By Adam Langer

Sometimes the best cops have to be con artists. That way they can gain a criminal’s trust, lure him into making a confession. That way they can persuade him that they have more evidence than they do.

Detective Bruce Walstad was once sitting in an interrogation room at the Franklin Park Police Department with a woman who allegedly was a confidence criminal, and the questioning was going nowhere. Even though he had her on videotape luring an elderly woman to a bank to withdraw her life savings, the woman wouldn’t admit it. Walstad showed the woman, who’d waived her right to a lawyer, some stills from the videotape in which she and the elderly woman were standing in line at the bank.

“Not me,” Walstad recalls the woman saying.

“What do you mean?” he asked. “That’s you.”

“Not me.”

“Sure looks like you.”

“Yeah, looks like me, but it isn’t me. I was never in that bank.”

“But the victim identified you.”

“Not me.”

They went around and around like this for hours. Walstad could have left it at that and hoped for a conviction, but he wanted to get a confession. So he smiled and he laughed and he looked her directly in the eyes. “You know something?” he said. “All the policemen were talking about you before.”

“What do you mean?” the woman asked.

“When they saw the pictures of you they were all talking about you.”

“What were they saying?”

“You know what they were saying?”


“They all knew who you were. They said that you’re the best.”

“What’s that?”

“They just said that they hope you don’t come through their towns, because they know how good you are.”

“Oh, stop that,” the woman said, laughing.

“Seriously, when we talk about pigeon droppers and con artists your name always comes up first.”

“Oh, don’t say that,” the woman said.

“Let me ask you a question,” said Walstad. “You can tell me. I just want to know. When you’re doing it, what’s your favorite part?”

The woman paused and smiled.

“The look on their face.”


“After the person I’m working with has come back from her lawyer with all the money and jumps into the car and shows all the money, the look on the person’s face is priceless. They can’t get out of the car fast enough to run and get their money.”

Recalling her answer, Walstad smiles. “I had her. Her eyes were twinkling. She confessed to me. One time–that one time–I proved to be better at her game than she was.”

Some kids want to grow up to be magicians. Some kids want to grow up to be cops. From a very early age Bruce Walstad, who grew up in Franklin Park, wanted to be both. When he was about eight he watched magician, clown, and TV magic-card pitchman Marshall Brodien do a trick called “Hippety Hop Rabbits” at a kid’s birthday party, and he was hooked on magic. He was the kid with the magic set in his basement, the kid who learned how to make milk disappear in a cone of paper, the kid who sent away for silk handkerchiefs that he could miraculously produce from a tiny box.

By the time Walstad reached high school he knew that magicians had a reputation for being a little dorky, so he put the trick bag aside and pursued girls and football. But after he graduated in 1969 he started working neighbor kids’ birthday parties and spending the few dollars he made at magician conventions and magic stores. For a while he also tried doing a nightclub act in local taverns and comedy clubs, but he was put off by the drunks, the late hours, and the sleaze.

In the early 70s Walstad started looking for a job in police work. In the meantime he took some criminal justice courses at a junior college, worked at a steel mill, and did the occasional kids’ birthday party. He and a buddy also raced a ’64 Chevelle on weekends at Santa Fe Speedway, near Hinsdale, a hobby Walstad quit when he realized that too many people were getting hurt and it was costing too much money.

In 1974 a position opened up at the Franklin Park Police Department, and Walstad nabbed a job there as a beat cop, following up on the usual assortment of domestic disputes, shoplifting cases, and robberies. He kept on doing magic at school assemblies, but for the most part his magic and police worlds remained separate until he answered a call about a robbery at a currency exchange. The victim told him, “A guy had three cards, and he robbed us out of our money.”

Like most magicians, Walstad could easily do the three-card-monte trick–a scam that’s been around since the 12th century– but he never thought he’d stumble upon it on the job. The robber was arrested, and he turned out to be the leader of a three-card-monte ring. He’d been working the scam for more than 30 years. “This guy was amazing,” Walstad recalls with awe. “Magicians usually have really nice hands–this guy’s were old and bent and arthritic and still. I had never seen anyone before and I’ve never seen anyone since who could do three-card monte like him. I didn’t have a clue how he did what he did so well. He was magnificent at it.”

