in the upper crust of Cleveland society, due largely to a scheme she carried out one day in New York.
One day in the spring of 1902, Cassie took a train from her home in Cleveland to New York City and found her way to the Holland House, a swanky hotel on Fifth Avenue. There she waited until she saw a lawyer and friend of her husband’s, James Dillon. Walking past him, she grazed his arm, knowing full well he would pardon himself. As he did, she turned and declared the coincidence of their meeting. She was in town on private business with her father and wondered if Mr. Dillon would mind accompanying her there.
The Carnegie Connection
Dillon was nothing if not a gentleman. Happy to help and curious, he hailed an open carriage and accompanied Cassie to the home of steel magnate Andrew Carnegie. She disembarked from the carriage and was welcomed inside, while Dillon sat incredulous. What he did not know was that upon being greeted by the butler, Mrs. Chadwick asked simply to see the head housekeeper. When that woman came to her, Cassie presented a fantastic story about being on the verge of hiring a maid who claimed to have worked for the Carnegie family. It was a references-check visit about a woman who did not exist and had never worked in the Carnegie home. Appropriately, the housekeeper explained she did not know the woman in question. After apologizing and commenting on the beautiful parlor, Mrs. Chadwick stepped back outside and into Mr. Dillon’s waiting carriage. She had managed to be gone for a half-hour.
What Happened to Her
Unable to quench his curiosity, Dillon asked to be told who Mrs. Chadwick’s father was. Begging for secrecy, she told him she was Andrew Carnegie’s illegitimate daughter. She pulled an envelope from her coat full of promissory notes for almost a million dollars, signed by Carnegie himself, to keep her quiet and in luxury. She asked Dillon again not to tell anyone of her parentage, and knowing he would, she went home to Cleveland where she borrowed upwards of 10 million dollars from local banks before one called on a note to be repaid — and the whole con was revealed.
She was convicted of fraud and died in jail on her 50th birthday.