true crime

The stories behind the biggest cons and crimes pulled off by women.

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There’s something strangely intriguing about a person who manages to trick the world into believing they are someone else.

History is littered with women who threw caution to the wind and staged elaborate cons in order to make themselves a fortune or grab hold of power.

While they were all eventually found out, their stories live on in infamy.

Why are we so interested in these stories of women and their crimes? The new movie The Kitchen delves deep into those motivations, telling the story of three Hell’s Kitchen housewives (played by Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish and Elisabeth Moss) who run their imprisoned husbands’ crime syndicates. It’s in cinemas August 29.

Video via Roadshow Films

Before you see it, here are some real-life dangerous women who pulled off elaborate crimes and cons:

Anna Sorokin, the fake German heiress.

Anna Sorokin (pictured above) is infamous for conning New York’s wealthy and elite out of millions of dollars.

The Russian-born fraudster moved to New York City in 2013 and reinvented herself as Anna Delvey, a wealthy German heiress. Or, so it seemed.

While the ruse was taking place, Sorokin told her new friends that she had a trust fund boasting millions of dollars to cover her lavish lifestyle. Since Sorokin’s New York network of friends were very wealthy, she would trick them into funding her lifestyle and expensive holidays, telling them that she had accidentally checked her wallet in with her luggage or that her trust fund was currently inaccessible due to being tied up in an overseas bank.

But, in 2017, the game was up. Sorokin was arrested on six charges of grand larceny, and thefts totalling close to $275,000, according to the Manhattan District Attorney’s office.

In her book, My Friend Anna, Rachel DeLoache Williams writes about striking up a friendship with Anna when she was a 28-year-old photo editor working at Vanity Fair. It was a friendship that ended up costing her more than $60,000 after Anna tricked her into paying for a holiday to Morocco.

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Anna Sorokin is currently incarcerated at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility, serving a sentence of four to 12 years.

“Anna Sorokin was arrested on six charges of grand larceny and according to the Manhattan District Attorney's office, the thefts totaled close to $275,000.” Source: Getty.

Linda Taylor,  The Welfare Queen

Linda Taylor, who was dubbed “The Welfare Queen" by The Chicago Tribune, had her con artistry and name propelled into history thanks to the fact that American president Ronald Reagan used her as part of his 1976 campaign to illustrate his criticisms of social programs.

He claimed that she had "used 80 names, 30 addresses and 15 telephone numbers to collect food stamps, Social Security and veterans’ benefits for four nonexistent deceased veteran husbands".

It is thought that her birth name was "Martha Louise White" but she is most famously known under the name of Linda Taylor. News reports from the time of her initial arrest indicated that she used as many as 80 different names, often with false identification documents to match, in order to pull off her numerous cons.

Linda's run of luck came to an end in 1974 when she filed a police report claiming that she had been robbed of $14,000 in "cash, jewellery, and furs". However, Chicago detectives Jack Sherwin and Jerry Kush recognised her from a similar report that had been filed before, and she came under suspicion for false reporting.

She was later charged with fraud and perjury and was sentenced to imprisonment for two to six years on the welfare fraud charges, and a year on the perjury charges.

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Linda Taylor
Linda Taylor leaving court following her arraignment on a 31-count indictment involving her receipt of illegal welfare benefits. Source: Getty.

Sarah Rachel Russell, aka the original fraudulent influencer.

In the 1800s, a woman named Sarah Rachel Russell (or "Madame Rachel") became extremely wealthy by exploiting the vanity of rich British women and promising them that her special lotions and serums would provide them with youth and beauty.

She sold them all a line of products with names such as "Magnetic Rock Dew Water", "Armenian Beauty Wash", "Circassian Golden Hair Wash" and "Royal Arabian Face Cream". However, the origin stories of the products and the ingredients she claimed they contained were completely false.

Many of her products were not just useless, but also downright dangerous, as they contained deadly substances such as lead, arsenic and prussic acid.

Even though Rachel had grown up in poverty on the streets of London, where she sold rabbit skins and used clothes so she could buy food, she soon made enough money through her fake products to buy a salon.

It was through this salon that she was able to begin blackmailing women who couldn’t pay her upfront for the products by offering them credit, and later, extorting them.

She was eventually charged with fraud and died in jail.

Aurora Florentina Magnusson, the 'secret daughter' of royalty.

Aurora Florentina Magnusson, who renamed herself "Helga de la Brache", was a Swedish con artist who managed to score herself a lucrative royal pension by convincing Swedish authorities that she was the secret daughter of King Gustav IV of Sweden and Queen Frederica of Baden.

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She was born into a poor family in Stockholm and raised as one of five children by her mother after her family passed away. Due to her family's poverty, she received only one year of schooling before she was forced to look for work. In 1838, she was employed by the wealthy Aspegren family and the daughter of the family, Henrika, became deeply devoted to her and allowed her to wear her expensive clothes.

Henrika would go on to become Aurora's companion and an accomplice to her fraud.

After travelling the world together, Aurora and Henrika returned to Sweden in 1845. Through a twisted tale of forged passports, birth certificates and a faked death, Aurora concocted an elaborate tale about her royal lineage.

She claimed that as a child she had been sent to be raised by her alleged father's aunt, Princess Sophia Albertine of Sweden, and when the Princess died in 1829, she was taken to the Vadstena asylum and kept hidden.

Aurora received a royal pension for many years until 1877 when "Helga de la Brache" was judged guilty of having registered herself under a false name and year of birth. She was sentenced to fines.

The Fox Sisters, the scamming siblings.

The notorious Fox sisters are responsible for igniting the 19th century spiritualist movement, a breeding ground for scams that many con artists still use to this day.

During the winter of 1848 in Hydesville outside of New York, 15-year-old Maggie Fox and her little sister, 11-year-old Katy, schemed to frighten their mother, Margaret Fox, by creating sounds that echoed through their farmhouse at night.

Mrs Fox soon became convinced that their farmhouse was haunted, and word quickly spread around the neighbourhood that the girls in the house were communicating with the ghosts.

Kate and Margaret soon became well-known mediums, giving séances for hundreds of people for large sums of money. Their older sister Leah helped to manage their careers and keep the lie going.

In 1888, Maggie admitted to the world that the sisters were frauds in her memoir The Death Blow To Spiritualism.

In the book, she confessed that the sisters had an elaborate set of tricks to make people think they were communicating with the dead, and would have people in the room signal to them when to act, and would click their toes against the wooden floor to make rapping sound the audience believed to be spirits.

The Kitchen opens in Australia on August 29. Win a double pass to see The Kitchen here.
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The wives of New York gangsters in Hell's Kitchen in the 1970s continue to operate their husbands' rackets after they're locked up in prison.

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