Spanish Prisoner Letter

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Spanish Prisoner Letter

Original Spanish Prisoner Letter - 1924

Long before the well-known Nigerian money-transfer scam appeared in email inboxes worldwide, the “Spanish Prisoner” con, having begun in the 18th century, was among the first of such schemes to separate people from their money.

In its original form, the confidence trickster tells his victim (the mark) that he is a wealthy person of high estate who has been imprisoned in Spain under a false identity. Some versions had the imprisoned person being an unknown or remote relative of the mark. Supposedly the prisoner cannot reveal his identity without serious repercussions, and is relying on a friend (the confidence trickster) to raise money to secure his release.

Here we have a truly remarkable piece of criminal history—an actual original “Spanish Prisoner” scam letter, sent by the supposed inmate of a Barcelona prison in 1924 to a prominent builder in New Hampshire requesting help in liberating the sum of $360,000 (adjusted for inflation, the equivalent today would be $5.2 million).

Sent from Barcelona, dated February 21, 1924, this letter was sent to George M. Blake, of Keene, New Hampshire. The letter reads:

Dear Sir,

Being imprisoned here by bankruptcy I beseech you to help me to obtain a sum of 360,000 dollars I have in America being necessary to come here to raise the seizure of my baggage paying to the Register of the court the expenses of my trial and recover my portmanteau containing a secret pocket where I have hidden two checks payable to bearer for that sum.

As reward I will give up to you the third part viz 120,000 dollars. I cannot receive your answer in the prison but you can send a cablegram to a person of my confidence who will deliver it me addressed as follows:

Daniel Planas / Lista Correos 77 / Ripoll (Spain) / For Blake

Awaiting your answer to instruct you all my secret now sign only…

First of all answer by cable, not by letter.

Typical of the time, this letter is mostly facsimile writing made to appear as original (for repeated use targeting other victims) on lined, slightly glossy paper with the date, the “Dear Sir” salutation, the sender’s name and address, and “For Blake” actually handwritten in pen and ink. Includes original stamped envelope addressed to Mr. Blake and postmarked Barcelona.

It is really quite rare to find an original Spanish Prisoner letter, especially with its postmarked envelope establishing provenance.