Over the years Walstad has met many con artists and has built a reputation as one of the country’s foremost experts on confidence crime. Little of his day-to-day work involves con artists, but he’s frequently called on by other Illinois departments to assist in their con cases. He helped write the con-game bible, Sting Shift, and is now president of the Matteson-based Professionals Against Confidence Crime. He’s also a frequent guest on TV shows, from Geraldo to Oprah to 48 Hours, and he moonlights as a public speaker, talking to senior citizens’ groups, bank employees, and professional police organizations about confidence crime. His brain is an encyclopedia on the history of con artists, and he can recount with authority the shady dealings of legendary criminals such as Titanic Thompson and Joe “Yellow Kid” Weil, whose clever gambits partially inspired the film The Sting.

When he speaks about con artists Walstad’s voice registers a mixture of disgust and fascination. “Con men are all different, but you’ll always find similarities in what the victims say. People will say they felt drugged. People will say they felt hypnotized. Con men have this really magnetic personality. They just have this way of drawing you into their clutches.

“I guess what I find most troubling about con games and why I’ve become so involved in it is I hate the way con artists use magic. These are clever people–incredibly talented and intelligent people–and they use scams to rob people of their life savings, to terrorize them. Magic is something that I love, and it upsets me that people are using it illegally.”

Something about Walstad suggests a twinkly-eyed gung-ho police recruit who’s fighting for Truth, Justice, and the American Way. He seems uncomfortable when he swears. He calls criminals “bad guys” and cops “good guys.” He goes to schools dressed as Officer Friendly and makes guest appearances on Bozo’s Circus, where he performs magic. He does have a mischievous streak and a fondness for practical jokes, though this element of his personality is pretty tame. He’ll stick a quarter against his head and ask his fellow officers, “What’s this?”

“I don’t know,” they always answer. “What is it?”

“Police headquarters,” Walstad will say, laughing.

But there’s another side to Walstad. Sometimes he’s a world-weary, sarcastic cynic, which he says comes from 22 years of tracking down leads that go nowhere, dealing with hardened criminals, seeing innocent people victimized and being unable to do anything for them, and dealing with a public that’s become more and more suspicious of policemen and less and less willing to cooperate with them.

I first came across Walstad a few years ago in a conference room of the Franklin Park public library, where he was addressing a group of about 15 weedy skeptics. This group, the Midwest Committee for Rational Inquiry, gathers in the library every month to try to debunk such things as astrology and psychic and other paranormal phenomena. Walstad began by ticking off the frauds perpetrated by phony fortune-tellers, late-night TV snake-oil salesmen, and quack doctors.

Most of the people in the audience were nodding their heads smugly. One gray-haired man in the front row was clipping his fingernails with a self-satisfied smile when Walstad slyly reached behind his podium and pulled out a seemingly ordinary wood block and an empty glass bottle.

“Let me show you something interesting about psychics,” Walstad said, smiling. He pointed to one of the women in the audience. “What we’re going to do is work on pooling our psychic abilities and see what we can do together.”

He leaned the wood block up against the bottle, walked over and stood next to the woman, then stretched his hands toward the bottle like a conjurer. “Now you see that block balanced up there, right? What I want you to do is to imagine that block falling off the bottle. Concentrate on it. Picture it in your mind. Imagine the block falling off. We’re powering our psychic abilities here, so concentrate with me. Picture it. And if you can imagine it right now you can almost see the block falling off.”

The block of wood tumbled to the floor. A murmuring of awe was heard among the skeptics. “How’d he do that?” one whispered to another.

“Yeah, how’d you do that?” another asked Walstad. “Is there some truth to it then? About how you can pool psychic abilities? Is that what the psychics do?”

“Aww geez,” Walstad said, rolling his eyes and laughing.

