#42 Edward A. Condit

Edward Augustus Condit (1848 – 1931), aka Robert S. Corning, Edward A. Cranston, W. S. Carson, Sterling, Cornell — Forger, Passer of Bad Checks

From Byrnes’s text:

DESCRIPTION. Forty-one years old in 1886. Medium build. Height, 5 feet 11 inches. Weight, 167 pounds. Dark brown hair, hazel eyes, long pointed nose, sallow complexion. Has a scar on right side of neck. Small dark mole on left cheek. Prominent eyebrows.

RECORD. Edward A. Condit, a swindler who had a peculiar method of dealing in worthless checks, was arrested in New York City on March 2, 1883. Condit’s manner of doing business was to inquire by letter the terms upon which a broker would deal in a stock, and then ordering him to buy or sell, giving as margin a check on the Orange (N.J.) Savings Bank. Condit had only a small amount on deposit in that bank, but owing to the time required for the passage of the check through the Clearing-house, and other delaying causes, several days elapsed before its worthless character was exposed, and he was enabled to reap the benefit of the fluctuations in the price of the stock within the time required to collect the check. If the stock moved to his advantage, he contrived to meet or intercept the check, and take the benefit. If the transaction went against him, he allowed the check to go to protest, so that the broker was the loser.

Condit has a pleasing address, and is apparently a man of some education. He gave a short history of his life after confessing his operations. He said that he inherited a small fortune in 1869, which in the course of the next two years he increased to $100,000. He began to speculate in Wall Street in 1872. At first he was successful, but after the “panic” he began to lose, and by 1876 he was a beggar.

Then it was that he attempted to retrieve his losses by the mode described above. When arrested on March 2, 1883, he was committed for trial by Judge Cowing, but was turned over to the Jersey City police authorities in October, 1884. On December 1, 1884, he made a nearly successful attempt to escape from the Hudson County Jail, on Jersey City Heights, where he was confined awaiting trial for swindling several storekeepers in Jersey City by worthless checks. He was convicted on December 24, 1884, and sentenced, January 23, 1885, to four years in State prison at Trenton, N.J., where he was taken on June 28, 1885. Condit’s picture is an excellent one, taken in 1884.

Edward A. Condit came from a privileged family, and was gifted with many head-starts in life: family wealth, goods looks, athletic ability, intelligence, and a fine education. His schooling ended with a degree from Princeton. While attending college, Condit was a fine first baseman for the Nassau Club of Princeton, one of the country’s best amateur teams (in the years 1862-1866, just before the first professional clubs). He graduated college prepared to make his own fortune–and he was ready to cut corners to do so.

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Condit began his career was a Wall Street speculator after inheriting a substantial amount of money in 1869. One of his first ventures was the Enterprise Slate Company of Lehigh County, Pennsylvania. In 1870, Condit and partner H. W. H Fitzgerald were sued by a third partner, Henry Kern, for breach of promise. Condit and Fitzgerald were in court a year later on charges of forging a check; it is unclear whether this was related to the slate company venture or a different incident. Condit defended the charge by arguing that there was no forgery, merely the issuance of a check from an account that temporarily had insufficient funds.

In 1876, Condit made a desperate attempt to manipulate stock prices by sending a fake telegram to Wall Street announcing the death of Cornelius Vanderbilt (who did pass away a year later). Condit’s deception was exposed, but he escaped punishment.

By 1883, Condit had refined his trick of purchasing margins from brokers with worthless checks, and then reaping the profits and quickly covering the checks; or, if the investment didn’t work out, allow the checks to be protested. This worked until he tried the same trick on storekeepers in New Jersey, who brought a civil suit against Condit. Confined to a Jersey City jail, Condit made a foolish attempt to escape. He was eventually sentence to four years in the New jersey State Prison.

In 1891, Condit traveled to Holyoke, Massachusetts and attempted to cash four checks under the name Robert S. Corning. He was arrested and released on bail, which he defaulted. He was captured again in Madison, Wisconsin in December 1892 under the name W. A. Carson. This time he was sentenced to three years of hard labor at the Wisconsin State Prison at Waupun. He was caught once more in Chicago in October 1898 under the name W. A. Cornell, but was released on his own recognizance.

Condit unwisely returned to Massachusetts and was soon identified as a forger and swindler, and was sentenced to ten-fifteen years in State Prison under the name Edward A. Cranston.

Condit’s last travail occurred in Tiffin, Ohio, in October 1919. His long-suffering wife Addie had passed away a few months earlier. Now an old man, Condit was worn down by the struggle:

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After his release from Ohio, Condit returned to Newark, New Jersey to live with his daughter. He died there in 1931 at age 82.

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