As four law enforcement agencies vied to be first in front of the TV cameras to announce the capture of the "biggest con man in history" last week, the object of their attentions, as he had several times before, quietly put up $100,000 bail and disappeared.

With him went all traces of as much as $50 million his commodities option trading operation is believed to have taken in.

His take included $3 million that, under the very noses of the FBI, the Massachusetts attorney general, the U.S. attorney in Boston and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, he had transferred from two Boston banks to banks in Canada and Bermuda.

The man was known as James A. Carr to friends, employees and customers during the 18 months he operated and was president of Lloyd, Carr & Co.The company, through 11 offices in 10 states, some as far away as Michigan and California, used high-pressure sales techniques to peddle commodity options over the telephone to thousands of customers.

Commodity options are risky at best.They are forbidden in this country but can be traded on the London exchange. Lloyd, Carr & Co. apparently added to the risk by selling them at vastly inflated prices. A $200 sugar option, for example, was sold for $8,000; the buyer could make money only through the wildest increase in sugar prices.

And toward the end, according to officials who seized the company's records, the options were not bought at all. The customer's money went straight into the company's account.

Last week,after Carr had been arrested in the latest legal skirmish between his Boston-based firm and federal and state authorities, an FBI fingerprint check identified him as not James A. Carr but Alan Abrahams, 52, an escaped convict from New Jersey with a list of arrests and criminal activities spanning 22 years.

But that information came too late. Carr had fled, leaving behind, according to authorities, only a $65,000 Rolls Royce, a $360,000 house, and some property in Florida including three motels. He took with him his girlfriend, their baby, and two daughters from a previous marriage.

Abrahams began using the name James Carr, and picked up a knowledge of commodity options, from a job he held briefly in early 1976 at J. S. Love & Associates, a commodity options firm in Connecticut, according to authorities. There he befriended Charles P. LeMieux Jr., a Canadian who was to become his partner in Lloyd, Carr & Co. in Canada.

J.S. Love was forced out of the business by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, which accused the firm of fraud and high-pressure sales tactics. Carr and LeMieux moved to Boston, and established Lloyd, Carr in the summer of 1976. Carr later told federal authorities he used the name Lloyd "because it sounded British."

Carr began hiring salesmen for his venture, apparently viewing the newly created Commodity Futures Trading Commission as ill equipped to police the rapidly growing and extremely speculative market for options.

Despite the CFTC's refusal to register Lloyd, Carr as a commodities broker a year ago, Carr's lawyers kept the agency at bay in federal courts until recently. Insights into how the company worked are provided by former employees and customers, both in interviews and in testimony before law enforcement agencies.

Former employee David D. Hagen said he met Carr in November, 1976. In a telephone interview from Connecticut, he described Carr's operations:

"I had been his best salesman in my first couple of months, selling $80,000 in the first month and $100,000 in the second. After that I became his national sales manager and opened and ran a few of the field offices."

Carr was "one of the best salesmen I ever met. He was very smooth. He had charisma . . .," Hagen said.

"No one ever touched any of the money but him. He signed every check for all of the district offices. He didn't trust anyone," Hagen said, and every day he would call one of the American banks used for Lloyd, Carr deposits and transfer large sums to Bermuda.

Carr drove his salesmen as hard as they drove the customers, Hagen said. "He had them sign employment contracts with him so they could never go anywhere else, and he hired" a lot of people "who didn't know enough about the commodity options business to know that they were doing anything illegal."

The Boston office salesmen made hundreds of phone calls a day soliciting people to buy options on such commodities as sugar and coffee, Hagen said, and Carr kept them "psyched up."

Office managers leaped over desks in gorilla or Superman costumes brandishing knives and guns as they pushed the salesmen to sell more, Hagen said. Frequently the managers rearded sales on the spot with gifts of $50 or $100 bills.

"Whenever a sale was made," said another employee, everybody would cheer, applaud and come over and pat the salesman on the back."

Another former salesman manager using what the company called a "cattle prod" on unsuccessful salesmen: "He would run around the office shuffling his feet on the carpet holding a car antenna, and if the broker wasn't on the phone he would zap him" with static electricity.

There were also tales of a salesman who would scream at reluctant customers, "Look, the market is moving. Go out and hock your grandmother. Sell your sister, put your wife on the street if you have to, but get the money."

