Lord Gordon Gordon Was A Regular Old Rascal; He Scammed The World And Never Paid For His Crimes

Lord Gordon Gordon (or to some, Lord Glencairn) was a prominent Scottish aristocrat – or at least, that's what the people who knew him believed. He spent the years between 1869 and 1874 convincing wealthy people in Scotland, England, the United States, and Canada that he was a rich heir to a Scottish fortune, and that he could be trusted with other people's money. Needless to say, he could not.

The Scottish imposter used his accent, "foreign" clothing, and endless charm to pull the wool over the eyes of several wealthy railroad men, including Jay Gould – one of the richest and most ruthless railroad barons in American history.

When it comes to hard-and-fast Lord Gordon Gordon facts, there are few to be had. He spent his short time as a confidence man deceiving everyone close to him, telling lie after lie until there was no way to figure out who this man actually was. He took the secrets of his past to the grave, proving to the end that he called all the shots in his story.

  • Nobody Knows Who Lord Gordon Gordon Actually Was
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Nobody Knows Who Lord Gordon Gordon Actually Was

    Lord Gordon Gordon's true identity may never be known. His early history consists only of rumors, primarily that he was the illegitimate son of a clergyman and a maid. Some sources say he went by the name Hubert Hamilton, but it's possible the name was just one of his many aliases.

    In 2018, a librarian named Jenny McElroy was given a grant to research Gordon's life and write a book about him. But even she doubted she'd uncover his real identity.

  • His Scams And Tricks Began In Scotland
    Photo: George Washington Wilson / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    His Scams And Tricks Began In Scotland

    Gordon first came onto the scene as "Lord Glencairn" in Scotland. Around 1869, he began making upper-class connections, using a "foot in the door" scheme. He started by having his wealthy new friends trust him with small amounts of money. Once he'd proven he was responsible, Gordon had them lend progressively larger sums.

    He also used his friends as references, using the promise of a fortune he was supposed to be inheriting to make expensive purchases from jewelers. By 1870, his game in Scotland had ended; he had given most of the jewelry he had purchased on credit to his friends, and fled for America owing somewhere around $100,000.

  • In Minnesota, He Managed To Make People Believe He Was A Wealthy Nobleman
    Photo: Detroit Publishing Co. / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    In Minnesota, He Managed To Make People Believe He Was A Wealthy Nobleman

    When he first arrived in Minnesota in 1871, Gordon immediately drew attention to himself. He dressed in expensive clothes, and made a bank deposit of several thousand English pounds soon after arriving. The roughly 20,000 people of Minneapolis were taken with him; he received countless invitations to dinners, and went on picnics with the city's elite. He was the uncontested man of the hour.

  • Gordon Used Hints To Convince People That He Was A Wealthy British Heir

    Gordon was sly. Rather than openly boasting about his fake identity, he simply sprinkled information here and there that hinted at his mysterious and exciting "background." He claimed he was the heir to the Earls of Gordon, and also a relative of Lord Byron, the famous poet. Gordon's sheer foreignness, paired with his new acquaintances' inability to check his story, allowed him to create whatever backstory he wanted. 

  • He Conned His Way Into An All-Expenses-Paid Business Trip That Cost $45,000
    Photo: L.L. Poates Engr'g Co. / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    He Conned His Way Into An All-Expenses-Paid Business Trip That Cost $45,000

    As he expanded his social circle in Minneapolis, Gordon met the Land Commissioner of the Northern Pacific Railroad, Colonel John S. Loomis. Gordon told him that he was in the market for some land for himself and his fellow Scottish noblemen. As luck would have it, Colonel Loomis was looking to sell some acreage to fund a new railroad venture.

    In order to impress his potential buyer, Loomis took Gordon on a luxurious all-expenses-paid trip to see the parcels of land. Gordon was provided with first-class accommodation, a personal valet, and money for expenses. All together, the trip was said to cost around $45,000.

    Toward the end of the excursion, Gordon told his friends he needed to travel back east to facilitate a money transfer, the implication being that he would be going through with the land deal. He never returned to Minnesota.

  • He Managed To Con One Of The Wealthiest Men In American History
    Photo: Bain News Service / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    He Managed To Con One Of The Wealthiest Men In American History

    Many believe that railroad "robber baron" Jay Gould was the very last person who would fall for a con man's trick. But he did, and became prey to none other than Gordon. Gould was one of the richest men in American history, and built his wealth by profiting from the misfortunes of others. He had been "no stranger to the world of graft and corruption," but somehow he didn't see through Gordon's plan.

    Gordon came to New York in 1872, while Gould was in the middle of a struggle for control over the Erie Railroad. Not only did Gordon manage to convince Gould he owned stocks in the railroad, he convinced him that he owned enough to have a significant amount of control in the company. Startled by this revelation, Gould offered Gordon a bribe of around $1 million in stocks, cash, and securities, so that Gould could retain control. Of course, Gordon was lying about the whole thing.