Cassie Chadwick: The Female Wizard of Finance
Posted June 22, 2022
Topics: Industry & LaborDaily Life

By Quincy Balius, Ohio History Connection Intern

“In the annals of American crime there has never been a woman quite the equal of Mrs. Chadwick as an exponent of frenzied finance.”[1] Before Bernie Madoff, the “Wizard of Lies,” there was Cassie Chadwick, the “Female Wizard of Finance.”[2] Cassie L. Chadwick – also known as Elizabeth “Betty” Bigley, Louise Bigley, Lydia Scott, Mademoiselle Marie Rosa, Mademoiselle Lydia Devere, and Cassie L. Hoover – was one of the greatest con artists in Ohio history.[3] Over the course of her life, Cassie stole approximately $633,000 (more than $20 million in today’s dollars) and wreaked havoc on Ohio’s financial system.[4] According to the Clinton Republican, her “amazing financial transactions culminated in the wrecking of an Oberlin bank.”[5]

Cassie came from humble beginnings. She was born Elizabeth “Betty” Bigley in 1857 in Eastwood, Ontario, Canada. At only fourteen years old, Cassie opened an account at an Ontario bank using “a forged letter of inheritance.”[6] She was arrested but quickly released on grounds of insanity. Cassie also created and carried around a set of business cards proclaiming that she was an heiress to $15,000. She made many expensive purchases using the cards as collateral, since shopkeepers assumed she wouldn’t carry the cards if she wasn’t really an heiress.[7] Cassie briefly served time in an Illinois penitentiary for making fraudulent deals as a teenager [8] and eventually made her way to Ohio to begin a long and lucrative criminal career.

When she arrived in Cleveland in 1880, Cassie briefly lived with her sister, then rented a space on Garden Street and began practicing as a clairvoyant under the name Madame Lydia DeVere.[9] A few years after moving to Cleveland, Cassie married Dr. Wallace S. Springsteen. However, after the local paper Cleveland Plain Dealer published an article about the couple’s marriage, several people came to the Springsteen house to claim money that Cassie owed them. Springsteen threw Cassie out of the house and filed for divorce after settling her debts.[10] The marriage lasted only twelve days.

 

After her first divorce, Cassie began practicing as a clairvoyant again, this time using the names Madame Marie LaRose[11] and Lydia Scott.[12] Soon, she married once more. Cassie spent a few years in Trumbull County living on a farm with her new husband, J.R. Scott,[13] before abruptly filing for divorce.[14] She remarried, this time to a wealthy businessman named C.L. Hoover. Cassie and C.L. had a son, Emil, who Cassie sent back to Canada to be raised by her parents and siblings.[15] C.L. died, and Cassie inherited his estate.

Cassie then took on the name Mademoiselle Lydia Devere and lived a lavish lifestyle. According to the Clinton Republican, she financed this lifestyle by securing “large sums of money from various men.”[16] Many of Cassie’s victims called her ”the Lady of the Hypnotic Eye,” and several of them believed that she had hypnotic powers.[17]

In 1889, Cassie was arrested again for forgery. She was sentenced to serve nine and a half years in the state penitentiary in Toldeo, Ohio. Then-Governor and future President William McKinley paroled Cassie halfway through her sentence.[18] Cassie moved back to Cleveland, now using the name Cassie L. Hoover and taking up a position as the madam of a brothel.[19]

Cassie met her fourth husband, Dr. Leroy Chadwick, in the brothel. She claimed she was a widow who “had recently taken on the position of manageress for this home for girls.” When Chadwick told Cassie she was in fact managing a brothel, Cassie fainted.[20] When she woke up, she begged the good doctor to take her away. Obviously, Cassie’s ploy worked; she married Dr. Leroy Chadwick in 1897.[21]

Cassie ran her biggest con between 1897 and 1905. While Chadwick was a wealthy man, his fortune was invested in real estate, and the value of Cleveland’s real estate was rapidly dropping in the late 1800s. Cassie, who took over the management of Chadwick’s money after their marriage, decided that her family needed constant cash flow and took matters into her own hands.

Cassie claimed to be the illegitimate daughter of Andrew Carnegie and borrowed enormous sums from Cleveland banks, using Carnegie’s forged signature on securities and certificates as collateral.[22] Cassie told the banks that a guilt-stricken Carnegie had given her over $7 million in promissory notes and that she would be granted a large inheritance when Carnegie died.[23] Cassie would use the money from one loan to pay off another, essentially running her own personal Ponzi scheme with Ohio’s banks.

Cassie borrowed a large sum of money from the Citizen’s National Bank of Oberlin on “questionable securities,” which “caused the bank to close its doors.”[24] The bank’s president lost all his money and went bankrupt because of Cassie’s con. Cassie also signed bank notes from the Citizen’s National Bank as the bank’s president.[25]

Cassie used these enormous sums of money to live an extravagant life. Cassie, who was also nicknamed the “Queen of Ohio”[26] and the “Queen of Frenzied Finance,”[27] made purchases like entire trays of gems, eight grand pianos, twelve solid gold picture frames, and stores full of toys.[28] Of course, Cassie’s con couldn’t last forever. In 1904, banker Herbert Newton brought a suit against Cassie when she couldn’t pay back a loan. Gradually, her web of schemes began to crumble.

In 1905, police questioned Andrew Carnegie, who denied ever knowing Cassie. Cassie fled to New York and “fought to the last,”[29] but she was arrested and brought back to Cleveland. According to the Oberlin Review, Cassie was wearing a money belt with over $100,000 in cash at the time of her arrest.[30] Cassie’s trial became a national sensation. Though many believed that she was innocent, Cassie was convicted of “conspiracy against the United States”[31] and conspiracy to wreck Citizen’s National Bank of Oberlin in March 1905.[32] Cassie was sentenced to serve over a decade in prison and pay a fine of $70,000.[33] Upon her sentencing, Cassie fell into hysterics.

The United States court of appeals refused to re-hear Cassie’s case in 1906 and upheld the decision of the lower court.[34] Cassie was jailed on January 12, 1906. She died in prison about a year later, at the age of 51.[35] Cassie’s health began to decline from the moment she entered prison. She lost weight rapidly and experienced a “total nervous collapse,”[36] which eventually resulted in her death.

In the meantime, Andrew Carnegie gave money to Oberlin citizens affected by Cassie’s scam[37] and refilled Oberlin College’s coffers. When the college’s sixth president Henry Churchill King went to New York to thank Carnegie in person, Carnegie agreed to endow a library to Oberlin as well. The Carnegie Building, completed in 1907, still stands today.[38] The building where Cassie briefly lived, the Chadwick Mansion, became a tourist destination after her death, but it was demolished in the early 1920s.[39]

Though Cassie died over one hundred years ago, her story lives on. It’s possible that she scammed even more money out of American elites and banks, since many historians believe that her other male victims may have been hesitant to come forward. Female fraudsters like Anna Sorkin and Elizabeth Holmes currently dominate the news, but neither perfected the art of the grift to the extent that Cassie did. Her “audacity.... staggered the whole financial world.”[40] She truly earned the title of ”The World’s Greatest Woman Swindler.”[41]

 


Notes

[1] “Curtain Rings Down on Cassie,” The Times-Democrat, Lima, Ohio, June 1, 1906, https://ohiomemory.org/digital/collection/p16007coll71/id/4776/rec/16

[2] “Mrs. Chadwick Signed Bank Notes,” Wooster Daily News, Wooster, Ohio, July 11, 1907, https://ohiomemory.org/digital/collection/p16007coll38/id/8478/rec/24

[3] Though Cassie used several names, this blog post will call her “Cassie” throughout for clarity.

[4] Karen Abbott, “The High Priestess of Fraudulent Finance,” Smithsonian Magazine, June 27, 2012, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/the-high-priestess-of-fraudulent-finance-45/

[5] “Cassie Chadwick is Dead,” Clinton Republican, Wilmington, Ohio, October 17, 1907, https://ohiomemory.org/digital/collection/p16007coll112/id/3182/rec/1

[6] “Crime in Cleveland Cassie Chadwick: The Con Artist of Millionaires’ Row,” Western Reserve Historical Society, published March 2020, https://www.wrhs.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Cassie-Chadwick.pdf

[7] “Career of Mrs. Chadwick: Incidents in Early Life of the Famous Woman,” Clinton Republican, Wilmington, Ohio, December 29, 1904, https://ohiomemory.org/digital/collection/p16007coll112/id/1980/rec/4

[8] “Curtain Rings Down on Cassie,” The Times-Democrat, Lima, Ohio, June 1, 1906, https://ohiomemory.org/digital/collection/p16007coll71/id/4776/rec/16

[9] “Crime in Cleveland Cassie Chadwick: The Con Artist of Millionaires’ Row,” Western Reserve Historical Society, published March 2020, https://www.wrhs.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Cassie-Chadwick.pdf

[10] “Crime in Cleveland Cassie Chadwick: The Con Artist of Millionaires’ Row,” Western Reserve Historical Society, published March 2020, https://www.wrhs.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Cassie-Chadwick.pdf

[11] “Crime in Cleveland Cassie Chadwick: The Con Artist of Millionaires’ Row,” Western Reserve Historical Society, published March 2020, https://www.wrhs.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Cassie-Chadwick.pdf

[12] “Career of Mrs. Chadwick: Incidents in Early Life of the Famous Woman,” Clinton Republican, Wilmington, Ohio, December 29, 1904, https://ohiomemory.org/digital/collection/p16007coll112/id/1980/rec/4

[13] “Career of Mrs. Chadwick: Incidents in Early Life of the Famous Woman,” Clinton Republican, Wilmington, Ohio, December 29, 1904, https://ohiomemory.org/digital/collection/p16007coll112/id/1980/rec/4

[14] “Crime in Cleveland Cassie Chadwick: The Con Artist of Millionaires’ Row,” Western Reserve Historical Society, published March 2020, https://www.wrhs.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Cassie-Chadwick.pdf.

[15] Karen Abbott, ”The High Priestess of Fraudulent Finance,” Smithsonian Magazine, June 27, 2012, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/the-high-priestess-of-fraudulent-finance-45/

[16] “Career of Mrs. Chadwick: Incidents in Early Life of the Famous Woman,” Clinton Republican, Wilmington, Ohio, December 29, 1904, https://ohiomemory.org/digital/collection/p16007coll112/id/1980/rec/4

[17] Karen Abbott, ”The High Priestess of Fraudulent Finance,” Smithsonian Magazine, June 27, 2012, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/the-high-priestess-of-fraudulent-finance-45/

[18] Karen Abbott, ”The High Priestess of Fraudulent Finance,” Smithsonian Magazine, June 27, 2012, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/the-high-priestess-of-fraudulent-finance-45/

[19] Milena Evtimova, “Oberlin’s Mysteries of History: The Woman Who Robbed Oberlin College (Among Others),” The Oberlin Review, November 10, 2006, https://www2.oberlin.edu/stupub/ocreview/2006/11/10/features/Oberlins_Mysteries_of_Hist.html

[20] Milena Evtimova, “Oberlin’s Mysteries of History: The Woman Who Robbed Oberlin College (Among Others),” The Oberlin Review, November 10, 2006, https://www2.oberlin.edu/stupub/ocreview/2006/11/10/features/Oberlins_Mysteries_of_Hist.html

[21] “Crime in Cleveland Cassie Chadwick: The Con Artist of Millionaires’ Row,” Western Reserve Historical Society, published March 2020, https://www.wrhs.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Cassie-Chadwick.pdf

[22] “Chadwick, Cassie L.,” Encyclopedia of Cleveland History, Case Western Reserve University, https://case.edu/ech/articles/c/chadwick-cassie-l

[23] “Crime in Cleveland Cassie Chadwick: The Con Artist of Millionaires’ Row,” Western Reserve Historical Society, published March 2020, https://www.wrhs.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Cassie-Chadwick.pdf.

