Skip to comments.Irish Travelers
Posted on 09/26/2002 4:33:29 PM PDT by dennisw
Excepts from License To Steal, Traveling Con Artists, Their Games, Their Rules---Your Money
by Dennis Marlock & John Dowling, Paladin Press, 1994, Boulder, CO.
Northeast from Augusta, Georgia, U.S. Highway 25 leads across the Savannah River into South Carolina to the town of North Augusta and beyond that to the unincorporated community of Murphy Village, a twenty-five square mile community of some 1,500 Irish Travelers. But Murphy Village is not the only community of Irish Travelers in the South. In a mobile home park near Memphis, Tennessee, and scattered across Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi are other enclaves; yet Murphy Village is by far the largest, most affluent, and best known of all the populations of Irish con artists. Most of the information in this article comes from Murphy Village but fits well other Irish Travelers.
The communities where Irish Travelers live serve their citizens as comfortable havens and refuges in the short, southern winters. In the spring, however, those communities are more like military staging areas from which forays of pickup trucks and vans depart to raid the rest of the nation.
The communities are temporarily decimated each spring as the men depart for a summer's scavenging, leaving wives, children, and the elderly behind to keep the home fires banked and the air conditioners churning until the men return at the end of the school year. At that time the entire family will take to the road.
In addition to leaving their families behind, the departing men usually leave their identities at home, assuming new names that are documented by bogus social security cards, driver's licenses, credit cards, etc. Should legal mishaps occur on the road, they certainly don't want their identities traced to their home community. Once they have crossed the state line, Travelers are likely to pull into the first "rest area" and change license plates. Travelers from Murphy Village have been found in possession of current, valid license plates from Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Texas as well as South Carolina.
For the most part, a listing of Irish Traveler scams would simply be a recapitulation of the frauds perpetrated by Scottish Travelers. The Irish Travelers work as house and barn painters, driveway dressers, lightning rod installers, and so on. They can bring tears to the eyes of their victims when they explain the tragic circumstances which force them to sell trailers or campers made in Indiana. They will prune your trees, seal your roof, exterminate your termites, and keep you engaged while a cohort steals your nest egg and makes off with the Colonial Twist silverware that has been in the family for five generations. Where the Irish Travelers are unique among other Travelers or Gypsies, however, is that they are also merchants of flimsy, dangerous shop machinery produced by the Rebel Tool and Equipment Company of South Carolina.
"Are you the boss?"
Danny O'Hara turned from where he was straightening and rearranging boxed spark plugs to look at the questioner leaning nonchalantly against the door jamb of the entrance to the service station, the afternoon sun silhouetting his large, rawboned body. The questioner was more a ripe lad than a grown man and his speech suggested faintly the "auld sod," as did his flaming red hair and the freckled face that spread around his infectious grin.
"Aye, that I am," Danny O'Hara said and immediately wondered why he reverted to his grandfather's Gaelic idiom and intonation every time he spoke with an Irishman. "Is there anything I can do for you?"
"I just hope there is, and maybe somethin' I can do for you.
"I'm Johnny Hall and I pulled into Ponca City this morning with a load of equipment for a guy living there, only the man who ordered it died of a heart attack the day before yesterday. I phoned my boss right away and he tells me they done run an inventory at the warehouse and don't want this load back. He told me to find somebody who can use it and unload it cheap. I didn't find anyone in Ponca City who was interested and was headed toward Joplin when I came through Bartlesville here and saw your place. I thought maybe you'd like to pick up the equipment at rock-bottom prices."
"What've you got?" O'Hara asked.
"Come on out and see. I've got a load of the best equipment you could want."
The owner of the service station followed the lanky trucker to where his pickup sat at the edge of the drive. On the bed of the truck were a number of crated items. The driver opened the truck door, leaned across the seat and came away with a sheaf of glossy advertising layouts.
"I don't really know much about this stuff," the driver said as he glanced rapidly through the fliers. "All I know is it's brand new and quality merchandise. The boss told me you'd know a lot more than I would. Here," he said and offered the shiny literature. "You hold these and I'll get the bill of lading. Returning to the cab the driver pulled out a clip-board with a write-up on it, then walked to the rear of the truck, lowered the tail gate and climbed onto the bed.
