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Alias Soapy Smith

Anatomy Of A Con: The Wire.


The Fake Betting Parlor.


Based on 1912 feature article in the Washington Post

The author begins by mourning the passing of the class acts of crime, the "Dukes and Deans of the kingdom of Crookedness" like the catburglar, the safe cracker, and the counterfeiter. Better security made things tough for these professionals, but a whole new generation of dull-witted, coked-up thugs and petty thieves had taken their place.

And yet, amongst the rabble, there was still the confidence man, who now stood at the top of the heap, the criminal's criminal. And of all the cons in play, the pick of the day was the wire.

Known vaguely to the public as the "wire-tapping game," and its perpetrators called "wireless wire-tappers" in the news, to the con men it was simply the wire, played by "wire men," and executed in a "wire store." It was a hard con to prosecute even if a sucker complained to the cops, and the pay was good. But it was a big undertaking, and costly.

In the early days of telegraphy, it didn't take long to realize that a telegraph operator could easily withhold sporting results until confederates had placed a bet, and a few made good money on this ploy for a few years. But long before 1912 procedures had been put in place that rendered this ploy useless, so the bunco men did the next best thing — they pretended they could delay the results, by having their own fake betting parlor where the results were posted late. There would be no actual betting taking place in this betting parlor, with the exception of the mark himself — and that sure thing would be a sure loser every time. The rest would merely be for show.

Denin, the Wonder Horse of all the Ages

Deneen (Denin) was a fictional horse that was nevertheless successfully used by the Denver mopes in numerous swindles.

The caption reads: "This portrait of Denin, wonder horse of all the ages, was drawn especially for the Sunday News from a memory sketch furnished by Witnesses Oppenheimer and Landman in the bunko trial now being held at West Side Criminal court."

One afternoon at Eighteenth and California streets in Denver, he won three races in less than thirty minutes. He parlayed $1,000 into $92,000 almost as quick as you can say "confidence game." That was a typical performance for Deneen. Flying around the old Denham building racetrack, he was as beautiful a sight as you could hope to see.

Empire Magazine, Denver Post (no date — 1950s)

The con often would begin with a newspaper personal seeking investors in a sure thing. Upon answering the advert, potential customers would be informed that the roper's cousin was quitting Western Union, and wanted to clean up before he went. He'd wait for a horse race where a longshot wins, and then hold up transmitting the results until bets could be placed on the horse.

To further entice, the sucker is introduced to the cousin in a fake telegraph office, and later a test wager is made in a private poolroom rigged up as a sports betting parlor. Of course, the longshot wins. Checking the afternoon paper, they see that the longshot was real, and did win.

The next day, the sucker returns with a wad of cash, ready to make a killing. When it comes time to make a phone call to get the day's winning longshot, the sucker is given the honor. On the other end of the line, the telegraph operator tells him to place his money on Name of Horse Here.

He does so, as does the roper at his side, but the horse comes in second. Later, they find the operator who tells them, "I said place, you idiot. You weren't supposed to bet to win! Place means second place!"

Strange as it may sound, some were known to go back for another try or two before the day was out.

Does this all sound familiar? Like it might make a good movie?

If you've seen The Sting, you've seen the wire.

Johnny Hooker

And yes, they flicked a finger aside their nose to signal each other.


