The Scheme to Hook Up a King With the Wasp Woman and Other Wild Plans

The Scheme to Hook Up a King With the Wasp Woman and Other Wild Plans

Khalid Elhassan - August 31, 2020

History has no shortage of eyebrow-raising schemes, whether by those on the wrong side of the law, or by lawful authorities. Take the CIA scheme to arrange an affair between a Muslim king and a Jewish actress, that produced a dwarf. That wasn’t even the weirdest part of the story. Or the scheme concocted by an eighteenth-century London crook who feigned reform, joined the forces of law and order – and used them to transform himself into Britain’s biggest criminal. Following are forty things about those and other schemes and scams that seem far-fetched, but were all too true.

The Scheme to Hook Up a King With the Wasp Woman and Other Wild Plans
King Hussein in 1953. Pintrest

40. The CIA Scheme to Pimp For a King

Jordan’s King Hussein witnessed the assassination of his grandfather, King Abdullah, in 1952, when he was seventeen. He ascended the throne the following year after his schizophrenic father, King Talal, was deposed in 1953. The young monarch struck the US as a potential ally, so when he headed to America in 1959 on a state visit, officials went out of their way to make his visit as satisfying as possible.

The king requested “female companionship” during his visit, so the CIA turned to reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes’ right-hand man, former FBI agent Robert Maheu. Maheu was already a CIA contact, the Agency has turned to him to connect them with mafia figures to help with clandestine efforts to assassinate Fidel Castro. When the CIA turned to him for pimping help, Maheu did not disappoint: he came up with a scheme to hook up the visiting royal with an actress.

The Scheme to Hook Up a King With the Wasp Woman and Other Wild Plans
‘The Wasp Woman’ poster. Vintage Movie Posters

39. The Scheme to Hook Up a King With the Wasp Woman

A declassified CIA memo shows that the Agency used Robert Maheu to find the 23-year-old visiting King Hussein “female companionship” in April 1959, during his visit to Los Angeles. Referring to the king as a “foreign official”, the memo stated: “The foreign official was especially desirous of female companionship during his Los Angeles visit and it was requested that appropriate arrangements be made through a controlled source of the [CIA’s] Office [of Security] in order to assure a satisfied visit“.

Jordan’s monarchy not being exactly top-shelf or A-list royalty, Maheu could not get any top-shelf A-list actresses to entertain King Hussein. With the Marilyn Monroe types unavailable, Maheu had to adjust his scheme, worked his way down to the B-list. He came up with Susan Cabot, a 1950s B-movie actress who had starred in low budge Roger Corman flicks such as The Wasp Woman, in which she transforms into a deadly wasp.

The Scheme to Hook Up a King With the Wasp Woman and Other Wild Plans
Susan Cabot and King Hussein. Veja

38. “We Want You To Go To Bed With Him

According to the declassified CIA memo, the scheme called for Susan Cabot to meet King Hussein at a Los Angeles party thrown by Edwin Pauley, a rich oilman and friend of Howard Hughes. Cabot was bluntly told before heading to the party: “We want you to go to bed with him“.

As she put it later, Cabot initially declined, but finally agreed to go to the party. There, the memo continued: “She became quite taken with [King Hussein] and found him to be most charming“.

The Scheme to Hook Up a King With the Wasp Woman and Other Wild Plans
Susan Cabot. Memorias Cinematographicas

37. Hitting It Off

King Hussein and Susan Cabot met on April 9th, 1959. There were doubts at the time that the scheme might go awry because of Cabot’s Jewish heritage – she was born Harriet Shapiro. Fears that Cabot’s background might prove problematic for the Muslim monarch were quickly dispelled: Hussein was smitten.

According to a CIA memo, he got along so well with Cabot that when he left LA for the East Coast, the king: “wished to meet with her during his stay in New York City from 14 through 18 April“. So the CIA rented Hussein a house in Long Beach, Long Island, and registered Cabot in Manhattan’s Barclay Hotel “under an assumed name“.

The Scheme to Hook Up a King With the Wasp Woman and Other Wild Plans
King Hussein and Susan Cabot. Haaretz

36. A Star-Crossed Love Affair

The scheme to hook up Jordan’s king with Susan Cabot evolved into more than a temporary fling, and led to a star-crossed affair between the Muslim monarch and the Jewish actress. From the start, the CIA’s matchmaking scheme was a sensitive matter. As hard as the duo tried to keep the relationship a secret, details began to leak out.

According to the declassified CIA memo: “During the stay at the Long Beach site, [Cabot] discussed the publicity in the case at some length with the Security representatives … She speculated about the possible sources of certain personal information that she felt had been leaked to the press“.

The Scheme to Hook Up a King With the Wasp Woman and Other Wild Plans
King Hussein meeting President Gerald Ford in 1976. Wikimedia

35. A Royal Love Child

King Hussein continued to meet in secret with Susan Cabot whenever the Jordanian monarch visited America, until the affair ended in the 1970s. By then, however, in 1964, Cabot had given birth to her only child, Timothy. He was long rumored to be Hussein’s illegitimate son.

The rumors about Timothy’s true father were buttressed by the fact that Hussein regularly paid Cabot what seems remarkably like child support. As one of Timothy’s lawyers put it in court papers in 1989: “For as long as I can discover, [Cabot] received a regular sum of $1,500 a month from the Keeper of the King’s Purse, Amman, Jordan. … For better or worse, it looks like child support“.

The Scheme to Hook Up a King With the Wasp Woman and Other Wild Plans
Susan Cabot. Waldina

34. A Troubled Family

Unfortunately, the CIA’s scheme to play Cupid did not lead to a happy ending. Susan Cabot grew mentally ill in the 1980s, and became a recluse. Her son, Timothy, who was born with dwarfism, inherited mental issues from both his mother and father – his grandfather, King Talal, had been deposed because he was schizophrenic. Timothy’s mental problems were worsened by growing up in a dysfunctional home with a mother who raised him in squalor.

The kid grew up in a decaying Encino estate, surrounded by rotting food and stacks of ancient newspapers, guarded by a semi-feral Akita. Things were further exacerbated by Cabot’s ill-advised decision to treat her son’s dwarfism with experimental hormones extracted from the pituitary glands of dead people. The treatment, which was discontinued in the 1980s after it was discovered that it gave some patients a degenerative brain disease, did not cure Timothy of dwarfism. Instead, it might have left him with lifelong severe mood swings.

The Scheme to Hook Up a King With the Wasp Woman and Other Wild Plans
Timothy in custody, awaiting trial. The Times

33. A Tragic End

Susan Cabot came to a tragic end on December 10th, 1986, when she was found beaten to death with a dumbbell. Her son Timothy told police that a stranger in a ninja mask had broken into the house, knocked him unconscious, then murdered his mother.

Police and the District Attorney disagreed, and charged Timothy with killing his mother during an argument. He eventually pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, raising his dysfunctional upbringing as a defense. In 1989, he was convicted of involuntary manslaughter. Having already served two and a half years behind bars awaiting trial, he was sentenced to three years probation. He died of heart failure in 2003.

The Scheme to Hook Up a King With the Wasp Woman and Other Wild Plans
A detective. La Brujula Verde

32. A Detective Who “Recovered” Items He Had Stolen

William Chaloner (1650 – 1699) led an interesting and interestingly crooked life that few can match. The son of a Warwickshire weaver, he was a willful child who showed no interest in the family trade. So his exasperated father sent him to apprentice to a nail maker in Birmingham. Chaloner had no interest in it that line of work, either. However, he did get drawn to another type of metalwork that Birmingham was famous for at the time: counterfeiting coins. He took to that scheme like a duck to water, and soon gained expertise in producing fake groats – a coin worth four pence.

Chaloner headed to London in the 1680s, and began selling dildos. He also got started on a new career as a psychic and a quack doctor selling fake miracle cures. In addition, he gained a reputation as a particularly successful detective, with a keen nose for finding and recovering stolen items. That success probably had something to do with the fact that Chaloner had stolen those items himself, before offering to “find them” in exchange for a reward.

The Scheme to Hook Up a King With the Wasp Woman and Other Wild Plans
A 1690s French pistole. Pintrest

31. From Penny Ante to Big Time

Chaloner eventually tired of small-time penny ante scams, and decided to get into something far more lucrative: go back to counterfeiting. This time, however, he would do it on an industrial scale. Around 1690, Chaloner resumed counterfeiting, but his days of cloning four penny groats were over. Now, he upgraded his scheme to focus on higher-value coins such as English guineas, and French pistoles, worth about 17 shillings.

Chaloner established a well-oiled counterfeiting ring that produced fake coins in quantity. He combined that with an efficient distribution system to pass them on to contacts in the underworld for circulation. Before long, Chaloner had transformed himself into a wealthy. So he expanded operations by purchasing a nice house in the countryside, where the noise of his coining machines would not attract attention.

The Scheme to Hook Up a King With the Wasp Woman and Other Wild Plans
Dover Castle. Pintrest

30. The Scheme to “Bubble the Government

Chaloner added a new scheme to his repertoire in 1693, and became an anti-Jacobite agent provocateur. The Jacobites – supporters of the recently dethroned King James II – were trying to restore James. Chaloner feigned sympathy for their cause, drew them out into treasonous activity, then snitched on them to the authorities for a generous reward. In one instance, he collected 1000 pounds – a small fortune – for setting up two Jacobite patsies, who were executed.

Then Chaloner figured that instead of wasting time trying to find Jacobite conspiracies and conspirators, it was easier to simply invent them. In 1693, he informed the authorities that he had discovered a Jacobite plot to seize Dover Castle, and offered to infiltrate the network. He told an accomplice that if he followed his lead: “they would bubble the government, who were the easiest to be cheated of any men in the world“. The Dover Castle scheme did not pan out, so Chaloner came up with another: he gave the authorities with a fake list of Jacobites, and got them to hire him to investigate them.

The Scheme to Hook Up a King With the Wasp Woman and Other Wild Plans
The arrest of Sir John Fenwick, an English Jacobite conspirator. Age Photo Stock

29. Setting Up Patsies

In one of Chaloner’s agent provocateur scams, he got an accomplice named Coppinger to write a treasonous Jacobite satire. The scheme was to use that to ensnare a printer into printing it. Then Chaloner could make a beeline for the authorities and turn in the printer, now guilty of printing illegal Jacobite materials, in exchange for a generous reward.

There being little honor among thieves, however, Chaloner’s accomplice tried to hog the entire reward for himself by getting Chaloner out of the way. Coppinger snitched on Chaloner’s counterfeiting scheme, and had him sent to Newgate Prison. However, Chaloner managed to talk his way out of it. He even turned the tables on his erstwhile accomplice, and got Coppinger hanged for writing the Jacobite satire.

The Scheme to Hook Up a King With the Wasp Woman and Other Wild Plans
‘Sealing of the Bank of England Charter, 1694’, by Lady Jane Lindsay, 1905. Wikimedia

28. Going After the Bank of England

Chaloner’s next scheme targeted the newly established Bank of England, which had introduced new £100 banknotes in 1695. Chaloner got his hands on a stock of the right kind of paper, and began churning out £100 notes. He was caught, but he got away on a legal technicality. Astonishingly, although counterfeiting coins had long been a capital offense, forging banknotes did not make it into the statute book as a crime until 1697.

Chaloner immediately turned King’s Evidence (state’s witness), and snitched on his accomplices to curry favor. He did such a good job snitching that he received formal thanks from the Bank of England, and a £200 reward. He also got to keep all the profits he had made from his earlier £100 bank note forgeries.

The Scheme to Hook Up a King With the Wasp Woman and Other Wild Plans
Sir Isaac Newton. History

27. Isaac Newton: Crime Buster

William Chaloner’s criminal career was going great, but unbeknownst to him, he had acquired a relentless new nemesis: Sir Isaac Newton. The famous scientist was appointed Master of the Mint – a position intended as a sinecure. However, Newton took the job seriously. He zeroed in on Chaloner, and devoted himself to building an airtight case against him.

Having one of mankind’s greatest geniuses devote himself to bringing you down is bad news for anybody, and so it was for Chaloner. Newton used a network of spies, informants, and investigators, who raked through Chaloner’s past to dig up dirt. They found plenty. Sir Isaac then had Chaloner tried before a hanging judge. The judge lived up to his reputation, and after Chaloner was found guilty, he was sentenced to hang. William Chaloner was unable to come up with another scheme to save his neck this time. He met his end on March 22nd, 1699, at the end of a noose on the gallows at Tyburn.

The Scheme to Hook Up a King With the Wasp Woman and Other Wild Plans
Nelson Hunt. O Explorador

26. The Silver Scheme

The East Texas Oil Field is one of the world’s biggest oil deposits, and it made H. L. Hunt (1889 – 1974), who controlled much of it, one of the world’s wealthiest men. His sons Nelson, William, and Lamar – the last a founder of the American Football League and Major League Soccer – were also super-rich. Especially Nelson, who made a killing drilling for oil in Libya.

Nelson Hunt was a paranoid crackpot, however, who feared that the US government was conspiring to steal his wealth. In order to protect his fortune, he concocted a scheme to buy a whole lot of silver, and hoard it in Switzerland. Then he decided to buy all the silver, and persuaded his brothers to join him in a bid to corner the world’s silver market. By 1979, the Hunt brothers owned about half the world’s transportable supply of silver. Then their scheme backfired in spectacular fashion.

The Scheme to Hook Up a King With the Wasp Woman and Other Wild Plans
Silver prices and the 1979 spike caused by the Hunts’ silver speculation. Wikimedia

25. Rocketing Silver Prices

In the 1970s, Nelson Hunt and his brothers went on a gargantuan silver buying spree. When they ran out of money, they borrowed heavily to buy yet more silver. By 1979, they had accumulated about 100 million troy ounces – almost 7 million pounds – of the stuff. That was almost half the world’s transportable supply of silver.

That Hunt brothers’ speculation scheme caused silver prices to rocket over 800%, from $6 an ounce in early 1979, to over $50 by early 1980. That made them about $4 billion in paper profits, and if they could have, they would have been wise to take the money and run. The hiccup was that they had created a huge asset bubble, that was bound to burst sooner or later. Selling off their silver stocks would have burst the bubble sooner rather than later.

The Scheme to Hook Up a King With the Wasp Woman and Other Wild Plans
Silver ingots. 123 RF

24. A Global Silver Craze

The Hunt brothers’ scheme created a global silver craze. As silver prices doubled, trebled, quadrupled, and kept on rising, people around the world began melting silverware. Thieves went on a silver stealing spree. Tiffany’s ran ads attacking the Hunt brothers’ speculation for making silver unaffordable to consumers.