“But if that’s just an ordinary block of wood and an ordinary bottle–” someone said.

“It’s not,” said Walstad, laughing. “It’s not.”

Afterward Walstad told me, “Perhaps the only downside of becoming acquainted with these con games is how skeptical they’ve made me. I look at all this paranormal stuff, all this psychic stuff, and when you look and see for yourself, there’s nothing there. There’s supposedly this cemetery in town which turns wooden rosary beads into gold. This woman I know said it happened to her. I asked her to bring me the gold rosary beads. I never got to see them. When you ask them to show you, you find there’s nothing there. Usually it’s just a con. At the same time it gets disheartening when you see how easy it is for people to fall for these cons.”

Walstad lives with his wife and kids in a small house in Franklin Park. His wife is a dispatcher with the Bensenville Police Department and a sort of foster parent for pets. She takes in, feeds, and finds homes for dozens of stray kittens every year. Dogs, cats, and birds roam the house.

In his study Walstad has a collection of hundreds of rare and antique magic books, some of them autographed by the likes of Uri Geller, Ricky Jay, and Harry Blackstone Jr. His garage is chock-full of tricks stowed away in boxes marked with intriguing names like “Large Tricky Bottles,” “Small Tricky Bottles,” and “Farmyard Frolics.” Hanging on the wall are eight-by-ten glossies of famous magicians. A sign reads “Bunco Squad.”

He has crooked carnival games, antique gambling wheels that are rigged, $2 bills that have been doctored to look like 50s, a Sony video-camera box filled with rocks that was seized in Indiana from someone trying to sell it as genuine merchandise, an illegal slot machine from the 40s. He also has a Bug-Might, an “environmentally safe” bug killer that’s nothing more than two pieces of plywood, one of which has an X painted in the center along with “PUT BUG ON THE X. Hit insect once. If it’s not dead, hit it again.” “This idea’s been around since the 40s,” Walstad says.

Walstad rummages through a wooden crate, gleefully showing off his cache of con toys. “This is the old rolled-quarter trick,” he says, holding up a seemingly ordinary roll of quarters. “You go into McDonald’s and say you’re the manager of Radio Shack. You say, ‘My boss left me about 150 bucks in quarters and no singles. Can you take these off my hands?’ See, you have real quarters on top, and inside are all washers.” He fishes out a “radon-gas neutralizer”–a white object resembling a small fire hydrant–which was supposed to be buried in your yard. “Remember a few years back when there was that radon-gas scare? Con men started making these and selling them at 200 bucks a throw. And all it is is a piece of pipe with a cord tied into a knot inside. You see, world events create new cons. When the Mona Lisa was stolen from the Louvre in the early 1900s all the con men had the Mona Lisa and were selling it. There was this thing back during the gulf war where you could send someone $20 and they’d send a serviceman cookies. No serviceman ever got cookies.”

In another part of the garage is a rusty blue device that looks like one of those viewers you pump quarters into at the top of the Hancock. “This is another quack device,” Walstad says. “It’s called a spectrachrome machine, and the guy who used it was allegedly an Indian doctor. He went to jail a couple times. The deal was, you would look at a chart, and it would have a bunch of colors on it, and each color corresponded to a certain ailment. Depending on what ailment you had, you’d align the colors and look at the big light inside and lie in a darkened room naked with your head facing north. They’d shine the appropriate color of light on you, and you’d be cured.”

Walstad is a smooth talker with a good deal of charm–and the ability to adopt some of the con artists’ techniques for his own purposes. “There are lots of little things you pick up. Like how to be aggressive, how to look people in the eye, how you can never back down, how to keep working at and refining one trick throughout your career–because that’s sometimes all you need. The con artists have a way of always letting a person come to them instead of forcing anybody to do anything.

“I arrested one woman, and one of the things she told me was that she’d been taught by an MC [master criminal] that she never touches a victim. She never hurts anybody. She never grabs money out of their hand. She always makes the victim come to her. She always makes it their idea. And sometimes that’s the way you get people talking to you. You try to lure them in, you get them talking. Sometimes you play dumb, and that gets them talking.”