"You look at the pictures and I'll point them out."
"This here one," the driver said and leaned against a tall crate, "holds a metal-cuttin' band saw like the one you're looking at in the picture. It looks like two saws in the picture but it's only one 'cause it turns to cut at different angles and that's what the picture shows. It's also got one of those little gizmos to squirt oil on whatever you happen to be cutting."
Turning to another crate, he continued. "The next picture's of a lifting machine. The black parts all slide in and out to make adjustments and it has wheels on it so you can push it where you need it. I don't know how much it lifts but I know it lifts a lot because they used one to load my truck at the warehouse. And the next picture is also an adjustable lifting machine only this one you anchor to the bed of a pickup. It turns more than an owl's head does, a full three hundred and sixty degrees. This one here. I'm not sure what it does but it tells right there on the next sheet. It's the one with the clock, a heavy-duty press, they call it."
The driver seated himself on the tailgate and pointed over his shoulder at a crate in the corner of the truck. "Over yonder is the thing that holds car motors while you work on them. It handles all the motors made in America and most of the foreign motors, too."
The driver relaxed on the tailgate and waited while the words of his tutor ran through his mind: At this point you keep your damned mouth shut. The first person to speak is gonna lose, so don't queer the deal by yammering."
"I don't know," Danny O'Hara said. "I might be able to use some of these...."
"Mister, at the price you'll be paying you can sell a couple of things to someone else and probably make money on the deal. The warranty goes with the equipment. You sell it and it's still covered
"What are you asking for all this?" the service station owner asked and waved at the truck load of crates.
"Here, look at the bill of lading. The band saw goes for $4,980.00, the lifting machine on wheels runs $3,690.00, and the....Well the whole kit and caboodle lists, with sales tax, for $14,858.50." The driver's finger underlined the figure at the bottom of the sheet.
The service station owner shook his head negatively.
"Hey, mister, the boss said to unload this stuff cheap. All he wants is to cover the cost of materials and fabrication. And all I want is to get back home. The boss called me in from my honeymoon to make this run and Katie and me, we got some unfinished business I'm anxious to return to. These things got to be worth something to you. Give me an offer."
Danny O'Hara pulled on his chin reflectively. "I don't know...."
"Here, look," the youth interrupted and held out the bill of lading. "The band saw sell for $4,980. With the sales tax that's $5,229. You write me a check for $5,230 and it's all yours, everything on the truck."
The service station owner looked troubled. "I think I need to consider this a while."
"Mister, I'm so antsy to get home I can't wait. The law says you got three days to decide to cancel the deal without any squawk and the manufacturer's name and telephone number are right there." The driver pointed to the top of the invoice. "The Rebel Tool and Equipment Company, that's us."
"All right," O'Hara said. "You bring in your forms and the warranties. We'll unload, open, and check the tools and then I'll write you a check."
Less than an hour later, Joey Sherlock, alias Johnny Hall--and better known in Murphy's Village as "Boxcar" Sherlock--was on his way to Joplin, Missouri, to pick up another load. This time, he thought, I'll unload it up in Kansas. Boxcar Sherlock had just made three thousand and thirty dollars profit, money he'd wire to his wife when he got to Joplin.
The merchandise sold by the Rebel Tool and Equipment Company proudly wears the label "Made in the U.S.A." It lies. Most of the components are imported from Taiwan and Korea and merely assembled in this country, a process which, technically and legally, justifies the misleading claim.
In contrast to the glossy, well-designed advertising sheets shown prospective customers, the machinery itself is flimsy, ill-constructed, and incapable of performing as promised. All the hydraulic systems on the saws, hoists, and presses are imported from Taiwan and, should these systems fail, which they often do, the equipment is not only useless but also dangerous.
