The Seedy Business Star and CIA Informant Who Conned America’s Spies
Ronald Rewald made a name for himself in Honolulu in the late 1970s and early 1980s as a business star and playboy. In his youth, he had spent a year as a CIA informant, and monitored student groups at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. So when he became a seemingly successful Hawaii investor years later, the Agency was delighted when he offered to let it use his investment firm as cover for clandestine activities. Accordingly, some of America’s spies were “hired” to work at Rewald’s firm, Bishop, Baldwin, Rewald, Dillingham, and Wong.
The spies got defrauded and taken to the cleaners by Rewald. Before he moved to Hawaii, Rewald ran a Wisconsin company that sold sporting goods to schools. The business ended up in bankruptcy because of fraud, and he pled guilty to criminal charges. The seedy businessman relocated to Honolulu, where he started an investment firm. Its first three names were those of famous rich Hawaiians who had nothing to do with Rewald. He simply slapped their name on the letterhead to give the firm some gravitas. Another and bigger problem with the firm was that it was a pure Ponzi scheme.
The Spooks Who Fell for a Seedy Con’s Ponzi Scheme
Seedy as ever, Ronald Rewald falsely claimed that investors’ funds would be insured by the FDIC, and had 20% guaranteed annual returns. He simply used funds from new investors to pay the original ones, and splurged the rest on himself to live in luxury. A CIA check uncovered Rewald’s criminal conviction, but the Agency declined to dig in deeper because he asked them not to. Instead, CIA agents wrote rave reviews of Rewald, and recommended that his firm be used to furnish American spies with cover employment. CIA agents hired by the firm as cover were oblivious to the fraud all around them, and invested their life savings – and those of their relatives – in Rewald’s firm. Even the CIA’s station chief in Hawaii was taken in. When the fraudulent plot eventually fell apart, the Agency ended up with plenty of egg on its face.
The IRS eventually grew suspicious and opened an investigation in 1982. Rewald convinced the CIA to step in and get the taxmen to back off. Eventually, a dozen or more CIA agents were given cover jobs by Rewald. Some of them liked it so much, that after they retired from the Agency, they went to work for him for real. When the Ponzi scheme finally fell apart, one CIA agent was fired because he had gone out of his way to induce other spies to invest with Rewald. At least five CIA agents lost more than $300,000 – the equivalent of roughly $900,000 in 2022 – of their personal money. Rewald was tried and convicted on 94 criminal charges and sentenced to eighty years, but was released on parole after less than ten.
This Octogenarian British Prime Minister Had a Seedy Death While Doing it With a Maid
The 3rd Viscount Palmerston, birth name Henry John Templeton (1784 – 1865) and better known as Lord Palmerston, dominated British foreign policy from 1830 to 1865, when Britain was at the height of its power. He served as Secretary at War from 1809 to 1828, as Foreign Secretary from 1830 to 1841 and again from 1846 to 1851, and twice as Prime Minister, from 1855 to 1858, and again from 1859 to 1865. In his private life, he was a seedy and randy old goat who got it on whenever and wherever he could.
Lord Palmerston is the only British Prime Minister to have ever died in office, and oh what a death it was. On October 18th, 1865, the eighty-year-old Prime Minister, who enjoyed robust health well past his biblical three score and ten, reportedly was getting it on with a maid on a billiard table. He seems to have overexerted himself, which led to his demise in the midst of his illicit romance, just two days shy of his eighty first birthday.
Charles Darwin Was Not as Much of a Conservationist as Many Might Think
Charles Robert Darwin (1809 – 1882) is best known for his theory of evolution. When he set sail aboard the HMS Beagle in 1831 for what turned out to be a five-year journey, few knew that his observations would revolutionize science, and the world, for that matter. Yet, that is precisely what happened. Darwin’s Victorian contemporaries were shocked by his assertion that humans and animals shared a common ancestry. Today, his notion that all species are descended from common ancestors is widely accepted. His take that species evolved into their current forms because of changes in heritable characteristics is a fundamental concept of science. One of history’s most influential figures, he was honored with burial in Westminster Abbey when he died.
Darwin, a late addition to the Beagle as a supernumerary naturalist, studied plants and animals, and gathered data for his theory of evolution through natural selection. Less known, is that Darwin, an adventurous gourmand, ate every animal he discovered. As a student in Cambridge University, long before he became famous, Darwin was a member of the Glutton Club. The student group’s members habitually wolfed down “birds and beasts which were before unknown to human palate“. Among other things, they ate hawks, herons, and a brown owl so nauseating that the club dissolved after it tried it. However, as seen below, Darwin did not lose his taste for exotic flesh.
