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Biography

Robin Quinn PhotoRobin Quinn is an author and radio producer based in South-East England. His new book, The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo explores the life of Charles Deville Wells, fraudster and gambler, and spans the second half of the nineteenth century and the early twentieth century. Published 2016 by The History Press Ltd.

THE MAN WHO BROKE THE BANK AT MONTE CARLO

The incredible true story of Charles Deville Wells, gambler and fraudster extraordinaire.

Charles Wells has two loves in his life: a beautiful, headstrong, French mistress, Jeannette, and his sumptuous yacht, the Palais Royal. At the risk of losing them both, Wells stakes everything he owns at the roulette tables in Monte Carlo’s world-famous Casino – and in the space of a few days he breaks the bank, not once but ten times, winning the equivalent of millions in today’s money.

Is he phenomenally lucky? Has he really invented an “infallible” gambling system, as he claims? Or is he just an exceptionally clever fraudster?

Based on painstaking research on both sides of the Channel and beyond, this biography reveals the incredible true story of the man who broke the bank at Monte Carlo – an individual who went on to become Europe’s most wanted criminal, hunted by British and French police, and known in the press as “Monte Carlo Wells – the man with 36 aliases”.

Order now: Amazon, Waterstones, WHSmiths, iTunes.
Read excerpts on Google Books.


Now available as an audio book on CDs
And as an audio download

audiobook

HITLER'S LAST ARMY

After the Second World War 400,000 German servicemen were imprisoned on British soil – some remaining until 1948. These defeated men in their tattered uniforms were, in every sense, Hitler's Last Army.

Reviews of Hitler's Last Army

“Probably the best book on the subject in the last 20 years”
[recollectionsofwwii.blogspot.co.uk]

“I recommend this book as a must to read.”
[★★★★★ Amazon review by “a German ex-POW”]

“Well written, interesting, informative, and heart-warming in equal measure … I would recommend this even to those not especially interested in WW2, as a fascinating slice of Anglo-German social history of 70 years ago. Buy it."
[★★★★★ Amazon review by J.B.]

Blog: All Posts

  • The elusive Lizzie Ritchie

    In a recent blog post here I discussed some of the accomplices who helped Charles Wells in his bank-breaking and other activities.  One of these was named by him as Lizzie Ritchie.  When he was held in jail for fraud her name appears on a grovelling letter to Queen Victoria, begging for his release.  She is listed as his co-applicant on an 1887 patent for a musical skipping rope.  He also named her as his backer of his gambling at Monte Carlo (though he changed his story on this point several times).

    Although I was rather doubtful whether she really existed, I noted that in New York State, USA, a Lizzie Ritchie had applied a few years later for a patent on a new type of washboard she had invented.  On trying to follow up this lead previously, I could not be sure whether this was the same Lizzie Ritchie, and could not locate her in census records.

    Recently I looked once again at the sparse evidence that I had, and noticed the name of Jacob Ritchie, who had signed as a witness to the US patent application.  I guessed that Jacob must be a relative – a husband, perhaps, or a brother.  This narrowed things down considerably, and I was finally able to locate the couple in the United States 1900 census.  (I had not traced them before because their surname was spelt “Richie” on the census return).

    So was this the Lizzie Ritchie who allegedly helped Charles Wells?  It now seems unlikely.  The woman living in the USA in 1900 was born in Ireland in 1868 and had emigrated to America in 1886.  She had married her spouse in 1889.  On this evidence it seems most unlikely that she would have returned to Europe on several occasions over the years in order to assist Charles Wells.  Lizzie, it seems, was a laundress, and her husband, Jacob, was a “general mechanic”.  This sounds like an ideal combination for inventing a new-fangled washboard; but there is no evidence that either of them ever registered any other US patents.

    Based on this new evidence, the Lizzie Ritchie mentioned by Charles Wells was probably a product of his imagination; the woman in the United States was almost certainly not connected with him.

