Update: Becky Sue Turner

Hello everyone and apologies for having disappeared for so long. I was inspired to return today after having learned of the true identity of Becky Sue Turner/Lori Erica Kennedy/Lori Ruff.  I had stopped following the story and of course I completely missed the huge news that her true identity has finally been revealed.

After years of speculating, and everyone’s imagination running wild – I’m afraid the reality is somewhat anticlimactic:   Lori Ruff was NOT in the witness protection program, nor was she an escapee from a dangerous cult.  She hadn’t been abducted by some crazed individual as a child, she wasn’t in the mafia, etc….she was just a plain, old identity thief.  Sorry, guys.

A Social Security investigator named Joe Velling took on the case and eventually linked up with a genealogist in California by the name of Colleen Fitzpatrick.

Fitzpatrick obtained DNA from Lori’s daughter and managed to build a family tree.  This led her to Pennsylvania, where she found a family whose 17 year old daughter had run away in 1986. A DNA test confirmed that Lori Ruff was the runaway daughter.

The family positively identified her as Kimberly McLean, who had disappeared and cut off contact 30 years earlier after her mom remarried and she didn’t get along with her step-father.

Case closed.

 

The Secret Lives of Rachel Zeffira

 


Identity 1: “Rachel Zeffira”

To begin, I owe an apology for the silence since my last post.  Let me make it up to you with a longer post this month… this story gets pretty weird – fans of either the Leonardo Di Caprio film “Catch Me if You Can” or “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind” will love this.  I’ll cut to the chase and get right to our subject:  Rachel Zeffira.

As of today (17 January 2016) – if you do a quick google search of Rachel Zeffira, you will learn that she is involved in the British Indie Rock scene.  One half of the duo “Cat’s Eyes” and a virtuoso solo artist signed to Universal Music.

You will find pages of teen fan forums discussing her hair and her boyfriend, Horrors frontman Faris Badwan.  She recently won the European Film Award for Best Composer. I found that information in the  Hollywood Reporter…and on the Rachel Zeffira Wikipedia page…and on Rachel Zeffira fan forums.

Anyway, you get the picture, right?  Rachel Zeffira is….

…Rachel Zeffira.

Well, no. She’s not.

Let me explain:

I was first introduced to the name Rachel Zeffira when I was looking for ideas for this blog… I saw an article online called “Catch Her if You Can”, and as you already know I’m a sucker for con-artists so I had to have a look.

It turned out to be an article on Zeffira for the Vancouver Sun, and began, “You can’t always tell if Rachel Zeffira is telling the truth”. The whole piece was filled with evasive answers and strange stories – how Zeffira had lied her way into singing at the Vatican, had forged her teaching qualifications, even how she had been deported from the UK. When I finished reading I had heard plenty of memorable anecdotes but knew very little about the singer herself.

By all accounts she has had an unusual life, but how unusual? How much can a person hide their background? In an age where everyone willingly shares every detail about their mundane lives; I wondered, is it even possible for someone to have mystery? How much can someone really hide with the Internet aware of every move?

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The article that started it all, by Francois Marchand

 

Turns out…Rachel Zeffira can hide a lot.   And in plain sight.
Once I dug, I discovered, and kept discovering. It’s the reason I’ve delayed posting:  one day I’d find something, the next day it would no longer be online.  And I wasn’t alone in this cat and mouse chase. Some of her more dedicated fans had started hunting down clues and posting them on tumblr.

They called it “The Rachel Conspiracy”.

What we know so far is that Rachel Zeffira has at least 3 significant identities. Now, we all might know someone with a fake name, I will admit to having a fake name myself, which I frequently use on Reddit. This is not the same thing.  I’m talking about 3 separate IDENTITIES – and even more confounding is that each of her identities is in the public eye, has a career or following, and has achieved enough success or fame to merit its own Wikipedia page.

I found an unprecedented three separate Wikipedia pages for three different successful people who are all, in fact, the same person- Rachel.  Has that happened before?

So, we’ve established part one of The Rachel Conspiracy by introducing you to her first identity: Rachel Zeffira. Let’s now go to her next identity…

 

 

Identity 2: “Rachel Santesso”

RachelVierne
source: http://www.deux-elles.co.uk

 

I’ll come clean and admit that it was a Rachel Zeffira fan on tumblr that first linked me to the name “Rachel Santesso” and pointed out the totally different Wikipedia pages. Her original post is here and worth reading. Amazingly, this particular fan discovered the first alter ego because she recognized Rachel’s singing voice in the background on an obscure 7″ record.

