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.
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[★★★★★ Amazon review by “a German ex-POW”]
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[★★★★★ Amazon review by J.B.]
Blog: All Posts
- Partners in Crime – Charles Deville Wells and his accomplices October 1, 2016
In this short series of blog posts I investigate some associates of Charles Wells who participated in his crimes, or at least knew of them. It’s quite a short list because Wells usually preferred to act on his own. In fact, when the French police contacted their British counterparts for information, a Scotland Yard detective had replied, ‘Wells was an exceptionally reserved man, frugal and simple in his habits. He appeared to have no friends or relatives.’ It is stated in the same letter that he had only ever worked with one accomplice. But this was not strictly true.
Around 1891, when Wells broke the bank at Monte Carlo, he was in close contact with a man named Aristides Vergis, who had already experienced at least one brush with the law.
A few years previously, Vergis had taken a job with a jeweller as a kind of freelance salesman. He went to his employer with what purported to be orders from various customers for expensive items. These were to be delivered to the clients, who would subsequently be invoiced. But there was one little snag in this arrangement. Most of the ‘customers’ had not really ordered anything; and some of them did not even exist.
For example, Vergis had told his employer that a Mr. Frederick Kaye had ordered jewellery as a wedding present for his daughter, and a stylish pin for his son. The goods were duly sent to Kaye with an invoice. But Kaye later testified: ‘I have no daughter … [and] I did not order a horse-shoe pin for my son. He is only seven years old. The first I heard of this matter was receiving the invoice …’
All of the goods – to the value of about £400 (£40,000 in present-day terms) had finished up in the hands of Vergis himself. He went on trial at the Old Bailey and was sentenced in 1887 to 12 months hard labour.
Shortly after being released from prison, Vergis set himself up as a yacht-broker, and opened a plush office in a fashionable part of London – an enterprise that was no doubt funded by his haul from the jewellery scam. His business address – 37 Sloane Square – was situated within the Chelsea-Fulham-Brompton area of London which Charles Wells seemed to frequent: in fact, it was almost next door to the bank which Wells used.
Wells bought several yachts in the space of a few years, almost certainly through Vergis. They included: Kettledrum (a 55ft. steam-yacht); Ituna (a 137ft. steam yacht); Wyvern (a 60ft. steam yacht which was wrecked while in Wells’ ownership), Flyer (a small steam launch) and another yacht, Kathlinda. And in 1891 he purchased the Tycho Brahe – a former cargo ship, nearly 300 feet in length, with a displacement of 1,633 tons. This he converted, at great expense, into one of the largest pleasure yachts in the world, and renamed her Palais Royal. He appointed Vergis as his agent, and gave him a wide range of responsibilities, including selecting and appointing officers to command the ship.
When it seemed likely that Wells would be arrested on fraud charges, Vergis bribed an official with the sum of £5 (about £500 in today’s value) to find out whether there a warrant against Wells. This gave Wells an opportunity to flee the country before the net closed on him. Subsequently, having crossed the Channel in a bid to escape the British police, Wells was arrested on board Palais Royal. In a letter from the local jail he asked Vergis to look after his mistress, Jeannette, while he was in captivity. He also requested Vergis to arrange a defence lawyer for when he was brought to England to stand trial. Their association ceased, however, when Vergis died in early 1895, at a time when Wells was part-way through an 8-year jail sentence.
Vergis has proved to be a most elusive character to research. A factor which complicates matters somewhat is the spelling of his name, which appears in various records as Vergis, Verges, Vergie, and even Burgess.
I had long suspected that he was the man recorded in the 1891 census as ‘Arthur Vergis’, commission agent, living at 77 Bramber Road, Fulham. This individual’s place and date of birth are quoted as Newcastle in 1838. On noticing that Bramber Road was named during the court hearing on the jewellery case, I was convinced that this was indeed the same person.
However, all of my efforts to trace the earlier history of the elusive Mr. Vergis have failed – probably because ‘Vergis’ – like Wells – changed his identity when it suited him to do so.
In my next post in this series, I’ll be on the trail of the elusive “Lizzie Ritchie”.
Sources for the above:
- 125 years ago September 15, 2016
On 7 September, 1891, Charles Wells placed an extraordinary advertisement in The Times, seeking financial backing for a return trip to Monte Carlo. (A few weeks previously, he had won £40,000 – worth £4 million today. Now he was offering the equivalent of £3 million to anyone who would put up the stake money for his next expedition to the casino):
THIRTY THOUSAND POUNDS MONTHLY (£1,000 daily) to PARTNER, with absolute security. Partner may be cashier, or name one, advertiser not wishing to touch any of the partner’s money and will provide all his own expenses. No further liability than £6,000. Full information and undeniable proof. Write Perseverance, May’s Advertising offices, 162, Piccadilly, W.
Was this a scam, similar to those he had practised over the previous few years? Or a genuine offer? It is known that he received several replies, and the question is discussed further in The Man who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo (pages 75-79).
