Victor Lustig was a notorious fraudster who became famous as the man who sold the Eiffel Tower.
The tower is France’s most famous landmark.
It is visited by millions of people every year and is widely regarded as one of Europe’s biggest tourist attractions.
The landmark in Paris was built in 1889 by the engineer Gustave Eiffel.
But in 1925, the upkeep of the tower was proving very expensive for the French government to maintain.
There was a feeling amongst the French public it might be better to get rid of the legendary landmark.
This is when Lustig comes in.
The Czech conman worked with a forger to prepare fake government stationery.
He then arranged a meeting with a group of scrap metal dealers in Paris.
He told them he was part of the French Ministry of Posts and Telegraphs.
During the meeting, he convinced the traders the government was keen to sell the iconic tower for scrap, but was keen to keep the matter quiet due to how controversial it would be.
He said the government had decided it needed removing as it didn’t fit in with the rest of the city’s architecture like the Notre Dame and the Arc de Triomphe.
Lustig claimed it was his job to choose the dealer to receive ownership of the tower.
During the meeting, Lustig was able to work out which of the traders was the most greedy and gullible.
Andre Poisson – a gullible rich man
He decided it was a man called Andre Poisson – an ambitious man who wanted to rise to the elites of Parisian businesspeople.
In a private meeting, Lustig convinced Poisson he was a corrupt official wanting to make more than his meager government salary.
Poisson was convinced owning the tower would elevate him to the status he craved and agreed to pay a large bribe to ensure he was chosen.
He paid Lustig around 70,000 francs.
After the “deal”, Lustig then fled to Austria.
He had suspected Poisson would be so embarrassed at being conned he’d not report the crime.
Once he was confident his victim was too ashamed to reveal his own stupidity, Lustig returned to France.
The scam had worked so well that Lustig decided to do exactly the same thing again.
Escape to America and arrest
However, this time, the police were informed, and Lustig had to escape to America to avoid arrest.
While in the US, Lustig carried out several other scams, including ripping off the legendary gangster Al Capone.
The highly risky con involved him persuading the gangster to invest $50,000 in a scheme that never existed and then claiming it had fallen through.
Eventually, Lustig was arrested for his involvement in a counterfeiting racket in 1935.
Even then, he was able to escape from custody after pretending to be ill and using a specially-made rope to flee.
He was caught again and sentenced to 20 years in the infamous Alcatraz prison, where he died in 1947 after contracting pneumonia.