What would you do for a million dollars? Would you lie about who you are? Make up talents? Threaten blackmail? Infamous conwoman Cassie Chadwick did all of the above in pursuit of money.
Chadwick was born on a Canadian farm on October 10, 1857 as “Elizabeth Bigley.” Her life of crime started at the early age of 14 when she was arrested for fraud. Upon release from prison for this crime, Chadwick moved to Cleveland, Ohio, where she lived as “Madame Lydia DeVere.”
In 1882, Chadwick married Dr. Wallace Springsteen: she went by “Lydia” at this time. The Cleveland newspaper that ran their wedding announcement received many responses from readers who claimed Chadwick owed them money. One of these angry readers was Chadwick’s own sister. Springsteen divorced Chadwick soon after.
Chadwick’s next stint was as “Madame Marie LaRose,” a self-identified “psychic.” As this identity, she married John Scott, a farmer, but divorced him only four years later. The next name she adopted was “Lydia Scott,” under which she was accused of forgery. Convicted of this crime, Chadwick served time in an Ohio penitentiary until 1891. Shortly afterwards, she returned to Cleveland and ran a brothel under the name “Cassie Hoover.”
Chadwick’s biggest con happened in New York when she cashed a check for two million dollars. The money supposedly came from multi-millionaire Andrew Carnegie. According to Chadwick, Carnegie gave her the money to keep her quiet about being his illegitimate daughter. Due to the cultural norms and expectations of the time, many people felt it would be rude to question the possibility that such a powerful man had a secret daughter. Thus, Chadwick was able to continue conning others successfully until 1904, when a banker discovered her plots and turned her in. She was sentenced to 14 years in prison and fined $70,000 dollars.
In 1907, Chadwick died on her birthday in prison. As requested, she was buried in her birthplace, Ontario.
Over the course of 36 years, Chadwick committed many crimes, had seven different aliases, married three times, and amassed over five million dollars in debt. She will remain in history books as one of the greatest con artists of all time.