Rocky Mountain News, June 30, 1915

Victims of Huge Swindle Are Silenced by Fear of Exposure; Operators of Fraud Leave Evidence Behind Naming Few Accomplices.
Plant Is Unearthed in Deserted Rooms on Welton Street; Walls Bored for Electric Wires, Copies of "Codes," "I. O. U.'s" and Torn-Up Racing Tickets Found by Workmen and Taken by Police.
National headquarters of a gang of "wire tappers," with agents in a dozen different cities over the country and a system perfected for carrying out wholesale swindles in fake horse racing, were discovered yesterday when workmen started to clean up the deserted second floor at Welton hall, 1748 Welton street. In the hastily abandoned rooms were found evidences that the gang had been operating with rich success in Denver for the past four months, "trimming" at least one victim for many thousands of dollars. The persons swindled evidently had been silenced by fear of exposure or rougher methods.
Maybray Gang Discovered.
From scraps of paper found in the room it was believed that the gang was planning to operate extensively thru the race meet in Denver. A fragment of a torn letter bore the name and the list of the winnings of "Kootenai," a horse now running at Overland track. Several weeks ago the police discovered members of the notorious Maybray gang in the city and ordered them away.
Utmost secrecy surrounded the operations of the swindlers in the Welton building, and until the discovery of the abandoned rooms not a word of their work reached authorities.
Plans for wholesale operations evidently were just completed when they became alarmed thru the complaints of one of their victims to the federal government.
English Army Officer Swindled.
It was reported that the "touch-off" came when the gang learned that an English army officer whom they had fleeced out of a sum said to be many thousand dollars, who had come West to buy horses and mules for the allied armies, put the case in the hands of the United States government. The wire workers still hold several big checks which he gave them in payment for losses, but they are afraid to cash them, as federal secret service men have been on their trail for three weeks.
Walls bored in a regular patchwork for electric wires, and then smoothed over with putty and yellow paint to fool the eye; torn-up racing tickets of the ordinary "booky" and poolroom variety; countless I. O. U. blanks and copies of alleged "telegraph codes" and "ciphers" therefore - all served to tell a story of a sudden "touch-off" and a quick "getaway."
Several letters were written in the middle of May, 1915, by W. A. Shaw, who was then stopping at the New Grand hotel in Salt Lake.
Scraps of Correspondence.
One $10,000 sight draft was signed by L. A. Adams.
It was also reported that the sheriff's office had been investigating the place, but the men who are said to have had charge of the investigation for the sheriff's office denied any connection with the case. Charles M. Thompson, undersheriff, according to persons who have been keeping a close watch on the place, yesterday denied that he had worked on the case.
In scraps of correspondence picked up in the suite of three rooms used by the "wire tappers" were references to local men made by John Foster, living at 343 Grove street, Oakland, Cal., who also says, "You can fix it," "Lead the fellow on," "these guys have the money" and "of course, I won." The correspondence also involves Lou Blonger, the discovery of whose name caused a profound sensation among those familiar with his race track connections for the last twenty years.
Blonger is well known in Denver, El Paso, San Francisco, Salt Lake City, Spokane, Seattle, and other Western cities.
In spite of the fact that the gang ransacked the place at Welton hall from top to bottom before taking leave, enough evidence was gathered to prove conclusively that they had been running about as bold a "wire tapping" game as has ever been worked successfully for as long as period as four months anywhere in the country.
"Steerers" in Many Cities.
That there were "steerers" in San Francisco, Oakland, Salt Lake City, Wichita, and Chicago, is shown by torn-up telegrams, letters, and notations made in the "office."
The agents in Salt Lake stopped at the Hotel Utah and the New Grand hotel, according to postmarks and heads on envelopes, and they were active about May 18, according to the torn bits of correspondence found on the floor.
A telegraph blank of an unfinished message that apparently had been discarded by the writer in a hurry, showed that messages were sent to "Bill" Moody of Chicago.
"Curley" was referred to in one letter. "Shaw" was the signature of another letter.
"Hand Ball" and "Kootenay" were the names of horses mentioned on the backs on tickets, and also in itemized records of "winnings" and "losings." These records indicated that the payroll was a large one, and the "cuts" amounted to 10 per cent.
The expression "ten per cent" also occurs in several letters, indicating that the writers were alluding to their share of the receipts of the Denver establishment.
The extent of the gross play was indicated by the notations on numerous slips of thin, yellow paper, the highest of which was one for $140,021.
Woman Figures in Game.
A woman figured in the game, and she is referred to as "Nellie" in a letter which mentions "10 per cent" several times. She evidently was doing "heavy work" about May 17, and the correspondence with which she was connected came from Oakland and San Francisco.
