Con Artists I Have Known
Bill is the only local El Pasoan on my list. Bill was a magician of fairly decent talent and practiced hypnotism as part of his stage illusion act. He represented himself as an agent and said he could get me bookings.
One day he called me to his office on the pretense of setting me up on his bookings list and then proceeded to sign me up for a life insurance policy. This was to be exchanged for some complimentary bookings he would set up for me, the first one being the next week. I thought I was a little young for life insurance but he assured me that it is never too early to buy life insurance. Don’t worry about the payments, he would make them out of my earnings.
He actually booked me into a show at the Ft. Bliss Enlisted Men’s Service Club. I got my act and sound system together and showed up. Yes, they were expecting me. The place was empty but I set up the stage anyway. Time for the performance and the place was still empty. I heard marching troops outside and right on time Basic Trainees filed into the hall and sat in the same order that they marched in. I did my show and they marched out.
That performance was to pay for my life insurance policy. I was then invited to ‘stooge’ for him at a larger service club where the service men came in civilian clothes. Stooging is helping to facilitate the action when a group of people are called up on the stage for hypnosis demonstrations. It helps the performer to give ‘confidence’ to the rest of the group that something special is happening. The audience is impressed with how fast the performer gains control.
Stooging is also used for pick-pocket routines when really impossible things seem to happen on stage like pulling a man’s underwear off while he is still wearing his pants. At this performance, Eddie (Edwina) Cotterel, voted most beautiful girl from Ysleta class of ‘52, was his female assistant.
In all the work I did for Bill I never got paid and the insurance bills came and I defaulted and then Bill went to California with Eddie. I heard they got married but when he came back she was not with him.
He came back as an undercover police officer. At least that is what he said. I guess it was so because I saw him hustle some guy out of a local coffee house protesting that Bill was trying to get even because they had dated the same girl. “What do you want to see my ID for? You know who I am.”
I believed the guy because I could see that Bill had become a bully.
As a bully he became an ideal jailer; which is what happened when he lost his job as a police officer. But, he became an embarrassment to the county and was ousted from that job with a lot of publicity on his bad behavior.
I think Bill was seduced by his ability to fool people on stage and it just got the best of him. I felt really sorry for Eddie. She was a very sweet and talented girl.
The Human Pincushion
He may have had a name, but it doesn’t matter now. I met him in the park where the alligators are in downtown El Paso.
I was rolling silver pesos on my knuckles to keep my fingers agile and he recognized a fellow magician. He challenged me to a magic duel and we began to perform for each other. Of course, he had no coins of his own so he borrowed mine.
“What kind of coins are these? They are heavier than half dollars.”
In those days the peso was worth about a dime and the silver in the coin was worth more than the spending value. I was a poor high school kid and they were perfect for ‘palming’ coins.
We talked about misdirection. “You want to see misdirection?” he said. “Do you have any dimes? The more, the better.”
I had ten dimes.
He stacked the ten dimes and made the usual magicians move and thrust his hand forward. I didn’t hear the dimes clink. Then he opened his hand and yes, it was empty, and then the other hand. Wait a minute! “Say, that was good. Where are they?”
“Watch.” And then he moved his hand under his chin and began to spit the dimes out of his mouth one at a time. Then he showed me how to do it. I learned a little more about misdirection.
He wanted to borrow my pesos to show some friends. Borrow?
“Let me show you where I work and what I do.” He took me around the corner to a store front kitty-corner from the Plaza Theatre and there was a new sign. “The World Museum, See the Viking Giant, Sammy the Seal, the Elephant Man and the Human Pincushion”
“Come on in and be my guest, the show is just about to begin.”
I saw a man swallow live rats and bring them back up. He could swallow a whole orange. The Viking Giant was huge and he wore a tall domed hat with horns. And then my host got on the stage and sewed a button to his belly and pinned up his socks with safety pins.
The pesos? Forgedaboudit.
Ralph Lyndall Lewis
Ralph was the most talented salesman I have ever met.
I answered an advertisement for a photographer who had his own Rolleiflex camera and strobe flash, and went to an established studio for an interview.