[24] “The Chadwick Case,” Clinton Republican, Wilmington, Ohio, December 8, 1904.

[25] “Mrs. Chadwick Signed Bank Notes,” Wooster Daily News, Wooster, Ohio, December 10, 1907, https://ohiomemory.org/digital/collection/p16007coll38/id/8478/rec/24

[26] “Crime in Cleveland Cassie Chadwick: The Con Artist of Millionaires’ Row,” Western Reserve Historical Society, published March 2020, https://www.wrhs.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Cassie-Chadwick.pdf.

[27] Alliance Daily Review, Alliance, Ohio, January 9, 1907, https://ohiomemory.org/digital/collection/p16007coll36/id/92748/rec/12.

[28] ”Career of Mrs. Chadwick: Incidents in Early Life of the Famous Woman,” Clinton Republican, Wilmington, Ohio, December 29, 1904.

[29] Willis Thornton, “The Fabulous Fraud from Eastwood,” Maclean’s Magazine, November 1, 1949, http://archive.macleans.ca/article/1949/11/1/the-fabulous-fraud-from-eastwood

[30] “Crime in Cleveland Cassie Chadwick: The Con Artist of Millionaires’ Row,” Western Reserve Historical Society, published March 2020, https://www.wrhs.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Cassie-Chadwick.pdf.)

[31] “Convicted On Seven Counts Was Mrs. Cassie Chadwick Saturday,” Alliance Daily Review, Alliance, Ohio, March 13, 1905, https://ohiomemory.org/digital/collection/p16007coll36/id/88731/rec/13

[32] “Chadwick, Cassie L.,” Encyclopedia of Cleveland History, Case Western Reserve University, https://case.edu/ech/articles/c/chadwick-cassie-l

[33] “Chadwick, Cassie L.,” Encyclopedia of Cleveland History, Case Western Reserve University, https://case.edu/ech/articles/c/chadwick-cassie-l

[34] “Cassie Chadwick,” Alliance Daily Review, Alliance, Ohio, January 10, 1906, https://ohiomemory.org/digital/collection/p16007coll36/id/90389/rec/7.

[35] “Chadwick, Cassie L.,” Encyclopedia of Cleveland History, Case Western Reserve University, https://case.edu/ech/articles/c/chadwick-cassie-l

[36] “Cassie Chadwick is Dead,” Clinton Republican, October 17, 1907, https://ohiomemory.org/digital/collection/p16007coll112/id/3182/rec/1

[37] ”Carnegie Donation,” The American Tribune, Newark, Ohio, January 20, 1905, https://ohiomemory.org/digital/collection/p16007coll69/id/2558/rec/2

[38] Isabelle Smith, ”Strange Acquisitions: How We Got The Carnegie Building,” The Oberlin Review, April 19, 2019, https://oberlinreview.org/18581/opinions/strange-acquisitions-how-we-got-the-carnegie-building/

[39] “Crime in Cleveland Cassie Chadwick: The Con Artist of Millionaires’ Row,” Western Reserve Historical Society, published March 2020, https://www.wrhs.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Cassie-Chadwick.pdf

[40] “Career of Mrs. Chadwick: Incidents in Early Life of the Famous Woman,” Clinton Republican, Wilmington, Ohio, December 29, 1904, https://ohiomemory.org/digital/collection/p16007coll112/id/1980/rec/4

[41] Willis Thornton, “The Fabulous Fraud from Eastwood,” Maclean’s Magazine, November 1, 1949, http://archive.macleans.ca/article/1949/11/1/the-fabulous-fraud-from-eastwood

 

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