Modus Operandi of Lounge Lizards & Tango Pirates in Old New York

An outrageous article from 1917 regarding gigolo grifters in New York City, how they don’t work and instead prey on loneliness via their methods for seducing rich ladies.

You might recall my old long-form story about young murder victim, Elsie Hilair, from a few years ago 😉 Click here

Let this be a lesson to ya~ I was on the fence in support of the lizards until I read about their “tight trousers”…

Seriously, if the evidence box is still in storage, it is time to pull some DNA, and run it thru 23 and Me to catch this 138 yr old killer… or at least make his descendants & relatives feel awkward on the 10pm news. Hopefully he can’t blame his twin!

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Sunday Magazine, 8 April 1917, pg. 4


Investigation following murder of Mrs. Elsie Hilair reveals blackmailing activities of professional “escorts,” many of them ex-convicts, who prey on weak-willed women–How the crew of dancing men operates.

UNDER dank stones covered with fetid mosses and beneath decaying logs the wood lizard is born, a repulsive reptile. In the cloying warmth of the New York tango parlors, with its sickish-sweet atmosphere, another variety of lizard has its habitat: the “lounge lizard,” also a repulsive reptile.

The wood lizard is as old as the world–the lounge variety is a development of the past three years. The latter variety is a parasite which preys on weak-willed women. He is known to the New York police also under the names of “parlor snake,” “slippery chameleon” and “tango pirate.”

When the afternoon tea dance craze swept the East it brought with it the “lounge lizard.” At first he was difficult to isolate, but he is readily recognized now, with his slickly parted hair, his tight-fitting trousers and spike-tailed coat.

While the police have had a general idea of the activities of these parasites, it was not until the murder of Mrs. Elsie Hilair in a downtown New York hotel a few weeks ago that complete details of their work have become known, The woman was found strangled in bed and much valuable jewelry had been stolen. It was learned that for nearly two years Mrs. Hilair, the wife of a well-to-do Brooklyn man, had been a habitue of tango tea resorts, unknown to her husband, and it was while following up clews in the case that the police were enabled to make a detailed study of the “lounge lizard” and his activities.

In most of the afternoon dance resorts of New York professional dancers are employed to look after unescorted women, shoppers usually, who drop in for tea and an hour or so of dancing. The professionals usually wear white or pink carnations and, under direction of a “hostess,” or official introducer, select their partners. Their fixed salary is about $1.50 a day

(This is 1919–ed.), but in most “parlors” they are allowed to receive tips from the women to whom they have been devoting their terpsichorean talent.

One tip will occasionally amount to more than a week’s salary. In other places the men are not permitted to take tips, but are allowed to eat and drink at the expense of the women guests, and they receive a percentage of the money spent under their guidance.

Not all of these professionals are “lounge lizards,” however. Some are satisfied with the “honest craft” which is obtained through the means outlined above. Others are blackmailers.

The work of the tango lizard is done in this way.

He arrives at the parlor–there are hundreds of them scattered around Greater New York–early in the afternoon. The lights are low and perfume has been sprayed in all corners of the room. Couples are gliding over the floor.

About several tables are unescorted women watching the dancers and keeping time with their feet. Obviously they are anxious to dance, but they have no partners.

Soon the lizard selects his victim. He makes himself as entertaining as possible, and after the dance, heads her to a table, at the same time nodding to a waiter. A cocktail is ordered. Dance follows dance, and usually

cocktail follows cocktail, until the woman, probably the wife of a substantial citizen, realizes the hour and prepares to go home. The bill is called for and on this occasion is usually paid for by the “lizard.”

The woman departs, in many cases announcing that she had such a delightful time that she will be sure to return. The “lizard” is waiting for her. By the end of the second day he usually has gained the confidence of his victim to such a degree that she is in his power to an extent not realized by the woman. Then the blackmailing begins.

When the bill for refreshments is brought the “lizard” remembers that he has forgotten to bring his money with him. So embarrassing, you know?

Usually the woman, without any further suggestion, offers to lend him $10 or $20, as the need may be. He accepts it as a loan, to be repaid tomorrow.

The woman is never allowed to pay a check. There is usually change coming back and the “lizard” has uses for the money.

The next day nothing is said of the loan. The man has apparently forgotten all about it and the woman hasn’t the nerve to ask for the money.

Later on the tango lizard gets bolder.

(Yes, that is the end)

I LOVE these old articles!