SHE was the con artist who passed herself off as an aristocrat to dupe vulnerable people out of their life savings – or what little money they had.

Barbara Bain had a secret past littered with fraud schemes, failed marriages and countless name changes.

She once claimed to be Contessa de Leone, the illegitimate daughter of Margaret Campbell, Duchess of Argyll.

However, nothing could have been further from the truth.

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In fact, she was born and bred in a slum tenement in Glasgow’s Gorbals, married four times and had 11 children.

In one fraud she duped a couple out of £50,000 – the equivalent of £500,000 today – and caused scandal when a respected Glasgow priest Father Gerard Fallon left the Catholic Church after falling for her.

Bain also claimed that Hollywood legend Maurice Chevalier had been her godfather and French singing star Charles Aznavour was a former boyfriend.

She is estimated to have committed numerous frauds over at least four decades both big and small.

Bain first hit the headlines in 1967, while in her 30s, when she became involved in a scandalous relationship with Father Fallon.

At the time she was called Barbara Morrison, married to a police officer and reported to have 11 children.

Father Fallon, then 43, became so smitten by her that he left the priesthood.

He walked out on St Brendan’s Church in Yoker, Glasgow, and they set up home in Ireland.

But seven months later the couple had separated after a row.

Father Fallon went back to the Church and retreated to a monastery in Haddington, East Lothian.

At the time, the then Mrs Morrison told reporters that the priest had left her on Christmas Eve. She said he wrote: “I face a life of penance and prayer which I will do willingly but please pardon me for the wrongs I have done you.

“You will always be in my prayers for what they are worth. And I will try and compensate for the wrong I have done to all.

“The break had to come. It was a question of greater responsibilities. You will never see me again.”

Mrs Morrison then told reporters that the couple had been happy for a time living in Ireland.

But life became unbearable after locals found out he had been a priest.

She added: “Gerry often referred to his priesthood and I knew that the Church was pulling him back. I wondered how long we could last.

“He was a good man but the battle of his conscience was won by the Church. His love of the Church was too strong.”

One of Bain’s most notorious frauds involved an elderly couple she met in 1976 called Joan and Ted Warner.

The couple were duped out of £50,000 in a sting lasting more than six years and were even persuaded to take out loans as part of the scam.

By this time Bain was calling herself Barbara Hendry and posing as the Contessa de Leone.

Joan, from Dunholme, near Lincoln, was on holiday with Ted in Aberfeldy, Perthshire, when the couple first met her.

They got talking to the con artist, who was a waitress in the hotel they were staying at.

They kept in touch and, soon after, Hendry told them she was the illegitimate daughter of Margaret, Duchess of Argyll, and needed money to fund her battle to get her share of a £6.5 million trust fund.

Over the next six or so years she extracted a total of £50,000 from the couple, telling them she had cancer and the money was to help her get her hands on her multi-million pound inheritance.

The con came to an end when the shameless scamster was sentenced to four years at Lincoln Crown Court in 1985 after a family friend had gone to the police on behalf of the Warners.

Before sentencing Hendry, Judge Edwin Jowitt said: “You were guilty of a wicked, cruel, and heartless fraud.”

In an interview in 1999, Joan, now 71, said: “We didn’t have any reason not to believe her. She made it all seem so true.

“She kept saying that she would pay us back and we believed her, but she conned us out of our life savings.

“She was supposed to be our friend, but she is evil and callous and betrayed us.”

Joan said the trauma of being duped was too much for Ted, who later contracted cancer and died.

She added: “His health was never the same after it. He had an operation for cancer and was in remission.

“When we found out what had happened, the cancer came back. He blamed himself and I will always say that what she did shortened his life.”

At the time of the court case Hendry’s then husband Donny, who was from Oban, had also appeared in the dock with her.

He was jailed for posing as a Glasgow lawyer and making calls to a Lincoln bank manager on his wife’s behalf.

Mr Hendry also claimed to have been fooled into believing his wife actually was an aristocrat.

She had told him how she wanted to quit high society for an ordinary life with him.

Finally, it emerged that she had only married Hendry because she mistakenly thought a husband couldn’t give evidence against his wife.

It wasn’t the first time that the bogus Contessa had tasted life behind bars.

She appeared in Glasgow Sheriff Court in 1970 and was handed three months inside for defrauding several people with her aristocrat scam.

Three years later she received 15 months at Edinburgh Sheriff Court for seven Contessa de Leone frauds totalling more than £3000.

By the late 1990s it emerged that she was back to her old tricks living in the village of Garelochhead in Argyll and Bute and posing as a Binnett Dooley, scamming vulnerable and trusting people.

One paper reported in 1999 how she swindled £2500 out of quadriplegic former teacher Peter Hastie and his wife Mary.

The 70-year-old promised the Hasties a big share of a bogus lottery win in return for loans to help her divorce then husband Peter Dooley.

But after a year, Mary, 59, and Peter, 64, hadn’t received a penny.

In a newspaper interview at the time Mary said: “All through this I’ve tried to believe she was honest.

“Now it’s there for everyone to see – she’s just a conwoman.”

Glasgow taxi driver Jim Osborne then contacted the paper and told how he was conned out of £5000.

He said: “I just thought she was an old woman down on her luck. Now I realise she has been stringing me along for years.”

Five years earlier Mr Osborne had done some painting and decorating at her flat. But she never paid him the £3000 for his work.

Dooley had then asked if he could lend her £1000. She promised to pay back £1000 more than she owed.

The cabbie added: “She said it was for legal fees for trouble she was having with a hotel she owned in England.

“I felt that I had no choice but to lend her the money.

“I thought the only way I’d get anything back was if she sorted out the problem with this hotel.”

Earlier victim Joan was also asked to comment on the latest frauds and said: “I’m not surprised she’s at it again. I should think she has been at it since she came out of prison in 1988 and will never stop.”

In the same newspaper interview Dooley was confronted about her dubious past and admitted she had been in prison over the £50,000 conned out of the Warners.

But she said: “I’ve done nothing, believe me. I’m not a criminal, but I pleaded guilty for the sake of my family.”

After admitting her Contessa fraud, she then denied telling anyone she was an illegitimate Argyll daughter.

She said: “I don’t go around saying I’m the Duchess of Argyll’s daughter, do you think someone would be so stupid?”

None of the £50,000 that the conwoman duped out of the Warners was ever traced or recovered.

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She was only caught thanks to dogged investigative work by Kim Booth of Lincolnshire Police Economic Crime Unit.

In 2019 – following his retirement from the force – the former detective wrote about the case in a book titled, Cruel Deception.

He said at the time: “The couple involved were financially ruined by the offender.

“They were so embarrassed at being conned that they asked me to write the book as a warning to others.

“In my opinion fraud is the crime where the effect it has on the victims is all too often underestimated as the repercussions can last for years afterwards.”