Jan. 15, 2007
While making my daily check of EBay, I found an envelope from 1907 that was an interesting sequel to the “Mystery of the Burmese Fortunetellers.” This envelope was addressed to A. Victor Segno, 701 N. Belmont.
A brief check of Proquest revealsâ€”whatâ€™s this? A major scam artist, self-help author and wife-stealer.
A. Victor Segno turns out to be the operator of the American Institute of Mentalism. Hereâ€™s how it works: Members agree to send Segno $1 ($21.30 USD 2005) a month. In return he sends out a â€œsuccess waveâ€Â twice a day.
According to Segnoâ€™s literature: â€œThe vibrations which Prof. Segno is able to produce in people, through being in harmony with their mentalism, is often felt by them, though thousands of miles distant, as a sensation similar to a slight electric shock.â€Â
And a testimonial: â€œWhen I commenced taking the treatments with your club I was full of doubts as to the effects, but as I was anxious to be successful and had little to lose and all to gain I continued to take them. I have been a member less than two months and the following are the results:
â€œAt the time I joined the club I was sick, but compelled to work and for very small wages. Shortly after I began to feel better. On the 7th of this month my employer sold me his stock of goods on credit. By the 21st I had paid $100 on the cost of the stock and on the 24th I sold the stock for ($300 or $800) over the cost and reserved an interest in the business.
â€œYou no doubt will be glad to learn that since joining your club I have improved in health, supported myself and little baby girl and made over $1,000, and risen from a servant to be a proprietor. I have also secured a position as traveling agent for a Chicago firm at a large salary. It is wonderful to me.â€Â
Busy though he was sending out success waves, Segno was able to write two books: â€œHow to Live 100 Yearsâ€Â and â€œHow to Be Happy Though Married,â€Â available from the institute for $3 each. Later works included â€œPersonal Magnetism,â€Â â€œThe Law of Mentalismâ€Â and â€œHow to Have Beautiful Hair.â€Â
Apparently Segno did a thriving business because in a few years he was able to plan a large estate at Belmont and Kane, which was featured in The Times. The letter, addressed to 701 N. Belmont, was presumable sent to the institution on â€œInspiration Pointâ€Â over Echo Park, although I canâ€™t locate it now.
In 1911, however, Segno left Los Angeles, ostensibly to set up a similar school in Russia. Shortly thereafter, his longtime personal secretary, Mrs. Irene Weitzel, a recently married woman whom he had employed since she was a young girl, vanished on an alleged trip to Chicago to visit her parents.
In response to reportersâ€™ questions about whether Segno had run off with his secretary, his wife, Annie Dell Segno, replied: â€œIt isnâ€™t true, unless my husband has lost his senses.â€Â
â€œAn official of the school admitted that Mrs. Segno is greatly perturbed and admitted that there had been talk about Segno and the girl for some months,â€Â The Times says. â€œShe said that when such stories came to her ears she had hotly denied them because Segnoâ€™s teaching and life stood out in her mind as everything ideal.â€Â
A. Victor Segno and “success waves” in action, from one of his books. Note the beautiful hair.
Divorce eventually followed as Segno set up an identical scheme in Berlin. He returned to the United States about 1915 as the clouds of World War I formed over Europe. Thereafter, Segno vanished from the news while his ex-wife was mentioned in a 1923 story because she had married Harry T. Robinson, apparently a member of a robbery gang.
E-mail: lmharnisch (AT) gmail.com
Mr. C.D. Roberts of 1900 E. Main was feeling a bit unwell. He had bad headaches, an irregular appetite, saw dark spots before his eyes and felt as if something in his stomach was alive.
Not sure what to do, Roberts consulted the European Medical Experts at 745 S. Main St., where he was treated with the secret cure of
August 30, 1907
Get talked up by a booster…wend your way through the hall…step on the special stair which emits a loud buzz, warning those you approach. You’re one your way into the Venice Club, Windward Avenue, Venice, California.
The windows are covered in black oilcloth to keep out light and sound and prying eyes. Inside there’s a roulette wheel, stacked high with gold and silver, emitting its seductive clicky whir, counterposed by the atonal, plangent clack of chips. Verdant young society men huddle around the faro layout. You may or may not notice—they’re all losing. Certainly your luck can’t be as bad!
Your luck would be bad indeed this night, as Deputy District Attorney John North kicks in the door and announces that everyone is under arrest. This would not phase the roulette dealer: “He looked coldly at the officers and his slender gambler fingers toyed idly with the stack of chips at the edge of the table; his little, ratty, sharp face was a slight sneer, half of amusement.”
The Venice Club, run by an aggregation of Arizona sure-thing men, is as crooked as they come. It is said that the reason the faro dealer has one eye is due to time spent having to look crooked at the bent ends of marked cards.
As the room was pinched, a sudden epidemic of sick wives befell Los Angeles. But the cops would have none of it, and everyone was hauled in. The gamblers were allowed to kitty their boodle—some $1486 ($30,498 2006 USD).
The club kept a register of all the tenderfoot gilded youth they’d fished, and, amusingly, the paper printed it in full:
Ah, would that the story should end there. The bust of the Venice Club opened wide a scandal that shed no new good light on the already suspect “beach towns.”
The Venice police were as fixed as the card games, and got fat from the brace games that lined the seashore. (During Fiesta week, the same underworld figures who ran the Venice Club ran a crooked [and police protected] gambling hall downtown on Broadway between First and Second.) Venice men “higher up” had cemented relationships with blind pigs, dens of ruination for young girls, and that special element adept in fixing elections. Abbot Kinney and (Ocean Park magnate) G. M. Jones battled it out and the cops pledged their various allegiances in the war.
The corruption scandal lingered long and luscious…September 11, 1907: