The Bizarre Adventures of the Jazz Age's Greatest Imposter
The spellbinding tale of virtuosic hustler Edgar LaPlante, aka Chief White Elka real-life Tom Ripley whose greatest talent, even through his comeuppance, was his inability to give up the con.
For Edgar LaPlante, a charming and charismatic vaudeville performer, the summer of 1923 was the prelude to one of the 20th century's most extraordinary adventures--an adventure that would require all his theatrical flair to deliver what would turn out to be the most demanding and lucrative performance of his life.
To raise money for his fraudulent campaign to help starving children on Native American Indian reservations, LaPlante reinvented himself as a Cherokee warlord named Chief White Elk, touring small towns yet addressing enormous crowds, before decamping to Europe. As he made his way across the Continent, still in the character of Chief White Elk, he joined the fast-living expatriate set, befriending F. Scott Fitzgerald and his troubled wife, Zelda.
All that extravagance drained LaPlante's resources--he needed his next mark. At a casino in Nice, he found her: a beautiful, exceptionally wealthy Austrian countess. Before long, they became lovers, and LaPlante conned her out of a chauffeur-driven limousine, a troop of servants, and the equivalent of $101 million in today's currency. They took a tour of Italy, and LaPlante's habit of tossing crisp bank notes from the windows of their limousine ensured that they attracted thousands of people, who had to be marshaled by the police. LaPlante cultivated a friendship with the Pope and the recently installed Italian fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini. Il Duce treated him like royalty, staging banquets and even a military procession in his honor. Most improbably, LaPlante managed to install himself as a delegate to the League of Nations.
But the whole charade reached an embarrassing conclusion in 1925 when the countess's stepson hired a private detective to investigate Chief White Elk. Eventually, after years of extreme luxury, the jig was up; LaPlante was imprisoned in the harshest jail in Rome. Yet he maintained the charade, even upon his release, refusing to remove the mask he had worn for so long, in spite of all the damning evidence. Meticulously researched yet imbued with novelistic verve, King Con is the bizarre story of a man whose life became his best performance.
London-based Paul Willetts has written several books to high acclaim in the U.K., and writes frequently for The Independent, The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, and The Times Literary Supplement. King Con is his American debut.
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