Today we occasionally hear stories of people swindled by scam artists posing as potential love interests. In fact, there’s a website called RomanceScam.com dedicated to outing romantic scammers, and supporting those who fell for romantic scams. But this kind of con is nothing new. 100 years ago, this poor guy fell for it for 14 years. Here was the scene when the case came to court:
Picture a clean-shaven bachelor of 48 years, rather poorly clad, wistful of eye and shy of demeanor, the plaintiff, and a man about five years his senior, with the skin drawn tight on his face and his eyes small and bright, the defendant.
The man of shy demeanor wore a bit of black bound about his hat.
It was a sign of mourning for a sweetheart that never lived.
The man with the keen little eyes stood charged with having conjured before the mind of the old bachelor the picture of a beautiful and lovable woman that through this creature of the imagination he might swindle him of his earnings.
When it was no longer possible to keep loving hope in the breast of the village bachelor the creator of this sweetheart phantasm killed the lady of shadows in a letter. The dupe was heart broken. He had loved deeply, had felt the pangs of love, and he still suffers the torture of having had heaven spread before his mind’s eye and then ruthlessly wiped away.
For fourteen years Prosecutor Brown charges, and claims to have ample evidence to prove the charge, William A. Barnes held the mind of the bachelor, George F. Osborne, in thrall with imaginary loves, getting from him in the meanwhile fully $6,000, all the money he earned in that time as a watchmaker. As the Connecticut law does not carry a charge of swindling for more than a year before the limitation for prosecution comes, there is against Barnes the charge of swindling only $500, the amount given up by Osborne during 1910. On this charge Barnes is now under bail to appear for trial in the County Court during the December term.
The grief in the eyes of the bachelor watchmaker, the fact that he stood stripped of every cent his labor had brought him, the fake letters that the fake sweetheart had written him — all in the handwriting of Barnes — the heart-hopelessness of the man sent a thrill of compassion through the hearts of the Judge and the Prosecutor when the case was brought up for the preliminary hearing. If ever a man had been cruelly bilked both by his fellow-man and that incomprehensible thing called fate, George Osborne appeared to be that man.
The scam artist sent letters and photos. And the watchmaker bought it all, even when the Post Office sent back his own letters stating that no such person lived at the given address. Be sure to read the article for the details.
“Marjorie Daw” in the headline refers to an 1869 short story by Thomas Bailey Aldrich about a man whose tale is nearly identical to George Osborne’s. It’s written as a series of letters between a man and a woman. The man falls in love with the woman, and later learns that she was a fabrication of his friend. You can get the story for free in the format of your choice from Project Gutenberg.
There was also a silent film star named Marjorie Daw. She was born Margaret House, and was just eight years old when this article was published. She may have taken her stage name from the short story.
WOOED A “MARJORIE DAW” FOR FOURTEEN LONG YEARS: Connecticut man Gave Up His Earnings Freely to an Immaginary Girl, the Creation of a Neighbor, It Is Charged — Long Correspondence With His Phantom Fiancee. (PDF)
From October 2, 1910