No. 461
Crime, Eccentricity, and the Sporting Life in 19th Century America.
February 18, 2020

The Badger Game.

February 28, 2011
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(Thanks to Henry-Clement Sanson for the guest post. The former executioner — the last of his illustrious dynasty comprising six generations of bourreaux — was the grandson of that dread figure of the Paris Terror, Charles Henri Sanson. Henry-Clement’s Memoirs of the Sansons: From Private Notes and Documents (1688-1847) describes some famous or infamous executions […]
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Executed Today - 2/17/2020

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"Denver's Oldest Bar" matchbook cover outside cover - A (Click image to enlarge) new addition to my collection A matchbook cover from "Denver’s Oldest Bar" is a new acquisition to my private Soapy Smith collection. Though it is a "modern" item from the 1960s-70s, it has a direct link to Soapy Smith. "Denver’s Oldest Bar" was once controlled by Soapy, under the name, "Tivoli Club,
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Soapy Smith's Soap Box - 2/7/2020

"Boston Globe," August 19, 1905, via Newspapers.com The true-crime writer F. Tennyson Jesse suggested that not only are some people "born murderers," others are "born murderees." It is when these two types of people happen to find each other that you get A Situation. It is an interesting theory, but one that tends to fall apart once you study murder cases. For example, it is hard to find
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Strange Company - 2/17/2020
Beginning on January 1st, W&W will begin featuring fascinating short clippings from the Fall River papers and other newspapers from …

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Lizzie Borden: Warps and Wefts - 12/29/2019
Every day since Halloween 2007, the blog ExecutedToday.com has posted a story of an execution that took place on that date in history somewhere in the world. While this certainly says something about the human condition over time, it also says something about the determination and thoroughness of the blogger of ExecutedToday.com, who goes by the epithet Headsman. As someone who has scrambled to
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Murder By Gaslight - 2/15/2020

Wherever rich New Yorkers built their homes in the 19th century, they also built private stables for their expensive horses and carriages—with upstairs living quarters for a coachman or groom. So when Upper Fifth Avenue along Central Park became the city’s new Millionaire Mile during the Gilded Age, certain Upper East Side blocks to the […]
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Ephemeral New York - 2/17/2020
[Editor’s note: Guest writer, Peter Dickson, lives in West Sussex, England and has been working with microfilm copies of The Duncan Campbell Papers from the State Library of NSW, Sydney, Australia. The following are some of his analyses of what he has discovered from reading these papers. Dickson has contributed many transcriptions to the Jamaica Family […]
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Early American Crime - 2/7/2019
The Great Disappointment. | Crush Collision!

The Badger Game.

Badger Game

New York, New York, The badger game—possibly the most lucrative and insidious con game of the 19th Century—ensnared hundreds of men a month in New York City alone.  The premise is very simple; a man is approached by an attractive young prostitute, usually when the man is intoxicated, and he agrees to follow her to her room. Then, just as they are about to consummate the bargain, the door bursts open and the woman’s angry “husband” storms into the room, threatening violence, legal action, and public exposure. Eventually, the husband agrees to back off if he is paid a large sum of money. The mark pays and quickly leaves. Of course, the incident is never reported.

The Victorian era in America, characterized by extreme modesty and prudery, was, ironically, also a golden age of prostitution. Every city in America had a red light district and, though prostitution was illegal, it was tolerated and even encouraged by city governments who viewed the social evil as a public necessity. Though it wasn’t discussed openly, it was believed that men had certain needs that had to be met. However, this applied only to the lower classes; a gentleman would never admit to visiting a prostitute. This attitude guaranteed the success of the badger game.

Shang Draper

Shang Draper

In 1880s New York, the king of the badger game was a gangster named Shang Draper. Draper ran a saloon on Sixth Avenue and Twenty-Ninth Street and a staff of forty female employees who lured drunken customers to a whorehouse on Prince and Wooster streets. In another house, Draper employed girls aged nine to fourteen. In this variation, the “parents” of the girl would burst in and easily shake down the mark.

Another noted New York badger game operator was Kate Phillips who, reportedly, one night took a visiting St. Louis coffee-and-tea dealer back to her room. A policeman burst into the room and caught them in flagrante. He arrested the coffee-and-tea man for adultery and took him to court where the judge fined him $15,000. The man paid the fine and was never seen again. The whole setup—the cop, the court, the judge—was phony.

Panel Game

The Panel Game

A related scam is the panel game. While the mark is suitably distracted, with his pants draped across a conveniently placed chair, another man, known as a “creeper,” opens a sliding panel in the wainscoting quietly enters the room and steals the mark’s money and jewelry.

The simplest variation of the badger game is known as the Murphy game allegedly named for its inventor, a clever pimp named Murphy. He would describe a beautiful prostitute and persuade the mark to give him the money, thus eliminating the possibility of being caught paying a prostitute. Murphy would get the money then send the mark to room 419 (let’s say) of the whorehouse. By the time the mark realized that room 419 did not exist, Murphy was long gone. Murphy revolutionized the field of prostitution by eliminating the need for a prostitute.

 


  • Asbury, Herbert. The gangs of New York: an informal history of the underworld. New York: Thunder's Mouth Press; 2001.
  • Every, Edward. Sins of New York as "exposed" by the Police Gazette, . New York: Frederick A. Stokes Co., 1930.
  • Sante, Luc. Low life: lures and snares of old New York. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1991.
  • Swierczynski, Duane. The complete idiot's guide to frauds, scams, and cons. Indianapolis, IN: Alpha Books, 2003.