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Texas Twist


(Contributed by Detective S.M. Haines, Swindle Squad, Dallas (TX) Police Department)

Texas has, during the past 15 years, produced more Three Card Monte suspects than possibly any other state. They have been so good at the con game that the variation used by the suspects years ago became known as the "Texas Twist."

Three Card Monte began as a pure gambling game. Years ago, grifters would play this game on the bus, in the pool halls, or on the downtown streets where a crowd would gather much like the shell and pea game players. Black neighborhoods were familiar with this card game and anyone who got took was considered a real sucker.

The game graduated in the 70's to truck stops where sophisticated mixed teams of four to seven players would fleece the truck drivers out of their money. The teams were made up of shills, dealers, and enforcers who settled disputes. When the truck drivers caught on that they were never going to win and refused to pay, some teams resorted to robbery. When these teams came to town, offenses were generated and this strong arm approach brought a new change in officers. attitudes toward what was once thought of as a game of skill.

Somehow, the really smart con men who knew how to play the handkerchief switch got together to form a new game called the "Texas Twist." The players did not have worry about any strong arm approach because the victims were going to put the money right in their hand. They would perfect a story that was believable and designed to lure the victim into a situation that would reveal the .mark.s. own greed. No longer would they have to fleece truck drivers out of a few hundred dollars or play the game on a cardboard box in a downtown alley. They could work a few hours for thousands of dollars and when the victim went to the police, detectives who were not trained in bunco crimes, would raise their eyebrows in disbelief. Detectives would consider this nothing more than a gambling game or a civil case, and there was nothing they could do.

Many very old players will still relate how several cities in the United States had a "tree." Bunco detectives, rather than have their city ravaged by con men coming from all over the country, would let certain players make some money playing con. In return, these players would inform on new con men coming in from out of town and taking off huge scores. The detectives got to make some arrests and control the offenses. The snitches got their mug shots removed from the mug books and if there was a big uproar over a particular score, the con men would simply kick back the money to the mark.

A typical good "Texas Twist" team will consist of about four players. At least two of the players will be white males and at least one player, the key to the entire team, will be black. The last player will be a driver who will make sure he will never be seen by the victim. His role is to pick up the team after the money changes hands and to watch the victim inside the bank. Typically, his take is 20% of the score. Although several all-white teams have tried to play the game alone, not many have succeeded.

The black player is often referred to as the "lame," the "catch man," or the "hit man" because he approaches the victim first and entices him into the game. He normally looks for white males between the ages of 55-75. The victim, although he might look like a farmer, might have a big diamond ring on or drive a new pick up truck and appear to have money. Most of the time the team will choose businesses which attract many people such as Wall Marts, Payless, and Home Depots. Most teams like these businesses, if they are playing small towns, because they are close to the freeways and they can be miles away before the victim decides to contact the police. Sometimes, the suspects will consistently work bank parking lots to select victims and follow them from that location.

The story used by the particular team may vary but is usually consistent and predictable. The black player introduces himself as Roscoe Duvall or some similar name and says he is from Tupelo, Mississippi or some small town in the South. Roscoe has just come to town from the farm because his relative died in some kind of accident and he is there to pick up some insurance money. He has a lot of money at the bus station and flashes a large money roll frequently assuring the mark that he is not going to rob him. Roscoe met a girl at the bus station who offered him sex for $500. After giving her the money, she gave him a piece of paper with her address on it. Since he does not read or write, he asks the mark for some help in finding the woman and shows him the "catch card" with the address on it. Roscoe offers the victim money for assistance but rarely gives him any.

As quickly as he can, he gets into the victim's vehicle and they begin driving away from the scene. The other members of the team will follow the victim's vehicle and have been given a hand signal that the victim shows promise. As Roscoe Duvall and the victim drive along, Roscoe will ascertain whether or not the victim has any money, how he feels about gambling, whether he is prejudiced, and will use any of these characteristics to his advantage. Roscoe emphasizes that he does not trust banks and has always let his boss man keep his money for him because he only charges him 25%. He gives the appearance of being an ignorant country fool to be pitied and can be easily taken advantage of.

