Problematic ‘gypsy’ warnings stem from tales of ‘Terrible Williamsons’ | #datingscams | #lovescams

It was a letter that started all of this. A letter sent out by a police chief to his community, a warning about scams. It came to my desk from a reader who had handwritten a note on it: “obscene local racism.”

It ended with a letter, too. This one came from the FBI.

What came in between was a year-long attempt at the truth behind a century of what can only be called “gypsy” panic in Cincinnati. A quest to find out an extended family or group known as the Williamsons, the target of that panic. 

Not ring a bell? Around here, they are more famously known as the “Terrible Williamsons” who, as the story goes, show up every Memorial Day to vividly festoon Spring Grove Cemetery in honor of their loved ones, and if the stories are to be believed, scam gullible marks around town.

This is going to take some explaining.

A story on the “Terrible Williamsons” in the New York Daily News, Jan. 27, 1957.

The letter

So, last Spring, Indian Hill’s police chief issued an advisory to residents warning them to be vigilant of cons and scams.

“Early May until Memorial Day is traditionally when we have been visited by the gypsies,” Chief Chuck Schlie wrote. “Although we have not received any reports in several years of gypsy activity, please stay vigilant.”

The chief goes on to describe a blacktop scam in which a con artist will say they have leftover material they are willing to sell for a discount, but the coating will “wash off after the first rain.”

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