No. 522
Crime, Eccentricity, and the Sporting Life in 19th Century America.
May 17, 2021

The Badger Game.

February 28, 2011
...
...

The following tale comes from that classic collection of mostly first-hand accounts of supernatural encounters, "Lord Halifax's Ghost Book."  It was related to Lord Halifax in 1920 by his nephew, Charles Dundas.  Dundas had recently heard the tale from a renowned Royal Air Force pilot named Edward Villiers.  (Later Sir Edward Villiers.)  It is one of the briefest stories in the "Ghost Book," but
More...
Strange Company - 5/17/2021

`
LOOK OUT FOR "SOAPY" SMITHSt. Louis DispatchSeptember 23, 1897(Click image to enlarge) e reported himself in good health and money."   New information showing that Soapy Smith did go to St. Louis to check up on his ailing wife, Mary, after leaving Skagway.  Below is the transcription of the article from the St. Louis Dispatch, September 23, 1897. LOOK OUT FOR “SOAPY” SMITH ― The Smooth Man
More...
Soapy Smith's Soap Box - 5/11/2021

Born in 1870 and completed 13 years later (at a cost of $15 million and with more than 20 worker deaths), the Brooklyn Bridge is marking its 138th birthday this week. What better way to honor an icon than with a brilliant lithograph produced by a Pearl Street publisher depicting the fireworks, ship parade, and […]
More...
Ephemeral New York - 5/17/2021
Youth With Executioner by Nuremberg native Albrecht Dürer … although it’s dated to 1493, which was during a period of several years when Dürer worked abroad. November 13 [1617]. Burnt alive here a miller of Manberna, who however was lately engaged as a carrier of wine, because he and his brother, with the help of […]
More...
Executed Today - 11/13/2020
The crack of gunfire startled the residents of 88 Merrimack Street, a boarding house in Lowell, Massachusetts, around 10:00, the night of  August 31, 1876. The boarders rushed to Lulu Martin’s room on the third floor, where the shot was fired. The door was locked; they heard a man inside shouting, “Go for the police! She has shot me! I will hold her! Break open the door!”A group of men broke in
More...
Murder By Gaslight - 5/15/2021

Along with Bertie Whitehead, Abby’s half-sister, May 13th was also the birthday of Helen Craig, famous stage actress best-remembered for Johnny Belinda. Helen Craig, who played Abby in The Legend of Lizzie Borden was born May 13, 1912, a month after Titanic sank. Helen Craig was not a great beauty by Hollywood standards, but a very fine actress. https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0185871/?ref_=fn_al_nm_1 Her portrayal of Abby Borden as a mean, greedy glutton, more than any other thing, has affected the way most people think of Abby Borden. Sadly it was not an accurate portrayal. Helen did some television in her later career, most notably The Waltons. She died in New York City in 1986. She was married to stage and film actor John Beal who played Dr. Bowen in Legend of Lizzie Borden. They are seen together in the publicity photo below.
More...
Lizzie Borden: Warps and Wefts - 5/13/2021
[Editor’s note: Guest writer, Peter Dickson, lives in West Sussex, England and has been working with microfilm copies of The Duncan Campbell Papers from the State Library of NSW, Sydney, Australia. The following are some of his analyses of what he has discovered from reading these papers. Dickson has contributed many transcriptions to the Jamaica Family […]
More...
Early American Crime - 2/7/2019
Homeward Bound. | Saloons and Houses of Ill-Fame.

The Badger Game.

Badger Game

New York, New York, The badger game—possibly the most lucrative and insidious con game of the 19th Century—ensnared hundreds of men a month in New York City alone.  The premise is very simple; a man is approached by an attractive young prostitute, usually when the man is intoxicated, and he agrees to follow her to her room. Then, just as they are about to consummate the bargain, the door bursts open and the woman’s angry “husband” storms into the room, threatening violence, legal action, and public exposure. Eventually, the husband agrees to back off if he is paid a large sum of money. The mark pays and quickly leaves. Of course, the incident is never reported.

The Victorian era in America, characterized by extreme modesty and prudery, was, ironically, also a golden age of prostitution. Every city in America had a red light district and, though prostitution was illegal, it was tolerated and even encouraged by city governments who viewed the social evil as a public necessity. Though it wasn’t discussed openly, it was believed that men had certain needs that had to be met. However, this applied only to the lower classes; a gentleman would never admit to visiting a prostitute. This attitude guaranteed the success of the badger game.

Shang Draper

Shang Draper

In 1880s New York, the king of the badger game was a gangster named Shang Draper. Draper ran a saloon on Sixth Avenue and Twenty-Ninth Street and a staff of forty female employees who lured drunken customers to a whorehouse on Prince and Wooster streets. In another house, Draper employed girls aged nine to fourteen. In this variation, the “parents” of the girl would burst in and easily shake down the mark.

Another noted New York badger game operator was Kate Phillips who, reportedly, one night took a visiting St. Louis coffee-and-tea dealer back to her room. A policeman burst into the room and caught them in flagrante. He arrested the coffee-and-tea man for adultery and took him to court where the judge fined him $15,000. The man paid the fine and was never seen again. The whole setup—the cop, the court, the judge—was phony.

Panel Game

The Panel Game

A related scam is the panel game. While the mark is suitably distracted, with his pants draped across a conveniently placed chair, another man, known as a “creeper,” opens a sliding panel in the wainscoting quietly enters the room and steals the mark’s money and jewelry.

The simplest variation of the badger game is known as the Murphy game allegedly named for its inventor, a clever pimp named Murphy. He would describe a beautiful prostitute and persuade the mark to give him the money, thus eliminating the possibility of being caught paying a prostitute. Murphy would get the money then send the mark to room 419 (let’s say) of the whorehouse. By the time the mark realized that room 419 did not exist, Murphy was long gone. Murphy revolutionized the field of prostitution by eliminating the need for a prostitute.

 


  • Asbury, Herbert. The gangs of New York: an informal history of the underworld. New York: Thunder's Mouth Press; 2001.
  • Every, Edward. Sins of New York as "exposed" by the Police Gazette, . New York: Frederick A. Stokes Co., 1930.
  • Sante, Luc. Low life: lures and snares of old New York. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1991.
  • Swierczynski, Duane. The complete idiot's guide to frauds, scams, and cons. Indianapolis, IN: Alpha Books, 2003.