As they are driving, Roscoe asks the mark to pull over into a fast food restaurant while he gets something to drink. At this point, the second and possibly a third suspect is introduced into the con game. After Roscoe comes back to the vehicle, he tells the mark that someone else might be able to help them find the address and the lady he met at the bus station.

As they are talking, the second suspect, often called the "cap" man, walks nearby pretending to be a total stranger. Roscoe calls him over to the vehicle, still waiving his money roll, and begins to tell his story all over again. Both the second player and the mark attempt to get Roscoe to put his money in the bank because he is going to get robbed flashing the money roll. Roscoe will hear none of it and may insult them both, acting more ignorant than ever.

Roscoe will often describe how he has been waiting to have sex with a white woman and go into a graphic description of how he was having sex with his boss man's daughter who was 13 at the time. This may illicit feelings of anger from the mark and the second suspect. The goal of a "cap" man is to have the mark identify with the him and to cheat the stupid country bumpkin out of his money.

Many times this does not work. Many times victims do not want to cooperate with the second suspect and want them all out of their vehicle. Most professional con men believe that every mark is dishonest and this trait alone is responsible for their being taken. But if the mark refuses to gamble, the team might continue as a simple handkerchief switch game where the victim holds the money while the country fool is taken to a prostitute.

The "cap" man's job is to get the victim in a .three card monte. card game by suggesting to Roscoe that the lady Roscoe met at the bus station was a prostitute and they play a card game to fleece people of their money. Roscoe is only too eager to gamble. The "cap" deals the cards and tells Roscoe how to win by selecting the red card from the two black ones. He and Roscoe draw the mark into the game and the "cap" will tell the victim which card to select to cheat poor Roscoe. If he is mad enough at Roscoe, the mark will willingly play the card game. If the mark is not interested he still has no way to get the two con men out of his vehicle. Good teams are able to select good victims and if everyone does his job, the mark is hooked.

After a sizable bet is made, the victim selects the card he is told will win the game and Roscoe's money. But it's the wrong card! The "cap" gets mad and he and the victim give all their money and jewelry to Roscoe. Roscoe might wrap the jewelry and money in a bandana. There may be an introduction of a third man, called the "house man" who might mediate in case of arguments or hold the property while the victim goes to the bank. He often poses as the manager of the fast food restaurant and pretends to have no interest in the results of the gambling game.

The cap man instructs the mark again about which card to select and they make a huge bet with Roscoe. What a miracle- they both win!! Now for the first time in hours, Roscoe shows some kind of intelligence. He says that he will pay off but they did not have any money put up when they made the bet ,and he is not sure they could have paid off if they had lost. Its time to go to the bank and get some money to win their possessions back and Roscoe's money. Both the victim and the "cap" go to the bank and withdraw money.

At this point, after the victim returns from the bank with his money, the con game can take several turns. They can make a simple handkerchief switch and leave with the victims money. The victim gets a bandana with cut up newspaper inside. In recent years, the suspects perform a simple "walk off." The "house man" or "cap" comes out to meet the victim and tells him to give him the money. He will go inside the fast food restaurant and get the mark's possessions and half of the money. Since the mark has met the manager of the restaurant, he suspects nothing and waits in his vehicle. The suspects simply walk out another exit door and leave the scene. Within minutes, they are on the freeway and out of town.

Now the victim must decide how he is going to report his role in this swindle to the police. Is he an innocent bystander, a willing participant, or a basically honest person who was manipulated by professional team of con men? Will he be believed or laughed at by the police?

Most good con men believe that if all the evidence came out in a trial, no judge or jury would convict them of this theft. Very few detectives have ever been involved in a trial of three card monte players. Most don.t feel confident in explaining this con game to a jury. It is difficult to go beyond a mere gambling game and make a jury understand how a person can be manipulated to the point where he is under the control of a team of con men. Prosecutors had rather plea bargain these cases for restitution and easy punishment because they do not understand the victim.s role in the con game or how to put the victim in a favorable light. It is easy to understand the mechanics of the swindle but difficult to have, in some cases, sympathy for the victim.  

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