The Hunt brothers ended up creating a bubble market for silver. It was a bubble in which the Hunts themselves, as the world’s biggest hoarders of silver, were most at risk. Then the Federal Reserve, whose mission includes averting such bubbles, stepped in and issued a rule specifically targeted the Hunts. It banned banks from lending to precious metal speculators. The result was a swift bursting of the bubble.

The Scheme to Hook Up a King With the Wasp Woman and Other Wild Plans
Bursting of the silver bubble. New York Times

23. Collapsed Scheme Bursts the Silver Bubble

March 27th, 1980, was the day of reckoning for the Hunt brothers. That day, which came to be known as “Silver Thursday”, saw their silver speculation scheme collapse. Prices took a nosedive, and the Hunts almost immediately lost over a billion dollars.

The Hunt family fortune survived, however, and the brothers pledged most of it as collateral for a rescue loan package. Unfortunately for them, the value of their family assets declined steadily throughout the 1980s. By 1985, their net wealth had dipped from over $5 billion just before Silver Thursday, to less than a billion. Then things got worse, especially for the genius behind the silver hoarding scheme, Nelson Hunt.

The Scheme to Hook Up a King With the Wasp Woman and Other Wild Plans
The Hunt brothers, left to right, William, Lamar, and Nelson. NY Daily News

22. From Plutocrat to Pauper

Throughout much of the 1980s, the Hunt brothers managed to hang on. However, their luck finally ran out in 1988 when the consequences of their collapsed scheme caught up with them. That year, they lost a lawsuit accusing them of conspiracy related to their silver speculation, and were hit with hundreds of millions in liability and fines.

Nelson Hunt was the hardest hit, and he ended up breaking the record for the biggest personal bankruptcy in America’s history. His assets were seized and sold to satisfy creditors, including his oil fields, house, bowling alley, and a $12 million coin collection.

Related: Historical Figures with Unforeseen Downfall and Misfortune.

The Scheme to Hook Up a King With the Wasp Woman and Other Wild Plans
The first bridge of the Mississippi River in Minneapolis. Minneapolis Historical Society

21. The Fake Lord

Nineteenth-century con artist Lord Gordon-Gordon was no lord. However, he successfully used that aristocratic title to gain entry to upper society circles, and con large sums from the unwary rich. His real name and identity are unknown, but he first appears in the record in 1868, when he posed as a “Lord Glencairn” as part of a scheme to secure an estate in Scotland. He did not get the estate, but he did get £25,000 from some London jewelers before fleeing to the US.

He ended up in Minnesota, where he made a splash, presenting himself at the National Exchange Bank of Minneapolis, sharply dressed in patent leather and a silk hat, as Lord Gordon-Gordon. He deposited several thousand pounds from his London loot, and in subsequent days and weeks, he let it be known that he was heir to the earls of Gordon, and a collateral relative of the romantic poet Lord Byron. It was the start of his next scheme.

The Scheme to Hook Up a King With the Wasp Woman and Other Wild Plans
Lord Gordon-Gordon. Wikimedia

20. A Minneapolis Society Star

In the summer of 1871, Minneapolis was a small but bustling city, with about 20,000. Not that many European aristocrats made their way there, so Lord Gordon-Gordon became an instant celebrity, courted by all who mattered. He was showered with dinner invitations from the city’s elites, and rubbed shoulders with the rich and well-heeled at elaborate picnics in nearby Minnetonka.

Gordon-Gordon had placed himself in the perfect environment for his next scheme. While taking Minneapolis society by storm, the recently arrived aristocrat crossed paths with Colonel James Loomis, Land Commissioner of the Northern Pacific Railroad. Loomis and his employer were destined to become the British scammer’s next marks.

The Scheme to Hook Up a King With the Wasp Woman and Other Wild Plans
Northern Pacific Railroad land grant. Library of Congress

19. The Scheme That Took a Railroad For a Ride

Lord Gordon-Gordon told the Northern Pacific Railroad’s Land Commissioner, James Loomis, that he was in the market for huge tracts of land. As Gordon-Gordon explained, he needed many acres in order to relocate many of his tenants from overcrowded estates back in Scotland. Huge tracts of land being exactly what the Northern Pacific wanted to sell at the time, in order to raise funds to expand their line, Loomis and his employer were all ears.

The Northern Pacific invited Gordon-Gordon on an all-expense-paid tour of their land. In the belief that he was ready to invest millions, the railroad put him in first-class hotels, hired him a personal staff, including a secretary and valet, and generously handed him money for extra expenses. All in all, the Northern Pacific ended up spending about $45,000 – serious money at the time – courting the Scottish Lord in order to secure him as a client. Gordon-Gordon wrapped up his Minnesota scheme in 1872, when he told his generous hosts that he needed to head east. As he explained it, he needed to arrange the massive money transfers necessary to buy all that land from the Northern Pacific. He never came back.