  • Traces of the Past – German prisoners in the UK
    The words scratched on this roof tile are 'Arbeit macht das Leben suess' (work makes life sweet). A touch of irony perhaps? Or was the work a welcome relief from the monotony of a POW camp? (Picture credit: Brian Grint / Great Yarmouth Mercury)
    The words scratched on this roof tile are ‘Arbeit macht das Leben suess’ (work makes life sweet). A touch of irony perhaps? Or was the work a welcome relief from the monotony of a POW camp? (Picture credit: Brian Grint / Great Yarmouth Mercury)

    A reader of Hitler’s Last Army has sent me details of an article which recently appeared in the Great Yarmouth Mercury.  Builders renovating a house in the Norfolk village of Acle have found a Nazi swastika as well as slogans in German scratched on roof tiles.  It’s believed that German prisoners of war may have been used as a labour force to renovate the building during – or just after – the Second World War.  The building in question was the village telephone exchange at the time in question, and it’s entirely possible that POWs could have done work of this kind, especially on an official building such as this.  To see the original article click HERE

     

  • Heroic Failure

    I’ve just been reading about the British K-class submarines, which were introduced in 1917 and served until 1931.

    The K-class submarines were steam-powered, a fact which might have sounded warning bells from the very start.  And things got worse, not better, as the vessels were launched and went into service.

    K13 sank during trials.  K1 collided with K4 off Denmark and was deliberately scuttled to avoid capture. One day in January 1918, K17 collided with a cruiser.  Then K4 was struck by K6 and was subsequently hit by K7; the sub sank with all crew on board.  At the same time K22 (which was in fact the salvaged and recommissioned K13) collided with K14.  Thus, within the space of just an hour and a quarter, two of the class had sunk and three others were severely damaged.

    During a mock battle in the Bay of Biscay K5 disappeared and was never found.  K15 sank at her moorings in Portsmouth.  K4 ran aground in 1917 and remained stranded for some time.  Only one submarine of this class ever engaged an enemy vessel: its torpedo hit a German U-boat, but failed to explode.

    K18, 19 and 20 were re-designated as the M-class.  The subs still to be built were all cancelled.

  • Las Vegas Stripped Bare

    monte_bg

    In partnership with Play It By Ear Ltd., I’ve recently finished work on a one-hour documentary for BBC World Service – Las Vegas Stripped Bare.

    Gambling is only one of the many topics covered.  The programme also looks at how Las Vegas has diversified into many other attractions: exhibitions, live shows, museums and the arts.  Interviewees range from Mark Hall Patton (of Pawn Stars fame) to Marie Osmond.

    Listen now on the BBC iPlayer.

    For further info and transmission times please go to http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p055jw30

    [Updated 19 June 2017]
  • “Meet me at your bank – and bring your cheque-book”
    Drummonds Bank, London
    Drummonds Bank, London

    On a trip to London last week I made a detour via Trafalgar Square to take these photos of Drummonds Bank.  Why?

    Because the bank was already in existence on this site when Charles Deville Wells was active in London during the 1890s.  Wells, known as a “gambler and fraudster extraordinaire”, persuaded one of his victims – the Honourable William Trench – to back him in a phony patent scheme.  After handing over the equivalent of hundreds of thousands of pounds, Trench started to have doubts about the project, and when Wells asked for a further advance of money the young aristocrat hesitated.

    Finally they agreed to meet at Drummonds Bank, where many wealthy people, including members of the royal family had accounts.  This was also where Trench banked.

    Trench was persuaded to hand over a further large sum of money, but demanded that Wells provide security.  Wells offered two of his steam yachts and a smaller vessel as collateral, claiming that they were worth a substantial sum.

    Predictably, Trench later discovered that the two yachts were virtually worthless, while the smaller craft had disappeared.  In company with Wells’ many other victims, Trench became resigned to the fact that he would never regain any of the money he had put into the scheme.  Twenty years later, however, in an extraordinary twist of fate, the situation changed dramatically …

    A gleaming brass plate outside Drummonds Bank, Trafalgar Square. This almost turned out to be a selfie, but I thought I'd spare you that!
    A gleaming brass plate outside Drummonds Bank, Trafalgar Square. This almost turned out to be a selfie, but I thought I’d spare you that!