No. 540
Crime, Eccentricity, and the Sporting Life in 19th Century America.
October 27, 2021

The Badger Game

February 28, 2011
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This Halloween ghost story with a twist appeared in the “Caledonian Mercury,” November 8, 1828.  (Via Newspapers.com)A spiritual visitant, as was supposed, for some days lately afforded subject of wonderment to the natives of the port of Leith. In a house in the Kirkgate, there was heard the  most appalling and unearthly noises, succeeded by the tumbling-about of articles of furniture, after
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Strange Company - 10/27/2021

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[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

Artifact #87Letter side AJeff Smith collection(Click image to enlarge)    t is quite interesting to know you are living in a haunted house." Artifact #87 is a response letter from aunt Emmie Lu Gardner, (Soapy Smith's sister), age 45 to Jefferson Randolph Smith III, (Soapy's son), age 25. It's a typical "keeping up with the family" type letter. Below is the transcribed text.  Waco TexasDec
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Soapy Smith's Soap Box - 10/26/2021
Despite the judge’s admonitions, Henrietta Robinson covered her face with a black veil as she stood trial for murder. Everything about the defendant was a mystery—her motive for murder, her behavior before and after the crime, and even her true identity. It was well known that “Henrietta Robinson” was an assumed name, but who she really was has never been determined.Read the full story here: The
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Murder By Gaslight - 10/23/2021

Youth With Executioner by Nuremberg native Albrecht Dürer … although it’s dated to 1493, which was during a period of several years when Dürer worked abroad. November 13 [1617]. Burnt alive here a miller of Manberna, who however was lately engaged as a carrier of wine, because he and his brother, with the help of […]
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Executed Today - 11/13/2020
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.[more]

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 has 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 field of prostitution by eliminating the need for a prostitute.

 


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  • Swierczynski, Duane. The complete idiot's guide to frauds, scams, and cons . Indianapolis, IN: Alpha Books, 2003.