Rachel Santesso was born in a remote, working class town in Canada called “Trail”.  Population 7,000. Looks like it’s in the middle of nowhere. Think Twin Peaks.  Nothing surrounding it but wilderness…and one giant motherfucker of a lead smelter, smack in the middle of the tiny town. It’s a rough place – there doesn’t seem to be much national pride when it comes to Trail, if you pay attention to YouTube comments.  On an NPR interview Rachel mentioned her dad was born in Italy and it seems like there is also a population of Italian immigrants in the town.

Once you discover the name Rachel Santesso, it’s easy to find out quite a bit. First stop – Wikipedia. And according to that Wikipedia profile, Rachel Santesso is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and a critically acclaimed soprano (ref: American Record Guide, International Record Review, BBC, Fanfare Magazine). She had already released several classical albums as a soprano and conductor before secretly starting her band Cat’s Eyes under her other name.

We’re only halfway to the weird part, so stay with me- there’s more to come…

Rachel is also the founder and director of one of the most famous choirs in the world:  The Capital Children’s Choir.

Rihanna Switches On Westfield Stratford City Christmas Lights

 

Now, the chances are you’ve already come across Rachel’s choir without even realizing it. She tries to stay well hidden in this role as well, pointing all attention to the kiddies. Her  YouTube videos have millions of views.  The choir have sung with many of the world’s biggest pop acts, from Rihanna to the Spice Girls, and interestingly, they’ve been featured in Pitchfork and talked about in NME with the same journalists never making the connection to their regular indie fodder Rachel Zeffira or Cat’s Eyes.

 

 

Oh yeah, and they’ve sung with Lily Allen. More on Lily Allen in a moment- this one took me by surprise.

It took me a long time to find out Rachel Zeffira was also Rachel Santesso.  That’s because she leaves red herrings to confuse people…the first time I looked at the choir website, the photo under “Rachel Santesso, Director”, was this:

IMG_0698

 That’s not Rachel.

Looking for public appearances linking Zeffira to the choir, I saw another eagle-eyed fan’s tumblr post which mentioned that Rachel had been spotted singing as part of a group of kids, backing up Vanessa Carlton on The Conan Show in America.

There she is, actually in the children’s choir uniform, in plain sight. Clapping her hands.  Just another fourteen-year-old in the children’s choir, then.

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Rachel blending in with the kids on American television

 

Now then, this is where things start to get truly bizarre.

In some of Rachel Zeffira’s music interviews, she has spoken about the time she was accidentally deported -which led to her forging a doctorate degree to get a job as a French professor. The story is unbelievable. However, I’ve discovered that at age 17 Rachel Santesso was indeed teaching French, Maths and Music…first in state schools, then in some of London’s most prestigious private schools.

What she definitely did NOT say, was that during the time she was pretending to be a real teacher, she taught a 12 year old  Lily Allen.

I’ll save myself from explaining and just let you read this segment from a book about Lily Allen, then watch this gif, below.  Here is Lily Allen on tv with Rachel (Santesso) … reunited, 10 years after Rachel mentored Lily.

 

Lily Allen has frequently spoken about Rachel in interviews, concerts and even on “Desert Island Discs” as the person who discovered her and taught her to sing.
So she came to London age 17, faked her way into a school teaching job, mentored a major pop star, had a career in classical music at some point along the way, started a world-famous choir… and then started an indie band? How many lives has she lived??

There seem to be very few people who know about the link between these first two Rachels.  Incredibly, she’s successfully maintained these first two alter-egos for at least 6 years.  Well, until now.  I almost feel guilty.

SpiceBus

And now onto her next identity…

Identity 3:  Rachel Chiara Leone
“Interpol, Mafia, or the CIA?” 

CHIARA LEONE

You think you know who someone is- then one day, you learn that person has another name, another career, another group of friends and another life.  Maybe you find out that the person you knew is actually an opera singer/choir director/ mentor who discovered Lily Allen and toured with the Spice Girls.  And you had no idea. Needless to say, many of Rachel Zeffira’s fans have been consumed by these revelations, and I can only guess what her friends and colleagues will make of it.   And now things are about to get so much weirder.

Once I’d linked Rachel no. 1 to Rachel no. 2:  Zeffira to Santesso,  I eventually came across a third Rachel.  Rachel “Chiara” Leone.

