The Fabulous True Story of the World's Greatest Confidence Artist
By Richard Rayner
(Anchor, Paperback, 9780385499507, 240pp.)
Publication Date: October 14, 2003
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His scam was as simple as it was brazen. Before and during the Great Depression, Oscar Hartzell persuaded tens of thousands of Midwesterners to part with millions of dollars to start a legal fund that would see the mythical fortune of Sir Francis Drake restored to his rightful heir. In return for their contributions, donors would get shares in the riches, estimated to be worth $100 billion. The money of course went in the pocket of Hartzell, who transformed himself into a hedonistic English aristocrat even as the folks back home continued to see him as a hero.
As he recounts this amazing tale, Richard Rayner tells the larger history of cons in America. We have always had a soft spot for the crafty or larger-than-life swindler, and with Drake’s Fortune, Rayner offers a delightful portrait of a uniquely American character.
Richard Rayner is the author of several books, including the novel The Cloud Sketcher and The Blue Suit, a memoir of his own life as a thief while a student at Cambridge University. His work appears in The New Yorker, The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and other publications. He lives with his family in Los Angeles.
“Rayner brilliantly tracks Hartzell's evolution from small-time crookery to a humbug of superhuman proportions. . . . [This] fascinating history amply demonstrates that hope and gullibility spring eternal.” —The Oregonian
“Rayner's private insights add another dimension to this biography that help it to transcend more run-of-the-mill true crime. . . . A fascinating and poignant read.” —The News & Observer
“Rayner's beautifully balanced book . . . crams a fairly complete history of confidence scams into the story without slowing it down for a second, and breaks your heart by showing again and again how badly these good people wanted to believe in such a ridiculous scheme." —Chicago Tribune
"Witty, concise, and thoroughly researched." —Austin American Statesman