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Part one:
Cassie Chadwick was the name that identified the Cleveland con woman who was nationally infamous in 1904 when it became known that her claim to being the illegitimate daughter of wealthy industrialist Andrew Carnegie was false, but she had fooled several bankers for almost three years, enabling her to borrow ... well, estimates ranged from $1 million to as much as $3 million ... and she offered as securities worthless documents on which she had forged Carnegie's signature.

Though having served time under a different name at the Ohio State Penitentiary in Columbus until just four years before marrying Dr. Leroy S. Chadwick, almost everyone who knew her in Cleveland was unaware Cassie Chadwick and Lydia Devere — or De Vere — were the same woman.

Madame Lydia Devere was the name she'd used earlier in Toledo, when, as a clairvoyant, she also dabbled in forgery until she was arrested, found guilty, and given a nine-and-a-half-year prison sentence, of which she served less than three years. Soon after her release, she returned to Cleveland where she had lived in the early 1880s, calling herself Mrs. Cassie L. Hoover, and claiming she was a widow ... which she wasn't. She became Cassie Chadwick in 1897, and a few years later launched a legendary con that made many bankers look like idiots — or greedy opportunists who were outplayed at their own game.

When it was learned Cassie Chadwick had defrauded several people and destroyed a bank in the college town of Oberlin, Ohio, some newspapers seemed less interested in her crimes than the fact Mrs. Chadwick was exposed an ex-con Lydia Devere.

Meanwhile, people in and around Woodstock, Ontario, where the con woman had grown up, enjoyed a laugh and exclaimed, "So THAT'S what happened to weird Betsy Bigley!" (Or they may have called her "Betty" or "Lylie" or "Lizzy," because even as a youngster, she was a person of many names.)

* * *

She did Carnegie proud
With that string of childhood nicknames, it's no surprise her parents named her Elizabeth when she was born in 1857. She certainly went on to lead an interesting life, culminating in her making multi-billionaire Andrew Carnegie part of her career-defining scam. And was Carnegie upset that she had forged his name to documents in her plot to separtate bankers from their money? Probably, but he also was amused, and took no action against the woman.

“Why should I?," he said when asked if he intended to prosecute her. "Wouldn’t you be proud of the fact your name is good for loans of $1,250,000, even when somebody else signs it? It is glory enough for me that my name is so good, even when I don’t sign it. Mrs. Chadwick has shown that my credit is A-1.”

But the federal government, the state of Ohio, and creditors in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts felt punishment was due, as soon as they figured out exactly what crimes she had committed. Since the Carnegie documents she forged sat in a bank safe collecting dust until someone finally looked at them and decided they were bogus, it wasn't actually forgery that got her into trouble, although that was the crime that put her into prison several years earlier. This time, she was charged with a variety of crimes against the national banking laws, and, in March, 1905, found guilty of seven of the sixteen offenses included in the indictment. She was sentenced to prison for ten years.

Besides her claim of being Andrew Carnegie's illegitimate daughter, Cassie Chadwick is most remembered for causing the failure of People's National Bank in Oberlin, Ohio, though the people more to blame were bank president Charles T. Beckwith, who approved illegal loans, and the cashier, Arthur Spear, who went along with Beckwith.

Cassie Chadwick, in several of her aliases, had a history of faking illness, and in late 1904, when her creditors became nervous, and she desperately tried to continue her scam, she had fainting spells and soon was under a doctor's care. and gave memorably dramatic performances during her arrest, her confinement in jail while awaiting trial in March, 1905, and especially during the trial itself.

After nine months and several unsuccessful appeals, off to the Ohio Penitentiary in Columbus she went, for a return engagement, and newspapers carred frequent reports of her condition — at one point she claimed to have gone blind. A prison doctor believed she was faking, and probably she was — but she also was dying, though it's not certain she or her doctor were aware of her true condition until a few days before she died on October 10, 1907, her 50th birthday.

Two days earlier, faced with the reality that death was near, the woman who hadn't professed any religion previously was baptized a Roman Catholic by the prison chaplain, putting the last weird touch on a very strange life.

* * *

Most bankers turned her down
In view of what I've found over the past twelve months, I'm surprised Cassie Chadwick escaped my attention for 83 years. It's possible I heard about her while I was working at the Beacon-Journal in Akron, or earlier when I was a student at Kent State University, but, if so, the name slipped from my memory.

