Born in Canada on October 10, 1857, Cassie Chadwick was an imposter who took on several different names and identities during her life, and most infamously defrauded banks out of millions of dollars by posing as the daughter of Andrew Carnegie.
Cassie Chadwick was born Elizabeth Bigley on a small farm in Eastwood, Canada, on October 10, 1857. She had three sisters and a brother. Her father was a section boss for the Grand Trunk Railway. Chadwick was known as "Betsy" as a child, and was said to be a daydreamer who often told fibs.
Chadwick started her career of fraud at an early age. At only 14 years old, she opened a bank account in Woodstock, Ontario, using a letter of inheritance from an uncle in England. When merchants realized they were receiving worthless checks from Chadwick, she was arrested for forgery. She was later released, and left Canada for Cleveland, Ohio, where her newly married sister was living.
Cons in Cleveland
Once in Cleveland, Chadwick took on a new identity. She set up shop as Madame Lydia DeVere, a clairvoyant. In 1882, Chadwick married Dr. Wallace S. Springsteen, and began using the name Lydia Springsteen. When the wedding announcement appeared in Cleveland newspaper The Plain Dealer, people to whom Chadwick owed money, including her own sister, confronted the new bride and her husband. Springsteen quickly divorced Chadwick.
After her failed marriage, Cassie Chadwick found a new target. As clairvoyant Madame Marie LaRose, she married farmer John R. Scott. Four years later she filed for divorce. In 1886, Chadwick gave birth to a son, Emil. It is unknown who Emil’s father was, or whether Chadwick’s various husbands knew of his birth.
Cassie Chadwick went on to pose as a fortune teller named Lydia Scott, and in 1889 she was tried and convicted of forgery. She served four years of in a penitentiary in Toledo, Ohio, and was paroled in 1891. Undeterred by her time in the penitentiary, Chadwick returned to Cleveland and set up a brothel under the name Cassie Hoover.
Posing as Carnegie's Daughter
In 1887 Chadwick married a widowed doctor, Leroy Chadwick. As the wife of the well-respected Dr. Chadwick, she became a part of Cleveland society. The couple lived on Euclid Avenue, known as “Millionaires’ Row”.
It was on a trip to New York City that Cassie Chadwick initiated her biggest con yet, and the one that would make her infamous. Accompanied by a lawyer friend of her husband’s, Chadwick went to the home of steel tycoon Andrew Carnegie, one of the United States’ richest men at the time. Chadwick came back with a promissory note of $2 million, supposedly from Carnegie. Chadwick claimed the Carnegie was paying her enormous sums of money to keep quiet that she was his illegitimate daughter
The cultural norms of the time meant that Chadwick’s story went unquestioned, because no one wanted to embarrass Carnegie by accusing him of fathering a child out of wedlock. Chadwick traded on the naïveté of many banks in Ohio and on the East Coast to forge bank notes totaling between $10 and $20 million over the next eight years. Chadwick used the money to buy jewels, clothes, and a lifestyle that gained her the nickname “The Queen of Ohio.”
Finally, in 1904, Chadwick's scheme was uncovered. A Massachusetts banker who had loaned her $190,000 began to suspect something was wrong when he discovered She had amassed $5 million of debt when she was arrested in New York City, and was found wearing a money belt with $100,000 in it.
Chadwick was sentenced to 14 years in prison and a fine of $70,000 for conspiracy to bankrupt a federally chartered bank—the Citizen’s National Bank of Oberlin was forced into bankruptcy after it loaned Chadwick $800,000.
Chadwick died in jail on her 50th birthday, accompanied by trunks of clothes, furs— remnants of the life she led as Andrew Carnegie's "daughter". She was buried in Ontario, Canada, as per her will.
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