Perhaps the best indicator of the shoddiness of the equipment is a comparison of the cost of the item to the distributor and the list price on advertisements, invoices, and bills of lading. A $3,690 hydraulic hoist is sold to the distributor for $150, a horizontal-vertical band saw which lists for $4,980 costs him $400, and he pays $150 for a thirty ton press retailing at $3,180. A Traveler can sell $15,000 worth of equipment for $5,000 and still make a $3,000 profit.
Travelers seldom ask anywhere near the list price. They do, of course, get as much as possible on any transaction. To rationalize selling equipment well below list price, they use a variety of plausible excuses. As in the case described above, they often say that the man to whom the consignment was shipped died while his merchandise was in transit. More frequently, the items are reported to be left over from a machinery producers' convention where the paint was scratched and the driver was told to sell them "at cost" rather than ship them back to the factory where they would have to be repainted. The Traveler may also state that the equipment is from a resale outlet that the company is closing down and doesn't want to ship the machinery back to the warehouse and then have to ship it out again to another retailer. Occasionally the machinery is actually given away.
In March, 1989, a Traveler approached the official in charge of the motor pool of the Milwaukee Police Department. He had a hoist and a motor stand left over from a convention exhibit, he said, and his boss had directed him to donate both to a worthy, not-for-profit organization. All he wanted in return was a letter of appreciation. Had he gotten the letter it would have been added to the file of "satisfied customers" and shown to prospective marks.
The Rebel Tool and Equipment Company is a manufacturing company and wholesale firm selling to retail companies and agents who sell to consumers. It is the retailers who have the responsibility to collect and pay all state sales taxes. Thus the manufacturer is absolved of legal accountability should the Travelers fail to pay sales taxes to the state. Although Travelers habitually collect sales taxes, they rarely pay them.
In talking with potential customers the Travelers present themselves as agents of a variety of firms: National Rigging Company, B & B Tool Company, Shamrock Equipment, Continental Tool, etc. Both the retail firm's name and the manufacturer's name are at the top of all invoices but the only telephone number and address shown, a post office box, are the Rebel Tool and Equipment Company. At the bottom of the invoice, however, the buyer is instructed to make checks payable to the retailer. Should the customer attempt to exercise his legal "cooling off" period, he will talk only to the manufacturer and be unable to contact the people from whom the machinery was purchased. When Jason Latham sought to abrogate his contract by certified mail, he received the following letter in reply from the Rebel Tool and Equipment Company:
Dear Mr. Latham:
In response to your letter dated April 28, 1989. You indicate that the sale was made by the Rebel Tool and Equipment Co.,Inc.Rebel Tool and Equipment is the manufacturer only of the equipment and does not deal in retail sales, selling only at wholesale to independent distributors who then resale to the ultimate customers. Rebel Tool and Equipment has no control over disbursement of equipment by these independent distributors. I hope this information will help you better understand our position in regards to your purchase of equipment.
After several letters and phone calls to South Carolina as well as the state Attorney General's Office, the only understanding the customer has is that he has been taken.
The Rebel Tool and Equipment Company does guarantee its products for 90 days on some items and 180 days for defective material and workmanship on other items. All guaranteed servicing, however, must be done at the company's factory in South Carolina and the customer is responsible for freight charges both to and from the factory. Since most of the items are heavy, crating and shipment charges normally exceed the original cost of the equipment. When most items break down--and most items do break down--they are usually sold as scrap metal.
Travelers make a substantial income from all their various endeavors and much of that income is invested in Murphy Village housing. While many of the approximately 400 families of Travelers live in large, luxurious, permanently situated house trailers or "double-wides, more than a quarter of them live in what can only be called mansions.
Traveler Jim Caroll, talking to an interviewer on ABC's 20/20 in December, 1989, said, "Yeah, but those houses have got two or three families per house." "Sure," added lieutenant Joe Livingston of the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division. "When the house has more than 4,000 square feet, costs half a million dollars, and contains six or seven bedrooms and five or six baths, it ought to have a couple of families in it. But if it does, you can lay odds it's a temporary situation."