- The Falmouth Connection September 12, 2016
After committing bank fraud on a huge scale in Paris, in 1910-11, Charles Deville Wells (the man who broke the bank) escaped to England and lived on a yacht in Falmouth harbour. Moorings were provided by a local shipbuilding company, Cox & Co., who even received Wells’ mail on his behalf, and who almost certainly carried out work to the yacht, which Wells was always improving.
When Wells was finally arrested on the vessel, in early 1912, he was charged in the presence of a Justice of the Peace, Arthur William Chard.
Chard also had connections with marine engineering, and I mention in the book that he and the owner of Cox & Co. were evidently acquainted: ‘… on at least one occasion the two men had jointly presided over the committee which investigated wrecked and missing ships.’ I make the point that Wells was also passionate about ships and the sea, and – in other circumstances – the three men would probably have got along famously together.
An additional piece of information has come to light. Yesterday I found this on the simplonpc.co.uk website. It concerns the River Fal Steamship Company and shows that there was a further connection between Chard and Cox , which I hadn’t previously been aware of.
‘In 1899, William John Thomas, in partnership with Arthur William Chard, ordered a second smaller passenger steamer Victoria (1), delivered in 1900 from Cox & Co. Unlike the rival Benney & Co steamers, she was twin screw with a lower draft. Within six months she was sold back to her builder Walter Cox, who had a buyer ready in Mauritius. Cox delivered the replacement Victoria (2) in 1901, also twin screw. The partners adopted the title The River Fal Steamship Company. Victoria (2) was similar to her predecessor, but had a small upper deck. Both steamers had buff funnels and white hulls. In 1905, the Victoria (2) was also sold to the Portuguese Government. Once again, a replacement was ordered from Cox & Co, becoming the Princess Victoria in the combined fleet with Benney & Co in 1907.’
My thanks to Ian Boyle who runs the site, simplonpc.co.uk , which contains some very interesting material and is well worth a look!
- The World’s Longest Book Title? September 12, 2016
The Man who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo – Charles Deville Wells, gambler and fraudster extraordinaire is quite a long title!
I was wondering whether it qualified for a place in the record books, but found that, with 21 words and 102 characters, it was by no means the longest recognised book title of all time. Sadly no gold medal awaits me. The winner is … according to some sources* … a volume with the catchy title:
The history of the wars of New-England with the Eastern Indians; or, a narrative of their continued perfidy and cruelty, from the 10th of August, 1703, to the peace renewed 13th of July, 1713. And from the 25th of July, 1722, to their submission 15th December, 1725, which was ratified August 5th, 1726
By the way, I checked and there really is a catalogue entry for this on the British Library’s online catalogue
- A case of mistaken identity? September 10, 2016
While researching Charles Wells, The Man who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo, I had difficulty finding any early pictures of him. This came as no surprise. In the 19th century relatively few individuals ever had their portrait drawn or painted; and photography was an expensive and arcane art, usually reserved for important people and special occasions. But I did eventually stumble on the image shown on the left.
It crops up in several places when “Monte Carlo Wells” is mentioned on the internet. If, for example, you do a Google search for ‘Charles Wells (gambler)’ it appears in the little box to the right of the results list (on my PC anyway!)
For comparison, the sketch on the right, taken from a contemporary newspaper, portrays “Monte Carlo Wells” not long after he broke the bank in 1891. Although the two faces are not dissimilar, I wondered why – and when – Wells of Monte Carlo would have had his portrait painted as a young man. He had been an engineer at Marseille, and his salary would not have been spectacularly high.
But it has been established that in about 1868 he had invented a speed regulator for steam engines, and he reputedly sold the patent for about five times his annual salary. Could he have celebrated his good fortune by sitting for a portrait? It seemed an intriguing possibility.
To resolve the question, I needed to look no further than Wikipedia! The entry on “Charles Wells (American politician)” includes this same image and reveals that this was another Charles Wells, who lived from 1786 to 1866, and was the fourth mayor of Boston, Massachusetts. Clearly he was nothing to do with Wells of Monte Carlo, who was born in 1841 and lived into his eighties.
To make sure, I consulted a 1914 publication with the extraordinary title: Mayors of Boston: An Illustrated Epitome of who the Mayors have been and what they have done. The same portrait appears on the page dedicated to this individual, followed by a brief biography. It seems that this Charles Wells served as mayor from 1832-3. He was a master builder by trade, and ‘little fitted for public office … a man of simple character, not much versed in public affairs’.
The irony is that, if it were not for the fact that many people now confuse him with “Monte Carlo Wells”, Charles Wells of Boston would almost certainly have faded into obscurity, since his career seems to have been singularly undistinguished. And if there’s a moral in the story, it’s that the repeated appearance of an assertion, whether in print or on the internet, does not necessarily validate that “fact”!