How did Violet Charlesworth manage to keep three mansions, four motor cars, and a dozen St Bernard dogs – with no income?
That’s the question I try to answer in this slice of Edwardian social history which I’m currently researching. This is the true story of a fraudster millionaire Violet Gordon Charlesworth who was arrested for fraud in 1909, along with her mother. They served three years in Aylesbury Women’s Prison.
Violet (assisted by her mother) conned huge sums of money from friends, businesses and banks – on the belief that she was going to inherit a fortune of £15 million on her 26th birthday, from the estate of the late Lord George Gordon of Khartoum. She needed money to support her life style: fast cars, jewellery, fur coats, and dogs.
A desperate woman, she was declared bankrupt several times, and things started to fall apart. She faked her own death in a motor car accident, assisted by her sister and her chauffeur, and disappeared. Her story made the front pages of the national newspapers, as well as in America. The police and news reporters tracked her around the country, as she pretended to be someone else when challenged.
Through the power of the press, Violet became a celebrity – albeit for a very short time.