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The Scammer Who Sold The Eiffel Tower (Twice)

Victor Lustig: The Master of Deception and the Man Who Sold the Eiffel Tower

By Franck SenpxPublished 9 months ago 5 min read

Once upon a time, in the world's most notorious high-security prison, Alcatraz, a man named Victor Lustig was making headlines. Victor had recently been captured for running a large-scale counterfeit banknote operation, a scheme so massive that it posed a serious threat to the entire economy. But this fraud was only one of Victor's many notorious scams. He was a master of get-rich-quick schemes and possibly the most dangerous and successful con man the world had ever seen. However, what Victor would be remembered for above all else was his audacious act of selling the Eiffel Tower not once, but twice. This is the incredible true story of how a petty thief became the most wanted man in the world.

Victor Lustig, whose true identity remains somewhat of a mystery, was born around 1890 in the Austro-Hungarian town of Hostinne, now part of the Czech Republic. Throughout his life, he used at least 45 different aliases, constantly changing his name, appearance, and identity to evade capture. His childhood was marked by poverty and misery, growing up in a destitute area of the city in a dark and grimstone house. His parents, who were poor peasants, could barely afford to feed and clothe their children. When Victor was eight, his parents split up, and he was sent to live with relatives, an arrangement he found insufferable. At the age of 12, Victor decided he would be better off on his own and ran away, living on the cold streets of various European cities. To survive, he resorted to pickpocketing and begging, scraping by for every morsel of food.

One fateful evening in 1903, when Victor was just 13 years old, he was digging through trash bins outside a fancy hotel in Budapest, desperately searching for scraps of food. He witnessed a couple on one of the hotel's balconies being served a lavish feast by waiters. To his horror, the couple didn't touch a single morsel of food and instead went straight to the bedroom. This sight shocked Victor. He couldn't fathom how people could afford to waste such luxurious meals while he struggled to find enough to eat. In that moment, Victor resolved never to feel guilty about conning those who were more fortunate than him.

Motivated by this event, Victor graduated from pickpocketing to more advanced petty theft and eventually to burglary. By the age of 18, he had mastered every card trick in the book, becoming a master of sleight of hand, enabling him to cheat at games like poker or hustle unsuspecting victims on the streets. Although he spent time in various European prisons for his scams and robberies, these stints behind bars did little to dampen his spirits. Instead, Victor used the time to improve his card skills and educate himself, realizing that being well-educated would enhance his scams and make him appear more sophisticated and professional, thus attracting less suspicion.

Like many Europeans of his time, Victor had heard stories about the land of promise, America, and the countless opportunities it offered. He boarded a ship bound for the United States, hoping to strike it rich. On the ship, he had two significant encounters. First, he received a permanent scar on his face when he flirted with someone else's girlfriend and got into a scuffle with an angry sailor. Second, he discovered that transatlantic steamers were perfect hunting grounds for con men like him. The first-class decks were filled with wealthy marks, making it easy for Victor to talk to them and find a way to swindle them. He spent the next few years shuttling back and forth between Europe and America, targeting wealthy passengers on these ships with various cons, such as posing as a successful

businessman looking for investors or selling fake jewelry.

During the 1920s, an era of excess and financial prosperity in America, Victor's talents as a con man truly blossomed. He began engaging in elaborate scams, such as manufacturing fake whiskey stickers and government stamps for bootleggers during Prohibition. But his most audacious scheme was yet to come—the sale of the Eiffel Tower.

In 1925, Victor read an article in a Paris newspaper about the deteriorating condition of the Eiffel Tower and the possibility of its demolition. This sparked an idea in his cunning mind. He forged credentials as a government official and invited a group of scrap dealers to a secret meeting. During the meeting, he convincingly presented them with the false information that the French government planned to demolish the iconic structure due to financial difficulties. Aware of the scrap dealers' greed, Victor offered them an opportunity to purchase the salvage rights to the tower's iron, which he claimed would be sold for a handsome profit. The unsuspecting dealers were enchanted by the prospect of acquiring a piece of history and a chance to make a fortune.

One scrap dealer, Andre Poisson, took the bait. Victor and Poisson formed an agreement, and in exchange for a significant bribe, Poisson handed over a large sum of money to secure the rights to the Eiffel Tower's scrap iron. Victor promptly disappeared with the cash, leaving Poisson empty-handed and humiliated.

News of the audacious scam reached the French authorities, but they were reluctant to make it public. They feared that admitting they had been tricked into almost selling their national treasure would be too embarrassing. This gave Victor the confidence to attempt the scheme once again. He returned to Paris a few months later, assuming a new identity and posing as a different government official. This time, however, his plan failed. The scrap dealers had grown wise to his game, and Victor narrowly escaped capture, fleeing to America once again.

Victor's legacy as one of the greatest con men in history is a testament to his extraordinary intelligence, cunning, and ability to manipulate others. Despite his life of crime and deception, he remains a fascinating figure. His scams serve as a stark reminder of the allure of wealth and the vulnerability of those who succumb to greed. Victor Lustig's name will forever be associated with the man who sold the Eiffel Tower, not once, but twice, cementing his place in the annals of history as a true master of deception.


About the Creator

Franck Senpx

Unleash your imagination through captivating tales. Journey into a world of storytelling on our page, where words come alive. Explore and get lost in the magic of stories.

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