At first it appeared as though Rachel Chiara Leone was a radio presenter in Italy – and this was already surprising.  After all, I’d only just discovered all the other stuff. Now she’s a radio presenter? But suddenly my search became more complicated.  Everything I discovered online would disappear almost as soon as I found it,  to the point where I wondered if someone was getting notifications every time I clicked on an image. Then I went away during the Christmas break…
Upon my return, I hit the jackpot.
I found an Italian website – and there she was… Chiara Leone.  I started taking screen grabs before the inevitable happened and I found myself blocked again. Here is one of the screen grabs:

Screen Shot 2015-11-27 at 22.48.30

Why this photo?  Well, let me tell you:

In the above photo,  Chiara Leone (Rachel) is seen with Fedele Confalonieri and  R. James Woolsey Jr (Sic).   It makes no senseWoolsey is the former director of the CIA… and the man next to him,  with his arm around “Chiara” (Rachel), is Confalonieri.  Confalonieri owns pretty much all of the Italian media, from tv channels to newspapers – which is funny because he is also the right hand man of former Italian Prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.  Look up Silvio Berlusconi and you’ll soon learn that he is also a convicted mafioso. What on earth is she doing with these two?  Rachel, Confalonieri, Woolsey… seriously Wtf.  I wondered what the story was behind this photo –  it was one of several similar photos from that site.

I was then led to these photos of “Rachel C Leone” before being BLOCKED yet again:

Rachel and some extremely valuable cars.  But there’s more. Let’s take a closer look at these cars…one is an Enzo Ferrari with the license plate “Xan1”, the other is a Bugatti Veyron with the license plate “E1”. The man pictured alongside Rachel in the photo with the Bugatti Veyron is a member of Interpol.   These cars belong to a crime lord by the name of Alexander Surin. And Surin is currently on the run after having been arrested by Interpol, in Spain.  My first thought was for Rachel’s safety…is that the reason for all the secrecy?  You will see these exact same cars pictured on the National Crime Agency website (where you will also see the same Interpol man from the photo, above) – and you can find the mega story on various news sites. Now look again at the photos above…then notice the matching license plate and car in the official news story:

Screen Shot 2015-11-27 at 23.13.10

So…two separate locations, two cars that happen to belong to a wanted crime lord before his arrest.

I’m left with all sorts of questions.  I’m only willing to publish facts on my blog, so for now – this story is to be continued.

Do you personally know Rachel “Chiara” Leone?  Do you know the link between all three Rachels in this conspiracy?  Do you know why/how she is an acquaintance of both the head of the CIA and Fedele Confalonieri?   And Alexander Surina wanted gangster? Do you know why this is all a secret? Why would someone go to such lengths to hide so many amazing things?

If you do, please send me a message so that I can update the blog accurately.

That’s it for this month.  I hope you’ve enjoyed this post, which is to be continued.   I think you’ll like who I’ve chosen for next month, too.  Let me know in the comments, below!

 

Wolfgang Beltracchi – The Genius Art Forger

I can’t help but admire con artists who have an extraordinary talent and who are also willing and able to pull off elaborate and imaginative tricks, especially in this increasingly boring era.  My August and September posts are dedicated to a painter followed by a musician who both have extraordinary talents and perhaps a sense of fun.  Their cons seem to be games that went too far because they were simply too good at what they did.  I am well aware that some of the other con artists in my archives are blatant criminals who have hurt other people in order to get what they want.  However, some of my entries are good people, even admirable. I happen to admire my con artist for the month of August: Wolfgang Beltracchi.

Wolfgang Beltracchi, in front of one of his original paintings.
Wolfgang Beltracchi in front of one of his original paintings.

Wolfgang Beltracchi is a brilliant painter and perhaps an even more brilliant con man.  He and his wife, Helene, made millions of dollars and fooled everyone in a career that spanned four decades.  His forgeries made their way into the world’s most famous museums, galleries and private collections:  from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York- to Christie’s, the auction house,  where a Beltracchi fake was famously featured on a catalogue cover.   The actor Steve Martin unknowingly bought a Beltracchi painting – and one of the world’s foremost collectors of surrealist art, Daniel Filipacchi, paid 7 million dollars for a phoney Max Ernst in 2006.  In fact, that particular work was even authenticated by leading art historian, Werner Spies, who is also a close friend of Ernst’s widow.  When Wolfgang Beltracchi was eventually caught in 2010, his haul was estimated at 27 million dollars, though there were still hundreds of paintings unaccounted for at that time.
Beltracchi was able to fool art experts across the globe mainly because he is an exceptional painter.  He was able to copy hundreds of famous artists without raising any suspicion.   However, he was also an exceptional con man – and together, he and his wife, Helene, were brilliant partners in crime.

Wolfgang and Helene Beltracchi
Wolfgang and Helene Beltracchi

Beltracchi’s first step was to completely avoid copying originals. Instead, he and his wife would research artists, looking for any holes in their work…a missing painting, or perhaps a painting that could have been.  He would then immerse himself in the chosen artist to the point of obsession – much the same way an actor like Robert De Niro might prepare for a film role: if the painter was left-handed, then so was Beltracchi.

