|Born||Jefferson Randolph Smith II|
November 2, 1860
|Died||July 8, 1898 (age 37) |
Jefferson Randolph "Soapy" Smith II (1860 - 1898) was an American con artist and gangster who had a major hand in the organized criminal operations of Denver, Colorado, Creede, Colorado, and Skagway, Alaska, from 1879 to 1898. He is perhaps the most famous confidence man of the old west.
He earned the nickname "Soapy" by way of his most infamous swindle, "the Prize Package Soap Sell Swindle". Through slight-of-hand, he falsely wrapped money, ranging up to a $100 bill, inside the soap wrappers, and mixed them with pre-wrapped cakes of soap containing no money. He sold these for one dollar each. Associates, working for him, would buy a cake of soap and claim to have found money, in order to induce more sales.
Smith spent the next 22 years as a professional bunko man and boss of an infamous gang of swindlers. They became known as the Soap Gang, and included famous men such as Texas Jack Vermillion and Ed "Big Ed" Burns. The gang moved from town to town, plying their trade on their unwary victims. Their principal method of separating victims from their cash was the use of "short cons", swindles that were quick and needed little setup and few helpers. The short cons included the shell game, three-card monte, and any game in which they could cheat.
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