100 year old con man – the Yellow Kid

Found in a sensational crime paperback The Big Con (Pocket Books, NY 1949) a press cutting dated 1975 - the obituary of an amazing conman/ hustler/grifter Joseph Weil (1875-1975). He seems to have been the first to put forth the idea (often mentioned in the TV series Hustle) that 'you can't con an honest man.' It is possible that their  character Albert Stroller (Robert Vaughn) the elderly 'roper' responsible for ensnaring potential marks, is based on Weil. There is an exhaustive profile of Stroller at Wikipedia with no mention of any influences but useful info such as '...he cannot go to Indonesia as he sold the air force some fighter jets in the '70s, and they still haven't arrived.' Weil's comments on bankers are especially prescient..

Joseph (Yellow Kid) Weil, 100, Leading U. S. Trickster in '20s. From Wire Dispatches Chicago, Feb 27- 1975.

 Joseph (Yellow Kid) Weil, 100, the 1920s confidence artist whose con schemes netted him an estimated $8 million, died yesterday in a convalescent home.
 For nearly three years, the fragile little man had been a welfare patient, living out his life on the memories of his heyday, when his canary-yellow gloves, cravats and suits, yellow calling cards and autos, yellowish red hair and golden whiskers made him an international figure.
"If I had to do it all over again, I would be foolish if I didn't," Weil told an interviewer last summer on his 100th birthday
. "I don't feel a day over 70. I still like to look at the ladies and take a sip of wine. I like to listen to the radio, but I'll be damned if I'll play bingo with the rest round here. It's a ripoff."

He said he had spent all his money "in high living and travel," tucking away nothing for his later years.
The son of a saloon keeper in a boisterous, two-fisted Chicago neighborhood, Weil worked as a young con artist in New York and Chicago.

 He had many aliases
 wearing various disguises, he was known as Dr. Henri Reuel, John Bauer, Sir John Ruskin Wellington and Count Ivan Ovarnoff as he swindled his wealthy financiers and industrialists for more than 40 years.
 He "retired" in 1941 after serving 27 months in a federal prison in Atlanta on a mail-fraud charge involving a phony oil-lease scheme.
Weil was a legend in his own time in the elite world of con artists. In his time he:

• Rented office space and hired lesser con men for a "brokerage office" though which he worked a bogus stock swindle for 20 years.

• Staged fake prize fights, seeded "gold mines" and promoted "talking dogs" who, of course, could not.

• Tried to sell Cook Country Hospital for $150,000.

Six Years in jail. 
For his successful life in crime, Weil paid with just six years in jail, although he said he had been arrested 1,001 times.

He liked to remember in his latter years about the good old days, remarking that times were never so ripe for young con men trying to get a start.
 In an interview 10 years ago, Weil looked back on it all with fond recollection and swore, "Each of my victims had larceny in his own heart."
"I never fleeced anyone who could not afford to pay my price for a lesson in honesty. A truly honest man would never have had none of my schemes.
" The bankers are the biggest suckers in the world. They're always looking for an easy dollar. The big businessman or banker get so greedy for a good deal he forgets about safeguards. 
"People are more gullible now than they ever were before in the history of the world. They get angry if you don't take them." 
On his 99th birthday, he said he was tired of being wished many more of them.
"I have been hearing about heaven all my life," he said, "and I want to find out what the place is like."

One thought on “100 year old con man – the Yellow Kid

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