An untold story

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Mystery and Crime  |  House: Booksie Classic

Submitted: June 30, 2016

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Submitted: June 30, 2016



 An untold story

It was the 18th of October 1953; a day Edward Salinger, sitting in his Wall Street office would never forget. The letter had bought his respectable life to a shuddering halt. How could he face the world and his investors knowing the truth?He’d spent twenty years building a reputation for honesty and integrity, some of his larger customers were friends; how would the market react, who else knew, would the commission revoke the companies banking licence; questions hammered at his brain. How could his father have done such a thing; more particularly how did he get away with it. Even the name Henry Salinger; so respected by the market, was now revealed as just a cheap disguise; the Salinger Bank had been a byword for integrity ever since it was founded by Henry Salinger in November 1912. Yet according to the old man’s letter it had been founded on a lie; a criminal fraud that had left hundreds perhaps thousands of people destitute. According to Henry Salinger’s own account he had cheated unknown hundreds of people out of their life savings.

The will had been read earlier in the day in the board room at the Banks New York headquarters. Henry Salinger had been a billionaire who’d become a public figure; at one time he’d even run for the Senate, he’d cultivated the image of a prudent banker, family man and philanthropist.  In the financial markets he’d been a legend. He’d beaten the 29 crash by investing in gold, late in 1928;  he’d invested heavily in land and real-estate when property prices were predicted to fall, he cornered the silver market in 1932 and made another fortune; stories about him were legion. Everyone knew he was a self made man; started with nothing and had come up the hard way. Except; he hadn’t!

When the will was read, there were few surprises, generous bequests to family, friends and loyal family retainers; there was even a large sum to be divided between the 1000 or so work force of the Salinger Bank. Henry’s wife of forty years had died a year earlier so the bulk of his fortune, the investment company and Private Bank had been left to his only son Edward, who for the last five years had been its C.E.O.  As Edward had been leaving the board room the lawyer who read the will handed Edward the letter; written in his father’s own scrawly hand, it was sealed with old fashioned sealing wax, across the envelope were the words, to Edward; only to be opened in the event of my death. The lawyer explained the letter had been in his safe for thirty years and he had no idea what it contained. Curious but unconcerned Edward had taken the letter back to his office. Death of the Banks Chairman and founder had created a good deal of work for Edward, and he’d rushed off to a meeting with the Banking Commission immediately after the will reading,  so it was after four before he got back to the office and opened the letter. He’d read it twice but its implications were still only just sinking in. How could the old man do it, die and leave him holding information that would bring down the bank! Why.

Edward started to read the letter for a third time; it offered no apology, just a narrative describing a criminal fraud that at the time had rocked the European financial world. In 1906, William Benedict Southwell had started an investment firm known as “U.S Land” based in New York; its stated aim was to raise money for America’s emerging railroad companies and also invest in real estate. Edward shuddered, it was a simple scam really, Southwell and his European partner, an Englishman named Samuel Walter-Ridgeway, had started to sell fake railroad and real estate bonds in London Paris and Frankfurt. Apparently, Walter-Ridgeway was something of a socialite, well connected with numerous wealthy families; he also had strong business associations with companies in the City of London. The scheme had taken off immediately in the fledgling markets; it seemed investors all over Europe couldn’t get enough of the fake bonds. Southwell forged Railroad bonds, share certificates and Real estate deeds in the U.S.A and Walter-Ridgeway kept the money rolling in. Dividends, running at 7/8% were being paid by the new money coming into the scam, so the investor base grew and grew. Hundreds perhaps thousands of small investors all over Europe had invested in a totally worthless company. By 1910 however, the markets had begun to smell a rat; some of the more astute investors started to take their cash out, but despite persistent rumours, small investors were still piling in. It all came crashing down in September 1911, an English stockbroker and a German Bank official had demanded an audit of the books of U.S Land; so much European money was at stake  the British and German governments had begun to ask questions. By October 1911 the game was up. Walter- Ridgeway was jailed in London awaiting trial and all U.S Land's offices had been closed down. Edward took a long drag at the cigarette he was holding and looked down at the letter. It outlined the diplomatic incident which followed the biggest financial crash Europe had seen since the “South Sea Bubble”. Newspapers all over Europe were outraged; Walter-Ridgeway and his associates in Europe had been rounded up and were being prosecuted by the judicial systems in their respective countries; but what about the architect of the scam and where was the money? European Governments egged on by the press all wanted justice; William Benedict Southwell to be bought before the courts and the four million or so U.S dollars returned to hard pressed investors. According to the letter, the old man was holding closer to five million dollars but he was also protected by U.S extradition laws.

Edward took a deep breath, he tried to imagine how Henry Salinger, or rather William Benedict Southwell might have felt in the months leading up to Christmas in 1911. Sitting on a cash pile of nearly five million dollars; but also facing a trial and prison sentence that would deprive him of his liberty for 20 or 30 years. The letter went on to say that whilst the swindle had not been as widely publicised in the U.S.A. the Attorney General’s office had been following the case closely. It was even rumoured, that U.S President William Taft and the UK Prime Minister Herbert Asquith had been in contact about the scandal. The U.S Government would not extradite one of its citizens to stand trial in England but in the special circumstances surrounding the case it did pledge support for a prosecution being brought in the State of New York. Accordingly William Southwell was placed under house arrest and a top US lawyer from the Attorney General’s office had been dispatched to London in early January to assist in preparing the prosecution’s case. By late March of 1912 everything was complete, and a date for the hearing in New York’s district court had been set for May the 4th.

On April the 10th a five strong international legal team, led by the English barrister Sir Gordon Cosmo Duff, together with 24, specially built wooden cabinets containing evidence and all the original documents necessary for prosecuting such a complicated fraud case; set sail on an unsinkable ship from Southampton. On the 15th of April reports appeared in the New York papers of the tragic loss of life after the Titanic sunk, 600 miles off the coast of Newfoundland in 12500 feet of water on her maiden voyage. Southwell was now separated from prosecution by over 2000 fathoms. On the 4th of May a judge in New York’s district court ruled that there was no case to answer and William Benedict Southwell was discharged without a stain on his character. Soon afterwards, he changed his name by deed pole to Henry Salinger, got married and opened a private bank with his ill-gotten gains.

Edward whistled through his teeth, if the markets and the Banking Commission ever discovered Henry Salinger’s secret it would destroy everything. But the letter did shed light on something Edward Salinger had never quite understood. Every year on the 14th of April; for as far back as he could remember Henry Salinger had thrown a black tie dinner party for a hundred and fifty guests at his mansion up in the Hamptons. Over time it had become the social event of the year; New York’s financial and political elite were invited to a lavish celebration. An invitation to “Henry’s party” became a status symbol. Edward had attended every event since he was sixteen. There were no boring speeches just a single toast proposed by Henry Salinger himself and the toast was always the same, “to those less fortunate, and our good fortune”.

Edward slumped in his chair with his head in his hands; the old man was a crook. Henry Salinger had amassed his fortune by fraud, the Bank was built on stolen money; what the hell was he supposed to do. Are you alright Mr Edward? A voice from his office doorway jerked Edward back to reality; it was his secretary Constance Harper; are you ok she repeated; is there anything I can get you before I leave. Edward’s eyes grew suddenly brighter, yes there is Constance; can you find me a bottle of champagne and two glasses. By the time Constance Harper returned, the letter and its envelope had been reduced to a small pile of ash in the large glass ashtray which Edward had placed in the middle of his desk. Edward popped the champagne cork and pored two glasses; Constance I want you to join me in a toast, “to those less fortunate, and our good fortune”.

 1654 words.









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