Walstad sometimes walks with his son around flea markets intimidating grifters who are trying to pawn off junk jewelry as the genuine article. Walstad laughs. “Someone tried to sell us ‘gold’ jewelry. He came over to me, and I said, ‘That’s real nice. Let me see that. How much is that?’ We bartered and haggled over it, and I took out my badge. He was like, ‘Hey never mind. Gotta go. Nice to talk to you, buddy.’ My son always says, ‘Here’re some jewelry guys–do it to them.’

“An interesting thing I’ve found about con artists is that when you give them their Miranda rights they always waive them. Why? Because they think I’m just a dumb old cop, and they’re a very smart con person and they’re going to talk their way out of it. That’s fine with me. I’ll play the dumb cop. I’ll play whatever role I need to if it will get the result I need.”

Walstad has sometimes tried to distract suspects who are in custody by doing some of his magic tricks. “The criminal’s instinct is more geared toward trying to get out of a situation, and they lose interest quickly,” he says. “They’re like, ‘I need to get bail money. I need to get out of prison–and now here’s this guy showing me tricks. Get him out of here.'”

“Con games are like plays,” Walstad tells a group of employees at Edgemark Bank in Lombard, who’ve invited him to talk about elderly victims of con games. “Everything’s scripted. The con men are actors. They wear costumes. You’ve got props. Sometimes it’s found money, sometimes it’s a found antique stamp. You’ve got scenery. It might take place in a store or on the train or in a parking lot. There’s a script in which everyone knows their lines. You literally put the words right into the victim’s mouth. It’s never hit and miss.

“Con games are one of the few areas in crime where races, colors, and sexes will mix. In armed robbery how often will you see a 60-year-old white woman with a 25-year-old black male? It doesn’t happen, but in cons and swindles it does. You’ll see older white females working with young female blacks. You’ll see older white females working with middle-aged Hispanic men. It’s the mix-and-match principle. If I’m trying to lure you into a con game there might be an older white female who looks like your grandmother. She’ll tell you this tale of woe, and all of a sudden a young black man walks up. This woman is very refined and nice looking, and the black guy is kind of scruffy looking. In the back of your mind are these people working together? Absolutely not. And yet they are.”

Walstad describes a program that originated in Milwaukee and has been adopted by the Illinois attorney general’s office, the Senior Cash Alert Monitoring Systems. In con games victims are frequently directed to withdraw large amounts of money from banks, and SCAMS is designed to teach bank tellers and managers how to look for potential victims and how to protect customers who’ve been tricked into thinking that their bank is crooked and they have to withdraw their money immediately.

With the assistance of David Ben Asch, a detective from Lombard, Walstad demonstrates a con called the “pigeon drop.” He delights in tricking people with the cons he’s learned over the years, because he never has to actually take their money.

Holding a small cardboard box about the size of a transistor radio, Walstad approaches a woman he’s chosen out of the audience. “OK, let’s say we’re in a parking lot, and you’re going to your car. I come up to you and I say, ‘Is this yours? Is it? Is it yours?'”

“No,” the woman replies.

“Oh, it’s by your car though, so I thought I’d pick it up and show it to you,” Walstad says. “I don’t have my glasses on. Can you read what that says?”

The woman eyes the package suspiciously and reads, “Iranian Consulate 777. Important! Rush!”

“Oh, Iranians,” Walstad says, sounding impressed. Then he steps out of character and addresses his audience. “This package was used years back when the Iranians had all the Americans hostage. Maybe now they would write Iraqi Foundation or something else.”

Back in character, Walstad says, “Geez, look at this. A whole box full of money.” He displays some bills. Back out of character, he explains, “This could be a box or a bag, whatever. It makes no difference. Guess what happens? We start talking about it. All of a sudden this guy comes up and says…”

Ben Asch steps out of the audience. “I’ve seen the whole thing,” he says. “I have a friend. He’s a lawyer. And he says if you find money all you’ve got to do is put the money aside for 30 days.”

