Notorious Crooks: The con man with a thousand names

Notorious Crooks: The con man with a thousand names

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”

— Juliet, “Romeo and Juliet”

Andrew John Gibson would have disagreed with Juliet. Then he would have seduced her, written Lord Capulet a bad check, and moved to Denmark to borrow money from Ophelia’s father Polonius.

For Gibson, an impressive name was an occupational necessity.

Andrew John Gibson, aka Sir Harry Westwood Cooper, aka Surgeon Major Home, V.C., aka Dr. Milton Abraham, aka Ebenezer McKay, etc. was a most industrious con man. With a regal presence and forged documents, he cut a swath of larceny on four continents, leaving a trail of counterfeit checks and at least 12 swindled wives.

Born in Australia in 1868, Gibson spent his first 20 years in England. Returning to Australia, he posed as the heir to a large British fortune and married the daughter of a wealthy businessman. After cashing some worthless checks, he took his wife to London, where he abandoned her.

Moving to Toronto, he became Dr. Harry Westwood Cooper, and showing forged newspaper clippings, which attested to his miraculous surgical techniques, Gibson practiced medicine, while delivering an occasional sermon in the Presbyterian Church. Gibson ingratiated himself with his soon-to-be-fleeced flock by pretending to be very ill and showing people the generous bequests they would receive from his huge estate.

Gibson disappeared after borrowing large sums of money and arrived in San Francisco in 1897 as Sir Harry Westwood M.D., having been knighted by the Queen of his imagination. He was arrested here after forging a check on the Crocker Woolworth Bank and served three years in San Quentin State Prison.

Upon his release, he became Dr. Milton Abraham and repeated the following recipe for deception:

Take one impressive title, add an aristocratic attitude, marinate in forged documents. Stir thoroughly. Pour mixture over a young heiress. Add money borrowed under empty promises, turn up the heat, remove the money and disappear.

Unfortunately for Andrew, the disappearing part was flawed and he was arrested again. Yet even prison could not impair his connubial criminality. He seduced a missionary who visited the prison and married her under the nose of his San Francisco jailers.

Gibson was so persuasive that jailers were ordered not to talk with him, lest they fall under his spell. He once said, “Give me a shave and a clean shirt and I can win the affection of any woman in the world.”

After leaving San Francisco, Gibson continued his career abroad. He was arrested in South Africa under the name of Ebenezer McKay and in Australia as Surgeon Major Home.

Gibson may have been a skilled con man and expert forger, but he was by no means a master criminal and he spent more than 40 years in prison.

In July 1940, while posing as Dr. Harry Cecil Darling in a London maternity hospital, he was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 10 years.

As Walter Thomas Porriott, he married a 58-year-old widow named Bessie and died in Brisbane, Australia, in 1952. He was so reviled by Bessie’s family that the couple’s headstone reads only “Bessie, died 25th June 1957, and her husband.” But his story did not end there.

In 1997, his great-great-grandson Steve Wilson claimed that the Gibson who was in London in 1888 was actually Jack the Ripper. The claim sounds doubtful, but with Gibson anything was possible.

Paul Drexler is a crime historian and director of Crooks Tour of San Francisco, www.crookstour.com.Andrew John GibsonBay Area NewsJack the RipperNotorious CrooksRomeo and Juliet

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