Beltracchi considered his paintings to be masterpieces – and the art world agreed.  Meanwhile, Helene would scope out flea markets and fairs to find period- appropriate materials, including the right frames.  The pair would take apart their newly acquired  flea market purchases in order to collect the antique dust- and carefully slip it into their forgeries.  They even made their own special oven which they could use to speed up the ageing process of Wolfgang’s paintings.
It didn’t end there, though. Helene would take the time to create elaborate fake photos in order prove a painting’s provenance.  Using period-appropriate cameras, film and photo paper, the duo would stage a perfect scene in their home:  Helene would dress up as “her grandmother” and wear accurate 1930’s clothes, with an accurate hairsytyle and pose alongside antique furniture. Positioned on the wall behind her:  a painting from the time.   It was by using one of these photos that Helene managed to sell a fake Ernst titled “La Foret” for seven million dollars to an esteemed New York art collector.

Beltracchi's forged painting "La Foret" by Ernst, which sold for over $7 million
Beltracchi’s forged painting “La Foret” by Ernst, which sold for over $7 million

By the time the Beltracchis were arrested, they had houses across Europe, an estate and vineyard in France, and a yacht.  They were selling hundreds of paintings and living the good life.

In the end, it was laziness that got them caught.   Beltracchi had failed to mix his own colours while forging a work of the modernist painter Heinrich Campendonk.  Instead, he had bought a tube of paint that didn’t list all of its ingredients on the label.  The company that bought the painting spent 3 million euros, making it the most expensive Campendonk ever sold.  However, the buyer then sent his new purchase to a forensic art scientist (and sworn enemy of Beltracchi) who discovered a titanium white in the painting…a pigment which wasn’t used in Campendonk’s time.  Beltracchi and his wife were charged – first in a civil case, then in a criminal one that stunned the art world.

Helene was sentenced to 4 years in a minimum security prison; Wolfgang to 6 years. He was released in January 2015 and continues to paint.  In fact, Beltracchi paintings now sell for thousands of dollars in their own right.

Forged Heinrich Campendonk painting, by Wolfgang Beltracchi
Forged Heinrich Campendonk painting, by Wolfgang Beltracchi

“Lori Erica Kennedy”…aka… “Becky Sue Turner” …aka…?????????

Screen Shot 2015-07-31 at 15.01.09 Screen Shot 2015-07-31 at 15.01.41

When Jon Blakely “Blake” Ruff met attractive brunette Lori Kennedy from Arizona, she told him that she didn’t like to discuss the past.  She said that she had lost her family and it upset her to speak about them. Blake trusted her and asked no questions…he was a quiet and agreeable man whose closest companion before meeting Lori was his twin brother, David.  Blake’s family tried to get close to Lori but she put up a wall. Any personal questions were met with hostility.   Blake’s family wanted to put a marriage announcement in the local paper but Lori refused.  In the end, Blake and Lori ran off and married in a small church outside of Dallas…the only person in attendance was the preacher.

The new couple bought a house on 2 acres of land in the village of Leonard, Texas- 125 miles from Blake’s family.  According to neighbours, Blake and Lori kept to themselves and lived in their own bubble.  In the evenings, Lori would often walk the perimeter of her property and avoid eye contact with the neighbours. According to her husband, Lori wanted a child more than anything.  The couple suffered through several miscarriages and eventually successfully used IVF treatment for Lori to conceive a daughter. Blake now thinks that Lori may have been older than she claimed, and that may have been the reason it was so hard for Lori to conceive.

Once their daughter was born, Lori’s behaviour became increasingly strange and she continued to distance herself from Blake’s family;  she didn’t want her daughter to spend time with her grandparents even though they had 8 other happy, healthy grandchildren. For Blake, who was very close to his family, the strain became unbearable. Within 5 years the marriage had fallen apart.  Blake and Lori tried marriage counselling at the church to no avail. According to the pastor who was counselling the couple, during the sessions Lori would become obsessed with her hands – fiddling with them, holding them up and staring at them.  She would speak in a loop, repeating what was wrong with her and how she would fix things.  Then she’s start again and repeat what she’d already said. Blake, on the other hand, brought his twin brother to the sessions and sat quietly while his brother spoke on his behalf- almost like a translator. In the summer of 2010, Blake asked for the divorce and moved in with his parents.

Lori started to come undone.

The neighbours started to notice that Lori and her daughter appeared very thin and that Lori was also starting to seem somewhat incoherent.
Meanwhile, she made it extremely difficult for Blake to exchange custody of their daughter, sent threatening emails to his family, and eventually stole their house keys…leading the Ruffs to obtain a “cease and desist” order against her.

