Articles

The Fabulous Fraud from Eastwood

WILLIS THORNTON November 1 1949
Articles

The Fabulous Fraud from Eastwood

WILLIS THORNTON November 1 1949

The Fabulous Fraud from Eastwood

WILLIS THORNTON

WHEN THE varnished and shiny landau of Mrs. Leroy S. Chadwick rolled regally down Cleveland’s Euclid Avenue people turned and stared. “The magnificent Mrs. Chadwick!” they would whisper, and the legend of her lavishness would pass from lip to lip.

Everybody knew of Mrs. Chadwick, her prodigal entertainments, her jewels, her benefactions, the Oriental luxury of her Euclid Avenue home. Within three years of her marriage to Dr. Chadwick on August 26, 1897, at Windsor, Ont., she had become a legend.

So much everybody knew. Oddly enough, almost nobody knew any more. Had they known a bi I more, for instance some of the things that any numl>er of people in Eastwood, Ont., could have told them, they would have been spared a great deal. A certain hard-working and respectable section boss on the Great Western Railway at Eastwood could have told much. Mrs. Chadwick was his daughter.

Like many another Ontario girl she went off to a lug American city to seek fame and fortune. But surely no one else had ever chosen a more spectacular method, or achieved more spectacular results.

Nudes in Frames of Gold

WHEN Mrs. Chadwick returned to visit Toronto, after making good in the U. S., she purchased as gifts for her friends 56 diamond rings from Ryrie’s, the fashionable jewelers of the day. Ryrie salesmen scurried at her bidding. One traveled 12,000 miles to bring her back a diamond worth $3,000 which was publicized as “the largest ever brought into Canada.” Once she gave $30 to a Ryrie salesman to purchase her train ticket back to Cleveland and refused $12 change.

On the same shopping spree she spent $3,000 at Renfrew’s where she bought the only seal dress ever made in Canada and a fur rug trimmed with fox tails to stand on when receiving guests at her Cleveland home.

The Chadwicks entertained in Cleveland with the lavishness expected of people of social position and presumed wealth. Visitors spread breathless rumors of fine Oriental rugs lying three deep on hardwood floors.

One caller was overwhelmed“Two pieces of statuary,” he recalled, “stood at either end of the fireplace; two vases, each six or seven feet high, before it; Persian and Oriental rugs, oil paintings, ‘gingerbread’ of all kinds—the rooms were crowded. I caught myself estimating the cost of the stuff in only one room—$20,000, I said to myself.” Then, “a caddish thing to do,” he added, in belated tribute to his Victorian manners.

Some more cultured observers shied at artistic fumbles. Beneath a $30,000 Constable painting hung a row of six pictures given away with the Youth’s Companion. Many cheap paintings, including several vulgar nudes, were hung in frames of pure gold. A great cathedral chair was made entirely of cut glass, ingeniously upholstered in sealskin.

Was Ontario’s audacious Cassie Chadwick the world’s greatest woman swindler? She hoaxed her way into a take of $1,500,000

Mrs. Chadwick’s taste, however luxurious, obviously ran to the bizarre. There was a “perpetual motion” clock under glass on an inlaid table and a golden bird which sang in a golden cage when one pressed a golden lever. There was a complete service of soup plates concealing music boxes which played when the liveried servants lifted them from the table.

The silver was overwhelming. One service had 900 pieces; another was inset with rubies. There were China drinking cups inset with rubies and turquoises. And, of course, a pipe organ, worth $9,000.

Stores fell over one another to merit Mrs. Chadwick’s custom. Some of her purchases were spectacular. Once she bought eight grand pianos for friends. It was nothing for her to fare forth to Europe taking a dozen young friends with her, presenting each with a lovely miniature portrait painted by a fashionable Parisian artist as a memento. In 1902, on re-entering the U. S., she paid $10,000 customs duty.

Mrs. Chadwick was herself scarcely a siren, rather a homely woman in fact; she was 5'5", dumpy and* without ligure, and almost totally deaf. Buf she found it personally pleasant, and not without some social advantage to be often surrounded by a bevy of young and vivacious ladies.