“Well, what do you think we should do with it?” Walstad asks the woman. “Oh, wait. There’s a note in here. Can you read the note for me?”

She reads, “$38,000. Cops have been paid off.”

“Ohh–payoff money,” says Walstad, and turns to the audience. “See, it might also say something like ‘Juan, here’s the last payment for the shipment from Colombia.’ Signed ‘Julio.’ Gee, now what could this be? The note serves two purposes. First to tell how much money is here–$38,000. And purpose number two is to relieve her conscience–if she has one–about taking someone’s life savings. So she knows that it wasn’t something someone dropped on their way back from the bank.”

“That’s dirty money,” Ben Asch says. “If we turn it in the cops will take it.”

“Yeah,” Walstad says. “They’d just split it among themselves. Can you talk to your friend the lawyer and see what he says?”


“OK, great.”

Walstad steps out of character again. “He leaves, and we talk a while about the money. And I’ll tell a pathetic story. Every con artist always tells some pathetic story about the found money. ‘Gee, I could sure use the money, because my son’s a quadriplegic, and I could use it to buy him a new wheelchair.’ Sickening, awful stories. Then the guy comes back.”

“I checked with my friend the lawyer,” says Ben Asch. “He says all we have to do is bring it over to his office and put up some good-faith money. I don’t know either one of you, but I’m willing to put up a couple thousand dollars to show I’m not going to take off with the money. We take it over to his office, get a receipt. He’ll put it in escrow for 30 days, and after 30 days we get to take it out and split it up.”

“I just happen to have my good faith money with me,” says Walstad. “Did he tell you how much we had to pay him?”

“Oh, he said he’ll do it gratis.”

“But how much good faith money should we put up?” says Walstad.

“About $3,000 each. It works out to be about 10 percent of the money.”

The woman is appalled. “People fall for this?” she says.

“Well,” says Walstad, “if you start to balk at it, he and I will start talking about splitting it 50-50. It’s like dangling the carrot in front of the rabbit. Or here’s a different version. He says we can split it today, and he’ll give us a cashier’s check for $36,000. The lawyer will keep $2,000 to do all the paperwork. He comes back with a check for $36,000 made out to cash. ‘Let’s cash the check. Gee, my bank’s in Denver. Where’s yours?'”

“I’m Menard,” says Ben Asch.

“Where’s yours?” Walstad asks the woman. “Right here?” He turns to the audience. “You cash the check–and we have a three- or four-day lead before you even know you’ve been nailed. There are tons of variations.”

One of the roles Walstad, who calls himself a “consummate ham,” most enjoys playing is that of psychic or fortune-teller, gleefully telling his audience how they can get rid of, say, bad auras. Walstad selects another member of the Edgemark Bank audience, a young woman named Chris. “Now, how many of you have used psychics?” he asks the rest of the audience.

A few people timidly raise their hands.

“Now I’m going to save you some money,” Walstad says. “I’m going to show you how to do a psychic reading for free. See, I do have psychic abilities, and I’ve been practicing to bring them out. OK. Ready, Chris?”

Chris nods.

“Hmm,” Walstad says, studying her. “I can see that you’re a good person. You enjoy your life. You like to be around other people, but you like your private times. You have many friends. No, wait a minute. You have few friends, but many acquaintances. But there’s someone close to you. I can’t tell if it’s a relative or friend, but it’s someone you’re concerned about. I can’t exactly see who that is right now. You enjoy your job. You aspire to do more, and sometimes you think that the bank doesn’t appreciate you. You procrastinate sometimes, and that bothers you. Sometimes you feel too materialistic. You want to spend money, but you feel guilty about it. Your relationship right now is going well, but not as good as you’d like. Your childhood dreams of a relationship haven’t quite worked out.”

Walstad stops and does his best Ed Koch imitation. “How’m I doing?” he asks.

“Pretty good,” Chris says. “So far so good. How’d you figure all that out so quick?”

