Little is known about the early life of Lord Gordon-Gordon. His real name is unknown, and it was rumoured that he was the illegitimate son of a North Country clergyman and his family maid.
The first major incident involving Gordon-Gordon was in 1868 when, under the name of "Lord Glencairn", he swindled London jewellers Marshall & Son for £25,000. In March 1870, he left Britain and travelled to the United States.
Glencairn took the name "Lord Gordon-Gordon" as his alias, claiming to be a cousin of the Campbells, a descendant of Lochinvar and of the ancient kings of the Scottish Highlands. He arrived in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and became involved with the Northern Pacific Railway. He told them that he was in America so that he could buy large tracts of land, upon which he could settle tenants from his overpopulated estates in Scotland.
Gordon-Gordon's next major incident came three months later when he moved to New York City, claiming he was going to transfer his funds from Scotland in order to finance his purchase. With him, he carried a letter of introduction from Gould, who was then trying to gain control of the Erie Railroad in the Erie War. Gordon-Gordon told Gould that, with the help of several Europeans who had stock in the company, he could help Gould gain control of the railroad. Gould agreed to help him, on the condition that he gave Gordon-Gordon $1 million in negotiable stock in what he called "a pooling of interests": i.e. a bribe. However, as soon as Gordon-Gordon had taken the stock he put it on the market, swindling Gould.
Gould sued Gordon-Gordon, and Gordon-Gordon was put on trial in March 1873. In court, Gordon-Gordon gave the names of the European personages he claimed to represent, and was granted bail while the references were checked. Gordon-Gordon took this opportunity to flee to Canada, where he convinced authorities that the allegations brought against him were false. Gordon-Gordon then offered to buy large parts of Manitoba, an investment which would bring prosperity to Canada.
After failing to convince or force Canadian authorities to hand over Gordon-Gordon, Gould and his associates, who included two future Governors of Minnesota and three future members of Congress (Loren Fletcher, John Gilfillan, and Eugene McLanahan Wilson), attempted to kidnap him. The group was successful, but were stopped and arrested by the North-West Mounted Police before they could return to the United States. The kidnappers were put in prison and refused bail. This led to an international incident between the United States and Canada. Upon learning that the kidnappers were not given bail, Governor Horace Austin of Minnesota demanded their return and put the local militia on a state of full readiness. Thousands of Minnesotans volunteered for a full military invasion of Canada. However, after negotiations, the Canadian authorities released the kidnappers on bail.
Gordon-Gordon believed himself safe, as at that time grand larceny and embezzlement were not crimes serious enough to warrant extradition. However, the news surrounding Gordon-Gordon reached Europe. The firm Marshall & Son, the jewellers Gordon-Gordon had robbed some years ago, sent a representative to Canada who identified Gordon-Gordon as Lord Glencairn. Gordon-Gordon claimed that it was a smear campaign created by Gould and his associates, but the Canadian authorities considered the charges serious enough to sentence him to deportation. Before his deportation, Gordon-Gordon held a farewell party in his hotel room, where he gave expensive presents to his guests. After the party, he committed suicide by shooting himself on August 1, 1874.