On Christmas Eve, 2010, Blake’s dad, Jon Ruff, noticed Lori’s car idling in the driveway.  He called the police, who immediately discovered that Lori had shot herself. She had also left behind an 11 page letter addressed to “my wonderful husband”  and another letter for her daughter, to be opened on her 18th birthday.  The police report stated that the letters contained “ramblings from a clearly disturbed person”.

After Lori’s funeral, Blake’s brother-in-law and a few other family members drove to Leonard.  They wanted to search Lori’s house and get some answers – they had always felt that she was hiding something. However, they had so little trust in her that they phoned the deputy sheriff to come and meet them at Lori’s house….they were genuinely worried that Lori might have booby trapped the house. What they found instead was the home of someone who had given up the will to live:  the baby’s bed was left soiled, and there were unwashed dishes, piles of dirty laundry, shredded documents and full trash bags everywhere.

"Lori Ruff" at the Texas Business Women Region 7 Conference Spring Awards banquet, April 24th 2010.
“Lori Ruff” at the Texas Business Women Region 7 Conference Spring Awards banquet, April 24th 2010.

Blake had told them where to look:  the attic.  He knew that there were boxes that Lori didn’t want him to touch.  In keeping with his obedient character, he didn’t.  But now was the time to start searching for answers, and it didn’t take Miles Ruff long to find a strongbox labelled “crafts”.  Upon smashing that box open, he discovered a court document from 1988 showing she had changed her name. Before she was Lori, she was Becky Sue Turner.

Some of the scribbles found in the strongbox:  "402 months"..."North Hollywood Police...  " Ben Perkins, attorney at law"
Some of the scribbles found in the strongbox: “402 months”…”North Hollywood Police… ” Ben Perkins, attorney at law”

Blake’s family felt triumphant – they finally knew who Lori truly was!  However, their jubilation did not last long.  They asked a private investigator to look into Becky Sue’s past…and ended up with even more questions.  It turned out that the real Becky Sue Turner was a 2 year old girl who had died in a house fire, in 1971.

It took “Lori”  2 months of time during 1988 to take over the identity of someone she wasn’t.  First, she got a copy of Becky Sue Turner’s birth certificate from Bakersfield ,California (much easier to do in 1988).  Investigators were quick to notice that Becky Sue Turner had died in a different state to the one in which she was born…a fact that meant “Lori” must have known what she was doing as it complicates a database search.
Next, she got an Idaho State Identity card in Boise which claimed she was 18 years old.
After getting that ID, she travelled to Dallas to change her name, legally, to “Lori Erika Kennedy”.
Finally, the most important step:  she got a Social Security card, the holy grail of identity theft.
With a clean slate and a new name, Lori got into college. She graduated from the University of Texas in Arlington with a business degree.

Investigators have looked into every item that was found in the strongbox:  a letter of reference from an employer and a landlord.  Some scribbles that read:  North Hollywood Police.  402 months. Ben Perkins, an attorney.
The references were bogus and signed by someone who never existed. The lawyer had never heard of a Lori Kennedy or a Becky Sue Turner.
Lori’s photos were run through every facial-recognition database and came up blank. Her fingerprints were sent both to the FBI and Homeland Security but didn’t match anyone in their files. Investigators looked through Lori’s medical records and discovered that she had breast implants.  They thought that might be a good lead seeing as implants have serial numbers which lead to doctors’ records -but it turned out that Lori’s implants were new- and she’s been cremated, anyway.  Samples of Lori’s DNA have been sent to various databases including Missing Persons and a Genealogy website – without finding any match.  Becky Sue Turner’s mother and father were both interviewed and neither knew who the person was who stole their daughter’s ID.

The trail is now dead.  However, the Ruff family still believes that someone will eventually come forward…after all, Lori went to such great pains to remain off the radar that someone, somewhere – must know something.

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“Lori Ruff” with her husband, Blake, in happier times.

George C. Parker – The Man Who Sold The Brooklyn Bridge

The Brooklyn Bridge, NY

How often have you been a tourist?  How often have you been scammed as a tourist?  Most people who have travelled abroad have a story to tell about being ripped off, pick pocketed or tricked.  In my experience, I’ve been duped by a hotelier in Rome, and by a taxi driver who took me on a very scenic route to the theatre when I visited London. What’s the worst scam that has happened to you, as a tourist?

Whatever it is, it can’t come close to what happened to those who met George C. Parker on their travels.

George C. Parker was America’s most audacious con man. By the age of 20, he had already forged a career selling famous landmarks to tourists and immigrants.  In 1883, shortly after the Brooklyn Bridge was completed, George met a tourist who had just arrived from Europe – and introduced himself as the over-stressed owner of the new bridge.  He explained that he wasn’t interested in setting up toll booths and controlling the business; he wanted to move on and focus on building new bridges in different cities.  The tourist bought the story, and the bridge, for a bargain price and began erecting toll booths the next day…only for the police to arrive and explain to the buyer that he’d been had.