Friends and associates describe Carr as athletic and highly competitive.

"Whenever he would lose a game of tennis, he wold smash his racket into a pulp," said a close friend who knew Carr as Alan Abrahams for many years.

"He was obsessed with being the best at what he did. I once watched when one of his daughters came in second at a swim meet and after it was over he told her that coming in first was the only thing that matters. He drove her to tears."

But the tall, handsome Abrahams was a failure in the legitimate business world. He took his family's successful electronics business in New York, Racon Corp., and "ran it into the ground," according to a former associate.

It was after that business failure that Abrahams began his major illegal activities, according to friends, although he had already had several minor run-ins with the law in his native New York City.

The first time his wife of 13 years, Faith, knew of his illegal activity was the day he left to serve a term at Lewisburg and Allenwood federal prisons for tax fraud.

"If we can con the world he can con me," his former wife said recently to a friend while explaining how he managed to keep information of his criminal activities from her until the day he had to leave for jail. "But that's when I knew he was no doll."

When he left Allenwood in 1973, Abrahams returned to his home in northern New Jersey, and resumed his membership in the Peninsula House Beach Club in Seabright, N.J.

"He came back and boasted to us about meeting people like Bobby Baker and Clifford Irving while he was in jail. He acted like he was a celebrity," said Ray Brady, a CBS TV newsman who was a member of the club with Abrahams. "He always had a flashy red convertible."

But Abrahams was destined for jail once more. Sentenced in October, 1974, to 18 months at a state prison farm near Trenton, N.J., Abrahams only stayed until December, when he escaped by "walking away," according to police.

Twice Abrahams was caught outside the United States and both times escaped during legal proceedings to bring him back. After being arrested in Nassau for fleeing from New Jersey, he managed to talk an official in the U.S. consulate there into posting bail for him even though the official knew he was wanted for bail-jumping. He never showed up for his hearing.

After one more arrest in Santa Monica, Calif., on charges of trying to buy a car with a worthless check in the spring of 1976 - again he vanished before any hearings were held - Abrahams made his way east. He sampled the commodity business in Connecticut, then went to Boston for the founding of Lloyd, Carr.

Before he was finally stopped, and doors of his 11 offices shut last week, Carr ran an empire of more than 600 salesmen who were bringing in, at the peck, more than a million dollars a week.

Says Hagen, who is involved in lawsuits with James Carr over money each says the other owes, "jim Carr is probably in either Switerland or Costa Rica, and my guess is he was anywhere from $25 to $50 million with him."

The agent in charge of the Boston FBI office, Joe Yablonsky, is supervising more than a dozen local agents in the Carr case. He and the CFTC say there is no way anyone can know for sure nd the CFTC say there is no way anyone can know for sure just how much money was involved. But he says that at this stage he'd believe just about anything.

"Carr is some piece of work," Yablonsky said. "I'd love to put him under a microscope." His information, admittedly sketchy, has pointed to Carr being in either Canada or Bermuda.

Even Carrs attorney, F. Lee Bailey, says he has never met his cilent, but has only talked with him on the phone a few times.

The Internal Revenue Service says Carr owes about $140,000 in unpaid income taxes. The phone company is short about $250,000, and a local travel agent is out about $80,000.

The agencies that were quarreling last week over who should take credit for finally arresting Carr are arguing now over who is at fault for letting him get away.

Massachusetts Secretary of State Paul Guzzi says the Commodity Futures Trading Commission didn't do its job. "It's outrageous that the CFTC could allow this man to stay in business so long. We are taking a new look at the whole existing regulatory structure that can allow this to happen."

But CFTC lawyers point to legal action they have had pending for more than a year in federal court, delayed pending appeals.

And they say, there has been ample cooperation between the CFTC and local authorities in other states.

The U.S. attorneys in Michigan and Massachusetts, the attorneys general of both states, securities officials in both states, the FBI, the CFTC and the IRS are all on the case now.

Two attorneys and an accountant for the CFTC stood in bitter cold on a Boston street Friday afternoon, clutching hats to their faces against swirling, biting snow.

"That bastard," one said to the others, "is probably the only person in this whole case who's now sitting on a warm beach laughing."