Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Listened: "The Mark Inside" by Amy Reading

Listened: The Mark Inside: A Perfect Swindle, a Cunning Revenge, and a Small History of the Big Con by Amy Reading, 2012 (audio), Overdrive download.

Texas rancher J. Frank Norfleet was conned out of several thousand dollars in 1919 while in Dallas.  Norfleet is ticked off, Norfleet goes after the five man crew that took him.  His chase covers several years, thousands of miles, and most of the country.  Norfleet learns all about con games and con men and runs his own cons numerous times by acting as a ripe sucker for con men.

An interesting book but mainly a recap and analysis of Norwood's own stories.  Norwood became famous in the '20s with numerous news articles, an autobiography, and lecture tours.  Reading accuses Norwood himself of being a bit of a con man because of exaggerations and unsubstantiated claims.

Reading's recap is well written and bulwarked by the author trying to verify Norwood's claims.  Reading is rightly critical and skeptical of Norfleet and points out the exaggerations and apocryphal elaborations.  Reading seems to have done some good research in newspaper libraries and compared different versions of events from multiple print sources and multiple witnesses.  Reading had access to letters from Norfleet and other people  Norfleet lived to over 100 years old and continued to communicate with cops and attorneys he befriended during his hunt.

Norfleet spent a lot of time in Florida, Texas, California, and Colorado in his hunt for the crooks.  Along the way he ran into plenty of crooked cops and politicians.  Norfleet is deputized in Texas at one point and uses that badge to arrest crooks and return them to TX.  He busted other con men he came across.  His life was under threat in several instances and he would pack 2-3 handguns at a time.

Reading interlacing a short history of infamous con men and cons from pre-Revolutionary era to modern day.  The importance of cons and gambling in keeping money moving in early economies.  The con's similarities with gambling, legal speculation on land and commerce, and stock markets. The fact that the con, ,"confidence", is something that crosses legal and illegal endeavors.  "Con" and confidence is faith in an individual's trustworthiness and abilities.  Not faith in company reports, mining tallies, corporate incomes, etc.

A con man's mark builds trust in his mark.  The coining of the phrase con man comes from an early 1800s con man who would pretend to be a stranger's pal in NYC and ask, "Do you have confidence in me to hold your [expensive] watch for a day?" and then never reappear.

1.  The crooks would spend the money as fast as they made it.  When captured they would be indignant.  Sociopaths who believe they did nothing wrong.
2.  The best cons leave the victim never knowing he was conned.  The victim is taking an offer to good too be true but also a little illicit.  The best long con sends the victim home thinking he got off light.  That the victim escaped danger or police.
3.  Norfleet was driven to catch the guys.  He was a physically sturdy and small statured guy that spent years on the range building his purse and slowly acquiring land.  He 54-years-old when taken and often asked why he went after them.  Reading emphasizes one of his last answers to that question, "I had to do it, man."
4.  Great history of turn of the century corruption in Denver.  The city was a hub of con men and crooks whose leader ran the city.  A WWI veteran was barely elected as District Attorney by getting enough suburban votes to beat the city's stuffed ballot boxes.  The new DA played it dumb and slwly built a slam dunk case against the grifters.  Norfleet arrived in town right before the arrests and became involved in the case.

No comments: