True Crime Sunday: Barbara Erni and Her Mysterious Trunk

Summer isn’t far away. You know what’s a fun way to welcome the warm weather? Talking about great cons for True Crime Sunday! That’s right, we’ll spend the month looking at hoaxes and frauds and grifts– oh my!

This week, we’ll be looking at a woman who sounds like something out of myth. She had beautiful strawberry blonde hair that earned her the name “Golden Boos” and incredible strength. Literally.

Barbara Erni was born in Austria in 1743 to a homeless couple. It seems she must have wanted to have a better, perhaps wealthier, life. Crafty Barbara hatched a scheme that would earn her great wealth and a place at the table with the greatest of con artists.

Ms. Erni was best known for walking the European countryside with a chest or large pack strapped to her back. She would go from inn to inn, each time telling the innkeeper that the contents of the trunk were far too valuable to be left out in the open. She would ask that the innkeepers lock her prized trunk in their nicest and most secure room. Of course, the proprietors would do so. Why not help out a guest of such wealth?

Once everyone was in bed and the trunk was locked away in the luxurious room, a small man, or perhaps a child, would jump out of the trunk and load it up with whatever valuables would fit. Erni’s accomplice’s identity is unknown.

In the morning, the innkeepers were shocked and humiliated to find that not only was their wealthy guest’s beloved trunk gone, but their guest and valuables from the room were gone too!

Barbara Erni kept it up for fifteen years until 1784 when she was arrested in Liechtenstein. By that time, she’d become quite wealthy for real… thanks to her simple, but clever thefts. She was arrested in May. In December, she confessed to seventeen of the thefts and was sentenced to be executed. She was the last person to be executed in that country, and the death penalty was eventually abolished in 1987.

I don’t know about you, but I like to imagine this woman hauling a trunk all over Europe. I wonder what she was thinking as she approached the next inn. Do you think she was like an athlete preparing for a game? Or perhaps giggling to herself and imagining the response of the proprietors? Either way, this is a pretty fascinating lady.

Join me here next week and see what con we’ll look at next! (Hint: it may or may not have a paranormal spin.)

Photo credit: atlasobscura.com

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