Bizarre People: Victor Lustig

Construction phases of the Eiffel Tower

Victor Lustig was a Hungarian con artist whose cons were so bizarre as to be brilliant, at least before he was caught. Predictably, he irked his girlfriend, who ratted him out for counterfeiting money in the United States. However, before he was locked up in U.S. federal prison for the remainder of his life, he was pulling off cons across the globe.

One of Victor Lustig's strangest cons landed him the nickname of "The Man Who Sold the Eiffel Tower -- Twice." This sobriquet is not quite accurate. He only succeeded in selling the Eiffel Tower once and it was during a time when the Eiffel Tower was a failing landmark that was not supposed to stay up forever. It was not the international icon that it is today. Still, it was not exactly hiding out in a corner of Paris, either.

In 1925, Victor Lustig convinced a group of scrap metal dealers to come hear his sales pitch for the Eiffel Tower. He told them that he, as a representative of the French government, was charged with selling the Eiffel Tower. Because it was falling apart and expensive to repair, the government wanted to get rid of it. After another meeting, he was able to convince Andre Poisson to buy it. The man never alerted the authorities because he felt pretty stupid. That left Victor open to try the stunt again. The second time, one of his prospective victims caught on and turned him in. Lustig got away, though.

Another interesting con of Victor Lustig's was selling fake counterfeit machines. This was before he got into real counterfeiting. He would load up a fake machine with three one-hundred dollar bills, tell his victim that the machine took 6 hours to create a single bill, demonstrate the fact and then get away with 18 hours to spare. The victim would give him 30 grand, wait 12 hours for the machine to spit out the other 2 hundreds and then another 6 hours to find out that it really could not "print" anything.

Perhaps the most daring of all Lustig's cons was the Capone con. Victor Lustig convinced Al Capone to give tens of thousands of dollars to fund a non-existent stock deal. Lustig was not stupid enough to walk away from Al Capone with that kind of money. Instead, he waited a bit and then returned the money, saying that the deal had fallen through. Al Capone gave him five grand as a reward for being honest, thus fulfilling Lustig's daring con.

In the end, Lustig was sold out by his girlfriend, who found out he was fooling around with another con man's mistress. He was a smooth talker, but he could not talk his way out of the fling or federal prison. He died a prisoner in 1947.