Darwin Liked to Taste All Creatures He Came Across
In his journey around the world in HMS Beagle, Charles Darwin ate puma, which he thought tasted like veal, armadillos, and iguanas. He ate a twenty-pound rodent, probably an agouti, which he described as “the very best meat I ever tasted“. He not only ate Galapagos giant tortoises, but also drank their bladders: “The fluid was quite limpid, and had only a very slightly bitter taste“. His habit of eating everything he came across led him on one occasion to accidentally devour a highly sought after bird, a lesser rhea. No specimen of the bird – South America’s version of an ostrich – had ever been seen in Europe. Darwin was determined to become the first naturalist to send a specimen back home. He spent months trying to catch one, but the bird was fast, agile, and incredibly hard to catch.
Then one day in 1834, a shipmate showed Darwin a bird he had just shot and asked if he wanted it, or whether they should cook it for dinner. Absentmindedly, Darwin said they should eat it. That evening, Darwin was halfway through dinner when he suddenly jumped up, and shouted at everybody to stop eating. He had just realized that they were eating a lesser rhea. Darwin ran around grabbing bones from people’s plates, and rushed to the ship’s mess where he found the head, the neck bones, the feet, some feathers, and assorted bits and pieces. He packaged up all he could find, and sent it to a taxidermist friend in London. The buddy eventually managed to construct a bird using what Darwin had sent him, with the help of wires and feathers purloined from the more common greater rhea, for which there were many specimens available.
Charles John Huffam Dickens, better known as Charles Dickens (1812 – 1870), was the greatest novelist of the Victorian era, and one of the most successful writers of all time. A literary genius, he penned fifteen novels, five novellas, hundreds of short stories and non-fiction articles, and edited a weekly journal for twenty years. Fortune smiled on Dickens, and he enjoyed greater popularity in his lifetime than any other author had until then. His works, such as A Christmas Carol, A Tale of Two Cities, Oliver Twist, Great Expectations, and David Copperfield, captivated readers of his era, and are still widely read today. He was not just a popular novelist, though, but was also a social critic.
Dickens was born in the middle class, but his father’s financial ineptitude flung the family headlong into poverty. When his dad was thrown into debtor’s prison, twelve-year-old Dickens dropped out of school to work in a boot shine factory. It gave him intimate knowledge of the working-class’s problems and privations, which came through in his writings. Throughout his life, Dickens strove to present himself as a model of Victorian probity, and all in all, he was a good guy. He vigorously advocated for children’s rights, education, and other social reforms, and spoke out for the poor and marginalized. He was no plaster saint, however, and his biographers have long struggled to reconcile his decent side with some of the more seedy aspects of his personality.
A Famous Author’s Seedy Relationship With His Sister in Law
Charles Dickens married Catherine Thomson Hogarth, the daughter of a newspaper editor, in 1836 after they had been engaged for a year. In 1837, Catherine’s younger sister, Mary Scott Hogarth, moved into the Dickens household. Her brother in law grew quite fond of her. Just how fond has long been cause for speculation and gossip. Dickens’s behavior after Mary suddenly died at age seventeen of a heart attack or stroke lent credence to allegation of an affair with his wife’s sister. He wrote of her as “a very dear young relative” and described her as “the chief solace” of his labors. The great author secured a lock of Mary’s hair, and wore her ring for the rest of his life.
Things must have gotten awkward in the Dickens household, as the author seemed to cherish his dead sister in law far more than he did his live wife. After Catherine gave him ten children, Dickens fell out of love with her, and fell head over heels in love with a teenager. In 1857, a forty-five-year Dickens began a seedy affair with Ellen Ternan, an eighteen-year-old actress in a play he produced. It lasted for the rest of his life, and was carried out in a house he bought her in the outskirts of London. When his marriage fell apart, Dickens publicly aired his private laundry, and turned his wife’s other sister – with whom he also apparently had an affair – against her.
Charles Dickens’s Wife Found Out About His Affair in Dramatic Fashion
Catherine Dickens found about her husband’s affair with Ellen Ternan because of a mistake worthy of a romance novel. In 1858, he ordered a bracelet as a present for his teenaged lover, but it was accidentally delivered to his house instead. When Catherine called him out, he claimed that it was his custom to buy gifts for everybody who acted in his plays. She didn’t buy it, and the couple legally separated a few weeks later. In an unusual move, Dickens published a notice in newspapers, in which he claimed that it was an amicable split.
