American conman jailed in Tyrone
'Captain' Malpagane being led to the courthouse by D.I. Conlin Photo: Donegal News, 28 Feb 1914

American conman jailed in Tyrone

Inglorious past of the ‘Penniless Millionaire’ revealed

Published: 20 March 1914

Omagh Courthouse was packed this week to witness the trial of Captain Lancelot P. Malpagane, the American con-artist.

Colm O'Flaherty examines the story of the mysterious American conman who calls himself Captain Malpagane. The holding image is taken from The Ulster Herald on the 7 March 1914 and shows a crowd waiting outside Omagh Courthouse on the day of Malpagane's trial.

When presented with the charges of obtaining money by false pretences, the ‘Captain’ strode forward confidently and, with a smile, pleaded 'Not Guilty'.

Evidence to the contrary was provided by three members of the Omagh Y.M.C.A., who told the court that he had arrived to their door on 17 January, dressed in a boyscout uniform. He introduced himself as the son of a millionaire and explained that he was stranded and penniless on his ‘walk around the world’. A loan of 12 shillings was promptly given to him, with the promise of repayment by the following Monday - this was a promise that remains unfulfilled.

After the evidence had been given, Dr Lipsett, counsel for the defence, remarked to the jury that the money given to the ‘Captain' was surely a feat of generosity unexampled in the history of the Young Men’s Christian Association of Omagh. He further posited that the failure to repay money did not constitute taking it by false pretences. He concluded by reminding the jury that the prisoner was a visitor in their country, and asked that he be shown the same courtesy as one of their own compatriots would be.

Dr Lipsett’s speech produced a ripple of applause in the galleries. The jury, however, showed little hesitation in finding the prisoner guilty.

Two images of Malpagane: wearing a scarf and hat (left), and in a boyscout uniform, as described in the witness statements. (Images: The Ulster Herald, 7 March 1914)

Before passing sentence, Judge Ross commented that this case recalled to him the words of the Scottish philosopher Carlyle, who noted that there were a great many people in the world, and that most of them were fools. He informed those present of the prisoner’s past record, which included a number of previous convictions in South Africa, and, most recently, an arrest in Rotherham for the theft of a gentleman’s overcoat.

His Lordship remarked that the prisoner was a dangerous, mean and mischievous man, and sentenced him to three years penal servitude.

Upon being led out of court, the prisoner exclaimed: ‘I consider you most unfair and unjust!’

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