Peck, Ellen (1829–1915)
Peck, Ellen (1829–1915)
American con artist . Born Ellen Crosby, and known as Nellie, in 1829 in Woodville, New Hampshire; died in 1915.
A con artist who used her wiles to swindle a series of lovers out of at least one million dollars in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Ellen Peck earned a reputation as the "Queen of Confidence Women," an accolade all the more astonishing in light of her late start in criminal activities. Born in 1829 in Woodville, New Hampshire, Peck left her family and moved to New York City at the age of 51. There she ingratiated herself to elderly soap tycoon B.T. Babbit. After becoming his mistress, she robbed him of $10,000 in negotiable bonds, selling them and pocketing the proceeds. When her lover thought that he might have misplaced the bonds, Peck offered her assistance in locating them; he paid her a fee of $5,000, and she disappeared.
Babbit realized that he had been taken and summoned the authorities, who located Peck and arrested her four years later. At age 55, she was sentenced to four years' imprisonment. Upon her release from custody in 1888, Peck went back to her old ways, and after promising to marry a doctor named Marks she conned him out of $20,000 and left him at the altar. Police later caught up with Peck for this swindle, but not before she managed to steal an unknown but substantial sum from robber baron Jay Gould, who was then in his 50s.
In 1894, posing as the wife of Swedish Navy Admiral Johann Carll Hansen, Peck took out fraudulent bank loans totaling more than $50,000. She then began a sexual relationship with Dr. Christopher Lott, a Brooklyn physician for whom she had started working. She stole $10,000 from Lott and physically debilitated him: the physician, who was in his 80s, was so badly hobbled by their sexual activities that he found it necessary to hire a nurse to take care of him. An apparently equal-opportunity thief, Peck then formed a romantic attachment with the nurse and stole the woman's life savings of $4,000.
Peck was arrested for the last time in 1913, after she swindled a married Latin-American businessman. At age 84, she had seduced the man in her cabin aboard a luxury cruise ship bound for Veracruz, and in exchange for her silence she demanded and received ownership of several coffee plantations in his possession. When she died two years later, she was said to be worth more than one million dollars, which she had hidden in banks throughout the United States.
Nash, Robert Jay. Look for the Woman. NY: M. Evans, 1981.
Howard Gofstein , freelance writer, Oak Park, Michigan