Dickens was motivated by the need to squelch rumors not only about his relationship with an actress, but about a seedy affair with yet another sister in law. In 1842, Catherine’s other younger sister, Georgina Hogarth, then fifteen-years-old, moved into the Dickens household. It was widely rumored at the time that the author had an affair with her. When her older sister’s marriage fell apart, Georgina sided with Dickens against her own sister, and continued to live in his house until his death in 1870. In his will, Dickens left Georgina far more than he did Catherine, as well as all his private papers.
The Mafia Were and Are Way More Seedy than the Godfather Depicts Them
No list of best movies of all times is complete without The Godfather. With one of Hollywood’s greatest ensemble casts, memorable haunting music, and a gripping plot, it is hard not to love it. However, admiration for the film has blinded many to the fact that it is not real. What it depicts is fiction created by author Mario Puzo, brilliantly brought to the silver screen by director Francis Ford Coppola. It is an imagined version of organized crime, not an accurate depiction of the real thing. In the real world, the mafia has always been a seedy collection of often psychotic, parasitic, backstabbing, and grubby thugs who would do anything for money.
The real life mob has always been more like a malignant cancer than the romanticized band of criminals portrayed in the movie. As seen below, rather than paragons of loyalty and disciples of omerta, mobsters from the mafia’s earliest days have been more than happy to snitch, and betray bosses and underlings alike. And far from the myth popularized by The Godfather about the mafia’s avoidance of drugs, the mob has been heavily involved in narcotics from its birth. Indeed, until the rise of the Colombian drug cartels after cocaine caught on, the mafia, whose specialty was heroin, were America’s biggest drug traffickers.
The Dishonorable Mob Boss Whose Inspired the Fictional Don Corleone
Don Corleone was created by Mario Puzo,The Godfather’s author, as a composite character based on some real life mob bosses. The fictional Don Corleone used his olive importation business as cover for his criminal activities. That is based on the real life Joe Profaci, founder and longtime boss of the Colombo crime family, who also posed as an olive oil importer. Don Corleone’s raspy and quiet voice is reminiscent of Frank Costello’s, the onetime boss of the Luciano – now the Genovese – crime family. Don Corleone had all the judges and politicians in his pocket. The real life Frank Costello, nicknamed the “Prime Minister of the Underworld” because of his political clout, effectively dominated Tammany Hall in the mid-twentieth century.
The “honorable” traits of Don Corleone are based on the real life Joseph Bonanno, a seedy, pretentious, and anything but honorable head of the Bonanno crime family. Bonanno, who wrote a self-serving memoir after his forced retirement, referred to mafia bosses of his generations as “Fathers” who headed “honorable societies”. He claimed that he and the mob avoided drugs for the reasons listed in The Godfather – moral revulsion, and avoidance of the heat drugs draw. As Bonanno put it: “My tradition outlaws narcotics. It has always been that ‘men of honor’ don’t deal in narcotics“. In reality, mobsters of all levels, including Bonanno, were dealt in drugs since the birth of the mob.
How the Mafia Learned Not to Mess With American Cops
By the 1870s, two seedy Sicilian immigrants, Carlo and Alberto Matranga had established the Matranga crime family in New Orleans. Its headquarters was a salon that doubled as a brothel. They expanded their activities from prostitution to labor rackets and a lucrative extortion racket known as the Black Hand. The Matrangas collected “tribute” from Italian laborers, as well as from another crime family, the Prozenzanos, who monopolized South American fruit shipments. In the 1880s, the two crime families warred over control of the New Orleans waterfront, and each brought in more and more Mafiosi from the Old Country. The violence spilled over, and put pressure on the authorities to act. New Orleans’ police chief launched an investigation into Mafiosi activities, only to be assassinated for his troubles in 1890. Unable to identify his killers, he gasped “the Dagoes shot me“, before he died.
Nineteen Mafiosi were arrested and prosecuted. In a first trial, nine defendants successfully tampered with the jury. Despite overwhelming evidence, six were acquitted and three had hung juries. The next day, March 14th, 1891, a mob of thousands, whose numbers included prominent New Orleans citizens, stormed and broke into the prison housing the defendants. Eleven were killed – the biggest single mass lynching in US history. That had a salutary effect on the mafia. It demonstrated that America differed from Sicily and southern Italy, where criminals could act in brazen defiance of the authorities and society, with little to fear from either. In the US, there were limits to what criminals could get away with. Thereafter, the American mafia adopted strict rules against the targeting of law enforcement, and even preemptively killed mobsters who sought to go after cops or prosecutors.
Thomas Edison’s Terrible Treatment of Nikola Tesla
The Gilded Age was an era of massive and revolutionary changes, as railroads knitted the United States together. The importance of factories, mining, and finance increased by orders of magnitude, immigrants arrived by the tens of millions, and cities and homes began to be lit and powered by electricity. Electricity had been around for some time. However, it took Nikola Tesla (1856 – 1943), a Serb inventor who arrived in America with four cents in his pocket, to make the things that made electricity a part of everyday life.
Among other things, Tesla invented fluorescent lights, electric generators, the FM radio, spark plugs, remote controls, robots, and the Tesla Coil that is used to transmit radio and TV broadcasts. Shortly after Tesla arrived in the US, Thomas Edison hired the brilliant but naïve new immigrant to redesign his electrical generators and perfect his light bulb, and promised him $50,000 if he succeeded. Tesla did, but when he asked for what he had been promised, Edison pulled off a seedy move. He laughed it off and said: “Tesla, you just don’t understand our American humor. When you become a full-fledged American, you will appreciate an American joke“.
The Great Rivalry of Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse
Understandably, Nikola Tesla did not see the humor in Thomas Edison’s broken promise. After the Wizard of Menlo Park screwed him over, Tesla took his talents to Edison’s greatest rival, George Westinghouse. Nowadays, alternating current (AC) lights up our homes and workplaces, and powers up our appliances through wall sockets. By contrast, direct current (DC) is relegated mostly to batteries. In the nineteenth century, however, the issue was undecided, and powerful interests fiercely competed to decide whether AC or DC would dominate the world. Tesla would decide it against Edison.
Alternating current was championed by George Westinghouse, who pushed AC as the best means to bring electricity to the masses. On direct current’s side was Thomas Edison. There was serious money at stake, and Edison had cause to regret how he had screwed Tesla over. DC is crappy when compared to AC, because DC is weaker and can only be transported short distances. However, Edison had already invested millions in DC, and he was not about to let the upstart AC flush that investment down the drain if he could help it.
7. Thomas Edison’s Dishonesty in his Dealings With Nikola Tesla Backfired on Him Big Time
Unfortunately for Thomas Edison, in a bit of karma, Nikola Tesla, the former employee whom he had cheated out of a promised reward and in whose face he had laughed, wrecked Edison’s electricity plans. Employed by Westinghouse, Tesla basically designed the modern AC electricity supply system that ensured its easy delivery and use. That ensured the defeat of Edison and his DC plan in what came to be known as “The War of the Currents“. In addition to his key role in the development of readily usable alternating current – a scientific contribution that revolutionized the world – Tesla had a long list of other major inventions.
Tesla He had over 700 patents in 26 countries, that included: X-ray devices; electric generators; electric arc lamps; fluorescent lights; spark plugs; robots; remote controls, bladeless turbines, the Tesla Coil; and FM radio. Indeed, the modern world as we know it would be impossible without Tesla. As the American Institute of Electrical Engineers put it: “Were we to seize and eliminate from our industrial world the results of Mr. Tesla’s work, the wheels of industry would cease to turn, our towns would be dark“.
Thomas Edison’s Cruelest and Most Seedy Stunt: The Electrocution to Death of a Circus Elephant
Thomas Edison’s most seedy – and cruel – act during the Current Wars might have been the time when he electrocuted an elephant to death as a stunt. As seen above, the Wizard of Menlo had millions invested in direct current, and that investment was threatened by alternating current. When a dentist named Alfred Southwick sought his help to develop a humane method of execution by electrocution, Edison decided to turn AC’s strength into a liability, by highlighting its ability to kill.
Edison talked Southwick to use alternating current to execute condemned prisoners in what became the electric chair. Also, to cement in the public’s mind the link between AC’s risks and its promoter, George Westinghouse, Edison came up with a catchy name for the new method of execution: “Westinghousing”. The intrepid inventor then went on a whirlwind public tour to demonstrate alternating current’s deadliness. To demonstrate the rival current’s lethality, Edison used AC to publicly electrocute dozens of dogs, cows, horses, and a circus elephant named Topsy.
America’s most powerful dynasty today is probably the Koch family. They own Koch Industries, America’s second biggest privately owned company with revenues of $115 billion in 2019. Politically active for decades, the Kochs have been generous patrons of conservative and libertarian causes and figures. More recently, the brothers David and Charles Koch have garnered widespread attention for heading a network of hundreds of libertarian and conservative think tanks, policy groups, and candidates. The rise of the fiscally conservative Tea Party movement owed much to Koch generosity. The dynasty’s power was so great that in 2011, House Speaker John Boehner turned to David Koch when he needed votes to prevent a government shutdown.
