J. Frank Norfleet was a 54-year-old Texas cattle rancher in 1919 when he traveled to Dallas for business involving his ranch. He ended up being swindled out of $45,000 by a group of confidence men which left  him broke. But, that was not the end of the story about the swindle.

Behind the swindle was Lou Blonger who had started his career as a saloon owner in Denver Colorado. Blonger established the largest conference ring in the history of the United States. By the 1920s Blonger had 500 men working for him across the country defrauding victims out of hundreds of thousands of dollars. His ring was able to avoid prosecution because of payoffs to corrupt authorities. But, ironically it was the swindling of this rural small time Texas cattlemen that precipitated the downfall of the Blonger confidence Empire.

J. frank norfleetThe swindle began when Norfleet was singled out as an easy mark. One of the con men struck up a conversation and learned that Norfleet might be interested in selling his spread. He claimed he had a friend who might take the land off of his hands. A meeting was arranged. The confidence crew had planted a wallet in the chair at the hotel where Norfleet was seated for the meeting. Norfleet found the wallet with $100 in it. His new friends helped him find the owner who was another member of the gang. The wallet owner gratefully accepted the billfold and while Norfleet refused a reward he agreed to accept a portion of a stock transaction the owner said he was about to make. Later, Norfleet was told that his share of the stock transaction was $800, but there was still a pending transaction as well.

The next day he was informed he had now earned $28,000 as his share of  profit on the Phantom stock deal. While they celebrated another member of the gain interrupted them claiming to be the secretary of the stock exchange. He said that since they not registered with the stock exchange the money could not be released until a $20,000 bond was posted in order to release his share.

Norfleet took the next train home and borrowed the money which he brought back and delivered, only to be told the share was now $160,000 which had to be frozen until an additional $25,000 was posted. Norfleet managed to borrow $25,000 from his brother-in-law which he delivered. He was assured share of the money would be released  and delivered to the hotel that afternoon. Of course, he waited in vain at the hotel for them to return with his share. The gang had promptly skipped town with the entire $45,000.

Norfleet was devestated. After confessing to his wife he vowed to hunt them all down. He decided he would personally find the men who had swindled him  and see they were put in jail. Even though he was a small rancher he had had experience in law enforcement and had the instinct of a bloodhound with the determination of a tiger following prey.

His man hunt took him throughout the United States and from Mexico to Canada. He crisscrossed the country from Texas to Florida to California to Colorado. He posed as a country hick in order to encountered other confidence men to get the evidence necessary to find the ones he was after. It took him almost five years, but he succeeded in  finding the men and had jailed all but one who chose suicide instead of prison.

During his pursuit Norfleet had learned that the men he had pursued were part of the larger confidence ring run by Blonger. So, he decided to turn his attention to exposing the entire ring. The result was Blonger and many members of his ring were arrested and imprisoned.

While he achieved justice, Norfleet never recovered financially. However, his search for the confidence man became legendary. Books and articles have been written about him and his manhunt. Norfleet had his justice.


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