Image via Unsplash.com- Roman Kraft

Barbara Erni, The Golden Boos- Europe’s Most Audacious 18th Century Thief

The last person ever executed in Lichtenstein was a woman who became wealthy pulling the same con over and over for more than 15 years

Andrew Martin
3 min readNov 24, 2023

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Although thievery is generally shunned in society, there are occasionally thiefs who are so audacious and daring that they transcend the typical stench of criminal behavior and become the stuff of lgend. Such was the case with Barbara Erni, an 18th century Austrian woman who became a cultural icon as the Golden Boos, who perpetuated improbable thefts across Europe for years before finally being caught and executed in Lichtenstein.

Erni was born in 1743 in Austria to a homeless couple. Although details about her life are sparse, she came to be decribed as having strawberry blond hair and possessing abonormally great strength. She landed upon illegal schemes to make her living as an adult, and came up with a wildly effective plot that she pulled over and over again to great effect and profit.

She would travel throughout Europe, stopping at inns with her belongings, which included a large chest or backpack. Claiming that it held something of great value, she would ask that it be locked in the best room on the premises with other valuables that were being held for safe keeping. She would then take a room for herself for the night.

When night fell, her accomplice, an unknown man of small stature, would emerge from the chest or bag and help himself to the valuables in the room, and anything else he could get his hands on. He and Erni would then pack this all up in their chest and flee into the darkness — only to pull the same type of heist at the next opportunity.

The reputation the grifter earned from her strength may have come from unsuspecting innkeepers believing she had lugged her heavy bag or chest all the way to their lodging. To the contrary, her diminuative helper simply leapt into the baggage before they entered the inns, giving the illusion of her brute muscular ability.

In 1779, Erni married a Tyrolean man named Franz, who also had little known about him, except for his penchant for being involved in criminal activities. Despite being in a…

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Andrew Martin

Dabbler in history, investing & writing. Master’s degree in baseball history. Passionate about history, diversity, culture, sports, investing and crypto.