Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Countess of Cleveland

This was a great scam I saw on Unsolved Mysteries. A woman showed up one day in Cleveland, Ohio claiming to be a wealthy German Countess who had inherited $45 million from her parents. She wore fancy designer clothes, drove an expensive car, and spoke with a thick German accent. When she expressed an interest in purchasing a fancy restaurant on Lake Erie, the movers and shakers of Cleveland all stood in line to invest in it. The alleged Countess collected over a million dollars from people eager to ingratiate themselves with royalty.

She played the part real well and seemed to take a genuine interest in the new restaurant. But, one month later,when it came time to pay the previous owners, she told them the money hadn't arrived yet. Finally, they told her the deal was off. She then skipped town with over $1 million dollars of the investors' money. The best part of this Unsolved Mysteries episode is at 3:45 when they talk about her use of a cellular phone. This was the 1980's and people didn't have them yet. The phone looks like it's about a foot long and her friends were mesmerized that she had one. Fast forward to today where everyone over age 12 has a cell phone, which can fit into their pockets.

People with a little money love to get close to people with a lot of money. Further investigation revealed she wasn't a Countess at all. It's easy to see why the power brokers of Cleveland were fooled, though. Aristocratic nobleman are known to frequent rust belt cities like Cleveland, Detroit, and Buffalo when they could be jet-setting in Paris or Berlin.

The "Countess" was in fact German, though. German officials told Cleveland officials she had been purporting various scams in Germany since 1966 and was a well known con artist with at least 18 different aliases. Barbara Helda King was apprehended in California a few years later...


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