“When I consider Life, ’tis all a cheat; Yet, fooled with hope, men favour the deceit”*…
In October 1822, Gregor MacGregor, a native of Glengyle, Scotland, made a striking announcement. He was, he said, not only a local banker’s son, but the Cazique, or prince, of the land of Poyais along Honduras’s Black River.
A little larger than Wales, the country was so fertile it could yield three maize harvests a year. The water, so pure and refreshing it could quench any thirst – and as if that weren’t enough, chunks of gold lined the riverbeds. The trees overflowed with fruit, and the forest teemed with game. Painting an exotic, Edenic vision of a new life abroad, his proposal offered quite the contrast with the rainy darkness and rocky soils of Scotland.
What Poyais lacked, he said, was willing investors and settlers to develop and leverage its resources to the fullest. At the time, investments in Central and South America were gaining in popularity, and Poyais appeared to be a particularly appealing proposition.
Scotland didn’t have any colonies of her own, after all. Could this not be a corner of the new world for her own use?…
Gregor MacGregor’s massive fraud and how he brought it off: “The con-man who pulled off history’s most audacious scam” (excerpted from Maria Konnikova’s The Confidence Game).
* John Dryden
As we demur from accepting wooden nickels, we might recall that it was on this date in 1922 that Los Angles police were summoned to the home of silent film director William Desmond Taylor by a call about a “natural death” that had occurred the night before. When they arrived they found actors, actresses, and studio executives rummaging through the director’s belongings… and Taylor lying dead on the living room floor with a bullet in his back.
Mary Miles Minter, a teenager, had become a star in Taylor’s films and had fallen in love with him– much to the dismay of her mother, Charlotte Shelby. After Taylor’s murder, a love note to Taylor from Minter was found in his home, along with her nightgown in the bedroom. Then other damning facts came to light: Minter had once tried to shoot herself with the same type of gun used in Taylor’s murder; Shelby had previously threatened the life of another director who had made a pass at her daughter; and most portentously, Shelby’s alibi witness received suspiciously large sums of money after the murder. Still, no one was ever prosecuted for Taylor’s death– the case remains officially unsolved.