By JIM ZBICK
Just as there are numerous online and telephone scams going on today, persons living in the early 20th century also had to be wary of fraudulent print advertisements.
One century ago, a scam involving a phony matchmaking/marriage service originated from a residence on Lafayette Street in Tamaqua. Because the perpetrator, known as Mollie, used the mails to solicit money, federal authorities got involved in her case.
The Tamaqua Courier described Mollie as "a lovesick maiden of about 35 who operated a matrimonial bureau on a very elaborate scale." In the two years, she was able to scam over 200 customers – mostly in the West – of over $2,000.
A reporter stated that she was able to "fleece unsuspecting men of sums of money, ranging from $5 to $150."
To begin the scheme, Mollie took an advertisement out in the Golden Seal Matrimonial Agency publication, a predecessor to today's dating/matchmaking services. She supplied her information in a section called the Select Club. It stated:
"Perfect health. Kind and loving disposition, American Lutheran, age 36, weight 122, height 60 inches, brown eyes, light complexion, will inherit, common school education, dress stylish, like country life best; write and learn more. Object, matrimony."
When first contacted by mail, Mollie would first ask for money so she could send her candidate a photograph. She would tell the prospective suitor that she did not send her photo to everyone but to those she felt would "prize it."
A reporter described her "screening" method.
"A remittance of $5 would indicate that the applicant would know how to appreciate a good-looking, home-loving wife when married," he said.
The reporter said Mollie was no great beauty herself, so instead of sending her own picture, she sent one of another woman "who was blessed with greater personal charm."
"Miss (Mollie) did not get her share of good looks when the supply was issued," he explained.
After receiving the $5 for the photo, and sending him the bogus photo of another woman, Mollie then took the next step by stating that she was "perfectly willing to share his lot in this world."
She explained that in order to make the trip to meet him, she needed money for travel fare. After the money was received, she usually ended the correspondence right there unless she felt there was an opportunity to squeeze more money from the candidate.
In another deceptive ploy, she told her "man" that she was heiress to a fortune worth $40,000 but that she was involved in a lawsuit to try and get her share of the estate. Before traveling to meet him, she first needed $150 to pay off her lawyer.
In her letters, Mollie made sure she never failed to tell her would-be husbands of her vital statistics or what the Courier described as her "superb form."
Mollie's scam was uncovered by Tamaqua Police Chief George Hahn in January 1910 after he received a complaint from a Minnesota man who had sent Molly $200. She first told the man that she had become seriously ill the day she was to begin her trip to meet him, and that the travel money he had sent was used to pay off a doctor bill.
This aroused suspicion in the man, and he asked Hahn to supply any information he had on Molly. Hahn then turned the case over to the post office inspector in Pottsville.
After her arrest, Molly was taken to the local post office and interrogated. Before being taken to Pottsville for a hearing, she was permitted to go home to pick up some clothes. On the way to her home, however, she was overheard saying that "she would end it all when she got there." Fearing she would attempt suicide, the marshal took her back to the post office until a train arrived.
At her federal trial in Philadelphia in March, some of the letters Molly wrote to her suitors were presented as evidence. One correspondence, written on a post card and enclosed in an envelope, was addressed to a J. S. Loupnik in Iowa. She told him that her trunk had been hocked for a boarding bill and that she needed $40 to get it out.
This was her plea for money:
Please send me the money at once as I am in love with you and darling, you know it. I need the money for my trunks. Send $40 so that I can come. Just think of those two darlings on the other side. By by. answer at once."
On the other side of the card was a picture of a man and woman embracing beneath the shelter of an umbrella, with the inscription: "If the umbrella could only talk."
Molly was found guilty of five different fraud counts in federal court, which could have earned her 7 1/2 years in prison if sentenced to the full extent. However, thanks to the pleas of her defense attorney, the judge handed her a very light sentence of 60 days in prison.
Mollie was sent to Moyamensing prison which was located in South Philadelphia. After its opening in 1835, the prison housed some famous inmates, including the famous American author Edgar Allan Poe, who was detained for one night in the prison in 1849 for public drunkenness.
The women's wing, where Molly called home for two months, was added in 1868.