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.