Cleveland saw less and less of Dr. Chadwick who was occupied with his practice and the upbringing of a daughter by a former marriage. A quiet, solid and well-established doctor, he stayed in a shadowy background behind his wife’s glitter. And if her dress and manner, for instance, fell so far short of chaste elegance as to border on sheer vulgarity she made up for this with a regal magnificence that amused the few who were not stunned inf o silence.

Her jewels were what one might expect — dazzling. A rope of 240 pearls was known to have been appraised at $40,000; whole f rays of crusted geegaws were bought from local jewelers whose jaws dropped at her imperious, “I’ll take them all!”

Not least dazzled was Dr. Chadwick. One Christmas Eve his wife suggested they go to the theatre and supper at a downtown restaurant. When they returned home he found what appeared to be a completely new house. Aladdinlike workmen had redecorated and refurnished it during their brief absence, and this, with a $1,100 fur coat, was Mrs. Chadwick’s little Christmas remembrance for her husband. Dr. Chadwick told this story to friends, not without a touch of awe. Few by this time needed convincing that they had in their midst a Lady Bountiful whose like had not been seen since more imperial times.

Suddenly, on November 2, 1904, there dropped on the telegraph desks of Cleveland newspapers a brief dispatch from Boston. A Mrs. Leroy Chadwick of Cleveland was, it seemed, being sued for $190,000 on a personal note which she had failed to pay when due one Herbert B. Newton, of Boston.

The first reaction of Cleveland newsmen was that it could scarcely be Cassie Chadwick of Euclid Avenue. There must be some mistake. Only one editor, Harry N. Rickey, of the Cleveland Press, smelled a rat. He rolled up his sleeves and started digging.

On November 26, 1904, Rickey’s Press appeared with what was either one of the most daring scoops ever printed, or the complete ruin of Rickey, of owner E. W. Scripps, and of the Press itself,

progenitor of the present Scripps-Howard papers. That day, the Press published the remarkable parallel lives of Elizabeth Bigley, Mme. De Vere, and Mrs. Cassie L. Chadwick. The implication was unmistakable that the three were one. Instantly the entire city became a humming hive of speculation and rumor.

“She is a striking personality,” averred t he Press, “striking because of brilliant, dark eyes, reserved and powerful; her grey hair combed high, patricianlike, and her mouth stern and inflexible.” Scarcely the description of a siren, though the Press conceded that she “retained traces of early beauty.”

The Elizabeth Bigley whose life the Press had dared to chronicle alongside that, of the regal Mrs. Chadwick had been born in 1857 in Eastwood, Ont. Her father was a section boss on the Great Western Railway. It had become apparent early that Elizabeth was no ordinary girl. She had remarkable imitative powers and an expressive voice. She excelled at school entertainments.

Once in a barber shop Elizabeth asked for a false mustache and tried to raise money on a gold watch. The barber called the police. At 21 she posed as an heiress and had cards printed with her name and the intriguing legend: “Heiress to $15,000.”

She progressed to buying $250 worth of dry goods with a note endorsed by a wealthy Brantford farmer, and an organ from another merchant on her own note. When this came due she gave a forged note in payment . She was arrested and tried at Woodstock for forgery. At the trial another merchant testified that she had once entered his store, ordered a

tremendous quantity of groceries, including several barrels of sugar, and tried to charge the whole thing.

The court judged her vague attitude toward money to be abnormal and acquitted her on grounds of insanity. Obviously she was one of those strange persons to whom the only reality is what is real to them. She insisted that she had been born at sea; later, that she was born in England anything but the plain facts. So, to find surroundings where her own realities might be less readily challenged, she crossed Lake Erie to Cleveland.

She Sheared Joseph Lamb

SHE changed her name to Lydia and soon married a Clevelander, Wallace S. Springsteen. But within a few days he learned of the Woodstock affair, and learned also that Elizabeth (or Lydia) had mortgaged her sister’s furniture during that lady’s absence. He divorced her; she took the name of Lydia D. Scott.