Walstad looks at her and shakes his head. He turns to his audience. “See, she’s already into it. But what I said, does it apply to you? Sure–it applies to everybody. Now why would you go to a psychic in the first place? A problem. Now what’s everybody’s problems? Sex, money, health. Sex–your relationships with other people. Money–we all live one step beyond what we should. Health–your health, your family’s health. I know the problem is in one of those areas. I don’t think it’s money–you look well off. You look healthy, so that’s not a problem. So I’ll guess the problem’s with men in your life, and I’ll go off and explore that area. I then say, ‘OK, the letter S. Is there a man in your life whose name begins with the letter S?'”


“Well, then that’s the man who’s going to come into your life.” He smirks. “See, if I miss I’ll just make it up. Psychics like magic tricks. Take a string and tie it in a knot and close your eyes–and the knots are all gone. People go to the psychic with a genuine problem, and they’re told that they’re cursed and they can get rid of the problem by burning their evil money. I know it sounds silly, but people fall for it.”

Over the years Walstad has busted his share of psychics, and he takes credit for the fact that few have been setting up shop in Franklin Park lately. And he readily acknowledges that he gets a charge out of using his phony-psychic routine in his police work. “It’s all cold reading. You start out with the assumption that regardless of what a criminal has done he’s human too. He still gets up in the morning, he still goes to the bathroom the same way. And you treat him with as much respect and dignity as you can, which is sometimes very difficult. But you try to do that, and then you get into the things that a psychic would get into. Basic commonsense kind of stuff. ‘Gee, you’re pretty lonely right now. I bet you’re really scared right now. You feel your friends really left you out on the hook on this one, and you’re all on your own. We understand.’ You tell them what you think they’re thinking using basic psychology, and all of a sudden they’re looking at you like, ‘This guy really understands me. This guy really knows what’s going on.’ They talk every time.”

Walstad is standing in a locker room in a Streamwood elementary school adjusting his bow tie and checking his tux in the mirror. “I had a terrible day at work the other day. I’m right in the middle of a sex case involving children. There’s a little runaway girl I’m trying to find. All these different things. After a while it really weighs you down.”

He says he gets a lot of satisfaction out of cracking cases involving pedophiles and other such criminals, but a large percentage of his work involves comparatively trivial business, such as phone-harassment cases and domestic disputes that he knows won’t amount to anything. “I keep getting these cases where people get hang-up phone calls and they want to sign complaints against people,” he says, sighing. “All of these cases against relatives, they are always problems. Some cousin’s stealing from some uncle. Some brother’s stealing from his brother. Mothers filing complaints against their kids and vice versa. Husbands and wives against each other. And I know I’m wasting my time and spinning my wheels, but I have to do my job even if you know it’s gonna work itself out and 99 percent of the time they’re not going to prosecute.”

He runs his hands through his hair. “It’s such a relief coming to a place like this. Being a magician is kind of my alter ego, where I can just relax and see kids laugh and smile. I love being a detective, but if you say ‘let’s do a magic show,’ I’ll pack my truck and I’ll go do it–so I can put all the other stuff out of my mind for 45 minutes.”

Some 250 kids, kindergarteners through fifth-graders, are seated on the floor of the gymnasium. A sourpuss teacher barks, “If you don’t sit Indian style you’ll have to leave.” A disco version of the Peanuts theme plays on a crappy PA system. Then the school principal stands in front of the kids, promising “a most mystifying and entertaining experience. Here is Bruce Walstad in the ‘Believe in Magic Show.'”

Walstad, accompanied by his assistant, June Zeller, jogs out in his tuxedo and does some introductory patter. The kids roar with laughter when he produces a book about forest fires that keeps bursting into flames. They ooh and ahh when he produces a rabbit from a magic pouch and coaxes flowers to grow with a magic wand.

The background music changes to a souped-up version of “Aquarius.” Walstad stands beside a basket that appears to be no more than two feet wide and two feet deep and beckons Zeller to step inside. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he says, “about 100 years ago there was a very famous magician who visited the United States. This magician came all the way from China. Ching Ling-soo stayed in the United States for about 20 years, and before he went back to China he gave the secrets of some of his most famous tricks to American magicians. Well ladies and gentlemen, for you this morning, something very special. We’d like to show you one of Ching Ling-soo’s most famous tricks, something he called ‘Where Did She Go?’ A young lady would step into a basket.”

Zeller gets inside the basket, and Walstad draws a length of shimmering blue cloth over it. His voice takes on a hushed, hypnotic quality. “Then, with a wave of his hand, the young lady would completely vanish. I know no one believes she’s gone, because there’s really no place for her to go. So to prove his point, Ching Ling-soo would place four swords into the basket.”

Brandishing the swords and clacking them together, Walstad thrusts them into the basket one at a time. “One from the side. [Clack!] One from the back. [Clack!] One in the front. [Clack!] Some people say that the lady is merely in the middle, and the swords cannot touch her. Watch and listen.”

Walstad slips the fourth sword through the center of the basket. “Ladies and gentlemen, there are times that Ching Ling-soo would get to this part of the trick, and he would stop and look into each and every person’s eyes. At that time he would be able to tell exactly who believed and who didn’t. I still see a few nonbelievers. Believe it or not, Ching Ling-soo would step into the basket himself and sit down.” Walstad steps into the basket and stares at the hushed audience. “Where did she go?”

He steps out of the basket, then waves his hand over it. He produces the length of blue cloth from behind the basket, then holds it up in front of the basket. Zeller reappears like an apparition behind it. “And there is not so much as a scratch on her.” Walstad says.

The teachers and children burst into applause. Walstad and Zeller take their bows. At the end of the show a boy approaches Walstad and asks, “How did you do that?”

Walstad shakes his head. “It’s a secret,” he says. He’ll tell people how a con game works, but not a magic trick. He still wants people to believe in that.

Walstad has just finished talking to a senior citizens’ group about Operation SCAMS and has pulled out his bag of magic tricks. He faces his audience with his patented know-it-all grin. Against the podium he sets an enormous playing card, its back to the audience, then hands a deck of cards to a woman in the second row. “I’ve got one more to show you,” he says, beaming. “I’ll show you one last really cool trick. This is the greatest trick I’ve ever seen.”

The woman hands him back the deck of cards, satisfied that it’s not rigged. He asks her to tell him to stop as he shuffles the deck.


He stops, and she picks the card out of the deck where he stopped. He turns around, holding the rest of the deck behind his back. “I don’t want to see what that rascal is. Put it back in the deck. Stick it in the middle somewhere. Now, how about this? How about if I were to turn around and this big card right here would be your card? Wouldn’t that be amazing?”

“Yes, it would,” says the woman.

“Well, I can’t do that trick.” Walstad says, smiling. “I can do something else though. I’ve been working on this for a while. Picture the card in your mind. Let’s say your card was the ten of hearts. I now want you to think of exactly one-half of that card. If you picked the four of spades, think of the two of spades. You’ve got your card in your mind? Divide it right down the middle.”

The woman starts laughing.

“Can you do that?” he says.

She continues giggling.

“You tell it to me. I’ll show it to you,” Walstad declares boldly.

“What if it’s an odd number?” the woman asks.

Walstad reddens. “What?” he asks.

“You can’t divide it down the middle. It’d be the three and a half of clubs,” she says.

“Get out of here,” says Walstad.

“No. I picked the seven of clubs.”

“Let’s change the subject,” Walstad says, blushing. “Let’s talk about con games and scams some more.”

“No, I want you to turn that card around,” the woman says, laughing.

“Let me tell you about this organization Operation SCAMS.”

“Turn that card around,” the woman demands.

“Oh, all right,” Walstad snaps. He turns the card around. It’s the three and a half of clubs. The crowd laughs hysterically. Walstad does too. He loves that trick, because nobody ever sees it coming.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photographs by Randy Tunnell.