This isn’t something recent, but I only now dug it up. This guy has been mentioned in passing a few times in the Museum of Hoaxes, but seems to not have had any thorough coverage. And so:
When it comes to deception and trickery, there was no man better at it than Victor Lustig. He really was the king of the confidence men. With forty-five known aliases, the mastery of five different languages, and nearly fifty arrests in the United States alone, Lustig could swindle even the brightest of marks.
Lustig was born back in 1890 in Czechoslovakia to your basic middle class background. At the age of nineteen, a man slashed Lustig for paying just a wee bit too much attention to his girlfriend. This left Lustig with a scar that ran from the tip of his left eye to the lobe of his left ear. He was an excellent study in the promising fields of billiards, poker, and bridge and turned to the life of crime for which he would become infamous.
As a gambler, Lustig took to the seas. The cruises that constantly crossed that Atlantic were loaded with the rich. And, if rich people abound, then you can be sure that the crooks are not far behind. It was on one of these cruises at the beginning of the twentieth century that Lustig met up with professional gamblers like Nicky Arnstein (who later gained fame for marrying Ziegfeld Follies star Fanny Brice) and learned the ropes.
World War I put a quick end to all Trans-Atlantic pleasure cruises and Lustig’s career was brought to an instant halt. He then decided to head for the United States just as the roaring 20’s was about to unfold. This was the time of the height of Prohibition and the ever-growing Stock Market. It seemed as if everyone was getting rich and Lustig was there to take advantage of it.
In 1922, Lustig went to Missouri and expressed great interest in a dilapidated old farm that a bank had repossessed. No one wanted this farm, but Lustig did. Lustig assumed his most famous of aliases. As “Count” Victor Lustig, he was able to give some sob story of how his life of nobility in Austria was destroyed when the country was overthrown as a result of the First World War. He claimed to have come to America to rebuild his life with what was left of the family fortune and chose a life of farming.
He offered the bankers $22,000 in Liberty bonds to buy the farm and they gladly took it. Lustig also convinced them to exchange an additional $10,000 of bonds for cash so that he would have some operating capital until the farm became productive. The bankers gladly obliged. They were so excited to be rid of this worthless farm that they had no idea that the Count had switched envelopes and made off with both the bonds and the cash.
Lustig made no attempt to hide his escape. The bankers hired a private detective who captured him in a New York City hotel room. During the long train ride home, Lustig convinced his captors that if they actually did press charges against him, there would be a run on the bank by its depositors and the bank would go belly up. And, Lustig insisted that they should give him $1000 for the inconvenience that the arrest has caused him. Somehow, Lustig had twisted the whole story and walked away to freedom with their $1000 in his pocket. (Now that is one smooth operator