No. 466
Crime, Eccentricity, and the Sporting Life in 19th Century America.
April 08, 2020

The Badger Game.

February 28, 2011
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Via Newspapers.com Poltergeist activity often takes place within a surprisingly short time frame, but this flying visit may be one for the record books. The “Black River Gazette,” August 6, 1875: A San Diego correspondent of the San Francisco Mercury writes as follows, under date of 13th ult, in relation to some strange doings in the former place. A rather singular event occurred a few
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Strange Company - 4/8/2020

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Epidemics can shape the way a city develops. And it was an outbreak of a lethal disease that helped create the Greenwich Village that’s been part of the larger city since the 1820s. In the 17th century, the village of Greenwich was a mostly rural suburb of farms and estates (below, Aaron Burr’s home, Richmond […]
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Ephemeral New York - 4/5/2020

From the New England Weekly Journal, July 23, 1733 — a three-month-old news item (part of a roundup of dated minor dispatches) that had to cross the Atlantic from the mother country. Ipswich, April 7. Last Saturday Samuel Partridge was executed here, for robbing Mr. Barwell of Brockley in this City, of 31l, 10s., a […]
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Executed Today - 4/7/2020
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
Robert Hoey told police that as he was coming home from work in the early hours of March 15, 1898, he literally tripped over the body of a dead woman in the courtyard of the tenement where he lived at No. 27 Monroe Street in New York City. An autopsy revealed that the woman had been strangled to death and the police believed that the body had been dragged to the courtyard known in the
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Murder By Gaslight - 4/4/2020

Entire article Seattle Daily Times Aug 19, 1898 (transcribed below) (Click image to enlarge) he looked her trouble in the face and did not hesitate to go into the camp of his enemies." The following is an interesting newspaper clipping discussing Mary Smith's (Mary Eva Noonan) trip to Skagway, Alaska to settle her husband's (Jefferson Randolph "Soapy" Smith II) estate. She knew
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Soapy Smith's Soap Box - 4/6/2020
[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.