I had purchased my first serious camera from a GI who needed some cash and didn’t know what to do with a fine German camera. I was also in the service and it was just after my divorce and I was looking for something to do with my leave time.
Ralph Lewis’s plan was to sell coupons for an 8x10 photograph for $1.99. Photographers were scheduled to come to the home and take a roll of 120 film for each family. Then a proof passer would show the prints developed by a local processor and take orders for pictures. The average order per house was about $50 and some orders were over $100; which was good business for El Paso.
The photo business depends very heavily that the proof passer can generate a lot of business from having enough good negatives to make a profit.
The coupon person gets to keep the first dollar. The film costs about a dollar and the photo studio pays the photographer either a fixed amount or a percentage of the order.
It was getting close to Christmas and business looked like it was going to go through the roof. Then Ralph called and said, “I want you to be able to be with your family on Christmas Day, but I have this great opportunity to photograph a wealthy family on Christmas morning. May I borrow your camera? Yours seems to be the best one of all the photographers and I would trust its reliability, having seen your work.”
I was flattered.
A couple of days later I called his number. It was a motel across from Ascarate Park on Highway 80. “Mr. Lewis is gone. We haven’t seen him for a few days. Let me know if you know where he is. He seems to have skipped.” I started to panic. I loved that camera.
I called the studio. They didn’t know where he was and the sample proof kits were gone. I called the police and expressed my fears. Then the FBI called back with some questions. It seems that Ralph’s best proof passer was abandoned at a liquor store in Dallas with no baggage, shoes, or ID, who claimed that Ralph tricked him into going in for some change and then drove away.
The FBI said that this was as close as they had ever been to him and he was wanted on 21 counts in six states. He usually sold freezers full of frozen steaks and had finished up in Arizona just a month before. He was driving a car that was being test driven from a local car dealer. He was using his own name now but listed a string of aliases he had used before. His home base was Macon, Georgia and they thought he was headed there. I didn’t have much information to add.
The photo studio said they were stuck with $6,000 worth of work to deliver but the money had already been collected and was not turned over.
Ralph was now set up to be in the photo business with my camera and some other’s, proof sets, and one successful training session for himself.
Here is a man with organization, sales ability, and talent who thrives on the con. He could be very successful as an honest man. It must be for the thrill that he does what he does. I’ll watch out for that in the future.
Robert Boutillier represents a number people who came on the scene at the same time, and because that is not his real name in the first place I can make up all the names because I’ve forgotten the others. Having set the record straight, I shall now set the scene.
In 1977, before Mayor Moscone was shot and Diane Feinstein became Mayor, the Godfather of San Francisco; who was the largest landlord in the country, Angelo San Giacomo; decided to raise the rent in San Francisco by about 40%. Since he controlled about 50% of the apartment rentals in the city, this meant that people who could not afford the new rent had nowhere else to go because of supply and demand. All the other apartments went up in price and there were none to be had anyway. Everyone was panicked.
Action committees were being formed in the lobbies of apartments, the TV news teams went out at random and put people on the air, and people began looking around for leadership. I was in the thick of things and met the President of Amnesty International who had an apartment at 2000 Broadway on the penthouse level. We formed a core group to strategize and investigate the possibilities.
At one of our larger public meetings, a number of attorneys volunteered their services and influence for the cause. They then asked to attend our steering meetings until we could decide how to use them. Before we realized it, Robert Boutillier began to solicit Supervisor Louise Renne to come to neighborhood meetings. Each board member represented a group of neighborhoods so any neighborhood had only one supervisor that would make calls in the area. In later years, Louise would become City Attorney.
One of the attorneys, Calvin Klein, I will call him, said to me, “That Boutillier guy is a phony, that’s not even his real name, he is a shoe salesman downtown. He made up his name. Boutillier is French for shoe salesman. He’s not an attorney, I should know.” I could already tell that, but it was nice to have confirmation.
The President of Amnesty International gave me a copy of Calvin Klein’s petition to the Board of Supervisors for a rent freeze to delay the panic in the city and asked me what I thought. “I think the man is illiterate. He gets an ‘F’ on this paper.” I said. “We need a real attorney.”
