The citizens of Concord have plenty of reasons to be proud. Some wonderful people who have made positive marks on society have been born and raised here.
But then there’s Gaston B. Means, a greasy splotch on an otherwise only gently tarnished history ledger. Means cooked up many swindling schemes during his 59 years, but it was his last, involving the Lindbergh kidnapping in the 1930s, that made national headlines and landed him a stint in the pen, where he died.
The infamous, locally born con artist will be the topic of the next What Happened? historical book discussion on Sept. 14 at the Concord Library. The free monthly series, led by library assistant and Concord native John Eury, digs deeper into the stories of colorful people and events from the past.
“This is definitely dirty laundry about this area,” said Eury, of both Means’ misdeeds and the good-old-boy network of locals back then who helped him get out of many of his jams. “I guess that’s probably one reason, coming up, why I never heard much.”
Means was born in 1879 to a prominent family. His father was an attorney who later became mayor of Concord before taking a seat in the N.C. Senate. The family’s Queen Anne-style home still stands on North Union Street, not far from Means Avenue.
But the young Means’ childhood wouldn’t be inspiration for future Norman Rockwell paintings. Means had a penchant for conniving, and a personality that lived up to his name. He once stole money from his mother, then watched a maid get wrongly accused and fired for it.
“As the maid is leaving, upset and crying, he’s like 7 years old and sitting up in the window with a big old grin on his face,” said Eury, who learned much about Means through “Spectacular Rogue: Gaston B. Means,” a book written by Edwin P. Hoyt that’s available through the library.
Hoyt pulled no punches when he penned the book back in 1963, and few pages escape without a word like “swindler,” “conman” or “liar” showing up in at least one sentence.
Means managed to wriggle out of most of his criminal activities Scot-free, even once winning an acquittal for murder. In 1917, Means was accused of killing Maude King, a wealthy widow who died mysteriously while target practicing with Means one evening.
“Means told a couple of different stories,” said Eury. “One is that she had put the gun in a tree and somehow the gun fell out of the tree and ended up shooting her in the back of the head.”
Allegedly, Means retained all 10 of Concord’s lawyers for his defense, the jury had been strong-armed by his entourage, and the judge was a family friend.
No one wanted to touch him.
“The sheriff hated to arrest him,” added Eury.
Means didn’t get his comeuppance until decades later, when he was brought up on federal charges of grand larceny for his scheme to con money from those searching for the Lindbergh baby in 1932.
For decades after, many people assumed he had hidden his stash of swindled money somewhere around town, but that’s not the case, said Eury. “He pretty much died destitute in jail. His wife had to end up going to work.”
Lisa Thornton is a freelance writer: email@example.com
What Happened? will be held at 6 p.m. Sept. 14 in the Concord Library Meeting Room, 27 Union Street N. To register, call 704-920-2054 or go to www.cabarruscounty.us/government/departments/library