Sidney Lascelles was one of the most accomplished swindlers and bigamists of the 19th century. So accomplished that when he died in Asheville, North Carolina in 1902, it would take years to track down someone who knew his true identity.
Sidney Lascelles was born to wealthy parents in Australia in 1857. Financial missteps led to his father losing the family fortune and moving his family to England. Sidney’s father took a job as a game keeper on the estate of the Duke of Devonshire, one of the wealthiest British aristocratic families since the 16th century.
Sidney was a very charismatic young man. His fox hunting skills impressed the duke’s guests and endeared him to the men of high society who frequented the estate. His good looks endeared him to just about any woman he met. The tall dark and handsome Sidney found that he more he learned from the men of the upper class, the more irresistible he became. He learned to imitate their speech and mannerisms. But as Sidney’s dad once noted, there was a bad streak in his son. He took what he learned along with those good looks, and began to use it to manipulate people.
When he was 21 years old, Sidney broke into a strongbox in the Duke’s home and stole a large amount of money. He fled to Algiers on the Meditteran Coast, where he was known as Lord Charles Beresford, Lord of Marcus, Lord Walter Beresford, Sir Harry Van, Lord Courtenay and several other names of ranking Englishmen.
He had enough money to pull off his con for a while as he lived the good life. But when the authorities tracked him down and threatened to arrest him, he agreed to return the remaining money and was spared prosecution.
Sidney eventually returned to England before making his way back home to Australia where he introduced himself to an American Ambassador. The ambassador was impressed by the man he believed to be Lord Charles Beresford. He agreed to make letters of introduction to a few notable American families. Sidney set sail for America in 1886, as Lord Beresford.
Sidney pulled off small cons in San Francisco, Utah and New York during his first year in America. He usually found a rich mark and used his English charms to talk business and banking. He’d explain how different banking was in England, compared to America. He’d then pull out his checkbook from an English bank and ask if the rich person he was conning could advance him some cash. The mark would agree, pull money from a safe and accept the check from the person they believed to be a Lord from England. By the time they learned they had been duped, Sidney was long gone.
His biggest con, and the one that he would commit to for the rest of his life, was using his charm, dashing good looks and irresistible British accent to woo rich American women.
Sidney decided to take a break from America for a while and set sail for Europe in 1889. By 1890 he showed up again in Algiers. There he met Philadelphia tobacco heiress and widow, Susannah Lilienthal, and her 22-year-old daughter Maud.
At first, Sidney, who claimed to be a wealthy Englishman named Walter Eaton, charmed both of the women, but the more time Mrs. Lilienthal spent with Eaton and observed him with her daughter, the more suspicious she became. She couldn’t help but think this man was attracted to the family money. Within a week of meeting Eaton, Mrs. Lilienthal decided it was time she and Maud head home to America.
They arrived in New York and soon learned Lascelles had followed them there, to declare his love for Maud. Mrs. Lilienthal once again fled with Maud, hoping to keep her daughter away from this man who seemed to sweep her off her feet with his declarations of love.
Mrs. Lilienthal and Maud went home to Pennsylvania with the elder Lilienthal begging her daughter to resist any attempt on the part of Walter Eaton to connect with her again. She warned her daughter he was up to no good and she had a bad feeling about him. But Maud’s desire for Walter was more powerful than her mother’s warning. She couldn’t resist him when he came calling in February of 1891 and convinced her to elope.
Sidney Lascelles would play this con on at least 24 women and end up in prison multiple times. When he died in Asheville in 1902, he was once again using an assumed identity of a rich man. His true identity would be discovered eight years later.
Even in death, Sidney’s story would take a few final twists and turns. Hear the whole story in this episode of Southern Mysteries.
A Noted English Bogus Lord. The News and Observer. September 1892
True To Her Love. Pittsburg Dispatch. August 1891
Annoyed By A Convict. The Savannah Morning News. November 1892
Lascelles v. Georgia, 148 U.S. 537. Georgia Supreme Court, 1893
New Heiress For Lord Beresford. New York Journal. May 1897
Got A Fortune At Last? The Indianapolis Journal. May 1897
Stuck Them Again. Yorkville Enquirer. July 1897
No Fortune For Lascelles. Kansas City Journal. November 1897
Drop Dead Through Grief. The Abbeville Press. December 1897
Bogus Lord Turns Up Again. St. Joseph Gazette-Herald. March 1901
Nab A Swindler. The Gardner Gazette. January 1902
Body At Asheville Is That Of Lord Beresford. The Fort Mill Times. May 1907
Sidney Lascelles, Swindler. Auckland Star. June 1907
Mummified Body of “Lord” Cremated. Washington Times. May 1910
Lord Beresford’s Ashes Not Claimed. Stockton Independent. May1910
Mystery of Lord Beresford’s Burial Is Explained. The Washington Post. May 1911
North Carolina Legends & Myths: “The Duke” of Asheville. NCpedia. 2008
Theme Song “Dark & Troubled” by Pantherburn. Special thanks to Phillip St Ours for permission for use. ***Additional Music: “Lazy Days” by Purple Planet Music. https://www.purple-planet.com; “Cryptic Sorrow”, “Clean Soul” and “Evening Fall Harp” by Kevin MacLeod. “There’s Probably No Time For That” and “I Am A Man Who Will Fight” by Chris Zabriske. Licensed under Creative Commons.