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Dexter, Andrew, Jr. (28 March 1779–02 November 1837), attorney, financier, real estate speculator, and swindler, was the eldest child of Andrew Dexter, a Boston dry goods merchant, and Mary Newton. He was born in Brookfield, Massachusetts, where his parents had fled during the British siege of Boston, and grew up in Providence, Rhode Island. Dexter graduated from Rhode Island College (later Brown University) in 1798. His salutatory address expressed the heady combination of reverence for the leaders of the Revolution, anxiety about the future, and soaring ambition that marked the Revolutionary generation....

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Edwards, Monroe (1808–27 January 1847), slave trader, swindler, and forger, was born in Danville, Kentucky. He was said to have been the son of Major Amos Edwards; his mother’s name is not known. Details of his family background are obscure, but he was connected to the notable Kentucky Edwards family that produced, among others, a U.S. senator and a chief justice of the Kentucky Supreme Court....

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Estes, Billie Sol (20 January 1925–14 May 2013), business entrepreneur, was born in Gray County, Texas, the second of six children of Lillian Coffman and John Levi Estes, struggling farmers. His parents raised their children in the fundamentalist Church of Christ. Young Billie attended local public schools near Clyde, Texas, and as a teenager wrote to President ...

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Billie Sol Estes. Tempera, ink, and pencil on board, 1962, by Boris Chaliapin. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Time magazine.

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Lay, Ken (15 April 1942–05 July 2006), businessman, was born Kenneth Lee Lay in Tyrone, Missouri, the son of Omer Lay, a feed store owner, traveling agricultural equipment salesman, and lay Baptist pastor, and Ruth Reese Lay. After his father’s store failed, the family was reduced to poverty, sometimes staying with relatives on a farm, and Ken did not live in a house with indoor plumbing until he was eleven years old. He helped support his parents by delivering newspapers, mowing lawns, and baling hay for neighboring farmers....

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Means, Gaston Bullock (11 July 1879–12 December 1938), spy, swindler, and detective, was born in Blackwelder’s Spring, North Carolina, the son of William Gaston Means, an attorney, and Corallie Bullock. Means grew up in Concord, North Carolina, in a family that had lost most of its considerable wealth during the Civil War. He left the University of North Carolina in 1900, early in his third year, and served for two years as the superintendent of the elementary schools in Stanly County, adjacent to Concord. In 1902 he took a job as a salesman for the Cannon textile mills, living in New York City and traveling widely....

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Gaston B. Means Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-109386).

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Musica, Philip Mariano Fausto (12 May 1884–16 December 1938), swindler, alias William Johnson and Frank Donald Coster, was born in New York City, the son of Antonio Musica, a barber, and Assunta Mauro, both recent immigrants from Naples, Italy. Musica attended public schools on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, where he was reportedly a good student with a somewhat depressive nature. After one or two years of attending high school, he left to help his father operate a modest grocery store....

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Ponzi, Charles (03 March 1882–17 January 1949), financial scam artist, was born Carlo Pietro Giovanni Guglielmo Tebaldo Ponzi in Lugo, Italy, the son of Oreste Ponzi, a postman, and Imelda (maiden name unknown) Ponzi. His parents relocated to Rome shortly after his birth, and Ponzi spent his early years in Parma, where he attended both public and private schools. He entered the University of Rome, but his dissolute living led him to withdraw prior to graduation....