“The most important weapon in a con man’s arsenal is another man’s greed.”
Victor Lustig (January 4, 1890-March 11, 1947) born in Hostinne, Austria-Hungary, was a con artist who undertook scams in various countries and became best known as “The man who sold the Eiffel Tower. Twice.” He also ripped off Al Capone, the American gangster of $50,000.
In 1947, Lustig succumbed to pneumonia. His death certificate reads “Robert V. Miller, apprentice salesman.” A deviant even in death!
Frank William Abagnale, Jr. born April 27, 1948, an American, is considered one of the most famous impostors ever. As a confidence trickster, check forger, impostor, and escape artist, Frank Abagnale, before his nineteenth birthday, successfully performed cons worth millions of dollars while assuming no fewer than eight identities impersonating a Pan Am pilot, a Georgia doctor, a teacher, a Louisiana parish prosecutor, a U.S. Bureau of Prisons agent, and a lawyer to name a few.
Frank Abagnale’s primary crime was check fraud. He became so experienced that the FBI eventually turned to him for help in catching other check forgers.
Now, Frank Abagnale is a security consultant and an ethical motivator. He is one of the world’s leading authorities on combating forgery and embezzlement. For more than 30 years, many of the world’s leading financial corporations and governments have consulted him. He is associated with the FBI. Now, more than 14,000 financial institutions, corporations and law enforcement agencies across the nation use his fraud prevention programs.
In 1998, CNN’s Financial News named Abagnale one of its “Pinnacle 400” business leaders.
Catch Me if You Can is the autobiography of Frank Abagnale, co-written by Stan Redding. In 1980, Frank Abagnale sold the film rights to his autobiography which was adapted into a 2002 film of the same name by director Steven Spielberg, starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Abagnale and Tom Hanks as the FBI agent who pursued him.
The notorious con man of India
India too can boast of its own indigenous notorious con man who had more than 50 identities. The police in eight states wanted him in about 100 cases, and his convictions added up to 117 years of prison life. He was a living legend in his lifetime known for his notoriety and is still a legend even after his death in 2009 (???) at the age of 97.
Mithilesh Kumar Srivastava, better known as Natwarlal, was born in 1912 in a nondescript village named Bangra, in Raghunathpur CD Block of Siwan district in Bihar, India, just two kilometres away from Ziradei, the birthplace of India’s first President Dr Rajendra Prasad.
Natwarlal left Bangra when he was 15 years-old and never returned to it.
He mastered the art of disguise and used novel ideas to cheat. He also mastered forgery and is known to have forged the signatures of many celebrities of his period. According to a legend, he was close to Dr Rajendra Prasad. However, the two fell out after Natwarlal tried to dupe the first president by forging his signature.
To Natwarlal, committing fraud was an art. Before he turned into a con man, he was by profession a lawyer. He had studied and understood human nature, and he used the vital weapon in a con man’s arsenal: another man’s greed.
He had swindled millions of rupees from many shop-owners by paying for goods purchased with forged cheques and demand drafts.
Natwarlal cheated many industrialists by posing as a social worker or as a person in need and relieving them of a huge amount of cash. It is alleged that even the Tatas, Birlas, and Dhirubhai Ambani had fallen for his ruse.
Natwarlal repeatedly sold the Taj Mahal thrice to gullible foreigners, the Red Fort twice, the Rashtrapati Bhavan once and the Parliament House of India lock, stock, and barrel along with its 545 sitting members.
Natwarlal was arrested nine times. However, he managed to escape from jail every time. He was last arrested in 1996. He was 84 years old at that time and was using a wheelchair. On June 24, 1996, Natwarlal vanished in the teeming crowd at New Delhi railway station while being escorted by the police from Kanpur jail to the AIIMS hospital for treatment. It was the last time anyone had ever seen him.
Natwarlal’s death is a mystery. In 2009, his lawyer Nandlal Jaiswal announced that Natwarlal died on Saturday, July 25, 2009. However, Ganga Prasad Srivastava, brother of Natwarlal claimed that he had cremated his brother Natwarlal in 1996 at Ranchi.
Therefore, the actual time, date, month, and year of Natwarlal’s death is still uncertain. So, living up to his legend Natwarlal died twice, 13 years apart.
The authorities are baffled with these queries:
Is Natwarlal really dead?
If he is alive where is he now?
Is he planning yet another scam under yet another name?
Many residents of Bangra are still basking in the glory of their legendary con man. They have plans to install a life-sized statue of the notorious Natwarlal in their village in the vacant land where Natwarlal’s house was once stood. This, they say this is the least they can do for the infamous man who made their featureless village in Bihar famous.
- Victor Lustig (en.wikipedia.org)
- Frank Abagnale (en.wikipedia.org)
- Natwarlal (en.wikipedia.org)
- Nuts about Natwarlal (timescrest.com)
- Catch Me if You Can (book) (en.wikipedia.org)
- Catch Me If You Can (en.wikipedia.org)