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Sunday, January 3, 2010


Fast-paced, well-written book almost offers master conman’s operational blueprint to equally opportunistic individuals! (Review by Caroline Smart)

Wire Me a Million is a true story about a hugely successful master conman, one William Thomas (Billy) Wolfe, who operated in the 1970s and 80s in the UK, US and South Africa. Hiding under a number of aliases and operating across the globe, he fleeced hundreds of investors - the majority of them being doctors.

Durban writer Jack Shepherd Smith has finally gone to print with this story that had its origins in April 1991 when he met with Billy Wolfe at his invitation to discuss the possibility of writing the conman’s life story. The irony of the situation did not escape Shepherd Smith who wrote in his preface to the book: “Looking back on it now, it was in the realm of lunacy. Here was one of the greatest crooks of modern times hiding under a false name from the police forces of three countries, wanting me to tell the world about the dreadful things he had done during his fantastic criminal career. Madness.”

If they had gone ahead with the publication, Wolfe would have been clapped behind bars the moment the book went on sale. However - never one to turn down a good story, as he quips – Shepherd Smith entered into a basic agreement with Wolfe but eventually the idea fizzled and died as the former got on with his busy life. The writer of the authorised biography of Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi, he is a former editor of Scope magazine and helped to found Style and Pace magazines.

However, that was not to be the last he heard of Billy Wolfe. In May 1994, he received a phone call from the conman from his prison cell in Tallahassee Correctional Center in Florida, USA asking him: “Now you gonna do it?”

As before, Shepherd Smith was too much involved with other assignments to concentrate on what was eventually to involve numerous telephone calls to and from prison cells and “long, rambling letters” from the various prisons Wolfe was posted to. However, determination won the day and Wire Me a Million has now seen the light of day in print form.

Despicable chancer or acute businessman? Manipulative fraudster or clever opportunist? As the saying goes: “a fool and his money are soon parted”. The alarming thing is that it was all so easy for Wolfe. Whatever their views on the subject, readers can only follow his exploits with fascination as he plays his money-grabbing game, staying one jump– sometimes only a matter of hours - ahead of the law.

Jack Shepherd Smith has produced a fast-paced, well-written book almost offering Wolfe’s operational blueprint to equally opportunistic individuals! Wire Me A Million is published by Spearhead Press and produced in paperback. Price R167 – ISBN 978-0864867902 – Caroline Smart