The Scheme to Hook Up a King With the Wasp Woman and Other Wild Plans
The nineteenth century Erie Railroad War. Pintrest

18. Scamming a Tycoon

The next – and most famous – victim of a Lord Gordon-Gordon scheme was Gilded Age railroad tycoon and robber baron Jay Gould. After leaving Minnesota in 1872, His Lordship convinced Gould that he controlled over 600,000 shares in the Erie Railway. Gould was in a desperate fight with other tycoons to gain control of the Erie Railway. So he bribed Lord Gordon-Gordon with $200,000 in cash and $1 million in stock to assign him those shares.

By the time Gould realized that he had been hoodwinked, Gordon-Gordon had sold the stock. The fake lord was put on trial in 1873, but he got the court to grant him bail. Once out from behind bars, he promptly skipped bail and went on the lam.

The Scheme to Hook Up a King With the Wasp Woman and Other Wild Plans
Jay Gould. University of Virginia

17. Hiding From an Angry Tycoon

After jumping bail, the fake Lord Gordon-Gordon seemingly fell off the map, his whereabouts unknown. Jay Gould offered a $25,000 reward for the arrest of His Lordship, and eventually, learned that the conman was living in Manitoba, Canada. Gould tried to get him extradited to the US, but Gordon-Gordon convinced the Canadian authorities that the charges against him were false.

The Canadian authorities’ reluctance to extradite His Lordship was helped by his offer to buy large tracts of Manitoba – an investment that promised to bring great prosperity to Canada. Unfortunately for the Canadians, the offer was just one more scheme from the fake aristocrat’s ever-fertile mind.

The Scheme to Hook Up a King With the Wasp Woman and Other Wild Plans
Contemporary cartoon decrying Jay Gould’s power and abuse thereof. Wikimedia

16. A Tycoon’s Scheme to Kidnap Scammer Almost Triggered a War With Canada

Jay Gould was understandably ticked off at the Canadian authorities’ refusal to extradite Lord Gordon-Gordon. Being a tycoon with nearly unlimited resources, he decided to take matters into his own hands. He financed a Minnesota posse that crossed the border into Canada, and kidnapped Gordon-Gordon off his front porch in Manitoba. The extralegal extradition failed, however, when the kidnappers were stopped at the border, arrested, and thrown into a Canadian jail.

The result was an international incident, with American newspapers urging an invasion of Canada to free the Minnesota kidnappers. Eventually, things simmered down, the Americans were released through diplomacy, and Lord Gordon-Gordon settled down to enjoy his loot. Then in 1874, he was finally identified as the “Lord Glencairn” who had fleeced some London jewelers in 1868 for £25,000. As the Canadian authorities moved to deport him to Britain, Lord Gordon-Gordon, realized that it was all over. Not wishing to spend the rest of his life behind bars, he hosted a farewell party in his hotel room, then shot himself on August 1st, 1874.

Related: 10 Historic Con Artists.

The Scheme to Hook Up a King With the Wasp Woman and Other Wild Plans
Jonathan Wilde. Imgur

15. The Eighteenth Century Criminal Kingpin

Eighteenth-century English master criminal Jonathan Wilde (1682 – 1725) reigned over an underground kingdom of thieves and highwaymen. He ran far-flung extortion racked, and was Britain’s biggest fence for stolen goods. After he feigned reform, the authorities turned to Wilde, gave him the title “Thief-Taker”, and set him loose on the criminals running amok and terrorizing London at the time.

Wilde took to his new job and title with a passion. He formed highly effective teams of thief catchers who fell upon crooks with a will, breaking up gangs and sending criminals to the gallows by the dozen. During Wilde’s thief-catching career, at least 120 people were hanged based on his testimony and information that he furnished the authorities. What the authorities did not know was that Wilde had not reformed. Instead, he was using them as part of a cynical scheme to make himself an even bigger criminal kingpin.

The Scheme to Hook Up a King With the Wasp Woman and Other Wild Plans
Ticket to the hanging of Jonathan Wilde at Tyburn. Wikimedia

14. The Scheme of a Fox Guarding the Henhouse

In addition to his position as “Thief Taker”, Jonathan Wilde also set up a side business as a private detective, recovering stolen goods for a fee. He failed to inform his clients that it was his thieves who had stolen their goods in the first place, and that “recovery” simply came down to Wilde sifting through his warehouses of stolen property. Far from having reformed, Wilde had hoodwinked everybody. Double-crossing the authorities, Wilde made himself England’s biggest crime boss, ridding himself of competitors by delivering them to the gallows.

Indeed, the very term “double-cross” owes its origins to Wilde: he kept a ledger in which two crosses were placed next to the names of those who ran afoul of him. Wilde was finally brought down when a criminal whom he had double-crossed accused him of fencing stolen goods. An investigation confirmed the accusation, and Wilde was arrested. Many of his underlings then turned crown evidence against him, until his whole scheme of simultaneously being England’s greatest crime fighter and greatest criminal came out. After a swift trial that ended with a guilty verdict, Wilde was hanged at Tyburn, where he had sent so many others to their doom.

