Robin 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”.
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- Desperately Seeking Mr. Goad – researching an individual February 1, 2017
In April 1893, Charles Deville Wells – the man who broke the bank at Monte Carlo – was the subject of a court hearing. He claimed to be working on a variety of inventions, and promised fabulous rewards to people prepared to finance them. The only problem was that, in almost every case, he failed to complete the patent application process and simply pocketed their money. At length, various people who had been defrauded by him brought claims against him. The press published their names, and the amounts he was alleged to owe each one of them. This clipping from an Irish journal was found on the website of the British Newspaper Archive.
When researching The Man who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo, I was intrigued by this list. But I realised that a bare list of names is of little interest to readers: to make the story come to life I would need to provide at least some background details about the victims. I knew several research tools that could be employed. Readers and family history enthusiasts might be interested to read something of the processes that I used.
Catherine Phillimore and William Cosby Trench – the two victims who lost by far the greatest amount of money – were from wealthy, aristocratic families and were thus very easy to research. Stories of their involvement with Charles Wells are set out in some considerable detail in the book. I did not bother to research Mr Allen (for whom we have no first name or any further details whatsoever). And I knew that Frank Green would be too commonplace a name for a positive match to be made. I already knew that Frank Jupp had supplied uniforms for the crew of Wells’ luxury yacht, and that Henry Vaughan had been a clerk employed by Wells. And “F M Francis Budd” was something of a mystery person, as discussed in an earlier blog post. I finally chose Frederick John Goad as an example, as in his case I could use a mixture of everyday resources plus a few less usual ones.
The surname Goad is quite uncommon: in 1881 only 606 people in England and Wales had that surname. And luckily we have both of his forenames, which narrows the search down considerably. (You can find out a great deal about British surnames, their relative frequency, and the parts of the country where they may most commonly be found, here).
I began by looking through my own research, which included a list of all the patents applied for by Charles Wells. Some of these were applied for jointly with other persons, and I quickly discovered an application from ‘Wells, C. and Goad, F.J.’ in respect of ‘incandescent electric lights’ dated 26 March 1887. It seems that Wells had persuaded Goad to buy a share of a patent for £25 (equivalent to about £2,500 today) and Goad now wanted his money back, six years having passed since the transaction. Like most of Wells’ backers, Goad had not received a penny of the fabulous profits that Wells had promised. (UK Patent information is available at The Intellectual Property Office. Incidentally, I found that the staff were particularly helpful and customer-friendly. A small fee may be charged for copies of the patent applications themselves).
I then went to the FreeBMD website to check birth records. FreeBMD is a very useful website for research like this (aside from being free of charge, as the name implies). Using it requires a little more of a learning curve than Ancestry, say, but I like the way it displays results in a simple list form. Between 1837 (when civil registration of births, marriages and deaths began) and 1893 (the date of the hearing) there was only one birth record for a Frederick John Goad. The date was 1865 and the place Hackney. This would mean he was about 22 years of age at the time when the patent was taken out. My initial impression was that perhaps this was rather young. However, one of Wells’ other victims, William Cosby Trench, was also a man in his twenties, who had handed the equivalent of £1 million to Wells and – like the others – never saw a penny in return. Still, the possibility remained that this could be another, older, Frederick John Goad, who had been born before the start of civil registration. If he had been born in, say, 1830, this would have made him about 57 when he invested in Wells’ invention – an age which, to me, seemed somewhat more likely. To investigate further, I turned next to records of deaths. This was slightly more difficult because, after 1911, only the middle initial is shown in the records, instead of the full middle name. I found only two entries in FreeBMD, as follows:
1939 Goad, Frederick J. died Portsmouth age 73 (therefore born abt. 1866)
1943 Goad, Frederick J. died Liskeard (Cornwall) age 82 (therefore born abt. 1861)
Neither of the two deceased men above was born prior to civil registration in 1837, so that is no longer an issue. The age given for the first is a good match for the twenty-two-year-old of 1893, and it now seems very likely that this is the man we are looking for. There is a question mark, however, over the place of his death – Portsmouth – since his birth was in the London Area, and I’ll return to this later.
I’ve often found that a simple Google search can work wonders when tracing people – whether they are your own ancestors or – as in this case – participants in a book on a historical topic. Using “Frederick John Goad” as a search term, I quickly found an entry in the London Gazette (a weekly journal filled with all kinds of official and legal notices. Though not one of the most obvious research tools, it can often be useful). The following paragraph appears on 13 March 1896:
A further glance at the records shows that Frederick’s father, Alfred, died three years after the partnership was dissolved, at 76 years of age. Quite possibly the notice in the London Gazette indicates that he was handing over the reins to his son. We can find Frederick in the 1901 Census at 29 High Street, Islington, with his wife and family:
Turning now to the Probate Calendar, (this can be consulted on Ancestry) we can now verify that – despite my earlier misgivings – the record of Goad’s death in Portsmouth in 1939 was indeed the same person, and we can be sure of this because the name of his widow corresponds precisely with the record in the 1901 Census. (See above)
(Incidentally, it is while I was searching the Probate records that I looked up the other Frederick J. Goad—the one who died in 1943. This person’s middle name was in fact James—not John—thus ruling him out completely).
