You’re probably asking yourself who that handsome devil in the above pic is. Well, he was certainly a con artist, but was he also a murderer?
His name was Charles Lewis Blood (1835–1908), self-styled as Dr. C.L. Blood or C.L. Blood, M.D. Everything, from his parentage (he claimed to be the son of a physician) to his own medical credentials, appears to have been fabricated. But that’s only part of the story.
Note for the squeamish: Some of the details of this tale are a bit grim.
C.L. Blood arrived in Boston from Philadelphia in 1865, established an office, and began promoting his medical services in full-page newspaper ads. He developed an interest in the use of nitrous oxide (“laughing gas”) as an anesthetic, and subsequently learned how to manufacture it. He then claimed it as his own invention, calling it “oxygenized air,” and promoted it as a cure for tuberculosis and other respiratory tract diseases. Business was soon booming, but he also employed numerous shills, including a page to answer visitors’ calls, to create the illusion of a much bigger business in order to lure investors.
Blood was eventually convicted of blackmail, tax evasion, and fraud, which included the publication of A Century of Life, Health, and Happiness, a compendium of medical information for the home. An investor alleged that Blood had defrauded him when the author failed to provide him with promised copies of the book. Blood was sentenced to several years in prison for this and his other crimes.
But his involvement in the murder of Hiram Sawtelle was Blood’s most sinister crime. Hiram, a fruitseller, lived in Boston with his mother and family. When his brother, Isaac, was released from prison after securing a pardon for his rape convictions, the brothers entered into a dispute concerning their late father’s estate. Though the property was in their mother’s name, Hiram managed it, and Isaac was desperate to gain control of it.
Isaac Sawtelle met C.L. Blood while in prison. Blood offered to engineer Hiram’s cooperation for a $500 fee, bringing a third convict into the plan to help. Isaac abducted Hiram’s daughter to lure Hiram to a remote camp in Maine, where Blood and his accomplice would force him to sign over the property. The enterprise did not go to plan, however, and one of the men shot Hiram four times. They proceeded to undress, decapitate, and partially dismember him, then buried his headless body in a shallow grave just across the state line, in New Hampshire.
After Hiram’s disappearance, his wife immediately suspected that Isaac had murdered him and notified the police. Ten days after the murder, Hiram’s body was discovered. Isaac was arrested with two train tickets to Montreal, one of which was thought to be for Blood. Blood’s picture was circulated and he was recognized by a hotelier who reported that Blood had been carrying two bundles, one of which was wrapped in newspaper and “about the size of a man’s head.”
Isaac Sawtelle was charged with conspiracy and the murder of Hiram. While awaiting trial, he confessed to plotting to intimidate Hiram into signing the property over but denied taking any part in the murder. Isaac claimed that Blood owed Hiram a good deal of money and killed him to escape the debt.
Despite the hoteliers’ statements and Isaac’s confession, Blood was never questioned by the police. Isaac was convicted of his brother’s murder and sentenced to death, but he died of natural causes shortly before his scheduled execution.
Blood himself died at age 73 of some unnamed illness. Though he was buried in the family plot, his widow and surviving sisters chose not to add his name to the family memorial.A Grifter’s Song
Why all this talk about cons? I’m glad you asked. My latest project is a novella, part of a larger series called “A Grifter’s Song.” The entire series is comprised of two six-episode seasons, with stories written by different authors. The first two episodes of Season One, THE CONCRETE SMILE by Frank Zafiro and PEOPLE LIKE US by J.D. Rhoades, are available now.
A Grifter’s Song follows Sam and Rachel, a couple deeply in love and on the grift. In a world of the long con, the short con, and the constant con, this love between is the only real and true thing in their lives. Everything else is a façade, a play, a way to work the mark. Each episode focuses on a different con, and with authors like Gary Phillips, Eryk Pruitt, Eric Beetner, and J.D. Rhoades contributing, you’re guaranteed a wild ride.
I don’t think of myself as a shallow person, but the first thing that attracted me to this series were the covers. When Frank Zafiro, the series’ creator, sent me the samples, I pretty much said ‘yes’ to contributing my own episode on the spot.
My episode, THE MONEY BLOCK, won’t be available until next year, but I’m knee-deep in cons, marks, and tricksters at the moment.