Soon there appeared in Toledo a Madame Lydia De Vere, later to be described in the papers there as “a clairvoyant, a “high-flier” who was found to have many prominent men under her influence. But Madame De Vere was not otherworldly enough to prevent her arrest for obtaining $10,000 by forgery. She had sheared one Joseph Lamb whom she had persuaded to obtain cash for several of her worthless notes. Later he was to call her “one of the vilest, most dangerous women that modern history has ever known.”

She was sent to the Ohio Penitentiary for nine years while Lamb was acquitted on the ground that she had hypnotized him. At the penitentiary Elizabeth Bigley-SpringsteenScott-De Vere sewed shirts until 1893 when Governor McKinley (later to be President) pardoned her.

Cleveland gasped at the implication that there could be any possible connection between so checkered a career and that of the haughty Mrs. Chadwick. Nothing had yet come out in court; there was no charge against her but the mere civil suit on the note which she brushed aside with the glacial comment, “The ugly charges against me are false, absolutely false.”

And Cleveland Town Topics, weekly organ of the haut ton, tried to apply the soft pedal with an urgency that suggested the tune was becoming unpleasant. It deplored “the amount of petty detail . . . concerning the Chadwick affair . . . When so scholarly a paper as the Cleveland Leader refers to Mrs. Chadwick ... as a Cleveland society figure the absurdity is all the more palpable.”

Many who had been entertained in her home, however, began to cast back and recall what they really knew about Mrs. Chadwick. And all that they could recall was that when Dr. Chadwick met her she had been living in Cleveland as Mrs. C. L. Hoover with her mother, sister, and a small son under circumstances which were more extravagant than exclusive. A sudden exodus of “society” suggested leaks had been perceived in the ship; perhaps it was about to sink.

Word snowballed across the city that, whether Rickey’s Press was right or not about the Bigley-De Vere-Chadwick triumvirate, there was certainly more to the situation than met the eye.

National curiosity was piqued by a statement from the Boston lawyers of Herbert Newton (who had sued for $190,000) that “He (Newton) was not persuaded by feminine charms, but the inducement was, we might say, spectacular.” Deputy Sheriff Thomas Porter, who had served the Boston papers at the Chadwick home, contributed his mite by telling reporters that, “Every time Mrs. Chadwick looked at me I became dizzy.” This was the Press’ cue to print a large and emphatic picture of the Chadwick eyes.

Blood Ties to a Titan

On November 28 the Citizens’ National Bank of Oberlin, Ohio, an adjoining town to Cleveland, suddenly dosed its doors. Its highly respected president, Charles T. Beckwith, had loaned Mrs. Chadwick $240,000, four times the entire capitalization of the small hank. Not only that, she also had $102,000 as personal loans from Beckwith and A. B. Spear, the bank’s cashier. Writers on national banking were later to say that “for absolute imbecility of management it perhaps has no parallel in the history of national bank failures.” Yet an examiner had regarded the loan as well-secured the previous April.

The Press printed a lurid story of Beckwith having gone to the Chadwick mansion and pleaded on his knees for payment that would save his bank and reputation, and of his having fainted on being sternly refused.

Then it came out that the bank’s story was grimly familiar to the department stores. Mrs. Chadwick had touched Beckwith for small loans at first, promptly repaid them; then

larger and larger loans, repaid at first, but at last repudiated. Her huge unpaid bills at the stores had swelled in exactly the same way.

Daily revelations in the papers began to loosen tongues hitherto bound by oaths of secrecy. There existed fabulous notes, men said, in Mrs. Chadwick’s favor, signed by no other than the financial titan Andrew Carnegie. In fact, to several men Mrs. Chadwick had hinted that she was Carnegie’s illegitimate daughter.

This story then was told. In 1902 Mrs. Chadwick had interested several well - known Cleveland lawyers in forming a giant trust company. To them she told this story—that she was a niece of Frederick Mason, life associate of Carnegie, and heiress through him to between $5 millions and $7 millions in Carnegie securities. Again hinting at undiscussable blood ties between herself and the multimillionaire she averred that Carnegie had been trustee for this estate and had increased it to $11 millions. Now old and nearing retirement he wished to be relieved of his responsibility.