The Kochs have been key financial supporters of climate change skeptics. However, although staunchly libertarian and conservative, they have at times partnered with progressives. In 2015, for example, they worked with the American Civil Liberties Union on criminal justice reform, specifically on the issue of asset forfeiture. It goes without saying that the Kochs have been adamant opponents of communism and all that has a whiff of socialism. As seen below, that did not stop the dynasty’s founder from working for Joseph Stalin. In one of many seedy moves in a long business career, he helped the Soviet dictator modernize the USSR’s oil industry.
Fred C. Koch’s Seedy Ties to Both the Nazis and Stalin
Fred C. Koch (1900 – 1967), paterfamilias of the Koch dynasty, founded the Winkler-Koch Engineering Company with an MIT classmate in 1925, and went into the oil business. When the duo lost a series of patent infringement lawsuits to bigger oil companies, they decided to seek their fortunes overseas. So they headed to the Soviet Union, where they helped Stalin modernize the country’s oil industry. They trained Soviet engineers, and built fifteen thermal cracking units to turn crude oil into gasoline. Fred became a radical anticommunist after Stalin purged his Soviet trainees, reneged on their deal, and deprived him of revenue. Stalin was not the only totalitarian dictator helped by Fred C. Koch.
The seedy businessman worked with American Nazi William Rhodes Davis, who had personal ties with Adolf Hitler. Shortly after things went sour for him in the USSR, Fred headed to Germany, where he built the Hamburg Oil Refinery, the Third Reich’s third biggest refinery. Fred admired the Nazis, and in a 1938 letter, he wrote: “Although nobody agrees with me, I am of the opinion that the only sound countries in the world are Germany, Italy, and Japan, simply because they are all working and working hard“. The Hamburg refinery was a big help to the Nazis as they swept through Europe, until it was finally taken out of action by Allied bombing in 1944.
Italian dictator Benito Mussolini (1883 – 1945), founder of his country’s Fascist Party, was Italy’s prime minister and leader from 1922 to 1943. He was the first European fascist dictator, and was an inspirational figure for Adolf Hitler, who modeled himself after Mussolini in his own rise to power. Eventually, the Italian dictator was overshadowed by his German imitator, and Mussolini ended up as Hitler’s sidekick. Mussolini had delusions of grandeur, and sought to revive the Roman Empire. Neither he nor Italy were up to the task, however, and Mussolini often bit more than he could chew.
The results were often farcical, and led to sundry humiliations and setbacks. Towards the end of his career, after he dragged an unprepared Italy into World War II and bungled it badly, Mussolini’s image morphed from that of a great statesman to a hapless buffoon. It ended badly for him, when his countrymen captured him in the final days of WWII in Europe. They killed him and his mistress, and displayed them in downtown Milan, suspended upside down by their ankles from meat hooks. That the man was a comic dictator was well known. That he had a seedy sensual side and habitually penned erotic letters, few knew of at the time.
To unwind, Mussolini liked to write erotic letters. The fascist dictator habitually wrote cringe-worthy dirty letters, as was discovered when the diary of Clara Petacci, the mistress killed and strung up by his side, came to light in 2009. For all his shortcomings, one thing Il Duce (Italian for leader) had going for him was an incredible libido and remarkable stamina. As described by Petacci, Mussolini often had up to fourteen mistresses at a time, and would regularly go through three or four different women in a single evening.
The fascist dictator was also jarringly loud during love making: “his screams seem like those of a wounded beast“, as Petacci put it. He was a total hound, who seemingly lusted after every woman he met. As he described it, after his first intimate encounter with a hooker at age seventeen: “Naked women entered my life, my dreams, my desires. I undressed them with my eyes, the girls that I met, I lusted after them violently with my thoughts“. Luckily for him, many Italian women had the hots for him as well. At the height of his power, thousands sent letters in which they propositioned him every day.
Il Duce had underlings sort his fan letters by senders into “known” and “new”. After police background checks on the “new” women, the more interesting ones were put in folders and passed on to him. Those who caught his eye – usually big breasted and broad hipped – were summoned for an afternoon liaison at his palace. He wasted no time, and often got down to business immediately on the carpet, against the wall, or on a stone window seat. Those who pleased him were added to his many mistresses, and in correspondence with them, Mussolini held little back.
E.g.; ” Orgasm is good for you: it sharpens your thoughts, it widens your horizons, it helps your brain, makes it vivid and brilliant“. Or “Be afraid of my love. It’s like a cyclone. It’s tremendous; it overwhelms everything. You must tremble.” And “I tremble in telling you, but I have a feverish desire for your delicious little body which I want to kiss all over. And you must adore my body, your giant…” Or “Your flesh has got me – from now on I’m a slave to your flesh.” And ” I’m bad – hit me, hurt me, punish me, but don’t suffer. I love you. I think about you all day, even when I’m working.”
Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading