“There were no cars. No witnesses. Nobody was there. The silencers worked, so the shots didn’t make any sound. No one had seen what happened. Bob grabbed me. He took the gun from my hand, and we ran for our lives. When we got back to the hotel, I didn’t know what to do. We went to Bob’s room. I was crying. I was devastated. I threw up. Bob said I was the craziest person he’d ever met. But I’d saved his life. He told me he’d take care of it. Bob started to make calls. He got rid of the body. He had cleaners to take care of that kind of thing—to make a body disappear before the police were alerted. He got rid of the guns too. He made it so there were no traces of the crime.”
The next business day, Israel wired $120 million to Germany.
Had Israel really killed a man? Or was it a piece of theater choreographed by Nichols? Staging a murder is one of the oldest ruses of the grift—a ploy that provided the finale for The Sting, the movie inspired by the classic book The Big Con. Blood, guts, guns, the frisson of extreme danger, the need to flee before the law arrives—the elements are eternal. Cackle-bladder is the term of art for the sack filled with chicken blood a fraudster would conceal in his mouth until the precise moment for a sudden bite down. The exploding turban was an amazing new twist on an old scam, it seemed.
For all his emotional investment in the shadow market, Israel’s money had been sitting back in New York, and Nichols had apparently concluded that Israel needed a “convincer”: an event to eliminate any lingering doubts, to prove that everything he said was true. Nichols wanted Israel to see that the Octopus was real. Terrifyingly real.
Even today, seven years later, Israel continues to believe—the best possible outcome for a long con, as any scam artist will tell you. Israel’s multimillion-dollar wires to and from Europe eventually triggered law-enforcement interest in Bayou, and he turned himself in when a frozen bank account stopped him from paying out an investor’s large withdrawal. But waiting out the twenty-year fraud sentence he considers excessive, Israel continues to believe he’s gotten away with murder.
As a teenager, Israel had once walked into a deli in Manhattan immediately after an armed robbery and seen the shop owner lying on the ﬂoor after being shot in the head. The scene in Hamburg was just as real, he says—just as vivid.
“Bob controlled me from the first day we met,” Israel tells me. “But not in this way. There was no chance he faked it on me. It wasn’t a Hollywood setup. This was the real thing.”