|Born||Louis Herbert Belonger|
May 13, 1849
|Died||April 20, 1924 (age 74) |
Lou Blonger (1849 – 1924) was a Wild West saloonkeeper, gambling-house owner, and mine speculator, but is best known as the kingpin of an extensive ring of confidence tricksters that operated for more than 25 years in Denver, Colorado. His "Million-Dollar Bunco Ring" was brought to justice in a famous trial in 1923.
Blonger's gang set up rooms resembling stock exchanges and betting parlors that were used by several teams to run "big cons". The goal of the con was to convince tourists to put up large sums of cash in order to secure delivery of stock profits or winning bets. The depiction of the "Wire Con" seen in the movie The Sting is a fairly accurate representation of a typical big con.
Blonger had longstanding ties to numerous Denver politicians and law enforcement officials, including the mayor and the chief of police. In 1922, however, District Attorney Philip S. Van Cise bypassed the Denver police and used his own force, funded by donations solicited in secret from local citizens, to arrest 33 con men, including Blonger, and bring the ring to justice.
Lou Blonger, with his brother Sam in Denver, operated several saloons and gambling houses. In addition to hosting the typical array of poker and faro tables, the Blongers' operation also branched out into the "policy racket" (also known as the "numbers game"), an illegal lottery that paid out on a daily basis. The Blongers aggressively targeted tourists, who were lured to the saloon by a network of henchmen called "steerers" and then cheated out of their money. The sophistication of the swindles developed over time. In the early years they were as simple as marked cards or loaded dice; later, elaborate "big cons" became the Blonger trademark.
The Blongers' had plenty of competition, including saloon man Ed Chase and Soapy Smith, the famous Western con man. Smith was an uneasy Blonger ally for a while, but the frequent quarrels between steerers from the rival groups suggested a confrontation was brewing. In 1895 Smith went on a drunken rampage through several Larimer Street establishments including the Blongers' saloon, where police removed him; one account alleged that Lou Blonger was crouched behind the cigar counter, ready to unload a shotgun. In the wake of the rampage, Smith and his brother Bascomb were charged with the attempted murder of a saloon manager. Realizing he had lost control of the situation, Soapy left for the mining boomtown of Skagway, Alaska, in 1897, ceding control of Denver's underworld to Lou Blonger.
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