#334 M. A. Schwab

Maurice A. Schwab (1857-1928), alias Frederick S. Mordaunt, Fred Schwab, Julius Schwartz. Swindler.

From Byrnes’s 1895 edition:

Thirty-eight years old in 1895. Born in United States. German parents. No trade. Single. Medium build. Height, 5 feet 7 inches. Weight, 135 pounds. Black hair, brown eyes, dark complexion.

Schwab is one of the most successful rascals at large. He first made the acquaintance of the police while he was operating a bogus theatrical agency in New York City, where he succeeded in swindling a number of women. He is well known in Chicago, Ill., Boston, Mass., Baltimore, Md., Philadelphia, Pa., and New York City, where he has carried on his swindling schemes, sometimes as the manager of a litho graph company, or a coal and iron company, or his old business of a theatrical agent.
He was arrested in New York City on April I3, 1882, in company of Robert Sufferage, alias “Henry Williams,” alias “
“Rummels,” another New York pickpocket, who has since developed into a bank sneak (No. 205), charged with swindling a number of women by the “theatrical dodge.” Schwab and Sufferage advertised for girls that wanted to go on the stage, and managed to swindle them out of hundreds of dollars.
For this offense Schwab was sentenced to three years in State Prison at Sing Sing, N. Y., on May I6, 1882, by Recorder Smyth, of the Court of General Sessions, New York City.

Though the crime and subsequent prison sentence that Byrnes relates for Maurice A. Schwab occurred before Byrnes published his 1886 edition, Schwab was certainly active after his release in 1884–and was involved in shady deals up until the year of his death in 1928. Schwab, a Chicago native, began his career at age 20, in 1877,  by posing as a St. Louis newspaper reporter visiting Louisville, KY, and later New Orleans, loudly announcing himself as being in those locales to write up their local businesses (and accepting payment for favorable publicity). His tour ended in New Orleans, where his stack of unpaid bills for fancy lodgings finally identified him as a “d.b.”–dead beat.

The following year, 1878, Schwab was mentioned as a small-time theatrical manager, in charge of a company presenting the old standard, The Black Crook, in Indianapolis. The company ran up bills, and Schwab was only saved by the intervention of his father, a Chicago businessman, who paid off the star actors and then cut off his son. Schwab dragged the remnants of the company to St. Louis, but met a poor reception.

Schwab then migrated to the nation’s theatrical capital, New York, and advertised himself as a company manager, and ran into trouble when he published ads for a new troupe invoking the names of famous actors, who had never heard of him.

In 1881 he was discovered in a Denver luxury hotel, posing as a Brazilian diplomat, and announcing that he was in the United States to gather a workforce of Chinese immigrants to serve in Brazil, which had a labor shortage. He enticed other hotel lodgers to invest in the scheme, and solicited loans. When reporters started to investigate, Schwab left town on the first train.

In 1882, he ventured to Philadelphia, where he was arrested for setting up a “bogus agency with intent to defraud the mercantile community.” He escaped conviction only because he was able to produce several character witnesses that testified to his sterling character.

A few months later, the episode that Byrnes referred to occurred in New York, in which Schwab and Robert J. Selfridge took money from aspiring actresses with promises of starring in a new troupe (which never materialized).

Upon his release from Sing Sing in 1884, Schwab adopted the alias Frederick S. Mordaunt–the name he would live under the rest of his life. He immediately embroiled himself in one of New York City’s most sensational stories of 1884: the elopement of marriage of Victoria Morosini (daughter of the chief aide of financier Jay Gould) to her coachman, Ernest Schelling-Huelskamp. For a newspaper, Mordaunt wrote a slander of Morosini in which he asserted that she intended to blackmail her father for $25,000 in return for cancelling theatrical appearances which she had booked. Moreover, letters and witnesses later surfaced that implicated Mordaunt himself in a plot to break up the marriage by arranging for a woman to seduce Ernest. Mordaunt, it appears, hoped to be rewarded by Victoria’s father for ending the marriage.

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When that scheme failed, Mordaunt next appeared in the upper Midwest as the leader of a “junior” theatrical troupe which presented well-known productions with all the roles performed by youngsters–one example being Gilbert & Sullivan’s Mikado. He soon married one of the stars, Mary Edith Huff, a 19-year-old who looked much younger. She became a versatile actress under the stage name Marion Fleming. This lent Mordaunt enough legitimacy to survive as a theatrical agent, though by 1889 his inclination to make promises that he could not keep forced him from New York to Boston, where he attempted to open an investment banking firm. He was arrested in New York for claiming that he had been given funds by his Boston investors, which proved to be false–he had left Boston with nothing but a string of debts.

Mordaunt was quiet for the decade between 1887 and 1897, attending the career of his wife, and also working honestly as a railroad freight manager, based in Chicago. However, his wife died in 1899 (buried in Indianapolis, alongside an infant that died shortly after birth. “Frederick” also has a stone beside her, but was not interred there.) In 1897 he headed the Vicksburg Land and Improvement Company, which intended to bring manufacturing to Vicksburg, Mississippi; at the same time he formed a company to provide transportation and lodging to gold hunters traveling to Alaska and the Yukon. Both were bubbles, but tangentially related to his expertise in railroad management.

In the early 1900s, Mordaunt wrote a book on the railroad industry, and also floated the idea of a National Railroading School that would train a new generation of railway managers. However, those investigating his credentials to operate such a school uncovered his sordid history, and ruined his prospects for that project. Mordaunt remarried before 1910, and had a son with his second wife; oddly, the son was given the same name as the deceased infant mothered by his first wife. About the same time he began his next venture, publishing The National Police Magazine, a collection of true police stories (and a obvious knock-off of the National Police Gazette.) Mordaunt soon earned the ire of the chiefs of the Chicago Police Department, who did not appreciate their subordinates boasting about and taking credit for big busts; also, Mordaunt encouraged his subjects to provide him with copies of collected evidence, which was supposed to be kept private.

Chicago police detectives discovered that Mordaunt had a habit of employing young women as housekeepers, and then taking them on business trips–and of not paying their wages regularly. The spat continued when a Chicago Police Deputy ordered the magazine to be suppressed. And, not coincidentally, a supposed 17-year-old woman claimed that Mordaunt enticed her into a sham marriage, and would not leave her alone after she tried to break off the relationship. The woman (was was actually 19) later recanted her story, explaining that she made it up to cover up the fact that she had been fired from her retail sales job, and that she had never met Mordaunt before. Mordaunt accepted her apology, but remained firm in his belief that she had been put up to making the accusations by those who meant to ruin him.

Mordaunt’s last years were spent as the head of investment companies looking to buy and trade local light rail (streetcar) companies. As these deals often involved public bids and approval of local officials–conditions that were ripe for bribes from various parties–Mordaunt seemed to earn a comfortable living. He died just weeks after planning one such deal in Rockford, Illinois.

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