Meeting the Cleveland lawyers in New York Mrs. Chadwick drove with them to Carnegie’s home. It was best they wait outside in the carriage, she suggested, lest Carnegie resent the presence of lawyers in matters so delicate. * She entered the house and stayed inside for about 20 minutes.

When she returned to the carriage and the waiting lawyers she jubilantly displayed two notes for nearly $1 million signed “Andrew Carnegie,” and with them a package containing, she said, Caledonia Railway bonds.

The lawyers were evidently impressed. But after subsequent careful investigation they withdrew quietly from the scheme.

But now, two years later, reporters got wind of the Carnegie implications and rushed to his offices. They got only a statement from a secretary that, “Mr. Carnegie knows nothing about it.” Nonetheless the tale persisted that Iri Reynolds, of the Wade Park Banking Company, Cleveland, was holding a formidable bundle of securities for Mrs. Chadwick. Many were still convinced she would yet pay everything in full.

On December 2, the Press, still relentlessly pursuing the story, printed a full chronology of the Chadwick life, from Elizabeth Bigley through Mrs. Springsteen, through a phase as Mrs. Scott, through the now well-known De Vere phase in Toledo, and that of Mrs. Hoover of Cleveland, down to the latest incarnation as Mrs. Chadwick.

It was a thoroughly damning story and as Mrs. Chadwick left the city for New York the Press fired after her a blast flatly asserting that the only person behind Mrs. Chadwick was Mrs. Chadwick herself, and that the great financial interest alleged to be backing her comprised only the aggregate of the suckers she had already hooked.

The public began to be convinced at last and even small creditors new flocked to recover something on the credit they had so eagerly extended. Besides a formidable array of local stores a New York milliner contributed an attachment for $1,000 and a claim for $250 for bric-a'-brac arrived from Brussels, Belgium.

At this point a determined U. S. district attorney stepped into the picture. John J. Sullivan found and made public the note which had been held by the Oberlin bank as collateral for its loan. It read:

January 7th, 1904.

One year after date I promise to

pay to the order of C. L. Chadwick

Two Hundred and Fifty Thousand

Dollars at my office New York City.

Interest 5%.

Andrew Carnegie.

It was an obvious forgery and it was precisely similar to the notes she had two years before brought out of the Carnegie home to show the breathless Cleveland lawyers waiting in her carriage.

It was now clear that in this case Mrs. Chadwick had carried the previously prepared notes and the package of bonds with her when she entered Carnegie’s house. She had contrived to remain inside the house, perhaps feigning sudden illness, long enough to give the impression of an interview.

Faced with a swindle so colossal as to imperil all local banking Cleveland bankers hurriedly got together a public statement to reassure restless depositors. There was only $17,000 of Chadwick paper in all the Cleveland banks, they assured the public, all at the Wade Park bank. It is still believed that there had been considerably more a bit earlier but that individual bank officers had personally made it good to avoid scandal.

“Where’s Papa Andy?”

Small banks in Elyria, another nearby town, were found to be involved. And now it was learned that in Pittsburg the same thing had taken place. There, too, the magic Carnegie name had been an “Open, Sesame!” to several bank vaults.

Mrs. Chadwick, oscillating between New York’s Holland House and the New Breslin Hotel, fought to the last. She dashed furiously about in a carriage, making ostentatious stops at buildings where great financial interests had their offices, then dodging out some inconspicuous exit to avoid reporters. But the rope was growing short.

On December 8 she was arrested while ill in bed at the New Breslin Hotel on charges of aiding and abetting a national bank official in misappropriation of funds. Imprisoned in the Tombs she was not allowed a knife or fork, only a spoon.

The next day her package of securities on deposit at Cleveland’s Wade Park Bank was opened. The most cursory inspection showed them to be totally worthless.

