Biography of Gambler and Con Man Charles Wells Part 2

About the famous gambler and con man Charles Wells who was able to repeatedly break the bank in Monte Carlo.


CHARLES WELLS (1841-1926), Gambler and confidence man

What was the secret of Wells's success? Ten top casino detectives observed his every movement. They also checked the roulette wheels and watched and questioned the croupiers, but they could produce no evidence of chicanery. Millionaires, noblemen, and beautiful society women courted Wells assiduously, hoping to discover his infallible system.

Or was it a system? Gamblers who tried to copy his methods lost heavily. "Anyone is free to watch me play and imitate me, but the general defect of the ordinary casino gambler is that he lacks courage," pontificated Wells. "He will not risk sufficiently large stakes and he is afraid of his losses." In addition, he did have a system. He was, he explained, an engineer and inventor, and he had discovered the principles of his system while working on a wondrous fuel-saving device for steamships.

News of Wells's fantastic gambling exploits made headlines all over the world. A tune called "The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo"--written by Fred Gilbert, introduced in London's Oxford Music Hall, published in April, 1892--became an international hit. Dressed in top hat and tails, "Monte Carlo" Wells was the darling of London society. Lords and ladies listened reverently to his ungrammatical cockneyisms. And bands immediately struck up "The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo" whenever Wells entered a nightclub.

In the winter of 1892, the self-proclaimed engineer sailed back to Monte Carlo in a fabulous yacht, The Palais Royal. The ship boasted a ball-room, a music room, and luxurious accommodations for 60 guests. The number one guest was Joan Burns, a beautiful artists' model who had become Wells's mistress. Visiting the casino again, Wells broke the bank six more times. Then he began to lose, lose, lose. He wired his newly found rich friends in London for more money, and when it arrived, he lost that as well.

Shortly afterward, Wells was arrested at Le Havre, extradited to England, tried at Old Bailey, and sentenced to eight years in prison for bilking some of Britain's finest families of approximately $150,000. The "engineer" had already squandered his earlier casino winnings in wild extravagance before the 1892 trip to Monte Carlo. This latter voyage, like the one in 1891, had been financed by investors taken in by his claims for his bogus inventions. The Palais Royal was supposedly testing Wells's nonexistent fuel-saving device. The funds wired to him were needed for "repairs."

Upon his release, Wells changed his name to Davenport, teamed up with a defrocked priest, and swindled his way to another three-year term in jail. Then he migrated to France, where he fleeced 60,000 Frenchmen by promising to pay 1% interest a day on all moneys lent him. The scheme was lucrative until the police caught on and sent him up for another five years.

The man who broke the bank at Monte Carlo died broke in Paris in 1926. His infallible system? Toward the end Wells admitted he'd just had a lucky streak. Ultimately, the real winner was the casino. In addition to getting its money back from Wells, it also benefited immensely from the resultant publicity, since news of Wells's great success attracted droves of hopeful middle-class gamblers to Monte Carlo.

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