Every year new mansions are erected in Murphy Village and the manifest opulence of the community grows. It fosters a resentment among nearby non-Travelers or "country folk," as the Travelers call them. The Travelers are aloof and reclusive, having little to do with the encysting community. They interact with outsiders rarely, reject overtures of friendliness or neighborliness, and refrain from participating in the social activities of the area. In doing so, the Travelers have made themselves easy to dislike. Building houses well above the means of others about them simply fuels the antagonism.
Like the Scottish Travelers in Cincinnati, the Irish Travelers in Murphy Village are chary of exploiting people who live near them. Many of their neighbors have heard rumors about Traveler scams elsewhere, but none can attest to such predations from personal experience.
Recently one Traveler, Pete Caroll, sought to defuse the growing antagonism between Travelers and "country folk." (The Travelers' "country folk" is analogous to the Gypsies gaje and means simply "non-Travelers." Whether a person lives in the city or not is irrelevant; he or she is still country folk.) Meeting with parishioners at Our Lady of Peace Catholic Church in nearby North Augusta, Pete Caroll tried to lay to rest the "misconceptions" surrounding his relatives by explaining their lifestyle. In his presentation the Traveler didn't so much lie as misdirect, relying on his audience's natural tendency to read into what he said their own values and attitudes, to unconsciously reinterpret statements as acceptable norms with which they could sympathize.
To understand the Irish Travelers, Caroll said, one must understand their history, a history "handed down verbally from our ancestors." There are better sources than self-serving legends on the history of the Irish Travelers: police records, immigration records, social histories,etc.
In the early 1800s the ancestors of the Irish Travelers lived in Ireland and were known there as the "tinkers," a term still applied to their distant cousins remaining on the Emerald Isle. Traveling over a land of large, green pastures, skirting around "loughs" and past bogs, the Tinkers were itinerant peddlers and artisans, specializing in the work that gave them the name "tinkers", i.e., tinsmithing. They made drinking cups, funnels, pots of sundry kinds, and even fiddles of that metal. Competent artisans when they wanted to be, the Tinkers seldom cared about their workmanship and their products were often shoddy, hence the phrase "not worth a tinker's damn."
The white potato, originally domesticated by South American Indians and now popularly known as the "Irish Potato," was introduced to Europe in the 1600s and soon became a staple among many peasants. The white potato flourished in Ireland as well as much of northern Europe and provided the nutritional base for a rapidly expanding population. In 1846, however, a blight struck the potato gardens throughout Ireland, a blight that was to devastate crops for five consecutive years. Between 1846 and 1851 nearly a million people died of starvation and the diseases that plague malnourished populations. More than a million other people emigrated, predominately to the United States. Among those emigrants were the ancestors of the Irish Travelers.
Working out of Boston, New York City, and, later, Pittsburgh, the Travelers found much of the year far too cold for a migrant, camping people. At the end of the Civil War many made their way south, tinkering, trading in horses and mules, swindling, and stealing.
In the middle decades of this century the Travelers were based in and worked out of a "tent city" just south of the area where Murphy Village now stands. In the 1960s they followed a Catholic priest, Father Joseph J. Murphy, north a few miles, bought the land which is now named after that priest, established a community of their own and built a church.
The Travelers are universally Catholic by faith and profess to be devout in their beliefs. Religious statuary is common throughout the community and virtually every home has its Catholic icons. Yet the church in this pious community of 1,500 souls seats only 150 people.
Pete Caroll told his audience that the Travelers have a long tradition, a rigid set of morals, and a way of life that has been handed down from their ancestors. All that he said is true and sounds commendable until one questions the nature of the traditions, the content of the morals, and the implications of that way of life for others.
Like the Gypsies, the Travelers have a dual set of ethics, one set for dealing with other Travelers and a second for relating to country folk. While a Traveler may not ethically exploit others of his own kind, any relatively safe exploitation of country folk is legitimate and, in fact, highly laudable. As far as the Traveler is concerned, country folk were created to be taken.
To maintain their pattern of life, Caroll continued, the Travelers feel they must live apart. Their's is a tradition, we are told, with roots centuries old, a way of living that provides for them well, a manner of living that consequently deserves preservation. The Travelers fear the changes associating with others will inevitably bring. So they shut themselves away in order to preserve the good life.
