‘Front’ is the slang term indicating presence, demeanour, poise, manner. Without it, the confidence man will not go far.
From I confess!: an exposé of the Sydney underworld … by Sweeney, ex-crook, A Continental Publication, Sydney, 1935
Parting fools from their money was the plotter’s goal, and took careful planning and superior powers of persuasion. Plotters each had their own speciality, ranging from organising complex bank robberies to deceiving a drunk with a sleight-of-hand card trick. Many plotters possessed charisma and could play a part to perfection.
Special Photograph number 1159. New South Wales Police Forensic Photography Archive, Sydney Living Museums
Alex Westland Robertson
(alias Alex Westland Mountbatten)
18 January 1923
Suspected of embezzlement
In 1923, Robertson was arrested for stealing from his employer, but he was better known as a confidence man. He specialised in swindling women, convincing them he was single, rich and related to Lord Mountbatten, when in fact he was married, poor and had no connection to the British aristocracy. He impressed his targets with ‘diamonds’ that he claimed were from a South African mine he owned – they were in fact pieces of glass. Robertson persuaded many women to lend him money, having assured them he was expecting to receive £30,000. He even became engaged to one rich heiress.
Special photograph number 781. New South Wales Police Forensic Photography Archive, Sydney Living Museums
Cameron McIntosh Bean
(alias Clifford McIntosh Bennett)
24 March 1922
Suspected of attempted bank robbery
Bank robbers were considered daring, clever and flashy, and were greatly admired by other felons. The debonair Bean was a wannabe bank robber with a history of fraud convictions in Canada, his homeland. Deciding to rob a bank in the beachside suburb of Coogee, he drew up multiple plans and conducted numerous reconnaissance missions. His plot was derailed when his supposed accomplice informed police, and Bean was arrested on entering the bank. After serving his sentence, he was deported.
Special Photograph number 169. New South Wales Police Forensic Photography Archive, Sydney Living Museums
Gilbert Cochrane Burleigh (alias Gilbert Burley, Gilbert Burly, Gilbert Hawtree) & Joseph Delaney
27 August 1920
Suspected of false pretences (Burleigh); suspected of stealing in a dwelling (Delaney)
Confident and charming, Burleigh described himself as a promoter. His many scams included collecting money to produce a book that was never published and taking bets on a handicap horserace, the winnings of which were never awarded. He had an earlier conviction for selling an aeroplane he did not own, enticing his victims with perhaps the most aspirational purchase imaginable in the 1920s. Delaney lacked Burleigh’s ambition: he was a thief who stole from his fellow guests at boarding houses.
Special Photograph number 1884. New South Wales Police Forensic Photography Archive, Sydney Living Museums
(alias the Marchioness de Falaise)
11 November 1929
Suspected of blackmail
Anderson claimed to be a marchioness and a relative of film star Gloria Swanson. She and her partner, Frank Arnold, travelled the world on the proceeds of a blackmail racket targeting married men. After Anderson had seduced the target, Arnold would contact the man and demand money in exchange for keeping quiet. The racket was finally uncovered after one of the men bravely took the matter to police.
Special Photograph number 852. New South Wales Police Forensic Photography Archive, Sydney Living Museums
(alias Henry Burke, Henry Joubert, John Marchant, Henry Wilhelm)
20 July 1922
Suspected of stealing from the person
Marchant was a master of the ‘Dutch watch’ scam. He would befriend a stranger before his ‘Dutch’ accomplice approached, offering to sell Marchant a watch at a fraction of its supposed value. Marchant would ask his new friend to lend him the sum, promising to pay him back. He would then head off to get the money, leaving the watch as security. Marchant would not return and the victim would discover he had been swindled and left holding an almost worthless watch.