Humor, unconscious but patent, entered into one letter, which referred to the "incredulous." But the gang seems to have had slight difficulty on the score of incredulity for four months in Denver.
Correspondence also indicated that some agent was active in Colorado Springs May 13.
William Davis appears to have been one of the leaders, according to the correspondence addressed to him.
A torn-up check, that had been cashed and returned, indicated that the outfit had had at least $5,000 on deposit with the International Trust company, in the name of "Clark & Co." This check was signed "Russ," and other parts of torn checks indicated by signatures that "Russ" must have been the treasurer.
Poolroom Tickets Found.
The poolroom tickets were made out in regular "booky" form under the name of "Clark & Co.," and a number of the series of 900 were found torn up on the floor.
Typewritten copies of word and figure codes were also found. The word code contained such isolated words as "American," "soft," "face," "sergeant," "by heck," etc. The figure code contained such indicators as "81356790." The plain letter code, used only in capitals, included the following indicators: "HGDIOWGDDJ," "IRJHDGFV," "CS," "SLOWREFSHGF0." etc.
The torn portion of an itemized account on payroll wages indicated that the gang included two telegraph operators and it is assumed that one on the "sending" end was located at some convenient place nearby, while the operator on the "receiving" end sat in the "wire room" on Welton street and "took" the results of the races for the benefit of the victims.
Electrical Wiring Complex.
The paraphernalia was simple in some ways and complex in others. The electrical wiring was quite complex. The victims apparently sat about in the east room of the suite of three and listened to the "returns" upon which they had been slipped "sure thing" tips by outside "steerers."
The telegraph instruments clattered merrily, while an employe referred to as the "boardman" kept things humming with excitement by writing down the "results" on the blackboard, which was suspended from the east wall between rooms No. 1 and No. 2. Pieces of red and white chalk and splashes of color showing where the "boardman" wiped the wall below the blackboard with his eraser, told a plain story.
But the arrangement in electrical wiring would delight a connoisseur. It was elaborate and painstaking as to effect. Any bona fide player who was out to beat the "bookies" on "inside" tips would be deceived by just such ultra-obvious wiring. The tout ensemble gave the impression of a real poolroom, "run on the quiet, because the authorities wouldn't stand for it if they got wise, of course," as the victim is invariably informed.
One Room Is Kept Dark.
Room No. 1 was used as a "reception room," room No. 2 was used further to impress the dupes by the electrical wiring and telegraph devices and records; room No. 3 was kept "dark."
The wiring of the rooms started over the hallway door, ran down the side of the door and down around the baseboard, covered by the moulding; then it followed the baseboard to the connecting to the wall, where it entered room No. 2 thru a hole punched in the wall near the connecting doorway; then it went over the doorway and down into room No. 2; then it followed the baseboard to the door at the hallway, thence running over the hallway door of room No. 2, where the wires were cut up on top of the doorway, then the wires took up on the other side of the doorway and ran around the baseboard to the wall connecting with room No. 3; then the wires ran over the hallway door of room No 3.
"Ground" Connection Made.
Then, on the other side of the door, the wires went down the wall and around the baseboard to the front of the building to a radiator, where a "ground" connection was made with a "ground clamp" fastened to the radiator valve, which followed the "juice" to run down the pipe into the basement. The toilet adjoins but does not connect with room No. 3. In it the batteries were located, but these were disconnected when the gang fled.
A sinister note entered into the investigations when it developed that persons in the Mecca hotel, the second floor of which is separated from the "wire-tapper'" suite by a party wall, heard a man crying out in angry protest one night, but his voice was suddenly silenced and then a heavy thud was heard, as if a body had fallen to the floor.
This incident may have been the unknown case of some victim who demanded his money back and was felled by members of the gang in room No. 3. The correspondence also mentioned "Buck" Kelly.
One correspondent gives his address as 476 Eighth street, Oakland, Cal.
The destroyed checks ran into the thousands of dollars, according to the figures written upon them. Several sight drafts were for $1,000 each. Herman H. Heiser, head of the Heiser Saddlery company at 1535 Blake street, owner of the building on which Welton hall is located, said yesterday:
Owner Never Suspected.
"I never dreamed that 'wire tappers' had been operating there. We bought the building from the Sadler Furniture company and the negotiations lasted three weeks.
"I noticed on calling at the door of one of the rooms in the front suite, that there was a long pause and muffled talking and shoving of tables inside the room and then a man appeared at the door of another room and, standing with the door just wide enough to permit his head to stick thru, asked what was wanted. beyond that there was no indication that anything wrong was going on."




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