|Born||July 1, 1875
|Died||February 26, 1976
Chicago, Illinois, United States
|Other names||Yellow Kid|
|Known for||Notorious con artist|
Joseph "Yellow Kid" Weil (July 1, 1875 – February 26, 1976) was one of the best known American con men of his era. Weil's biographer, W. T. Brannon, wrote of Weil's "uncanny knowledge of human nature". Over the course of his career, Weil is reputed to have stolen more than $8 million.
"Each of my victims had larceny in his heart", quipped Weil.
Early life and career
Weil was born in Chicago, the son of Mr. and Mrs. Otto Weil. He left school and started work as a collector in his home town's bustling loan-sharking industry at age 17. Weil noticed his peers pocketing small portions of the boss' proceeds. His career progressed into the protection rackets. For a cut, offered Weil, he would not share his knowledge of their perfidy. Plenty complied.
Under the tutelage of Chicago confidence man Doc Meriwether, Weil started performing short cons in the 1890s at public sales of Meriwether's Elixir, the chief ingredient of which was rainwater.
Life as a con man
The nickname "Yellow Kid" first was applied in 1903 and came from the comic "Hogan's Alley and the Yellow Kid." After working for some time with a grifter named Frank Hogan, Chicago alderman "Bathhouse John" Coughlin associated the pair with the comic: Hogan was Hogan, and Weil became the Yellow Kid. "There have been many erroneous stories published about how I acquired this cognomen", Weil writes in his biography. "It was said that it was due to my having worn yellow chamois gloves, yellow vests, yellow spats, and a yellow beard. All this was untrue. I had never affected such wearing apparel and I had no beard".
During his career, Weil worked with, among others, con men Doc Meriwether, Billy Wall, William J. Winterbill, Bob Collins, Colonel Jim Porter, Romeo Simpson, "Fats" Levine, Jack Mason, Tim North, and George Gross.
"The desire to get something for nothing has been very costly to many people who have dealt with me and with other con men", Weil writes. "But I have found that this is the way it works. The average person, in my estimation, is ninety-nine per cent animal and one per cent human. The ninety-nine per cent that is animal causes very little trouble. But the one per cent that is human causes all our woes. When people learn—as I doubt they will—that they can't get something for nothing, crime will diminish and we shall live in greater harmony."
He served his sentence at Atlanta Prison from 1940 to 1942.
Weil died in Chicago, Illinois, in 1976 at the age of 100.
- Weil, Joseph (1948) . "Yellow Kid" Weil: The Autobiography of America's Master Swindler. Chicago: Ziff-Davis. ISBN 0-7812-8661-1.
- .p.181 1918 Law report mentioning Weil
- Excerpt from Con Man: A Master Swindler's Own Story by J. R. Weil and W. T. Brannon, Random House Web site
- Find A Grave