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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 19.djvu/717

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EDITOR'S TABLE.

about the country for several years, getting a miserable living in precarious ways, and the woman's conduct was at times so "queer" that in 1867 she was sent to the State Lunatic Asylum in Taunton, where she remained two years. In 1875 she was caught in the perpetration of an elaborate set of frauds and sent to Jail, but got out before the expiration of her time through a technical mistake in her indictment.

She is represented as illiterate and in many ways very ignorant, but "she has always been a keen observer, a quick learner, and a shrewd student of human nature. It would be more nearly correct to call her unmoral than immoral; for from her extreme youth she appeared to have a serious constitutional difficulty in discerning the difference between right and wrong, between her own property and her neighbors'. All her thieving has been marked by a grand air of unconsciousness, rather than by eager, covetous greed. Her disposition seems to be somewhat good-natured and generous, and to show a kind of native bonhomie, and at the height of her prosperity as a 'banker' she became very popular with a certain set which was especially rich in mesmerists, fortunetellers, and female physicians of the irregular sort." She has "abundant cunning," "a great natural gift of utterance," "a singularly plausible manner," and to her other accomplishments it must be added that "she is one of the most exuberant, spontaneous, imaginative, and unnecessary liars that ever breathed."

This woman at length planted herself down in Boston as a "banker." When she began, or how she began, is involved in mystery. Her scheme seems to have been copied in its main features from that of a Bavarian swindler—an ex-actress named Adele Spitzeder—"which was operated in Munich from 1869 to 1872, and by which the Bavarians were cheated out of millions of dollars. . . . Both opened banks of deposit, promised preposterous returns of interest, and successfully invited loans of money from the public. Neither had any pecuniary capital or offered any security, the sole and sufficient reliance of each being upon her own impudence and the combined cupidity and credulity of her customers. Each made friends by playing the Lady Bountiful upon occasion, had a mixed party of gulls and knaves committed to her cause, drew herself out of poverty and into luxurious comfort by means of her bank, ended her career in prison, and left assets enough behind her to pay her creditors a dividend of about five per cent." It is significant that the astounding Bavarian fraud had run its course and exploded, and was reported ail over the world seven years before the successful repetition of the experiment was made in Boston.

The main trick of Mrs. Howe was, however, a shrewd improvement upon the Bavarian method. For while Frãulein Spitzeder took deposits from everybody who would make them—high and low, rich and poor, male and female—Mrs. Howe artfully restricted the benefits of her institution to women, and to those, moreover, of small means. No woman owning a house could make a deposit, and no deposits were received less than two hundred dollars, nor more than one thousand dollars. Interest at the rate of eight per cent, per month was paid every three months—that is, twenty-four per cent, quarterly—and the payment was in advance. To the question how it was possible to pay such large interest, the reply was, "We never disclose the methods by which we do business"; "we do not solicit"; "you need not deposit unless you wish"; "we never give references." But, notwithstanding this, it was stated that the "Ladies' Deposit" is a charitable institution for the benefit of single ladies, old and young, of small means, and it was obscurely intimated that the money was intrusted to the