The Scheme to Hook Up a King With the Wasp Woman and Other Wild Plans
Arizona Territory map. Amazon

13. The Greatest Scheme Few Have Ever Heard Of

In the long history of crooks, few have been as audacious as James Addison Peralta-Reavis (1843 – 1914). Also known as “The Baron of Arizona”, Reavis concocted a scheme to outright own the then-Territory of Arizona. He defrauded thousands of people in a bit to steal most of Arizona from its legal owners.

Reavis’ father was a Welshman who arrived in the US in the 1820s, and his mother was a part Spaniard proud of her Spanish heritage. He grew up in Missouri, and during his childhood, Reavis’ mother fired up his imagination by filling his head with Spanish romantic literature. As a result, he ended up with grandiose notions of himself as a romantic hero in a melodramatic novel. It was reflected in his speech and writing, which was reportedly overly grandiloquent and bombastic.

The Scheme to Hook Up a King With the Wasp Woman and Other Wild Plans
Confederate soldiers. The Photographic History of the Civil War

12. A Civil War Teenager’s Scheme

During the Civil War, Reavis enlisted in the Confederate Army at age eighteen. However, he soon discovered that the tedium and travails of real soldiering were nothing like his romantic image of war. It was right around then that Reavis discovered he could make a perfect copy of his commanding officer’s signature. So he began issuing himself passes with a forged signature, to escape the drudgery of soldiery and visit his relatives.

When other soldiers noticed that Private Reavis was getting a whole lot of passes, he developed a lucrative scheme to profit from that: a sideline business of selling forged passes. When the chain of command started getting suspicious and began investigating, Reavis finagled a quick leave, ostensibly to get married. He then promptly deserted, and hightailed it out of Confederate territory. He surrendered to Union forces, and even switched sides, serving for a while in a Union Army artillery regiment.

The Scheme to Hook Up a King With the Wasp Woman and Other Wild Plans
Cover of a forged royal decree for a land grant in Arizona. Wikimedia

11. From Forging Passes to Forging Titles

When the Civil War ended, Reavis traveled to Brazil, then got into real estate when he returned to the US. Reavis discovered that the talent for forgery that he had discovered and honed while running his Confederate Army forged passes scheme was quite handy in real estate. Especially when it came to clearing up messy paperwork, and fixing vague property titles.

When clients had difficulty selling land because they were unable to establish clear ownership, Reavis would magically produce some document that everybody else had somehow “missed” before, and that cleared up ownership in no uncertain terms. The discovered documents were forged by him, of course. Then in 1871, a prospector named George Willing sought Reavis’ help with a large Spanish land grant – 2000 square miles, about the size of Delaware – in the Arizona Territory. The duo partnered up to develop the grant, and in 1874, decided to head west and get started. Willing got there first, filed a claim in the Yavapai County courthouse, and was found dead the next day. Foul play was suspected. Reavis had made it to California by then, and was there when he got word of his partner’s death.

The Scheme to Hook Up a King With the Wasp Woman and Other Wild Plans
James Reavis. Pintrest

10. The Scheme to Cash In on a Corrupt Public Lands Commission

Low on funds, Reavis got a job as a journalist in California, during which he came in contact with some railroad magnates. He also came into contact with the Public Lands Commission. It had been established per the terms of the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, to determine the validity of Mexican and Spanish land grants in the territories won by America in the US-Mexico War. The Commission was corrupt to a fare-thee-well. Perfect for Reavis’ next scheme.

He learned that the Public Lands Commission approved most claims submitted to it, even frivolous ones, so long as a filer paid the examination expenses, coupled with a bribe. That was good news, because the land claim of Reavis’ deceased partner, George Willing, was weak. Willing claimed that in 1864, he had paid $20,000 in gold dust, mules, and other goods, to a Miguel Peralta for the land in question. Unfortunately, the deed of transfer was highly irregular, made on a sheet of greasy and marked-up paper, without a notary or justice.

The Scheme to Hook Up a King With the Wasp Woman and Other Wild Plans
Nineteenth-century Southern Pacific Railroad ad. Central Pacific Railroad

9. Inventing an Eighteenth-Century Don

Reavis’ discovery that the Public Lands Commission would approve any claim, no matter how iffy, provided the right palms were greased, set the stage for his next scheme. He “tipped off” his railroad tycoon acquaintances to the deceased Willing’s land – without disclosing his interest in it. Reavis told them he could negotiate right-of-way privileges for their proposed Southern Pacific line through Arizona. He then traveled to Kentucky, where he met Willing’s widow, and bought his late partner’s interest in the land. Next, Reavis used his newspaper connections to hype the land grant, and exaggerate the strength of the title claim.

