Sydney Lascelles (1856-1902), aka Sidney Lascelles, Hugh Leslie Courtenay, Marcus LaPierre Beresford, Charles Pelham Clinton, John Reginald Talbot, Robert Raymond Arundel, Harry Vane Tempest, Charles J. Asquith, Lord Dennison, etc. — Impostor, Swindler
Sydney (Sidney) Lascelles (a name as good as any of his aliases) spent his whole life fooling people–a trait that continued for years after his death. Either through sloppiness or doubt, Superintendent Byrnes profiled Lascelles twice as two different people: once in his 1886 edition, under the entry for Hugh L. Courtenay; and again in 1895, under the name “Sid. Lasalle.” Biographies that linked these identities had been published in newspapers in the 1890s; and also revealed in Lascelle’s very rare published autobiography, From wealth and happiness to misery and the penitentiary by “Walter S. Beresford.” However, because later writers and editors relied heavily on Byrnes as a source , many accounts of the exploits of Sidney Lascelles begin in the 1890s, missing the first sixteen years of his remarkable career.
Lascelles first appeared in San Francisco in February, 1875 as “Lt. Harry Vane Tempest, Royal Navy” accompanied by another young man named Park, a member of the British army. They attended social affairs and racked up a large hotel bill, but apparently received a letter with enough money to settle their bill. Continuing eastward by ship, Lascelles was next heard from in Cuba, where he went by the title “Lord Hay.” As would become his pattern, Lascelles always assumed names that could be found in Debrett’s Peerage. Little is known of his activities in Cuba, other than that he did not conduct himself honorably.
The New York Times later published his subsequent movements 1:
After a hiatus of three years, Lascelles reappeared in America still engaged in his same act:
Lascelles was sent back to Utah, where he was tried and acquitted for lack of evidence. However, he was brought back to New York to face charges of forgery in England. He was put on a ship to cross the Atlantic, and was convicted in an English court in June, 1881. He was sentenced to three months hard labor at Clerkenwell prison, then shipped to an West Indies colony.
In 1887, Lascelles reappeared in America as John Reginald Talbot, and insinuated himself in society circles in Newark, New Jersey. This time, he condescended to admit his finances were low, and obtained a job at the Westinghouse Electric factory. However, within a short time, they fired him for laziness. By March, 1888, he was found in Troy, New York, working in a dye factory as “John R. Temple.” He was recognized while attending theater, pickup up by police, and told to leave town.
Lascelles turned his luck around over the next eighteen months, and by December 1889 was headed back to England aboard The City of Paris ocean liner, quartered in the richest stateroom, wearing the finest clothes, and dining with the captain. For the first time, he used the name Sidney Lascelles, son of the Earl of Harewood. He soon went broke at the ship’s poker table, and was saved by a Brooklyn businessman who covered his check. Once ashore, the Brooklynite discovered Lascelles’ check was bogus, but by chance spotted him in a hotel and confronted him. Lascelles broke down in tears and begged for mercy, handing over all the jewelry he had.
The next year, 1890, found Lascelles in Algiers, where he met an American widow, Susannah Lilienthal, and her 22-year-old daughter Maud. Mrs. Lilienthal was the heiress of C.H. Lilienthal, a tobacco magnate. Maud was entranced by the dashing Sidney Lascelles, with his soft tenor voice, his gaiety, his singing, and his quick wit. Though equally charmed at first, Mrs. Lilienthal suspected something amiss with Lascelles, and took Maud back to New York. Sidney followed. Upon learning Lascelles was in New York, Mrs. Lascelles took Maud and fled west to Sewickley, Pennsylvania, outside of Pittsburgh. Lascelles followed them, got in touch with Maud, and convinced her to elope. They were married on February 2, 1891.
At around the same time, Lascelles had forged a check in order to buy into a Georgia mining operation. He was arrested and taken to Georgia to face trial, and was eventually convicted. He was released on a $5000 bond during appeal. During that period he broke up with his wife, despite the fact that she had provided his bail. Eventually his conviction was upheld, and he began serving a seven year sentence in 1892. During his time at a prison lumbering camp, Lascelles penned his autobiography, which was published in 1893.
He was pardoned in 1897, and promptly married another wealthy young woman, Clara Pilkey. He was well-liked in Georgia despite his crimes, and found a position with a town handling their utility contracts.
There were rumors that his dishonesty drove him out of Georgia, and that he went to Mexico and Texas with his new wife, burning through her money.
He turned up in Asheville, North Carolina in 1902, seriously ill with tuberculosis. He died within a few weeks. Lacking funds from anyone for a funeral and burial, Sidney then began his strange afterlife, becoming a local legend as a funeral home prop.
After many years, Lascelles body was claimed by his first wife, Maud Lilienthal, who had the remains cremated and spread in the Potomac River. Maud later settled in Asheville.
There are many references, beginning in the 1870s, suggesting that Lascelles started his life as the son of a gamekeeper on the estate of the Earl of Devonshire. Other suggested that he was the illegitimate son of a lord. In his autobiography, he claimed to have been born in Australia, and had lived in both India and China. Nothing concerning his origins has been verified.