To sum up, we have discovered with reasonable certainty that there was only one Frederick John Goad in England and Wales at the time of the court case against Charles Wells of Monte Carlo fame. The individual in question was at the time in partnership with his father in a firm of jewellers and goldsmiths at 29 High Street, Islington. Soon afterwards his father withdrew from the business, leaving Frederick in charge. Frederick married Eleanor Kate Yeman in 1895 and they had 5 children, one of whom died (1911 Census). By the end of his lifetime Frederick and Eleanor had apparently retired to the Portsmouth area, and he died there at the age of 73, shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War. He left an estate worth £6,400 to his wife (approximately £360,000 today: https://www.measuringworth.com/ukcompare/relativevalue.php)
Mr Goad doubtless features in other records, but – as this piece shows – a combination of different sources can tell us quite a lot about a person, and can transform a simple name into an individual’s mini-history. On a final note, Goad figures in this rather amusing report from the Daily News of 16 June 1902 (British Newspaper Archive).
- Photographic Memories (2) January 30, 2017
Charles Jeremiah Wells – father of Charles Wells (the man who broke the bank) – lived at this house, 2 Montée des Oblats*, in Marseille. (*Since re-named rue Vauvenargues). It would appear that the house was first occupied by members of the family when Charles ‘Monte Carlo’ Wells was entering a successful phase of his career as an engineer when in his thirties, and it is thought that he may have bought it for his parents.
At the rear of the building is a steep drop, (seen in the second illustration), providing two extra storeys below the house. Nearing the end of his life, and seriously ill, Charles Jeremiah Wells wrote: ‘I have the first society here, and the first salons open to me – but can’t enjoy it – perfectly isolated – having nothing and wanting nothing – inhabiting one of my apartments – one bed – no servant – and done for by the family below. From my former habit of life it is a terrible come-down in one year.’
More photographs from my research on the man who broke the bank will follow soon ! Watch this space!!
- Photographic Memories January 29, 2017
When researching a book I like to visit the sites where the action took place. Usually I take a number of photographs to remind me, when writing later, what the place was like.
It took me some time to realise that I have assembled something of an image library in connection with The Man who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo: from this image of a house in Marseille where he once lived …
… to this letter written by the man himself …
Over the coming days and weeks I’ll be dipping into the photo album to find other pictures such as these.
- On this day 105 years ago – 20 January 1912 January 20, 2017
Falmouth, Cornwall. 20 January 1912.
Thirty-two-year old Herbert John Crocker, a police constable, had seldom witnessed such excitement in all his life. The previous day his boss had received an urgent telegram from Scotland Yard in London. Apparently a big man-hunt had been launched for a fraudster who had swindled thousands of people in France. The total haul was said to be in the millions, and the suspect was believed to be living locally in the Cornish port of Falmouth (population about 11,000). This was a rare event indeed for the local police, whose everyday activities were generally confined to looking for lost dogs, investigating cases of stolen bicycles, and pursuing the odd sheep rustler.
Rumour had it that a man named Charles Deville Wells was involved somehow. Wells had famously broken the bank at Monte Carlo almost twenty years earlier, earning the sobriquet ‘Monte Carlo Wells’. He had inspired a music-hall song at the time, and this was still as popular as ever — in fact there was hardly a man, woman or child in the country who could not hum the jaunty melody or recite at least some some of the lyrics.
To add to the intrigue, a whisper went around the police station that a high-ranking French detective was taking the train down from London and would be arriving first thing in the morning. By all accounts this Frenchman knew no English. But Crocker spoke reasonable French — in fact he was the only member of the ten-man local police force to do so. It was under these circumstances that one of Falmouth’s more junior officers was sent to meet one of France’s top detectives when the overnight express arrived at 10.00 a.m. on Saturday, 20th January.
Sous Brigadier Jean Roux was a member of an elite squad of 40 men, whose business was to solve the most serious of crimes. He was attached to the Sûreté — the French equivalent of Scotland Yard — and was based at 36 Quai des Orfèvres beside the River Seine (later famous in fiction as Inspector Maigret’s HQ in the novels of Georges Simenon).
After meeting the portly French detective, Crocker changed into plain clothes and the two men, chatting animatedly in French, went into the town to look around. Almost a year earlier, Inspector Roux had met Charles Wells and had conducted a preliminary interview. His sixth sense had told him that Wells had something to hide, but before further enquiries could be made the suspect had disappeared into thin air, taking with him millions of francs belonging to French citizens. Roux was one of the few people who could identify him. The French detective and his new-found English friend sauntered up and down Falmouth High Street, mingling with the crowds of Saturday shoppers. But the mysterious Mr. Wells was nowhere to be seen.