The manner in which she had deluded Iri Reynolds was truly ingenious. One day she appeared at the bank with a package of securities, and after hinting at her relationship with Carnegie and the absolute need for secrecy, she sealed the envelope in his presence and left it “only for safekeeping.” She gave Reynolds a list of what the envelope was supposed to contain. Since the securities were not to be negotiated, but were merely left for safekeeping, there was no particular reason for Reynolds to check the contents.

When she had returned home Mrs. Chadwick telephoned Reynolds in evident agitation. She had no copy of the itemized list, she had found. Would Reynolds be so good as to furnish her with a copy? He would, and he did, unfortunately for him, on the bank’s letterhead and over his own signature, still without having checked the envelope’s contents.

This paper, once in Mrs. Chadwick’s hands, was an impressive thing to show to other bankers and prospective lenders. They could scarcely fail to be impressed by a paper indicating that Mrs. Chadwick had more than $5 millions in the hands of the Wade Park Bank, even if the securities listed were

not being directly offered as collateral.

But when the fabulous envelope was opened the contents were not worth a cent. All were stocks in defunct corporations.

Mrs. Chadwick was indicted on December 13 for uttering and forging and was brought to Cleveland the following day to face trial.

A huge crowd greeted her at the station shouting “Where’s the money?” and “Where’s Papa Andy?”

The Gamblers Don’t Squawk

To Cleveland, post haste, the Toronto Mail and Empire sent its famous sob sister “Kit” (Kathleen Blake), the best known woman reporter of her day. Kit obtained an exclusive interview with Mrs. Chadwick, whom she called “the cleverest, the sharpest, the boldest financier of the last century or this.” She described Mrs. Chadwick in prison right down to the broad gold signet ring on her finger and the quilted jacket of black silk she wore. Her hand was “the littlest, the whitest of hands,” Kit wrote, “her mouth is stern and might be cruel.” When Mrs. Chadwick looked at her, “the most searching, the quickest glance I ever got thrilled my being.”

When the trial opened there were still many who insisted that Mrs. Chadwick

would pay all her debts and emerge with several spare millions. A 16-yearold son by a former marriage appeared and loyally stood by his mother.

But the whole affair was quickly laid bare. Andrew Carnegie was present in person, twinkling with amusement. A grim-faced jury wasted no time in arriving at a verdict of guilty. Federal Judge Tay 1er sentenced Mrs. Chadwick to 10 years in the Ohio state penitentiary.

Taken back to jail Mrs. Chadwick cried out, “I’m not guilty, I tell you. Let me go! Oh my God, let me go!” Two nurses stood by her while she went into 15 minutes of hysterics on a sofa. Then she was led to her cell.

Poor Beckwith, of the bankrupt Oberlin bank, utterly and pathetically broken, died before the case came to trial. He called Mrs. Chadwick “the most deep-dyed fraud in the world.”

Dr. Chadwick, apparently as innocent as he was deluded, left Cleveland. Later he earned $100 a week giving concerts to the curious on his wife’s pipe organ.

Mrs. Chadwick went to Columbus to resume the trade of shirtmaker at which she had already served her apprenticeship. She had bluffed to the last, but once sentence was pronounced she showed little bitterness but took the gambler’s attitude that, well, it’s

great when you win but you mustn’t squaw’k when you lose. 4

She died behind bars on October 10, 1907, and was buried in her home town, Eastwood.

No one will ever know exactly how much money Mrs. Chadwick persuaded people to give her. Surely it was not less than $1,500,000. Claims in bankruptcy totaled $818,300 but much of the loss to banks and individuals was silently made good by red-faced men who preferred the monetary loss to public knowledge of their fatuity. She had got this money on supposed resources of $6,200,000.

She also had repudiated the fiction that a feminine swindler must be a beauty. She built her career on far sounder and more enduring principles. They might be summed up as follows: First, a 47-year-old woman without physical charm can do much socially by lavishness and by surrounding herself with pretty and amiable younger girls. Second, if one lives as though one has money unlimited credit is practically forced upon one; brass, in short, can be an effective substitute for gold. And third, bankers tend to lend money gladly and freely to those whom they believe to have plenty of it already.

Such lessons the daughter of an Ontario railway section boss taught the world of society and finance. ★