It sounds appealing, this yearning to perpetrate the quaint ways of their ancestors. And those quaint ways certainly do provide well for them: half-million dollar homes, new Mercedes and Lincolns, luxurious house trailers or mobile homes for traveling, and so on. Living apart, for the Travelers, is much more than a nostalgic means to follow the ways of their grandparents. Associating with others would surely bring changes to the Traveler's world: confrontations with the police, criminal charges, prison terms, and the demise of the "good life."
"We don't have one person or governing body to make rules for the village," the Traveler stated. "Each man governs his own family. We go by tradition and what has gone down through the years. By observing custom, I know what is acceptable, my children know what is acceptable. That is how we live.
"We are all individuals," Caroll added, "and we have no king or queen--despite the rumors you may have heard. If we instill in our children the love and understanding we have for them, maybe a part of our life will still be there."
The Travelers are indeed "individualists" in the strongest sense of the word. They are nonconformists who consider themselves far superior to the country folk who accept society's normal standards for interpersonal conduct and conform to those standards. The community is saturated with an aura of haughty disdain for the non-Traveler. As baby, infant, and child, the growing young Traveler readily learns and subscribes to the community attitude.
"We live by the law of the land--that determines our rules," Caroll told the congregation he was addressing. "We have high moral standards. We have a very low divorce rate and there is not much of an alcohol or drug problem at Murphy Village."
At this point a member of the audience, Mr. Ed Collins, formerly with the FBI and currently with the County Solicitor's Office, interrupted to add a supporting comment: "There are less violent crimes such as armed robberies, rape, and grand larceny at Murphy Village. You should be proud of what you're doing out there."
Commenting on the exchange, police lieutenant Joe Livingston said: "There is beyond question a lot of trouble occurring in the village that, if it happened anywhere else, would be reported to the cops. Members of the Traveler's clan don't "roll over" on one another. For their own health and safety they'd better not. It's almost like the Mafia's oath of omerta, the vow not to squeal on other Mafioso. The village is regularly patrolled by sheriff's deputies and the last thing the Travelers want is to give coppers a reason to pry into Traveler affairs."
Tersely, Sheriff Carrol Heath, whose jurisdiction includes approximately half of Murphy Village, characterized the Travelers as "shrewd and scammy."
Because their parents were nomads, the children of Travelers seldom were able to receive much in the way of formal education, a condition publicly lamented but privately quite compatible with the desires of the parents. Since settling down in Murphy Village things have changed--but not by much. South Carolina children are required by law to attend school through the eighth grade, and seldom does a young Traveler stay any more than the minimum. Attendance during the required years tends to be desultory and interest in school work is commonly lacking. In class or on the playground, Traveler youngsters are withdrawn, volunteer little, and associate only with others from their own community.
When asked about their children's behavior at school and clear lack of any interest is getting an education, Pete Caroll admitted that Traveler parents encouraged their children to be "clannish" and then rationalized, "The less contact our children have with the outside world, the less trouble they'll get into and the better off our village will be."
Actually, Travelers view schools as subversive to their way of life. Public schools attempt to inculcate in children beliefs and values that will make them contributing members of the society on which Travelers prey. The Travelers do not want their heirs to internalize and become committed to the values of the dominant society.
The Travelers may lack a formal education, but in their schooling for fleecing country folk they commonly pass with honor. John Wood, an investigator in Pinellas County, Florida, with a long history of involvement in Traveler scams, stated that "Their training at the hands of fathers and uncles is probably as good as or better than the training provided to law enforcement officers tasked with investigating their activities." Another officer on a bunco squad in a midwestern city added: "They spend all day every day at their profession. We work forty hours a week investigating a diversity of rip-offs. I'm constantly amazed that we nail as many of them as we do--and then they usually weasel out of the charge anyway."
