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”.
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”
“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
- On this day 125 years ago – 5 November 1891 November 5, 2016
On this day in 1891, Charles Wells was on a winning streak again at the Monte Carlo Casino.
But his past as a fraudster was already threatening to catch up with him. Exactly 125 years ago, a London magazine called Truth ran an article on Wells – the latest of many.
A fortnight ago [the editor wrote] I hazarded the opinion that the recent advertisement offering a return of £30,000 per month for an investment of £6,000 was the work of this rascal, with whose modus operandi most readers of Truth must by this time be familiar. It turns out that I was right. Several persons who have had the curiosity to answer the advertisement, sent me Wells’s replies. All are in identical terms, and actually promise that the amount of profits reaped (which, after a week, will be divided daily) will “far exceed” the fabulous sum named in the advertisement. If it is worth while for a detective to hunt down an “astrologer” who advertises for shillings, why is this Wells left free to defraud the public year after year? [Truth, 5 November 1891]
It is very clear that suspicions were already mounting, but at this point no-one was quite prepared to state that Wells, the fraudster, and Wells, the Monte Carlo bank breaker, were one and the same person. Before long, though, an enterprising journalist from the Evening News would show that this was indeed the case. The revelation would mark the beginning of turbulent times for Charles Deville Wells.
- On this day 125 years ago – 4 November 1891 November 4, 2016
After a disastrous start, when he lost the equivalent of £400,000 in a day, Wells started over again on 4 November (see previous post). This time, though, he placed bets of about £500 in today’s values – much smaller sums than previously. Perhaps he was just being unusually cautious: but it’s possible that he really was down to his last few francs. According to a report in The Times:
Commencing yesterday with the modest sum of six louis*, and gradually increasing the amount, he in the course of the sitting won the sum of 98,000 francs [thus more or less recouping the sum he had lost earlier]. An excited crowd gathered round the tables in the Casino today to watch the successful player, and their expectations were not disappointed. Mr. Wells made a vigorous attack on the bank, and at the close of play had amassed a pile of 70,000 f, bringing up the total of his winnings since his arrival in Monte Carlo to over 250,000 f [£1 million].
Charles Deville Wells had snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. But would luck be on his side for the rest of his stay, or would the Casino win back everything he had won so far?
To be continued.
*The louis was a small gold coin with a face value of 20 francs [worth about £100 in present-day purchasing power].
NOTE: The news report quoted above was published in The Times of 6 November, 1891. In that era a delay of a couple of days in reporting news from afar was not unusual. I was fascinated to see how – over the following days – many smaller British papers shamelessly copied the Times article, often word-for-word. Some credited The Times as their source, while others did not. Some even had the audacity to use such phrases as ‘from our correspondent’ to make it appear that the piece was their own ‘scoop’. In fact, it would have been prohibitively expensive for local and provincial newspapers to have overseas correspondents in all parts of the world to report such stories.
- On this day 125 years ago – 2 November 1891 November 2, 2016
After he had broken the bank at Monte Carlo in late July to early August 1891, Charles Deville Wells had kept a low profile. He had, however, placed anonymous classified advertisements in The Times and other newspapers requesting funding to the tune of £6,000 – equivalent to £600,000 today – to finance another trip to Monte Carlo.
At least two replies were from people from whom he had already obtained large amounts of cash through one of his fraudulent schemes. And this time he managed to extract another few thousand pounds from each of them.
Wells reappeared at Monte Carlo’s famous casino on this day 125 years ago.* His arrival was unexpected and went generally unreported. He was, however, recognised by the local Reuter’s correspondent, who hurriedly dispatched a brief telegram to London — so brief, in fact, that all but the most observant readers would have missed it.
Mr Wells, the English gentleman who had the good fortune to win a sum of £32,000 some months ago at the gaming-tables at Monte Carlo, has returned, and is once more playing heavily. So far, however, his luck has failed him, and he has opened the campaign by losing £4,000. [The Scotsman]
It was beginning to look as if Wells’ intention to return and break the bank had failed. Had his famous gambling system let him down? Had the casino found some way to thwart his plans? Or was it just that his luck had run out? The next few days would be decisive.
To be continued.
*In The Man who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo, I state that he returned “on 4 November, or thereabouts” (p. 83). Information which has come to light since the book’s publication suggests that he revisited the casino on 2 November.
- Last of the German POWs ? November 1, 2016
The article was sub-titled: ‘Last of the German prisoners of war who worked on English farms during the war and then settled here in peacetime’.
While Mr Luedtke was one of the last surviving German POWs, there are certainly others still alive – as some of them were quick to point out! The obituary has sparked quite a bit of interest, and my sources inform me that The Times will be publishing a feature on this subject in the very near future.
Up to 400,000 German prisoners were held in Britain between 1939 and 1948, and most of them were put to work in agriculture. After the majority had been repatriated, some 25,000 chose to remain in this country as civilian farm workers. For more info, see Hitler’s Last Army, especially Chapters 15-20.
Watch this space for updates on the projected Times article!
- Joseph Jagger – an early bank-breaker? October 21, 2016
On 14 December 2014 I wrote about Joseph Jagger, a Yorkshireman who is said to have broken the bank roughly 15 years before Charles Wells. As the evidence for this exploit seemed circumstantial I came to the conclusion that the Jagger story was probably a fiction.
More recently I have been in touch with author Anne Fletcher, who is a descendant of Joseph Hobson Jagger, and is currently writing a book about her ancestor. She has spent several years researching his life, and promises to demonstrate that he was indeed an early bank-breaker at Monte Carlo. @Annecfletcher
This is exciting news. Watch this space for further updates!