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Beautiful For Ever: The Lures of Madame Rachel

Sarah Rachel Russell Leverson was a con artist in London who tried many different kinds of crime, but achieved her biggest success selling questionable beauty aids to aging women in the 1860s and '70s user the name Madame Rachel. Her products were mostly ineffective and sometimes dangerous, but the real lure was her marketing. She promised to restore youth and make her clients "beautiful forever." She developed relationships with wealthy but desperate clients, and took the more gullible for everything they had.  

Madame’s most famous escapade was her expert fleecing of a particularly appalling lamb named Mary Tucker Borradaile. The aging widow was exceedingly anxious to regain her long-lost beauty, comfortably well-to-do, and staggeringly stupid. When she eagerly responded to one of Madame Rachel’s newspaper ads extolling her “world-renowned fame for preserving and enhancing youth, beauty, grace, and loveliness,” the proprietress immediately sensed the two of them were made for each other.

Madame’s first words to her new client were to ask how much money she had to spend. That question settled to her satisfaction, the two went to work. For the next two years, Borradaile spent hundreds of pounds on cosmetics, soaps, and powders, but not even the Sahara’s magnetic rock dew had any visible effect.

When the spider’s juicy fly expressed a wish to escape the web, Madame had a new lure. She suddenly announced that Lord Ranelagh, “a very good man, and very rich,” had long loved Borradaile from afar, and that, once her beautification treatments had performed their magic, he intended to marry her. The next day, Borradaile called at Rachel’s home, where her hostess announced, “I will now introduce you to the man who loves you.” She then, Borradaile later testified stubbornly in court, “introduced me to a man whom I believed, and still believe to be Lord Ranelagh.”

Madame Rachel directed the courtship with Lord Ranelagh by mail, which led to Borradaile's bankruptcy, blackmail, and arrest. But she was only one of Madame's victims. Read the story of the notorious Madame Rachel at Strange Company.

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