Before Bernie Madoff, Philip Musica Conned (and Captivated) a Nation

Aug 19, 2013

We're fascinated by Bernie Madoff and Frank Abagnale, larger than life con men who somehow got perfectly sane and intelligent people to trust them when there was ample reason not to.

Today, you'll hear a story that puts Frank and Bernie to shame. Or maybe it's just more shameful. Philip Musica lived and swindled in the first part of the 20th century, and -- for pure audacity -- he tops Frank and Bernie. Also for diversification. Musica's schemes involved human hair, cheese, pharmaceuticals, hair tonic and bootlegging and -- most appallingly -- an apparent scheme to bring indentured servants from Africa in an unseaworthy ship flying the Uruguayan flag. For some reason -- even though he was a big story in his day -- Musica doesn't turn up on the lists of the great con men of all time. History is fickle. Today, we'll tell his story. You can join the conversation. Email colin@wnpr.org or tweet us @wnprcolin.