Shortfall

Family Secrets, Financial Collapse, and a Hidden History of American Banking

The rollicking true story of a 1930s version of Bernie Madoff—and the building and loan crash he helped precipitate—in a wonderful work of narrative nonfiction by the Gustavus Myers book award winner

“Swindles and rip-offs are hardly unusual in finance and banking, but the episode Shortfall recounts ranks with the worst in the history of modern finance, all the more so because its victims were regular Americans.”
—from the introduction

Shortfall opens with a surprise discovery in an attic—a chest filled with letters and documents hidden for more than seventy years—and launches into a fast-paced story that uncovers Echols’s family’s dark secrets—an upside-down version of the building and loan story at the center of Frank Capra’s 1946 movie, It’s A Wonderful Life. In a narrative filled with colorful characters and profound insights into the recent American past, Shortfall is also the essential backstory to more recent financial crises, from the savings and loan debacle of the 1980s and 1990s to the subprime collapse of 2008.

Shortfall chronicles the collapse of the building and loan industry during the Great Depression—a story told in microcosm through the firestorm that erupted in one hard-hit American city during the early 1930s. Over a six-month period in 1932, all four of the building and loan associations in Colorado Springs, Colorado, crashed in an awful domino-like fashion, leaving many of the town’s citizens destitute. The largest of these associations was owned by author Alice Echol’s grandfather, Walter Davis, who absconded with millions of dollars in a case that riveted the national media. This is the story of his tragic life, which ended in a cold cell far from his family.