George C. Parker

George continued to sell the Brooklyn Bridge twice a week for many years. In that time, he perfected his scam:  sometimes he would give a small cut of his sales to boat and ferry operators – bribing them to tell their cash-carrying foreign clients about the bridge and its desperate owner.  Meanwhile, George would erect some professional looking “For Sale” signs around the bridge.
During the 30 plus years that George C. Parker sold famous New York landmarks, he was arrested 3 times for fraud. The third time, in 1928,  landed him in prison for the rest of his life.  He was an extremely popular inmate with both prisoners and wardens, who loved hearing the many different stories of how he sold the Brooklyn Bridge.  George C. Parker died in Sing Sing in 1936.

Paul Michael Larson, the “Press Your Luck” winner

Paul Michael Larson
Paul Michael Larson

When I was 10 years old I went to Seattle, Washington to stay with my cousins during the long Easter break.  While my cousins were at school, I’d stay at home with our grandma and watch one game show after another.  I was fascinated by them…you didn’t need to answer difficult questions, they were slick, colourful – and literally anyone had a chance of winning.  My favourite American game show was called “Press Your Luck” – probably because it had an animated, evil little creature on it called a “whammy” that the contestants had to avoid at all costs.  There was a big, colourful game board with flashing lights and no difficult questions.  Perfect for a 10 year old from Salford.

In 1984, an unemployed ice-cream truck driver named Paul Michael Larson appeared on the show.  He got off to a weak start, hitting a whammy almost immediately.  However, his luck soon changed and he began to win large amounts of money and trips to Hawaii.  Each time he pressed his luck on the big board, he’d win thousands of dollars at a time.  The money started adding up and the producers started to get nervous. Larson’s winning streak lasted so long that the show had to be aired as two episodes.  In the end, he racked up $110, 237…the largest one-day total ever won on a game show at the time.  The producers didn’t want to pay him.

The reason the producers didn’t want to pay Michael Larsson his prize money was because at some point during the show, they realized that his winning streak had nothing to do with luck.  They suspected that Larson had figured out exactly when to press his button in order to win money on the big board, and that the big board wasn’t as random as everyone had believed.  In fact, Michael Larson had discovered that the light indicator used for the 18 square big board always moved in one of 5 looping patterns.  He spent 6 weeks, with the help of his vcr, memorizing these patterns so that he would be able to predict which squares the indicator would move to next.  He knew which squares had the most money, and he knew which squares never had a Whammy in them.

The CBS network initially refused to pay Larson his winnings, but the producers and the head of CBS’ daytime department, Michael Brockman, were unable to find a clause in the game’s rules with which to disqualify him. He hadn’t broken any rules.

Paul Michael Larson had studied the game, practised…and then used nearly all of his saved money to make the trip to Los Angeles to audition for the show.  He had taken a risk, and won.

Some of the people who I pay tribute to on my page aren’t con artists in the typical sense of the term…they just figured out how to beat the system and had the balls to go through with it.

Elaine Parent, the “Chameleon Killer”

Elaine Parent is beneath respect or admiration.  She is on the list as a different kind of imposter, not through cleverness, or bravery – she was successful only because she was lacking in so many human qualities. She was empty, and could only gain a personality by stealing someone else’s. She was a ruthless con woman and a monster.

Elaine Parent 1
Elaine Parent

In June 1990, 34 year old Beverly McGowan placed an ad in the newspaper looking for a room mate…

It didn’t take long before a woman named “Alice” answered, claiming to be a British employee of IBM who had just been placed in Florida for work.  The two women met, and Beverly McGowan phoned her friends afterwards to tell them that she had found a charming and glamorous room mate. She was excited for them to meet Alice.

The beautiful, British blonde also claimed to be a numerologist who could predict the future.  McGowan was fascinated, and Alice offered to give her a free numerology session.  Using her skills, Alice predicted that her new room mate would come into money, have no worries and meet the man she would marry when she turned 40.

Little did Beverly McGowan know that her fate was now sealed.  The numerology session was a trap set up by Alice to find out McGowan’s National Insurance Number, bank account details and any other crucial personal data that could be used for identity theft.

On July 19, a mutilated body was found in the canal. The head had been removed, along with anything else that could lead to identifying the victim, such as tattoos.  However, the killer had made a mistake and missed a tiny ankle tattoo. From this, the police were soon able to identify the victim as Beverly McGowan.

