True Crime Sunday: Ann O’Delia Diss Debar, a woman of many names

Welcome back to True Crime Sunday! This week, we’re going to take a brief look at the long story of a woman of many hats and many names.

What do Editha Lola Montez, Della Ann O’Sullivan, Vera Ava, Madame Messant, Swami Viva Ananda, Swami Laura Horos, and Laura Jackson have in common? They’re all names Ann O’Delia Diss Debar used throughout her exploits in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Before we even get into her deeds, we are looking at a bit of a mystery. Who exactly was she? Some sources say she was born Editha Salomen, and others say she was born Ann O’Delia Salomon. The latter was allegedly confirmed with records and a family Bible used as evidence in court later on. Either way, she was born in Kentucky in 1849.

It is reported that Ms. Debar was dissatisfied with her home life and had become a skilled liar and swindler as a child. She would continue to hone those skills throughout her life.

She started things off big by telling a tragic and incredible story about being Editha Lola Montez, the illegitimate child of King Ludwig of Bavaria. A lawyer for the estate of dancer Lola Montez, the mother of the poor child in this scenario, doubted the claims. However, he did agree to give her $300.00. She used this story to con men out of money until she got into some trouble in New York City.

Debar was widowed in 1873. It was after this she decided to try her hand at spiritualism. She performed convincing seances and created spirit paintings. Sources say this scam was worth tens of thousands of dollars to her. That chapter ended when she convinced an attorney that the spirits wanted him to sell her his townhouse for a mere $100. A steal indeed.

After she was revealed as a fraud and had difficulty reestablishing as a medium elsewhere, she decided to join a cult. Not quite satisfied with that, she and her new husband decided to start their own cult in England. It was here she went by Swami Laura Horos. This part of her life relied on her being able to sell her skills as a medium. The endeavor was quite successful until one of the cult members lodged a complaint that the couple had stolen from her.

In 1901, Ms. Debar and her husband were convicted of a number of crimes. She was sentenced to seven years in prison and he to fifteen years. She was released on parole in 1906 and disappeared. The last reported sighting of Ms. Debar was in 1909 when she tried to start another cult. She soon let go of that idea. After that, she seemed to disappear into thin air.

Ann O’Delia Diss Debar’s life was full of travel and adventures in the world of hoaxes and fraud. When she was caught, she didn’t give up and always had another trick up her sleeve. It’s no wonder Harry Houdini reportedly said she is “one of the most extraordinary fake mediums and mystery swindlers the world has ever known.”

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