No. 458
Crime, Eccentricity, and the Sporting Life in 19th Century America.
January 21, 2020

The Badger Game.

February 28, 2011
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On this date in 1877, the British put a bow on a suppressed rebellion in Malaysia by executing one of its leaders. The conflict is known as the Perak War. Perak was a sultanate on the Malaysian peninsula that had been torn by conflict for much of the 19th century and in 1874 sought protectorate […]
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Executed Today - 1/20/2020

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(Click image to enlarge) new quote attributed to bad man "Soapy" Smith Discovered in an edition of the Alaska Mining Record, April 5, 1899. ______________________ The sensational press of the east are now engaging in some real pipe dreams of their own, and allow a column or two of Canadian and American fights on the Atlin and Porcupine border to creep into their paper. One
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Soapy Smith's Soap Box - 1/16/2020

Ivan the Terrible may have been, well, terrible, but it was after he died in 1584 that the pure hell really began to break loose. Ivan left numerous children by various wives and mistresses, an uncertain succession, and a royal court containing more than the average number of psychopaths. It was easy to predict this would not end well. Ivan was initially succeeded by his oldest son, the sickly
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Strange Company - 1/20/2020
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
This week we present a guest post from Shelley Dziedzic of Lizzie Borden: Warps & Wefts, a blog devoted to the Borden murders and the city of Fall River, Massachusetts—"News, articles and photos about The Lady, The Crime, The City and The Era.” Shelly is a member of the Muttoneaters, a group that investigates all things related to Lizzie Borden, and the Pear Essential Players who annually
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Murder By Gaslight - 1/18/2020

By foot, streetcar, horse-driven carriage, automobile, or elevated train, New Yorkers at the turn of the 20th century came to do its shopping on 23rd Street—the northern border of the Ladies Mile shopping district, which boasted eminent stores such as Stern Brothers and Best & Co. 23rd Street was such a busy shopping corridor, postcards […]
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Ephemeral New York - 1/20/2020
[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
Homeward Bound. | Saloons and Houses of Ill-Fame.

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.