Hartzell, Part I
This is the story of Oscar Hartzell,
one of the world's greatest con men, as well as one
of the least discussed. Hartzell plied his trade primarily
in the 1920s and 30s and it's estimated he swindled
between 70,000-100,000 Midwesterners.
game revolved around the "disputed" estate of the
great explorer / pirate, Francis Drake. As I am currently
sailing the oceans blue myself these days, it only
seems appropriate that I write about Drake, too.
was back in 1572 that the unsung English seaman of
common background made his mark when he led a small
expedition to Panama, attacking shipping and coastal
settlements along the way. The Spaniards had moved
into these parts and Drake ended up hauling off a
great deal of treasure, particularly gold.
wouldn't you know that King Philip II of Spain was
rather ticked off. He was the world's leading monarch
and this was his treasure. On the other hand, England's
Queen Elizabeth was ecstatic upon Drake's return so
it was decided that Drake would launch a 2nd expedition,
which was to be far better financed.
had 4 well-armed ships under his command and it would
become one of sailing's epic feats as he was the first
Englishman to circumnavigate the globe, passing around
Cape Horn, up to what is today northern California,
then across the Pacific, the Indian Ocean, the Cape
of Good Hope and back up to Europe.a journey of two
course this wasn't merely a pleasure cruise. I did
note they were well-armed, after all, and wouldn't
you know that along the way Francis attacked and plundered
all manner of settlements and ships, including the
coast of Peru, where the Spaniards had no defenses
because they didn't think anyone would approach from
imagine how thrilled Queen Elizabeth was when Drake
returned in 1579. It was said that investors made
4,700 percent on this voyage. As for the Queen, while
publicly she didn't want to gloat, England not being
at war with Spain at the time, nor did she want one,
Elizabeth took about 100,000 pounds as her share of
Drake's loot; close to $1 billion in today's money.
The good captain was knighted and the Queen used the
100,000 to lay the groundwork for a foreign investment
fortune, as England began to grow into a colonial
power. Needless to say, however, King Philip of Spain
was calling Drake a mere pirate and a price was placed
on his head.
of course, made a ton of money himself and led a good
life, buying up vast chunks of land. But he would
die at sea on January 28, 1596. Despite being married
twice, though, he had no children, so most of his
property and money passed on to his brother and nephews.
it only seemed natural that over time many questioned
the validity of the will. Some wanted a big chunk
for themselves, others simply wanted to scam the dimwitted.
By the 1880s, there had been quite a few schemes,
actually, so many that American officials were moved
to warn the public.
invention of the telephone and the telephone directory
also contributed in a major way to the swindlers efforts,
who sent wires to all the Drakes they could find,
informing them that they were legitimate heirs. Then
a few days later a second letter would arrive from
a firm of London solicitors, confirming their claim
but asking for funds to settle the final stages of
media played its part, too. In 1906, for example,
the Ohio State Journal was proclaiming that a Columbus
man, a descendant of Sir Francis Drake, had received
word that a division of the estate was soon to take
place. The Bank of England itself was going to be
releasing all the jewels and money.
Oscar Hartzell had been born in the 1880s, an Iowa
farm boy. By 1915 he was part of a group that was
asking donors to trust him that he could deliver the
Drake goods. As time went on, Hartzell became the
mastermind of the scam, operating out of London, while
employing his agents in America's heartland. By now
the estimates for the Drake fortune, Hartzell's, that
is, were $100 billion.
continue our story next week.
"Drake's Fortune" Richard Rayner]