Part six:
The next chapter for The Person Formerly Known as Betsy Bigley has her going to prison for the first time. It is one of the more documented periods of her life, and features a rather tragic figure, though some of the explanations for his presence are questionable.

For example, I don't believe Karen Abbott's contention that Joseph Lamb went to the clairvoyant named Mme. Lydia Devere and paid her $10,000 to serve as his financial adviser.

Others who've written about The Woman Who One Day Will Be Known as Cassie Chadwick, perhaps swayed by her appearance in 1904, can't seem to understand how the woman, even in her Lydia Devere phase, could have had such power over a man whose name invited ridicule and inspired many trite headlines. But Joseph Lamb foolishly allowed himself to be Madame Devere's puppet.

George Condon, mindful the woman, just 30 years of age when she met Lamb, was far more attractive than people would acknowledge years later, went for the obvious reason for their one-sided relationship:

"Eventually, Madame Lydia met a young, naive Toledoan named Joseph Lamb, an expressman, who found her irresistible. One of the lures that drew him close to her was her appreciation of the better things in life. The poor Lamb liked nothing better than an occasional session of fun and culture in the parlor of the enchantress. When their passion was spent, they would take turns reading poetry, and that was proof enough for him that he had found an extraordinary woman, as indeed he had."

Interesting, but probably overstated. The thing is, Lamb certainly was naive, but he wasn't young. When he met Lydia Devere, he was 42 years old, 12 years older than she was. He had a wife and five children, and was the manager of the United States Express Company's Toledo office. I believe their relationship was more innocent, but a lot more complicated than the Condon version. Lydia Devere simply took advantage of a very nice guy, who may have had some fantasies about her and felt a load of guilt. Meanwhile, she reeled him in slowly, pecking away at his good nature, his naiveté, and, most importantly, what little money he had.

I think what happened is explained in this story, which begins with Lamb under arrest, but no longer under Madame Devere's spell. He's finally seen the light, and tells all, though I wish the story included a reaction from the unfortunate Mrs. Lamb:

New York World, Monday, November 28, 1904
In his confession, he said he met Lydia DeVere several times on the street as he was going home in the evening. Then she came to the express office and sent a package of money to Cleveland. On this occasion she invited him to call on her. He did so and found her to be a modest, well-behaved woman. He was invited to call again and did so, always calling on his way home.

On his second call, she asked him to loan her money to go to Cleveland to see her sister, Mrs. Brown, who was ill. Lamb gave her the money, though he told her he could not spare it. She persuaded him that she was the widow of a wealthy man who had lived near Manchester, England, and left her an income of $1,000 a year. Later she told him that she had also married a young physician at Rochester, N. Y.

Lamb continued to call. She told him that she needed $1,500 for a surgical operation and asked him to raise it for her. He raised $1,000 for her in addition to $100 cash that he had on hand, and gave her his personal note for $275, which she cashed and bought a sealskin jacket with, he said.

He succeeded in raising $900 more, and the woman went to Philadelphia for six weeks for the operation, she said. On her return, he gave her $300, which he held as an election bet, and was later obliged to make it good with his personal note.

His affairs were now so complicated that she advised his giving her his notes for $500 and $700, on which she would raise money for him. He did so, and when the notes were presented for payment, she confessed that she had used part of the money to buy jewelry.

Lamb borrowed money from every one who would take his notes, giving the money to the woman.

Mme. DeVere told him she was Florinda G. Blythe, member of a prominent Cleveland family of that name and heir to a large estate.

Lamb’s reputation in Toledo was high, and Mme. DeVere gave notes to him to cash for her, among them the one for the making of which she was convicted. These notes, aggregating $40,000, purported to be signed by Richard Brown, of the firm of Cleveland, Brown & Company of Youngstown.

The finale came when the Brown notes were repudiated at Youngstown. Then there was the first angry scene between the two and Lamb said the woman lost her temper, and made it plain to him what a dupe and fool he had been.

In the trial, it was disclosed that Mme. DeVere had been a criminal since girlhood and had secured large sums by swindling in many parts of the country. She had been known variously as Mary D. Laylie, Mazie De Laylie, Lydia Brown, Lydia Clingan, Florinda Blythe, Lydia D. Scott, D. C. Belford, Mrs. Bagley and Mrs. Dr. C. L. Hoover.

Actually, her scheme was exposed by a bank in Cleveland, not Youngstown. In a lengthy piece on Cassie Chadwick, the Chicago Tribune (December 4, 1904) said, "The first intimation of the forgery came from Cleveland on January 12, 1890, when a message was received at Toledo that Richard Brown, a wealthy commission merchant of Youngtown, Ohio, went to Cleveland on a notice from a Cleveland bank that his note for $25,000 was due. This note proved to be a clever forgery. The First National and Northern Naional banks of Toledo each had notes of $5,000 for collection, both payable to the order of Florida G. Blythe. These notes were similiar to the larger one at Cleveland and the local bankers immediately became frightened and began an investigaion."

Madame Devere and Lamb were arrested, faced multiple charges of forgery, and went on trial. Lamb's attorney, Irvin Belford, then did something that had never been done before in a United States court. He admitted all charges, but pleaded that Lamb had acted while under "hypnotic influence."