Meanwhile, Elaine Parent had flown to London using Beverly McGowan’s credit card. She bought the tickets disguised as a man who was dressed as a woman. She flew under the name Sylvia Ann Hodgkinson, this time disguised in a black wig. At Heathrow airport, Parent attempted to hire a car using McGowan’s credit card but it had already been canceled.  She talked her way out of it, and drove off. The next known sighting was in October when she flew from London to Los Angeles under yet another name: Charlotte Cowan.

Elaine Parent is thought to have stolen and used over 20 identities (both male and female) while on the run.  Her specialty was stalking single women (often choosing those with a similar appearance to her), seducing them …and stealing their identities by whatever means she could.  To this day, police are unsure of the number of people she killed. At least seven people whose identities she was known to have used are still missing.

Composite Sketch of Elaine Parent (disguised as a man dressed as a woman)
Composite Sketch of Elaine Parent (disguised as a man dressed as a woman)

Parent continued to change her appearance, her background and move to different countries – all while taunting the FBI. At one point she sent Florida police a photograph of an oil painting of herself, with the phrase “Best Wishes: your Chameleon” typed on the back.

In May 1991 police in Miami Beach apprehended a woman who had been sleeping in an overdue rental car with a stolen plate. When they discovered that she was carrying several different IDs, she was taken into custody. However, the police didn’t realize that the woman was in fact Elaine Parent, and she was able to post bail the next day. She disappeared again, briefly surfacing in New Mexico as a restaurant manager before returning to Florida as a homeless South African woman.

In 1992, while being pursued by Florida police for the murder of Beverly McGowan, she used another false identity to file a civil negligence suit against the State after she slipped and injured herself in a restaurant.  She won.  Then, in 1994 the Chameleon Killer disappeared without a trace.

On April 6 2002, Elaine Parent was featured on the tv program: “America’s Most Wanted”. As soon as it aired, the producers received a tip off. The Chameleon Killer had been spotted at an apartment building in Panama City, Florida. The police immediately checked it out, but the woman they found didn’t resemble Elaine Parent at all -and the ID was not a match.  Nevertheless they weren’t about to take any chances and asked the suspect to come with them to the station. They waited outside her room as she got dressed.  Then they heard a gun shot.  Upon entering the room, it was clear to the police that Elaine Parent had made a final escape by shooting herself in the heart.

Among the few possessions they found in Elaine Parent’s home was a book on stage makeup, a book called “Learn to speak French”, a disguise that would have enabled her to dress as a man,  and a notebook containing a local man’s social security number, parents’ names, date of birth and credit card numbers.

Ali Dia, the “Fake Footballer”

While Ali Dia might have had a very brief career as an imposter compared to the others on my list, he shares a common trait…he definitely has balls.

It began when George Weah (World Player of the Year) made a call to Graeme Souness (manager of Southampton), to convince him to sign his cousin Ali Dia to Southampton. Weah told Souness that his cousin was an exceptionally gifted footballer who had been capped 13 times for Senegal, played for top French team Paris St. Germain and had just scored 2 goals for Senegal a few days before the phone call.  Following the phone call, Ali Dia was signed to Southampton…

Unbeknownst to Souness, it was not actually the international superstar George Weah on the phone – and none of the information about Ali Dia was true.  In fact, the biggest club Ali Dia had ever played for was the non-league club Blyth Spartans- and even that was just one match.

Ali Dia was not George Weah's cousin
Ali Dia was not George Weah’s cousin

Then, thanks to series of good luck (or bad luck for Souness and Southampton) Dia ended up being put straight into a match against Leeds United. He had been due to play a reserve game the week he joined, but because of bad weather conditions the game was postponed. He still wouldn’t have played the match, if Matt Le Tissier hadn’t been forced off the pitch early in the first half.  So on went Ali Dia, the exciting new signing.   He managed to play for 43 minutes, during which time his playing was described by Le Tissier as “like watching Bambi on ice”.

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Graeme Souness, former manager of Southampton

He was also seen on the televised “Match of the Day” by a shocked Peter Harrison, who was Ali Dia’s former manager at Blyth Spartans. News soon spread to George Weah, who denied ever having heard of Ali Dia, let alone being related to him or recommending him as a gifted footballer.

Here is Matt Le Tissier’s hilarious first hand account of the saga:

Princess Caraboo

Portrait of Princess Caraboo
Portrait of Princess Caraboo

In 1817, a mysterious young woman surfaced in Almondsbury, a small village near Bristol, England.  She wore exotic clothes, including a turban, and spoke a language that was incomprehensible to the baffled locals.  She also appeared to be disoriented.  The woman was taken to the local magistrate, Samuel Worrall, who lived in Knole Park.  Here, she insisted on sleeping on the floor and continued to utter a few words of Indo-European descent. Worrall decided that she was a beggar and took her to Bristol to be tried for vagrancy.