To buttress the solidity of the land claim sold by Miguel Peralta to George Willing, Reavis fabricated a family history for Peralta out of whole cloth. He went about it in a highly creative way. Reavis knew that the way claims worked, people would check the archives. So he went to Mexico, befriended people in its archives, and inserted forged and artificially aged documents into those archives. They established a fictitious family lineage of an eighteenth-century Don Nemecio Silva de Peralta de la Cordoba.

The Scheme to Hook Up a King With the Wasp Woman and Other Wild Plans
A depiction of Don Nemecio Silva de Peralta de la Cordoba, the fictional 1st Baron of Arizona. Wikimedia

8. Getting Creative in the Mexican Archives

According to documents inserted by Reavis in the Mexican archives, the eighteenth century Don Nemecio Silva de Peralta de la Cordoba had been granted the title of Baron Peralta de Los Colorados by Spain’s King Ferdinand VI in 1748. Along with the noble title came a huge grant of land in Arizona – the Peralta Grant out of which Reavis intended to make a killing.

To further buttress his scheme, Reavis added more fictitious documents in the Mexican archives, creating a family tree of the descendants of “Baron Peralta”. They eventually included an impoverished great-grandson, Miguel Peralta who sold the claim to George Willing, from whom James Reavis acquired the huge chunk of territory in central Arizona.

The Scheme to Hook Up a King With the Wasp Woman and Other Wild Plans
National Palace, Mexico City, in the nineteenth century. Cornell University

7. A Scheme With Plenty of Attention to Detail

Reavis invested significant time and effort, and put a lot of work into creating the documentary trail of the aristocratic Peralta family. To lay the groundwork for his scheme, Reavis traveled to Mexico City, Guadalajara, and Spain, where he spent days on end in museums and archives to learn the style and feel of old documents.

He experimented tirelessly with various inks and chemicals and papers, to figure out the best materials and processes for producing forgeries that would seamlessly fit in with original old documents. He even scoured Spanish flea markets, where he bought old portraits of random people, whom he then designated – with the requisite forged documentary support – as members of the Peralta family.

The Scheme to Hook Up a King With the Wasp Woman and Other Wild Plans
James Reavis’ wife, Doña Sophia Micaela Maso Reavis y Peralta de la Córdoba, Third Baroness of Arizona. Arizona Memory Project

6. Marrying Into Fictional Aristocracy

Once he had finished creating the fictional aristocratic Peralta family, Reavis decided to hedge his bets by creating an even closer connection between himself and the Peralta land claim. So he married into the aristocratic Peralta family. The fact that the baronial brood was fictional was no insurmountable barrier for the ever-enterprising Reavis.

Sparing no effort to advance his scheme, Reavis came across a sixteen-year-old orphaned Mexican girl named Sophia, and convinced her that she was a descendant of the noble Peraltas. By then, Reavis had honed his skills to the point of being a master forger. So it was child’s play for him to alter church records and insert documents that made Sophia the “last surviving” member of the fictional but illustrious Peralta family. Then having made her the “Baroness of Arizona”, he married her. Through that marriage, Reavis became the Baron of Arizona. After carefully laying the groundwork over a period of years, he finally made his move in 1883.

The Scheme to Hook Up a King With the Wasp Woman and Other Wild Plans
The Peralta Grant claimed by James Reavis. Arizona Memory Project

5. Implementing the Scheme to Claim Arizona

Reavis put his scheme into action one fine morning in June, 1883, when the inhabitants of central Arizona woke up to discover that their land had been stolen from under their feet. Notices plastered over public places and printed in newspapers warned everybody: “to communicate immediately with Mr. Cyril Barratt, attorney-at-law and agent general, representing Mr. James Addison Reavis, for registering tenancy and signing agreements, or regard themselves liable to litigation for trespassing and expulsion when the Peralta Grant is, as it must be, validated by the U.S. government“.

Reavis claimed about twelve million acres, extending from near Sun City, Arizona, to Silver City, New Mexico, and including Phoenix. People were bewildered and incredulous at first. Incredulity turned to panic when they read that the wealthy owners of the Silver King Mine, Arizona’s most powerful mining corporation, had paid Reavis $25,000 – quite the princely sum back then – to avoid litigation. If such big shots had believed Reavis enough to pay him that much, it stood to reason that his claim really was solid. Suddenly, the threat that their land might get taken from them by this James Reavis seemed a distinct possibility.

The Scheme to Hook Up a King With the Wasp Woman and Other Wild Plans
Stock certificate in a company created by Reavis to cash in on his fraud. Wikiwand

4. Cashing In On a Brazen Scheme

Reavis had no intention of actually evicting the occupants of his “barony”. He simply wanted to extort as much as he could out of them in rent or quit claim fees, to support him and his “noble” wife in a manner befitting an aristocratic land magnate. Surprisingly, it was the large and wealthy landowners who proved to be the easiest marks.

