More than 3,600,000 pageviews from 150 countries


Saturday, June 17, 2017

Volga Adams: New York City's Biggest Psychic Swindler

     Mrs. Frances Friedman of Manhattan's Upper West Side had been a widow for eight years. In September 1956 she visited a psychic parlor on Madison Avenue run by Volga Adams, a self-appointed gypsy princess. Adams advertised her services in the form of a large drawing painted on her storefront window of a hand, palm facing out. Mrs. Friedman hoped the psychic--"Madam Lillian"--would read her horoscope and identify the source of her depression.

     Volga Adams, a gypsy psychic well known to detectives on the NYPD Pickpocket and Confidence Squad, quickly diagnosed Mrs. Friedman's problem. "There is evil in you," she proclaimed with great authority. Adams instructed her client to go home and wrap an egg in a handkerchief that had belonged to her husband then put these two items into a shoe made for a left foot. The psychic instructed Mrs. Friedman to return to the parlor the next day with the handkerchief and the egg. At this point, Mrs. Friedman should have had the good sense to walk out of the shop and not return.

     As instructed, the prospective mark returned to the gypsy psychic's place of fraud. Adams opened up an egg she had switched with the real one. The phony egg contained a small plastic head. The greenish-yellow head featured a pair of horns, pointed eyebrows, and a black goatee. According to Adams, the presence of the devil's head in the egg was a bad sign. It meant that Mrs. Friedman was cursed. But why?

     Phase two of Volga Adam's psychic confidence game involved handing the victim a dollar bill that had a rip in it. Friedman was told to take the currency home, put it in a handkerchief, and wear it near her breast for two days.

     Upon her return to Volga Adam's scam parlor, Madam Lillian, following a prayer in a foreign tongue, opened the handkerchief to find a mended dollar bill. This "miracle" supposedly revealed the source of Mrs. Friedman's curse. The money her husband had left her upon his death was the problem. Money, the root of all evil, had cursed the widow. If Mrs. Friedman wanted to rid herself of the monetary curse, she would have to give Madam Lillian all of that money, cash she would ritualistically burn. Once that was done, the widow's happiness would return. Divesting herself of the filthy lucre would also clear up her troublesome skin rash. Who would have guessed that this gypsy princess was also a dermatologist.

     A few days after the miracle of the mended dollar bill, Mrs. Friedman withdrew money from six bank accounts and cashed in all of her government bonds. She delivered the $108,273 in cash, stuffed in a paper bag, to another Madison Avenue psychic parlor. (In 1956, that was a lot of dough.)

     Volga Adams suggested that Mrs. Friedman, having rid herself of the evil money, leave the city for a few days to enjoy some "clean air." This is called "cooling the mark." The next day, as Madam Lillian left town herself, her mark headed for the Catskill Mountains in eastern Pennsylvania. A perfect score.

     For a period of a year after Volga Adams bilked Mrs. Friedman out of her life's savings, she cooled the mark with regular phone calls, made collect, from various places around the country. Back in Manhattan in the fall of 1957, Adams informed Mrs. Friedman that she needed another $10,000 to remove traces of the lingering evil underlying the victim's curse. Mrs. Friedman, obviously unaware that she had been swindled, gave Adams the cash. She turned over the money on the condition that the psychic not destroy it, and later return it to her. After she had given the cold-blooded swindler $108, 273, Mrs. Friedman barely had enough money to support herself. A couple months after walking off with the $10,000, Volga Adams called the victim and announced that she could only return $2,000 of the $10,000. The psychic said she was in Florida and would be returning to New York City soon.

     The con game had run its course. Volga Adams did not return to Manhattan, and she quit calling the victim. Thanks to Madam Lillian, Mrs. Friedman not only remained cursed with depression, she was now broke. Finally, she picked up the telephone and called the police. When detectives with the Pickpocket and Confidence Squad heard Mrs. Friedman's story, they recognized the M.O., and knew that Madam Lillian was Volga Adams, one of the city's most notorious con artists.

     Following her indictment in New York City for grand larceny, the 42-year-old defendant went on trial in February 1962. Five weeks later, the jury of five women and seven men informed the judge that they were deadlocked and could not reach an unanimous verdict. The judge had no choice but to declare a mistrial.

     The Manhattan prosecutor scheduled a second trial for May 1963. Volga Adams avoided that proceeding by pleading guilty to a lesser theft charge. After the judge handed the defendant a suspended sentence, she left the city. But before she departed for Florida, Adams placed a curse on the prosecutor. "No woman will ever love him," she predicted.

     Volga Adams continued preying on vulnerable (and in my view stupid) women. A few years after Madam Lillian left Manhattan, Frances Friedman died. At the time of her death, she was lonely, humiliated, and depressed. Thanks to the gypsy princess, Mrs. Friedman died broke.

      

No comments:

Post a Comment