No. 483
Crime, Eccentricity, and the Sporting Life in 19th Century America.
August 04, 2020

The Badger Game.

February 28, 2011
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The Web of Arachne by Fernand Le Quesne (1856 - 1932) Colorized by Curtis Byrne (Click image to enlarge) HE WEB OF ARACHNE COLORIZED. It's great to see what this painting may have originally looked like.      As I recently hung my framed print of The Web of Arachne, by Fernand Le Quesne (1856 - 1932), in my new place, I wondered why the artist didn't colorize it? Then I
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Soapy Smith's Soap Box - 8/4/2020

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“Beach Scene,” by Samuel S. Carr, is your portal into what people looked like when they visited a pristine, boardwalk-free Coney Island in 1879. It won’t be long before placid beach scenes like this are replaced by throngs of city residents looking for fun and adventure, and Sodom by the Sea is born.
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Ephemeral New York - 8/3/2020

Chicago Defender, Aug. 11, 1928. Former Negro Leagues baseball player James Hugh Moss was electrocuted in Georgia on this date in 1928, along with a white man named Clifford Thompson. The threesome of Moss, Thompson, and Thompson’s wife Eula, were Prohibition bootleggers from Etowah, in eastern Tennessee. A year before almost to the day (August […]
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Executed Today - 8/3/2020
You have to admire the energy and endurance of those Victorian ladies.  Even in the sweltering heat of a July …

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Lizzie Borden: Warps and Wefts - 7/24/2020
On January 6, 1873, Edward Stokes was sentenced to hang for the murder of financier and railroad magnate James Fisk. Stokes was well-connected politically and he awaited his appeal in a comfortably furnished cell in the Tombs with meals catered by Delmonicos. Stokes was granted a new trial, was convicted of manslaughter and senteneced to six years in Sing Sing prison. Read the full story here
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Murder By Gaslight - 8/1/2020

"Philadelphia Inquirer," November 16, 1919, via Newspapers.com Mary Ann Louisa Taylor (or, as she was known to her many fans, “Marie Empress,”) was a well-known actress of the silent film era. Her sultry good looks brought her much success in the “vamp” roles which were so popular in that period. She was also a talented singer, dancer, and male impersonator. Unfortunately, none of her
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Strange Company - 8/3/2020
[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.