While I was a student, I had a checking account in Kent, at one of the institutions that turned down the woman when she asked for a loan. She also struck out six miles east of Kent, at a bank in the city of Ravenna, and 15 miles west of Kent at a bank in Akron. I believe more than half of the bankers she visited refused her loan requests, but after Andrew Carnegie's name entered the picture, she had some spectacular success in fooling a few business men who were humiliated when their deals with the woman became public.

For me, the tale of Cassie Chadwick didn't start until I discovered fultonhistory.com, where I could read old newspapers, most of them from New York State. At the time, I was looking for obituaries and other articles about my forefathers, who settled in Central New York after emigrating from Ireland and Poland.

Soon I became distracted by other stories from a time newspapers may have been uglier, but were much more interesting than they've been for the past 40 years. Go back in time, and you'll find front pages packed with about 15 stories, many of them irresistible.

(If you want to pinpoint the day American newspapers began their slow, agonizing death, it was long before the internet was born. It happened soon after newspapers hired designers to lay out their front pages. Specifically, the fatal blow was struck the day a designers announced from now on the key Page One element would be referred to as "the centerpiece," a story that very often wasn't timely, but always was overwritten and usually boring. If you want an example, pick up tomorrow's newspaper from any city in the country.

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Who would suspect a doctor's wife?
But I digress. In 2021, I re-wrote a story about Amelia Everts Carr, a con woman usually nicknamed "Petticoat Ponzi," because, in 1921, she ran a scheme similar, but on a much smaller scale than Charles Ponzi, who'd hit the news a year earlier. I'd come upon Mrs. Carr years earlier, but in doing more research, I read a story that compared her with Cassie Chadwick, who was active long before Ponzi, operating with a similar plan — use money from sucker B to pay sucker A. Of course, that meant each sucker had to cough up more money than the previous sucker.

Mrs. Chadwick, posing as clairvoyant Madame Lydia Devere, had been doing well conning people before she hit upon her Carnegie idea, but after she married a respected Cleveland doctor in 1897, she had the status to up her game, though she soon reached the point of needing a whole lot of money to pay off creditors who charged exorbitant interest and still have enough left over to enjoy an extravagant lifestyle.

The woman's curse was being born with a desire to own pretty things, things her Canadian family couldn't provide. Result: Betsy Bigley began her life of crime as a teenager. So there's a lot to tell about this person, and I'll go on and on about her life over several pages. However, a word of caution: Much of her life is a guessing game.

Elizabeth Bigley, aka Lydia Devere, aka Cassie Chadwick, aka a dozen other names, is the subject of several books, many articles available on line, a ton of newspaper articles, one Canadian TV movie, "Love and Larceny" (1985), with another ("The Duchess of Criminality") under discussion.

The simplest thing to do — after you've plowed through my piece, of course — is to check out Wikipedia, which has one of its better-written pieces, but like all stories about Cassie Chadwick, Wikipedia's is inaccurate in spots.

I make no claim for being completely accurate, either, because no two stories about this woman agree on several points. Her biography is often a multiple choice exam in which there are no wrong answers ... because no one seems to know for sure what the right answer is. I'll point these things out as I go along, and admit, in the overall scheme of things, most of the disputed "facts" aren't particularly important unless you plan to take a Cassie Chadwick trivia quiz given by a nit-picking professor.

Perhaps the biggest bone of contention — which we'll get to much later — concerns an incident sure to be included in "The Duchess of Criminality," if it ever gets made. If true, this incident would have been key to how Cassie Chadwick convinced people she was the illegitimate daughter of Andrew Carnegie.

On the other hand, there's no proof it ever happened, and I'm sure the woman was resourceful enough to find another way to fool people, most of them men blinded by greed. While Cassie Chadwick saw them as suckers, they viewed her the same way. Her advantage: She knew what they were doing; they had no clue what she was up to.

In the end, they were all losers, though I suspect there was one person who profited, though he didn't live long enough to enjoy it.

 

1. A multiple choice biography
2. Have card, will swindle
3. My, what big eyes she has
4. Temporarily transgender
5. Kindness is costly
6. Lydia had a little lamb
7. She finds a perfect husband

8. Mansion makeover
9. Time for her big scene
10. Deep pocket fishing
11. He's never heard of her
12. A friend in Pittsburgh
13. Back behind bars
14. Her spirit lives on
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