However, during her imprisonment, a Portuguese sailor named Manuel surfaced and said he spoke the woman’s language.  He translated her incredible story, telling her hosts that she was, in fact, a princess from the island of Javasu in the Indian Ocean.  She had been abducted by pirates, and escaped by jumping overboard in the stormy Bristol Channel before swimming to shore.

The Worrall family brought the Princess  to their home.  Her story spread quickly and she quickly catapulted to fame.  Princess Caraboo was wined and dined by all the local dignitaries. Her portrait was painted, then printed in the local newspapers.  She used a bow and arrow, swam naked, and prayed to her God, “Alla-Tallah”.  Her authenticity was verified by a Dr. Wilkinson, who identified her language using Edmund Fry’s “Pantographia” and confirmed that the strange markings on the back of her head were the work of Oriental surgeons.

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However, after reading the story of Princess Caraboo in a local newspaper, a woman recognized the phony princess as her former servant.  According to the woman, this servant used to entertain her children by speaking in invented tongues. Princess Caraboo, it turned out, came from no more exotic a locale than Devonshire, England, where she was born Mary Wilcocks, the daughter of a cobbler.

The Worralls arranged for Mary to travel to Philadelphia on 28 June, 1817.

On 13 September, 1817, a letter was printed in the Bristol Journal, allegedly from Sir Hudson Lowe (the official in charge of the exiled Emperor Napoleon).  The letter claimed that Princess Caraboo’s Philadelphia-bound ship had in fact gone off course due to a large storm.  The princess had gone adrift in a life boat and rowed to the island of St. Helena, where she met the emperor. According to the letter, the emperor had become so fascinated in Princess Caraboo that he was applying to the Pope for a dispensation to marry her.  The story was unverified, and Princess Caraboo contacted the Worralls from New York in November 1817.

Princess Caraboo returned to England in 1824. She pretended to be a widow called Mary Burgess (her cousin’s surname) before eventually marrying Richard Baker and having a daughter.  Mary Baker aka Princess Caraboo died on 24 December, 1864.

 

Frank Abagnale Jr

Frank Abagnale Jr in the role of pilot
Frank Abagnale Jr in the role of pilot

Frank Abagnale Jr:  one of the greatest con men in history, who went on to become a great man.

Frank was a teenaged high school dropout and an incredible imposter.  Some of his most impressive feats include fraudulently working as a Pan Am pilot (clocking up millions of air miles while traveling around the world), as a paediatrician in Atlanta, working as a professor at the prestigious Brigham Young University, and as an assistant attorney general for the state of Louisiana (passing the state bar exam beforehand).  He had a gifted, artistic ability at making false cheques, ID cards and other legal documents.  His altered cheques made him approximately $2.5 million while he was still a teenager.  They also made him a most wanted man.  After a long and dedicated chase by the FBI, Frank Abagnale Jr was finally caught in Montpellier, France when he was still only 20 years old.

Like many con men, Frank Abagnale Jr was charismatic and gifted.  However, unlike many other con men- he eventually chose to use his charisma and talents solely for good.

Frank Abagnale Jr in a laboratory
Frank Abagnale Jr in a laboratory

Today, Frank is a motivational speaker and continues to do pro bono work for the FBI.  He advises on fraud prevention, identity theft, and document security products.  He is loved and respected by his FBI colleagues.  His gifts at spotting security loopholes have not faded…here is an example from a while ago:

A client asked Frank to try out a new ATM prototype.  After a quick glance, Frank was able to spot a flaw…the ATM machine had a door that electronically opened for users to retrieve their cash.  Frank simply took Super Glue, glued the door shut, then sat back and watched as several ATM users inserted their card, entered their PIN number, and waited for their cash.  When the door failed to open, they assumed the machine was out-of-order and moved to the next machine.  After they left, Frank walked up, broke through the glue, and there was the cash – which is why ATM machines today use open slots for cash delivery, not doors.

Frank Abagnale Jr’s incredible story was eventually turned into a highly successful film by Steven Spielberg, starring Leo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks.  The film is called “Catch Me If You Can” and was the inspiration behind the name of my blog.

Frank with Tom Hanks, Leo DiCaprio and Steven Spielberg. He had a cameo as a police officer in "Catch Me if You Can", the film based on his teenage years.  Copyright of Amblin Entertainment
Frank with Tom Hanks, Leo DiCaprio and Steven Spielberg. He had a cameo as a police officer in “Catch Me if You Can”, the film based on his teenage years.
Copyright of Amblin Entertainment