Alice York, a sister of Betsy Bigley/Lydia Devere, may have thought all the hypnotism talk was nonsense, but the Toledo jury was convinced there was truth to it, and Lamb was acquitted. However, he lost his job with the express company, and spent the rest of his life making brooms and peddling them door to door. (He died of a heart attack in 1900 in the house of strangers while trying to sell them one of his brooms.)

As for Lydia Devere, her hypnotic powers did not work on the jury, and she was found guilty and sentenced to nine-and-a-half years in the Ohio penitentiary in Columbus.

Why she forged the name of an industrialist well known in Youngstown and Cleveland was puzzling. She may have had an interest in "iron masters," as the press referred to Richard Brown, because a few years later she'd go after the greatest iron master of them all.

But when newspapers, in 1904, looked back at the woman's career, they painted a picture of a woman who seemed to have it made in Toledo, and didn't need to mess with Joseph Lamb.

"She could be seen in the finest carriages driving about the city," said the Chicago Sunday Tribune (December 4, 1904), "and her entertainments were known as elaborate ... She began to secure large sums of money from various men. It is asserted that a prominent doctor gave up all and was completely under her control ... A bank president, since dead, was deceived, and how much he loaned her will never be learned."

Fourteen years earlier, in reporting on her forgery case, the New York World (January 15, 1890) wrote, "Her magnificently furnished house on Broadway has been constantly visited by the leading men of Toledo, and much apprehension is felt among them today for if the Madame were placed on the stand, she could tell much more than concerns Mr. Lamb's case."

Yet, years later, after Lydia Devere transformed herself into Cassie Chadwick, and her world suddenly collapsed, a reporter asked Irvin Belford about his one-time client Joseph Lamb and Lamb's relationship with Madame Devere, and the lawyer replied, "Lamb assured me there was never anything improper in their relations; that she was always in an invalid’s chair or in bed when he saw her.”

* * *

A prisoner like no other
From day one at the Ohio Penitentary in Columbus, Lydia Devere was a model inmate as she set out to secure her parole at the earliest possible date. Which doesn't mean she faded into the background. In Karen Abbott's piece, she says, "Even there she posed as a clairvoyant, telling the warden that he would lose $5,000 in a business deal (which he did) and then die of cancer (which he also did)."

She worked in the sewing department, making shirts for the male prisoners, dresses for the women. She also won friends and influenced people.

Mrs. Flora Kissinger of Columbus was a matron at the Ohio State Peniteniary in that city while Lydia Devere was an inmate. This is how she described the prisoner:

Deluth Evening Herald, December 14, 1904
"Cassie L. Chadwick, or 'Madame DeVere,' for that was the name I knew her under, was the most remarkable woman I ever met in my life, and her escapades since she left the penitentiary do not surprise me in the least. She was possessed of wonderful hypnotic powers, could bring to her men who were the cream of society, and by force of her power compel them to do her bidding ...

"Mind you, I do not say she hypnotized me, but I know she did others, and I was afraid of her. She occupied the assistant matron's quarters, held receptions for her gentlemen friends, when she would appear in the finest silks ... She always played the aristocrat, held herself above the other prisoners, and her power over the board of managers and other public men was so great that I was glad to get away from her.

"Although at times she was as fine a woman as one could meet, polite, kind and sociable. She had the most remarkable eyes I ever saw ... and a beautiful mouth. One minute she would be all smiles, and the next her face would light up with anger."

Mrs. Kissinger said Madame DeVere brought with her charms she used to create spells voodoo style while in prison. She said the inmate often covered a small icon with a black cloth, set it on fire in a small iron pan, and marched up and down corridors murmuring to herself. Perhaps she was putting a curse on sister Alice who had temporary custody of her son. Mrs. Kissinger said Lydia was particularly bitter about this sister, saying she kept the money that had been raised with the fraudulent checks.

Or maybe Lydia was casting spells on people she wanted to visit her in prison. The matron claimed several prominent citizens did just that soon after her performances.

* * *

She's paroled, thanks for a future President
The con woman must have had a few powerful friends, because she launched a letter-writing campaign, and after only three years secured her release, thanks to Governor (and future President) William McKinley.

Here's the kicker, though it didn't come as a surprise when I read it in the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle (December 9, 1904):

"Before a prisoner can be paroled, the law requires that someone must agree to give him employment. In Madame Devere's case, a letter from Alice M. York of Cleveland was presented, and it is now suspected that this letter, as well as most of the monthly reports to the warden which bore the name of Mrs. York were forged."

In 1904, when she began having frequent fainting spells that carried over to her trial and imprisonment, it would be written that, as Lydia Devere, she also had faked illness, and that was a primary reason she was paroled. Once more, take your pick.

Another condition of the parole law is that a prisoner so released must not leave the state, yet, when free, Madame Devere spent significant time in Woodstock, Ontario. For awhile she worked as a traveling saleswoman for a millinery company.

But she settled in Cleveland and it wasn't long before she met the man who gave her the status she needed for a big-time con job.


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