The big shots figured that it was cheaper to pay the Baron of Arizona, instead of risking litigation that might end in the loss of their valuable properties. Arizona’s biggest mining company paid him $25,000, and he got the Southern Pacific Railroad to cough up $50,000. Thousands of others paid smaller fees that, added up together, made a nice bundle.

The Scheme to Hook Up a King With the Wasp Woman and Other Wild Plans
James Reavis’ wife, the Third Baroness of Arizona. Arizona Memory Project

3. The Popular “Baron and Baroness of Arizona”

Reavis’ scheme proved quite lucrative. At some point, even the US government fell for the con, and considered paying him millions of dollars to settle the claim. All in all, Reavis collected about $5,300,000 in cash and promissory notes – the equivalent of about $165 million today. With that kind of loot, James Reavis and his wife Sophia were able to live it up in style.

In addition to various ranches, they maintained nice homes in Arizona, New York City, Washington, DC, San Francisco, St. Louis, Madrid, and Chihuahua City. They traveled throughout Europe and mingled with the Spanish aristocracy. Many of the Spaniards saw through his scam and figured him and his wife for frauds. However, they got a huge kick out of the brazenness of it all, and how he was tweaking the yanquis’ noses. So the Spaniards went ahead and feted the “Baron and Baroness of Arizona”.

The Scheme to Hook Up a King With the Wasp Woman and Other Wild Plans
Still from ‘The Baron of Arizona’, a heavily fictionalized version of James Reavis’ scheme. Rare Film Net

2. A Meticulous Scheme – But Not Meticulous Enough

For a while, things went great for the Baron of Arizona. However, all good things come to an end, and even as James Reavis was living the high life and enjoying being the nineteenth-century version of a rich jet setter, the wheels of justice were grinding. The ground slowly, but steadily and relentlessly, to expose the fraudulent scheme and bring it all crashing down.

For years, an official named Royal Johnson had been investigating Reavis’ claim, and in 1889, he released a devastating report that labeled it a fake. Despite his meticulous forgeries, Reavis had not been meticulous enough. His documents used printing styles different from those of the period they supposedly came from. Steel-nibbed pens – which did not come into use until the 1880s – were used for writing instead of quills. There were basic Spanish spelling and grammatical errors, unlikely to have been made by a Spanish official.

The Scheme to Hook Up a King With the Wasp Woman and Other Wild Plans
James Reavis in prison. Pintrest

1. From Millionaire to Pauper

When Royal Johnson’s report was released, James Reavis tried to brazen it out and even sued the US government for $11 million. He lost the lawsuit, with the court noting that his claim was “wholly fictitious and fraudulent“, and that his documents had been forged and “surreptitiously introduced” into the records they supposedly came from. As he left the court, he was arrested and slammed with a 42 count indictment that included charges of fraud, forgery, presenting false documents, and conspiracy to defraud the US government.

Reavis’ brazen scheme had finally come undone. Tried, he was found guilty on June 30th, 1896, and sentenced to two years behind bars, plus a $5000 fine. Following his release, James Reavis drifted around in poverty, pitching investment ideas that found no takers. His wife divorced him in 1902, and he eventually ended up in a Los Angeles poor house. He died in Colorado in 1914, and was buried in a pauper’s grave.


Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading

Business Insider, May 17th, 2016 – Here’s the Story of How the Hunt Brothers Tried to Corner the Silver Market

History Theatre, May 5-June 3, 2018 – Lord Gordon-Gordon

Cracked – Totally WTF Criminal Schemes (You Won’t Believe Are True)

Head Stuff – William Chaloner, Master Counterfeiter

Investopedia – Silver Thursday: How Two Wealthy Traders Cornered the Market

KJZZ – Untold Arizona: The Baron of Arizona

Levinson, Thomas – Newton and the Counterfeiter: The Unknown Detective Career of the World’s Greatest Scientist (2010)

Listverse – 10 of History’s Most Prolific Con Artists and Their Famous Cons

Los Angeles Times, June 7th, 1987 – Bizarre Lives Bared of Star, Son Accused of Her Murder

Manitoba Historical Society – Lord Gordon Gordon, aka Hon. Mr. Herbert Hamilton and Numerous Other Aliases, c. 1840-1874

Money Inc. – The 20 Most Notorious Con Artists of All Time

MPR News – The Time a Con Man Brought Minnesota to the Brink of War With Canada

Museum of Hoaxes – Lord Gordon-Gordon

New York Post, January 9th, 2018 – The CIA Arranged an Affair For a King That Produced a Dwarf, and Then Things Got Weird

Times, The, January 18th, 2018 – JFK Files Reveal That CIA Urged Hollywood Actress to Sleep With King Hussein of Jordan

True West Magazine, November 21st, 2017 – The Great Swindler James Addison Reavis

USA Today, January 9th, 2018 – JFK Files: CIA Lined Up Actress For Date With Jordan’s King Hussein During Visit to United States

Wikipedia – James Reavis

Wikipedia – Jonathan Wild