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Cassie Chadwick, Andrew Carnegie's Fake Illegitimate Daughter

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Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Steel magnate Andrew Carnegie, one of the richest men the world has ever known, had just one child, a daughter named Margaret who was born in 1897 and lived with her parents in New York. But for a period of time in the early 1900s, a woman calling herself Cassie Chadwick had some of the most important people in Cleveland convinced that she was Carnegie’s secret daughter, born from a long-ago affair. The lie was convincing enough that some of her “father’s” closest friends loaned her money—to the tune of an estimated $16.5 million.
 

Betty Bigley started defrauding people in 1870 at the ripe old age of 13. She told people that her uncle had died and left her a large sum of money, and even wrote a letter that looked so convincing a bank agreed to give her an advance. Not bad for a girl barely in her teens. The deception didn’t last long—Bigley was found out when the money never came through. She apologized and swore never to do it again.

She did, of course. At 22, Bigley purchased expensive stationery and forged another letter from an attorney, saying that a wealthy philanthropist had died and left her $15,000. She even had business cards printed up that said “Miss Bigley, heiress to $15,000,” and handed them out to cement her status. It sounds ridiculous today, but at the time, people were utterly convinced. She had no problem procuring loans from banks and private individuals.

Next, Bigley moved on to Cleveland. She married a doctor and immediately racked up so much debt that Dr. Springsteen divorced her in just 12 days.

After another husband and stints as fortune tellers named Mme. Rose and Mme. Lydia, Bigley married another doctor named Leroy Chadwick and began hatching her Carnegie plan. She arranged to run into an acquaintance of her husband’s during a trip to New York, and asked him if he would mind escorting her to her father’s house for a quick visit. The acquaintance was astonished when the carriage pulled up to the Carnegie mansion. Chadwick disappeared inside and emerged 30 minutes later, carrying a brown envelope. She confided that Carnegie was paying her large sums of money to keep quiet about her parentage, and asked her husband’s friend to please keep her story quiet. In reality, Chadwick had gone into the house pretending to be checking the references of a maid who said she once worked for the Carnegies. The brown envelope she pulled out afterward contained promissory notes she had forged well in advance.

It didn’t take long for Dr. Chadwick’s friend to blab, which was exactly what "Cassie" had been counting on. Her supposed lineage was soon well-known all over town, and she was able to easily get loans for hundreds of thousands of dollars. An acquaintance of Carnegie’s from Pittsburgh handed over $800,000 without batting an eyelash.

Chadwick’s spree finally came to an end in 1904, when one businessman had the gall to ask for repayment on the $200,000 he had loaned her. Her lies and schemes quickly fell apart, and in 1905, she was handed a 10-year prison sentence for attempting to defraud a national bank.

Andrew Carnegie himself attended Chadwick’s trial and inspected the fraudulent promissory notes up close. “If anybody had seen this paper and then really believed that I had drawn it up and signed it, I could hardly have been flattered,” he said, pointing out spelling errors. “Why, I have not signed a note in the last 30 years.”

Chadwick died in prison in 1907.

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Mata Hari: Famous Spy or Creative Storyteller?
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Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Nearly everyone has heard of Mata Hari, one of the most cunning and seductive spies of all time. Except that statement isn't entirely true. Cunning and seductive, yes. Spy? Probably not. 

Margaretha Geertruida Zelle was the eldest daughter of a hat store owner who was quite wealthy thanks to some savvy oil investments.  When her mother died, her father remarried and shuffled his children off to various relatives. To escape, an 18-year-old Margaretha answered an ad in the paper that might have read something like this: "Dutch Colonial Army Captain Seeks Wife. Compatibility not important. Must not mind blatant infidelity or occasional beatings."

She had two children with Captain Rudolf MacLeod, but they did nothing to improve the marriage. He brazenly kept a mistress and a concubine; she moved in with another officer. Again, probably looking to escape her miserable existence, Margaretha spent her time in Java (where the family had relocated for Captain MacLeod's job) becoming part of the culture, learning all about the dance and even earning a dance name bestowed upon her by the locals—"Mata Hari," which meant "eye of the day" or "sun."

Her son died after being poisoned by an angry servant (so the MacLeods believed).

Margaretha divorced her husband, lost custody of her daughter and moved to Paris to start a new life for herself in 1903. Calling upon the dance skills she had learned in Java, the newly restyled Mata Hari became a performer, starting with the circus and eventually working her way up to exotic dancer. 

To make herself seem more mysterious and interesting, Mata Hari told people her mother was a Javanese princess who taught her everything she knew about the sacred religious dances she performed. The dances were almost entirely in the nude.

Thanks to her mostly-nude dancing and tantalizing background story, she was a hot commodity all over Europe. During WWI, this caught the attention of British Intelligence, who brought her in and demanded to know why she was constantly traipsing across the continent. Under interrogation, she apparently told them she was a spy for France—that she used her job as an exotic dancer to coerce German officers to give her information, which she then supplied back to French spymaster Georges Ladoux. No one could verify these claims and Mata Hari was released.

Not too long afterward, French intelligence intercepted messages that mentioned H-21, a spy who was performing remarkably well. Something in the messages reminded the French officers of Mata Hari's tale and they arrested her at her hotel in Paris on February 13, 1917, under suspicion of being a double agent.

Mata Hari repeatedly denied all involvement in any spying for either side. Her captors didn't believe her story, and perhaps wanting to make an example of her, sentenced her to death by firing squad. She was shot to death 100 years ago today, on October 15, 1917.

In 1985, one of her biographers convinced the French government to open their files on Mata Hari. He says the files contained not one shred of evidence that she was spying for anyone, let alone the enemy. Whether the story she originally told British intelligence was made up by them or by her to further her sophisticated and exotic background is anyone's guess. 

Or maybe she really was the ultimate spy and simply left no evidence in her wake.

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German Police Tried to Fine Someone $1000 for Farting at Them
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Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images for IMG

In Berlin, passing gas can cost you. Quite a lot, actually, in the case of a man accused of disrespecting police officers by releasing a pair of noxious farts while being detained by the police. As CityLab reports, Berlin’s police force has recently been rocked by a scandal hinging on the two farts of one man who was asked to show his ID to police officers while partying on an evening in February 2016.

The man in question was accused of disrespecting the officers involved by aiming his flatulence at a policewoman, and was eventually slapped with a fine of 900 euros ($1066) in what local media called the "Irrer-Pups Prozess," or "Crazy Toot Trial." The errant farter was compelled to show up for court in September after refusing to pay the fine. A judge dismissed the case in less than 10 minutes.

But the smelly situation sparked a political scandal over the police resources wasted over the non-crime. It involved 18 months, 23 public officials, and 17 hours of official time—on the taxpayers’ dime. Officials estimate that those two minor toots cost taxpayers more than $100, which is chump change in terms of city budgets, but could have been used to deal with more pressing criminal issues.

[h/t CityLab]

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