She found a real attorney, a whole office of them, and started a class action suit against Trinity Properties AKA. Angelo San Giacomo, the Godfather. I was named as the class action representative. After a year, Trinity settled with all his tenants, and I got my $25 non-refundable deposit back; but I felt I had a target on my back the whole time.
The renters of San Francisco also got a form of rent control that covers everyone who stays put but as soon an apartment is vacant, it then goes for whatever the market will bear.
We also found out that the luxury high rise at 2000 Broadway with the swimming pool on the roof was financed by HUD as low income housing and was already getting triple the HUD limit before the rent raise.
About six months later, a Perry Mason type drama erupted in Superior Court when the Judge asked the attorney Calvin Klein to come to the bench and there were two men who came forward. They both actually had the same name but the man from Los Angeles was the one who was a member of the bar. Our local attorney was a fraud.
Ralph Harland Byrd was a distinguished looking black man who wore very expensive suits and drove very expensive automobiles and was hired by Bank of America to head up the new office automation projects to replace the Wang word processors.
He had apparently been a consultant within IBM and had also worked with Xerox corporation as a Senior Scientist.
He spoke with great authority and dignity and with an affectation that bordered on British royalty.
My first thoughts about him were, “How did this con man get into the Bank of America?”
In the first hour of his arrival, he engaged the attention of my friend, 6’2” Lynne Lightowler.
Ralph began to form relationships and hold closed door meetings with a lot of people in the bank, but mostly with women.
Many vendors began calling on Ralph, and soon computer equipment began to arrive, and engineers were put to work analyzing and exercising the new toys. The vendors always took Ralph to lunch and sometimes others were allowed to partake.
I must explain that Bank of America was one of the most straight arrow, eagle scout, incorruptible companies to deal with. No equipment was allowed to be installed in the bank without a purchase order or use agreement and I could see a serious breach of protocol with the arrival of Ralph.
Now, Lynne Lightowler was one of my tall lady friends and we chatted about a lot of intimate things. After talking a little about Ralph, she began to close down a part of her life. I was living with Eva and she and Eva began to have confidences; which according to my open door philosophy was a good and healthy thing.
Soon, I was aware that there was something happening between Lynne and Ralph. But, I kept seeing Ralph having tête-à-tête meals with other female managers in the cafes and bistros of San Francisco, so I thought their relationship was casual.
Lynne began to look stressed out and unhappy and she began to need more contact with Eva. Then I began to realize that Lynne and Eva were involved with something clandestine. I tried to get Eva to reveal the problem but it was not until the day that Eva warned me not to be surprised when she showed up at my office that I learned that Eva would be serving Ralph with divorce/annulment papers.
The ensuing investigations that were to reveal some of Ralph’s other current marriages and dalliances also began to pry into the background and real identities that Ralph had. He had a wife in St. Louis and a wife of sorts in San Francisco, although it was suspected the person was a transsexual of some sort. He had never worked for IBM or Xerox and other than the alleged wife in St Louis there was no history of the man.
Lynne was torn between the shame of secrecy and her own job survival. She had never lived with Ralph. He had his place and she had hers. Their sex life was very strange and their relationship was totally secret. She had been conned.
And how about the bank? They were totally conned. The computer vendors were totally conned. One computer vendor thought they had a buy in from Bank of America and were leveraging their investors to extend credit on their soon to go public startup companies.
Frank Gateway, the manager who brought Ralph in was blindsided by the exposure and a number of female harassment/discrimination suites were filed against the bank.
Ralph disappeared and never appeared in court on any issue. Frank Gateway, who I thought was a very good likable man, was left holding the bag on all the legal actions and was relieved from his management post. He had a contract that could have been revoked by the bank but he was given an office in the data center with no responsibilities and a subscription to the Wall Street Journal. My good friend Cliff said he saw Frank on occasion in the company cafeteria in the data center, but he always sat alone. After about a year, Frank Gateway was gone.
Lynne left the bank and went to work for an insurance company in Novato, north of San Francisco. She sent us annual Wallace silver Christmas bells for many years and then we lost track.
Ralph had ruined some nice people.