Charles Wells was a hustler from the late 1800s who regularly swindled money out from the hands of investors by using their money to support his gambling needs. Wells did have a natural talent for picking winning numbers at the Roulette table, but his luck would eventually run out.
Despite ripping thousands of people off all across London, Wells will probably be better known for his extraordinary gift of being able to predict the numbers of the Roulette wheel, especially when he "broke the bank" at the Monte Carlo Casino.
Charles Deville Wells was born in Broxbourne, Hertfordshire in 1841 to his father, Charles Jeremiah Wells, a well-known poet and his mother, Emily Jane Hill.
As soon as Wells was fit to be on his own, he traveled the world, working a plethora of different jobs along the way. He made sugar in Russia and processed paper in France, but neither of those jobs earned him the kind of money he longed for, so he started coming up with creations that he hoped would make him rich some day.
Wells advertised his ideas in the London newspapers, seeking backers for his latest inventions. Gullible respondents would pay anywhere from $8 to $500, which Wells would often spend on unrelated purchases. Even though he stole documents from the Patent Office in London, 192 provisional patents in total, he still never made a substantial amount of money.
His musical skipping rope idea seemed the most promising, so Wells managed to swindle about $6,000 from backers who thought it was a profitable investment. Instead of putting the funds into the manufacturing of the product, Wells scurried off to Monte Carlo in the summer of 1891 in hopes of making a fortune at the gaming tables.
During an eleven-hour session playing roulette for the first time at the Monte Carlo Casino, Wells won a myriad of times, earning over a million francs from that one session. His lucky streak seemed never-ending, having won 23 out of 30 spins.
After Wells had accumulated over $3 million francs, he left Monte Carlos to live a luxurious lifestyle, spending a great deal of money on fine dining, deluxe vehicles, and expensive trips across Europe. His money soon ran out though, so he returned back to Monte Carlo, this time winning 2 million dollars in a matter of three days.
As with any unbelievably successful gambler, police enforcement got involved, but even after a thorough investigation, they hadn't uncovered any cheating scandals or wrong-doings. He had simply been using the Martingale Betting System, where you double your bet every time you incur a loss. He also mostly placed his bet on the number five, so he did have a particular method to his madness, but he didn't do anything that was against the rules.
As his reputation spread, Wells was able to convince even more investors to support his latest invention: a fuel-saving device for steam-ships. During this time, Wells found success at the roulette table six more times, eventually going on a losing streak that he wouldn't be able to overcome where he proceeded to lose not only all of his money but all of his investors' money as well.
Death of a Legend
Wells fled to Le Havre to avoid facing all of his previous financial backers. Following his paper trail, police were able to find and arrest him, having him deported back to England where he was placed under trial for fraud. After he pleaded guilty on all charges against him, he was sentenced to eight years of imprisonment.
After serving his time, Wells moved to France for a new beginning, but his old habits followed him and it wasn't long before he was standing before a French court on charges of promoting a financial scam. He was in prison for an additional five years on those accounts. Wells passed away in 1992, leaving the world with his bad reputation and no money to his name.
Wells' story spread around the world, inspiring song-writer Fred Gilbert to produce the song, "The Man Who Broke the Bank in Monte Carlo." The song was popularized by Charles Coborn, a popular musician of the time period. Intrigued by Wells' story, Robin Quinn more recently wrote, The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo: Charles Deville Wells, Gambler and Fraudster Extraordinaire, which will be available for purchase in September, 2016.
Author: Nicole Miller
Updated: October 2016
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