Posts Tagged ‘notorious New York crimes’

An 1880s swindler who preyed on New York men

April 26, 2012

“How can hard-headed business men of caution and experience be victimized by women who lack the first elements of female charm?”

That’s the question posed in a May 1923 New York Times article about notorious 19th century swindler Bertha Heyman, whose picture “is one of the least attractive in the police records of that day.”

Heyman, dubbed the Confidence Queen in the 1880s, came New York after immigrating from Prussia in 1878.

Her scheme was the one fraudsters use today: She’d claim to be a wealthy woman who was blocked from accessing her estate. (Nigerian internet scams, anyone?)

The men would advance her money in return for a cut of her fortune—and she’d take off.

Heyman, who stayed at the finest hotels and boasted of having A-list friends, had a knack for picking rubes.

After getting hundreds and in some cases thousands of dollars from several men, she was convicted of obtaining $500 on false pretenses and sentenced to prison on Blackwell’s Island.

But even there, she didn’t stop: She convinced another male New Yorker to fork over his $900 life savings.

What’s so fascinating isn’t how she pulled the wool over the eyes of so many guys but that she later said she didn’t do it for the money—it was the sheer enjoyment of tricking someone.

“The moment I discover a man’s a fool I let him drop, but I delight in getting into the confidence and pockets of men who think they can’t be ‘skinned,'” she told The Times in an 1883 article. “It ministers to my intellectual pride.”

[top photo: a tobacco card of Bertha from 1888]

The 1980s model slashed by her spurned landlord

February 20, 2012

It was one of those brutal, senseless crimes that rallied all of New York, dominating the media for years.

Marla Hanson was a struggling 24-year-old model who lived at 433 West 34th Street. She’d rented her $600 apartment from Steven Roth, a TV makeup artist who at some point made crude sexual advances toward her—which she spurned.

Apparently upset by the rejection, and the fact that Hanson was moving out and wanted her security deposit back, Roth hired two thugs to cut her face.

On June 5, 1986, while standing outside her building arguing with Roth, the goons approached her. One held her head while the other ran a razor blade over her from cheek to cheek.

“Every corner of her face was slashed; the muscles that controlled her smile were severed, half her nose skinned,” reported People in 1987.

It took 150 stitches to close the wounds, and she was left with an S-shaped scar from her right cheek to the corner of her mouth.

In 1987, Roth and the thugs all got 5 to 15 years in prison for the attack. Her modeling career over, Hanson became a screenwriter and victims’ advocate.

She didn’t have to worry so much about money though. Philanthropist Milton Petrie, touched by Hanson’s ordeal, provided her with $20,000 a year for the rest of her life.

[Top photo: Marla Hanson with then-boyfriend Jay McInerney in 1990; bottom, her apartment building on 34th Street, the scene of the slashing, from cityrealty.com]