The Mark Inside: A Perfect Swindle, a Cunning Revenge, and a Small History of the Big Con
In 1919, Texas rancher J. Frank Norfleet lost everything he had in a stock market swindle. He did what many other marks did—he went home, borrowed more money from his family, and returned for another round of swindling.
Only after he lost that second fortune did he reclaim control of his story. Instead of crawling back home in shame, he vowed to hunt down the five men who had conned him. Armed with a revolver and a suitcase full of disguises, Norfleet crisscrossed the country from Texas to Florida to California to Colorado, posing as a country hick and allowing himself to be ensnared by confidence men again and again to gather evidence on his enemies. Within four years, Frank Norfleet had become nationally famous for his quest to out-con the con men.
Through Norfleet’s ingenious reverse-swindle, Amy Reading reveals the mechanics behind the scenes of the big con—a piece of performance art targeted to the most vulnerable points of human nature. Reading shows how the big con has been woven throughout U.S. history. From the colonies to the railroads and the Chicago Board of Trade, America has always been a speculative enterprise, and bunco men and bankers alike have always understood that the common man was perfectly willing to engage in minor fraud to get a piece of the expanding stock market—a trait that made him infinitely gullible.
Amy Reading’s fascinating account of con artistry in America and Frank Norfleet’s wild caper invites you into the crooked history of a nation on the hustle, constantly feeding the hunger and the hope of the mark inside.
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Q. What is this book all about? A. Amy has pulled together some recent history to write a story about a man, Norfleet, who was first conned out of some money and then chases down and apprehends all of the con men, by himself and with the help sometimes of law enforcement. Q. Was it an interesting book? A. Yes, it reads fast and Amy writes well. Q. Did you learn much? A. Yes, quite a bit. For one thing, I learned how much people a few generations ago are just like us today. Only the technology has changed. People then, and today, sought and seek celebrity and money through whatever means available to them, legal or illegal. Norfleet, for example, wrote an autobiography and made money lecturing and touring. All this while his wife was trying to run his farm. I sensed that Frank Norfleet was going through a mid-life crisis, but this is never mentioned. He seems to do everything he can to stay away from his wife. But Amy is not a psychologist. She is basically an historian, specializing in American studies. This book covers the early 20th century, but most of the topics, the con games, the bunko, the newness of stock exchanges was all new to me, or history I had forgotten. The book is worth reading and is not too specialized.