Valentine’s Dowerin Scam

Arriving in Dowerin on the morning of the show on 14 September 1927, Mr Valentine quickly endeared himself to locals. He attached himself to the party of James Macfarlane M.L.C. (claiming he was well-known to the man), which added to his legitimacy. Over the course of the day, he spun words together and wove stories. 

Dowerin circa 1928

He was a dairy expert. He was a cattle expert. He had knowledge of pigs. His agricultural expertise had come from his 32 years working for the South African Government. Before leaving South Africa, the Government appointed him to help farmers who had lost everything due to drought. His purpose was to purchase farms in Western Australia for those people. 

He only ever gave his name as Mr Valentine (no first name, no initials). He supposedly arrived in Bunbury via a timber trading vessel and was convinced to stay by a hotelkeeper. His story (relating to the purchase of farms) often differed. He told one person that 300 South African farmers would emigrate to Western Australia. Another heard that twelve farms were needed and had to be purchased close together so the emigrants (who were all related) could visit each other. 

Mr Valentine knew how to talk the talk. He was a cattle judge at the Royal Show. He drove a Sunbeam car. He resided at the Commercial Travellers’ Club when he was in Perth. He was convincing and flattering, and as he talked of all the farms that he was going to purchase, he won over the residents of the district. They even appointed him to be the judge of cattle at their show. 

His scheme was convincing. He booked himself into the Commercial Hotel at Dowerin, contacted local agents, and arranged to view properties in the area. Every property he inspected he purchased. He was knowledgeable of cattle and pigs and their stock values. His knowledge of land and land value, however, was lacking. He wanted to purchase the land at a fixed price and insisted on it being freehold and not conditional purchase. He agreed to make the first payment on 2 October (a Sunday) and would take possession on 15 November. All up, from one agent, he purchased £42,000 worth of property. 

Mr Valentine was a short, slightly-built man aged between 50 and 60 years old. He had a fair complexion and wore a butterfly-shaped moustache. He was excitable and spoke with an accent. He appears to have told people that he was originally from Denmark. Throughout his time in Dowerin, he wore a light suit. He gave a reason why, and no one considered it odd until it rained and the temperature dropped. Suspicions were aroused as he shivered in his clothing. 

There was also the matter of money. He wasn’t paying for his drinks. Nor was he paying for his smokes. He stayed at the Commercial Hotel for a week and, when presented with the bill, promised to pay it the next day. He said the same thing to a storekeeper when he bought warmer clothing. Everything was given to him on the assumption he could pay. He was, after all, buying up farmland. But he never did. On the morning he was meant to pay, he hitched a ride for the Nungarin show. At the end of the day, he decided to stay there. During the week that followed, he was seen at Wyalkatchem and Bencubbin. 

The Commercial Hotel at Dowerin circa 1909. Courtesy of the State Library of Western Australia (154132PD).

A reporter from the Sunday Times started asking questions. Mr Valentine was never a cattle judge for the Royal Show. There was no record of him having owned a Sunbeam car, and he did not stay at the Commercial Travellers’ Club in Perth. No one, it seemed, knew who he was. 

They turned to James Macfarlane. Seeing as though he arrived with him, surely, he knew the man. Mr Macfarlane was equally clueless. Mr Valentine had approached him in Perth with the spiel that he was an emissary from South Africa. Believing him, Mr Macfarlane extended an invitation to travel with him to the country shows. 

It was clear that Mr Valentine was not a legitimate purchaser and was, in fact, a scammer, portraying himself as something he was not in order to gain people’s trust as well as their generosity. Questions needed to be asked. He was last seen at Merredin, but after he spied Mr Macfarlane, he disappeared. 

One month later, a letter arrived at the Sunday Times. Written by someone living along the Great Southern Railway (near Albany), they enclosed a photo and asked if the man was Mr Valentine. Minus his moustache, he was instead using the name Louis Kilgsen and claimed to be a pig expert from Argentina. For three weeks, he had enjoyed the writer’s hospitality. 

Mr Valentine

We are glad of the reincarnation of Mr Valentine, for he is undoubtedly too delightful a character to disappear altogether from this drab old mudball.

Sunday Times (Perth, WA : 1902 – 1954); 13 November 1927; Page 1; A Metamorphosis

Sharing the photo with those who knew him as Mr Valentine, the reporter confirmed that he was the same man. Having moved on from the wheatbelt, he was trying his scam on those who lived in the Great Southern region. They printed another article, this time including the photo. It was presumed that he would again change his name and move on to another town, but it was hoped the photo would help with identification. After all, the reporter warned, “farmers will be only too pleased to extend to him a warm, a very warm, welcome.” 

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