Victor Lustig was a name of horror and secret admiration around the world back in the early 1900s. Described as 'a storybook character' by the Milwaukee Journal, Lustig was known to live a lavish life and dressed as a matinee idol of the US. He was no ordinary man. In fact, he had crossed the limits of being extraordinary as well. After cheating on several tradesmen with his excellent tricks and brilliant confidence, the con man decided to do something very audacious. Sell The Eiffel Tower. And not just once. TWICE.
There was something so charming about his personality that even the New York Times wrote about him, "He was not the hand-kissing type of bogus Count-too keen for that. Instead of theatrical, he was always the reserved, dignified noble man."
Here's the story of the most mysterious man of the United Staes of America and probably the world.
Since childhood, Lustig had mastered almost every card trick, and by adulthood, he could make a deck of cards 'do anything but talk.'
In a few prison interviews, he stated that he was born and brought up in the Austrian-Hungarian town of Hostinne on January 4,1890. But later when his school records were checked in the village, no child by his name ever went to the village schools.
While he conned some men boasting his father was the 'Burgomaster.' or the Mayor of the town, a few were told that his parents were poor peasants.
When bored of the small games, Lustig decided to sell Eiffel Tower. The five-foot-seven-inches tall and 140 pounds weighing Lustig had links with brilliant con artists who could prepare fake government documents, and that's where he got a fake circular of the selling of Eiffel Tower in a super secret affair. Pretending to be a French government official, Lustig invited the top businessmen of the scrap metal industry to Hôtel de Crillon, one of the most expensive and royal hotels of Paris then.
"Because of engineering faults, costly repairs, and political problems I cannot discuss, the tearing down of the Eiffel Tower has become mandatory," the tradesmen were notified. The scrap metal of the Eiffel Tower would be sold to the highest bidder, he announced, sending competitive vibes among the businessmen. He asked them to submit their bids the next day and keep this meeting a super secret affair since the French government doesn't want to make this a high-profile case. When the wife of one of the businessmen, Andre Poisson, suspected, he decided to meet Lustig again and discuss the matters. The con man that he was, he asked Poisson for a bribe and vanished with both Poisson's bid money and the bribe.
And soon, Lustig decided to sell the Parisian beauty monument once again. But it wasn't a smooth ride this time.
But the most iconic scam of Lustig was the 'Rumanian money box.' A small box made of cedar wood was claimed to be a money producer using 'Radium' by Lustig. he advertised the money box as a machine which would produce $100 bills once two bills were inserted in it after 6 hours. The machine was bought by many US citizens for a whopping $30,000. And as expected, before the businessmen realized they were cheated, Lustig and his helpers were long gone to some other part of the world.
A counterfeit $5 note prepared by Lustig and his helpers, which would even pass the bank owners like original ones.
After a tiring cat-and-mouse game of the FBI and Lustig, he was finally caught by the Secret Service. But a day before his trial, he escaped the jail using his bedsheet as a rope. When the people started shouting about an escape, he took out a handkerchief out from his pocket and pretended to be a glass cleaner. As expected, he ran away clean before the police could catch him.
The owner of several pseudonames, including Robert V. Miller, died a few days later after being caught again.
'Apprentice Salesman'. That one smooth hell of a con!