Wells had arrived in the town several months previously, accompanied by a glamorous female companion and the couple had been a constant subject for gossip and speculation in the local community. They called themselves “Mr. and Mrs. Deville”, and lived on a splendid yacht in the harbour. Mrs Deville was very obviously French: she wore fashionable clothes, shoes and jewellery — all direct from Paris, it was rumoured. Mr Deville spoke perfect English but with a very slight foreign accent. He always wore a blue yachting cap, and consequently the locals nicknamed him “the French captain”. When the couple came into town they spent money freely. Local gossip had it that Madame had inherited a fortune. When a local shopkeeper offered to supply them with goods on credit, “Deville” cheerfully replied, ‘I have plenty of money. Why should I not pay when I buy?’
Around 1.00 p.m., the local Superintendant of Police, together with Inspector Roux and another officer, arrived at the Prince of Wales Pier. They rowed out to the yacht, where the couple had just begun their lunch. Charles Deville Wells seemed unperturbed, but beneath the calm exterior he must have been shocked to see the burly French detective who had quizzed him so thoroughly in Paris the previous April. Before long “Mr and Mrs Deville” were locked up in the cells at the nearby police station.
A whisper went around town that they would be taken to London two days later, on the Monday. Crowds gathered at the railway station that morning hoping to catch a glimpse of the ‘man who broke the bank at Monte Carlo’. But as the hours went by there was no sign of him. The day wore on and still the people waited patiently. A hundred and fifty locals who huddled in the falling temperature and drenching rain were finally rewarded when two cabs appeared around nine o’ clock in the evening. Pandemonium followed, as the mass of people surged forward to see Wells and his mistress. The excited crowd spontaneously burst into song:
You can hear them sigh and wish to die,
You can see them wink the other eye
At the man who broke the bank at Monte Carlo.
- On this day 125 years ago – 7 January 1892 January 7, 2017
Once again, we’re going back in time exactly 125 years to catch up with the continuing story of Charles Deville Wells, “the man who broke the bank at Monte Carlo”.
Having won the equivalent of £6 million the previous year, Charles Wells returned to Monte Carlo on 7 January 1892. He went straight to the Casino after dinner, and began to play the card game, trente-et-quarante, with ‘a big pile of notes’ as stake money. January and February were the height of the Monte Carlo season, and the salons were crowded. ‘Every movement of his is watched with the greatest curiosity, and his play excites much interest,’ an observer wrote.
His previous visits to the casino had been something of an endurance test. Every day he had sat at the gambling table for eleven hours at a stretch, playing non-stop without even taking a break for food or drink. This was, he said, part of his “infallible system” for winning.
But this time his approach was different and he only dropped in to the Casino at intervals and played for a short time. Journalists, who had gathered to watch him play, immediately spotted the change in his fortunes. ‘Mr. Wells started backing both chances for one, two, and three thousand francs each, but immediately began to lose,’ The Standard reported. ‘He tried all the dodges of his famous system, but the cards kept beating him mercilessly, and when the tables closed at eleven o’clock he had lost two thousand pounds’ [roughly equivalent to £200,000 today].
Wells’ appearance was described as thin and careworn, and it is known that he had been ill that winter. On the following day he did not go to the Casino until late afternoon. At first it looked as if his luck was changing and he enjoyed a few minor wins. But every time he amassed some money he lost it again. ‘Before the dinner hour he was cleared out of all his capital, and left the building,’ one of the reporters wrote. ‘He has several times reached the maximum amount permitted, but has invariably lost his biggest stakes. Mr Wells has now lost seventy-thousand francs [approaching £300,000 in today’s terms] since his arrival on Thursday’. After spending only three days or so at Monte Carlo, and having failed to repeat his previous successes, Wells packed his bag and left.
When questioned at a later enquiry, he was adamant that the system that he claimed had taken him years to perfect was infallible. His losses in January 1892 had only occurred because he allegedly had his wife and family there ‘worrying him about his meals’, and he had been unable to follow his usual procedures.
As far as we know ‘Monte Carlo Wells’ never returned to the place with which he will always be associated. In a court appearance in 1912, though, he testified that he had gone there again in 1910, and had used the same “infallible system” to win the equivalent of almost a quarter of a million pounds. But, like many claims he made during the course of his eventful life, this was probably untrue.
A fuller account appears in my book, The Man who broke the Bank at Monte Carlo: Charles Deville Wells, Gambler and Fraudster Extraordinaire, published by The History Press.
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The Man who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo is available in hardback for as little as £12.91 (WHSmith) and as an e-book for £6.64 (Amazon). Waterstones have copies available at many of their stores, as well as online.