As mentioned earlier, at the end of the school year Travelers return to Murphy's Village, pick up their families, and take once more to the road. From the age of seven or eight, Traveler boys join their fathers and uncles in dressing driveways, pruning trees, painting, etc., receiving part of the spoils when the take is divided. They listen attentively while relatives make their pitch and later get instructed in the fine points of making a play for the country folks' money. By the time he's seventeen or eighteen, the young Traveler has had nine or ten summers of intensive tutoring. "Our young men have ambitions to be their own boss," Pete Caroll explained, "and traveling and selling is an exciting life." As the summers pass, the teen-ager plays an increasingly important role in the scams perpetrated until he is mature enough and knowledgeable enough to become a full-fledged member of the work team--and to marry.
According to Pete Caroll, "marriages are contracted by the parents when the children are mature. The young couple is consulted before the final decisions are reached, and the arrangements are ordinarily made two or three years before the wedding is to take place." The parents inevitably choose spouses for their children from among the Travelers, using such unions to solidify familial friendships and business arrangements. "There are no captives out there," Pete Caroll continued. "They are allowed to marry outside the Village if they choose." They never so choose, of course, for, in addition to the pressure from relatives and peers, they know that the culture of the Travelers is far too inimicable to that of the dominant society for marriage with a non-Traveler to be successful. The extent of intracommunity marriage is emphasized by the fact that among the more than 1,500 Travelers in Murphy Village there are only eleven surnames.
Like the Gypsies and Travelers of other ancestry, the Irish Travelers are shrewd, affable hucksters living well by offering cut-rate goods and services that are generally valueless. Although they may occasionally resort to threats and intimidation, rarely do they use violence. There is seldom any need for physical force.
Barnum had said that marks are created at the rate of sixty an hour, an estimate that is perhaps a little conservative. There is an abundance of people willing and almost eager to take advantage of the bargains Travelers offer without being physically coerced. And once swindled, bilked, and cheated, those people usually become embarrassed and refuse to talk. As one victim told police who were almost begging him to prosecute, "That son-of-a-bitch made a complete jackass out of me. I'm sure as hell not going to tell the whole world about it." Such reticence is a characteristic Travelers know well and depend on. Their way of life could hardly be possible otherwise.
Also see article at the Professionals Against Confidence Crime site: TRAVELERS IN THE UNITED KINGDOM
Now, and then, I can be convinced I was wrong...not often, but it happens..:~)
This article is incorrect. The Kennedy compound owns that distinction.
WHEN PETTY CRIME ISNT
To provide you with some idea about the extent of the problem caused by Gypsy criminal groups, Ive used statistics obtained from a national crime survey, which I conducted some years ago, along with other information obtained from various federal and state crime statistics.
The following figures are based on a review of two major (non-Gypsy related) crime categories: Robbery and Burglary.
The average dollar losses associated with those two categories were:
ROBBERY $ 628.00 per offense
BURGLARY $ 953.00 per offense
By comparison, I examined a random sample of 1,289 so-called Gypsy petty theft cases from various regions within the US. The total loss in this sampling amounted to $18.1 million.
It would take 28,821 robberies or 18,992 burglaries to equal the losses associated with the 1,289 Gypsy criminal group offenses.
You might want to question anyone who claims such crimes are petty, and therefore unworthy of any serious law enforcement attention.
Let us hope that the full blare of exposure re this angry lady (Gorman-Toogood) just happens to coincidentally inform people. The African Nigerian connections seem to be well publicised, yet people still get taken. (Southfield law firm).
Could we hope for a Barbara Walters type expose on the laughing lads of scam? Or even CNN?
|Blythe, the famous gypsy family of Scotland. A Bill Clinton connection? ^
|Posted by dennisw
On Sep 22 6:01 AM with 19 comments
The Yetholm (Scotland) Gypsies have made the village famous throughout the world. The Faa and Blythe groupings were the dominant families in British Gypsy culture throughout the past three hundred years. Although gypsy blood still courses through many local veins, the discreet family links have died out as the members have intermarried with the locals. The Baillie, Tait, Douglas, Young, Gordon and Blyth families all have blood links with the gypsy families of the past. The former 'Gypsy Palace' is just off Kirk Yetholm Green, on the road to Halterburn. Once the home of the King of the Gypsies, it...