Thursday, October 26, 2017

His Name was Chad by Pat Kennedy


LUCY BURDETTE: Our good friend Pat Kennedy contacted me a few months ago, suggesting she had a good blog topic. She did and I'm going to let her tell the story...  Welcome Pat!

PAT KENNEDY: His name was Chad. A good solid guy name.  He wasn’t especially handsome or tall. His suits often needed a good pressing.  And sometimes I thought he could use a bit of a wash since he seemed to sweat an awful lot. But there was something so engaging about his smile and voice when he told me about his adventurous life as a teenager and very young man.  I’ve always been a sucker for voices.  I fell for him.

Chad was my day-to-day contact on a client project.  We spoke (that voice!) every day and chuckled about the foibles of his boss (mine too – as she was the project leader on the website we were producing). We were, as we used to say back in the 50s when I was a girl, in cahoots. 

Have I mentioned that he was 28 and I was more than twice his age?  No matter, we began to hang out a bit – for coffee or lunch.  It wasn’t a romantic relationship at all.  He loved telling stories and I loved listening.  I was enchanted by his rough Western-ranch upbringing – the days and nights he and his brother spent camping and foraging for themselves when miles from home. (His parents owned a 100,000 acre spread in Wyoming.) No cell phones, no fast food outlets, no comfy beds – just Chad, his brother Ben, their pickup truck, a tent and a couple of bedrolls. 
Rocky Mountain Horse by Rennett Stowe

Chad was also an internationally known – and reigning USA champion – ski-mobile racer.  He held the all-time record for a long distance race. Because he was in such demand to appear at ski-mobile shows across the country, he was often not available for meetings if they were on Monday mornings or Friday afternoons.  I reported on our collaborative work to the larger team, happy to help him out.

On occasion he’d cut out of a group meeting to get to Logan Airport where a private plane was waiting to whisk him off to yet another ski mobile event.
Snowmobile Racing by Joe Ross

His father-in-law was a New York City banker.  The father-in-law owned the private plane and sponsored Chad’s ski-mobile team.

Are you beginning to be suspicious?  I wasn’t.

It wasn’t until almost a year later when he was abruptly fired that I found out that he was actually from Bettendorf, Iowa, had probably never been on a ski mobile or in a private airplane and….. was the father of three children (he told me once that his wife couldn’t have children and that had broken his heart!  Imagine denying your children’s existence!).  There’s more but I’m too embarrassed to tell you how much nonsense that I believed.

I’ve always been fascinated by con artists like Clark Rockefeller or Bernard Madoff– consummate story-tellers who so easily fool the gullible with increasingly complicated and unlikely tales. 

I have a theory that once one of these scoundrels engages your attention, he/she builds your trust bit by bit seeing if you will fall for yet another fanciful story or request.  Like a good suspense novel is developed.  If truly criminal, like Madoff, they use your gullible trust to fleece/rape/maybe-even murder you.  Maybe that’s why Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley is so gripping as a suspense novel.  Tom Ripley is compelling and believable whether he is plain Tom or dashing Dickie.  And then he murders without conscience or regret -- and continues on telling his stories to his next victims.

Characters like Talented Tommy or Charming Chad are out there just waiting to start talking.  They’re fascinating story tellers if you’re willing to listen. And they make great characters in novels.


And so, my Jungle Red friends, will you admit to having been conned?  Did it cost you?  Could you turn your experience into a character in a novel?  Would you dare?

Patricia Kennedy is a marketing consultant for healthcare organizations. She lives in Boston with her husband Joe, and visits Key West during the winter.  For more information on Pat, click here.

49 comments:

  1. I’ve never had such an experience, Pat, but your story is compelling . . . and sad.

    I agree that characters like Tom Ripley [or Chad] make captivating characters.
    But I think gullibility may be only part of the cause these despicable people are able to foist their cons upon unsuspecting people. Most people I know seem determined to look for the best in people; they’re not immediately suspicious and they believe what people tell them. Sad to say, that altruistic trait may be the very thing that sets unsuspecting people up to be tricked . . . .

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    1. I am still amused/chagrined at how truly gullible I am. Maybe that's why I love reading, love stories. I am so willing to believe.

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  2. Completely chilling. I knew one person who had larger than life stories that in looking at his life were probably untrue. This was in the days before the Internet and confirmation being a few clicks away (he claimed to be a well known scout for a major league ball club). What struck me was how immersed he was in his own story. I always felt sorry for his wife.

    I wonder if this man, and Chad's, intent was to con anyone as money does not seem to be involved with either, or criminal activity, or if there is some deep insecurity that they are attempting to overcome and they get trapped in their stories and can't find a way out.

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    1. You're right -- no money involved, but I did cover for him on several occasions so I wonder if that gullibility affected my standings as a trusted advisor with my client. Other really smart people have gotten taken too. Does anyone remember that William F. Buckley was conned by a guy on death row. Buckley helped the man gain his freedom and within a year, he (not WFB) killed another random person. (Of course I am assuming that you wonderful readers remember WFB -- another person whose voice totally captivated me.)

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    3. I, for one, definitely remember William F. Buckley! He was so articulate. His views were way too conservative for my taste, but oh, how well he could express them! It was a delight just to read his prose, even if I often disagreed with his actual point.

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    4. Yes, I remember Buckley. My dad was a huge fan, and while I seldom agreed with Buckley, boy, could he write.

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    5. Could that story have been about Norman Mailer, not Buckley? ( Yes I remember them both.) Or did both of these clever men fall for stories from very clever convicts? The Mailer event- the released convict and Mailer protege soon stabbed a waiter to death - was all over NY news at the time.

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    6. I sure do remember William F! He was so articulate. I envied his gift of gab.

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  3. Ooh, that IS a good story, Pat. I was fascinated by Clark Rockefeller, with his lies here in the east, but also because the body he buried in San Marino, California was in the neighborhood where my grandparents lived.

    Have I been conned like that? Not that I can think of, which probably means not that I know of. I do enjoy writing about liars, though, since that's what murderers must to do avoid being caught.

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    1. Oooohhh, that is creepy Edith to think your grandparents came so physically close to a real murder. But for a few blocks away, they could have been his victims too.

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    2. I am pretty sure they were long dead by then (sorry, should have put the time in perspective!) but I used to go to San Marino from a few towns south of there quite regularly as a younger me.

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  4. That is so chilling! I knew someone like that when I lived in Atlanta… He had no money, but was very handsome, and was such a con artist he could get everyone to pay for everything. He would stay in people's homes homes while his was supposedly being worked on, and had a big Cadillac that I could never figure out how he got. It didn't really affect me, except to watch it, but I was always astonished at how a handsome and engaging in person so much sway over people.
    And that was before the Internet, you know, so there was no way to check on anyone. Wow, so disturbing. And so sad to have to be so suspicious. Thanks for telling us this!

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    1. For me being "handsome can make me feel immediately uncomfortable. I would be on guard if a guy were just too good looking. But a seductive voice draws me in every time.

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  5. I had an uncle who did this on a very small scale--he loved to tell stories and was highly entertaining and good-spirited--but his stories might be a bit embellished--but he didn't do it on purpose, that is, start out to burnish the truth of a story. On the other hand, a good friend became involved with a man who made so many claims that we had to wonder at her sanity. Famous, successful chef? Next breath, aerospace engineer who'd worked for NASA?? He cut her off from her friends, ran her into debt, the usual story of disaster trailing in his wake.

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    1. As I said, no money involved on my part. When it comes to money, I'd be very suspicious about handing it over. On the other hand, I have a brother who sponsors immigrant families, helps them get settled, teaches them how to use public transportation, offers driving lessons and LOANS THEM MONEY. In every case, he has been paid back. Does this restore your belief that most people are trustworthy?

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    2. Pat, my trust in people remains intact--I have taken chances on people in the past and been happy to do so!

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  6. I don't have a story like that, but I'm sure there are many Charming Chads out there. I find myself not trusting half of what people say these days, which either makes me smart/aware or cynical.

    Definitely good fodder for fiction, though.

    Mary/Liz

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  7. Back in the last century, my family became acquainted with "Gene." He was a local business man, loved children and dogs and cats, adored my kids and lavished them with gifts, and I'm talking bicycles and such. He eventually moved to south Texas and was a manager for the King Ranch tree farm division, the one that provided all the live oaks for the new DFW airport. No kidding.
    He bought me a new range top when I complained about the old one, not something I knew about until it arrived at the door with the installer. He out-lavished Santa at Christmas. Then one day he arrived at our door with a uHaul full of furniture and a warrant for his arrest not far behind. He was on the lam, wanted to store a fw art pieces with us. We sent him off to a storage place of course. He had embezzled enough from King ranch to owe half a million in back taxes, federal offence, which he happily admitted. He ended up in Leavenworth for a spell, then some minimum security prison in North Texas.

    As soon as he got out, well educated in white collar crime by doing time, he began again. I lost track of him sometime in the early eighties, and last I heard he was in the Tarrant County jail.

    Gene was possibly one of the most charming, best looking, best read, most articulate, kindest thieves you could imagine. My children called him "uncle" and loved him, not just for the material stuff but because he was wonderful with kids, so caring and interested. To the day I can't believe we were do conned, although he never took a thing from us. We weren't big enough marks I guess.

    Wonder where he is now? Google time.

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    1. I guess we all come under "the spell" because we just want to love our fellow humans but Gene loved a bit too much!

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  8. Oh, Pat! What a great story, and you tell it so well! I have been conned. A young man begged $80 off me at the airport because they'd impounded his car and he'd left is wallet at home... he even gave me his card. Promised to repay me. I guess I'd rather be conned than NOT help someone truly in need.

    As my daughter, the consummate brave world traveler, always says, "99% of the time people would rather help you than kill you." I"m proud to be in that 99%, even if occasionally I get scammed.

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    1. We're just about to go to Back Bay Station to catch a train to NYC. Almost every time we are there, a distraught young man comes down to the train platform and announces in a very loud voice that "I have to get to Springfield this afternoon and I've lost my wallet. My daughter is in the hospital so I really need to get there. Can anyone just loan me $35 for a ticket. I promise I'll pay you back." He's there every single time! I'm proud to say that I don't fall for his tale -- not the first time, or ever. And I usually warn people that he's there all the time. But i definitely agree with Molly, that 99% of the time people just want to help you, so I'll keep on keeping on -- unless it's at Back Bay Station.

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  9. Hi Pat. What a great story. I have been conned like this several times. Sometimes with ill-intent, sometimes by a fantasists I'm now convinced were mentally ill. Most frequently it was by employees who lied about their qualifications and continued to lie thereafter until they were found out.

    I think Americans always start from the premise that the people they are engaging with are telling the truth about themselves. People have to lose our trust, not gain it. What is fascinating to me is how much we can excuse (the Friday and Monday absences for example) when we are running one version of someone's story in our heads.

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  10. Pat, did he pay his bills from you?
    I once went on a date with a guy who said he was a Roy Orbison. He drove an aging Buick. Took me to a drive-in. I was 15. I'm lucky I didn't get killed.

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  11. That’s an interesting way to put it Barb, about the version of someone running in our minds. John ran a business with his brother for many years and said the lesson was trust your instincts if something feels wrong or troubling. I would say in general I’m more suspicious than you are Pat!

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  12. So fascinating—I am always suspicious. I know, famous last words. And I have not written a character like that-but I HAVE written about someone who was trying to convince others that someone ELSE was a con artist—when that wasn’t true.

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  13. Pat, so interesting. My first red flag was when you said he was often sweaty. I wondered if he was homeless. But I have to admit that for a crime novelist I'm not nearly as suspicious as they should be. I assume people are telling the truth unless I find out otherwise. Unlike my ex-cop hubby, who generally assumes people are NOT telling the truth unless proved otherwise. The voice of experience, I guess....

    But what is really fascinating about Charming Chad is wondering what he got out of telling all those lies. What about the story of Frank Abagnale (played by Leo di Caprio in Catch Me If You Can? Now, that's a fascinating one!

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  14. I'm naturally suspicious, too. I think humans come in all varieties. The expectation that people are inherently good has never made sense to me. I don't assume they're bad, either, but I think we run the spectrum from amazing to depraved, and I just hope that I encounter more on the amazing end!

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  15. Don't feel badly. We want to trust people, and most people are trust worthy. When they prove otherwise, it hurts.

    I've seen some examples like that on line but never anything that elaborate face to face.

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  16. Oh, that is an excellent blog topic, Pat. Thanks for sharing the story. Some people are natural born charmers. I only know of one person who tried to con me. I didn't believe it but the people around me did and, boy howdy, did they make me feel bad for being a doubter. But when the truth came out, I was vindicated. Subsequently, I always listen to my instincts. Always.

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  17. When I worked as a real estate paralegal, the law firm I worked for hired a young associate to work on real estate matters. He did all right on very simple things but fell apart when he was asked to work on anything outside of the scope of real estate. He frequently came running to me for advice, but the matter always involved something in which I had no experience or training. I remember telling him several times, "Steve(not his real name) you're the one who went to law school, not me!" And he would look at me with a strange look in his eyes. He would tell me "well, you're older and you've been working in the field a lot longer than I have. You must've picked up something along the way that relates to this." It was very aggravating. I would tell him to go speak to someone in the office who had experience in that area of law, but he didn't want to. It's a very long story, but eventually it came out that he never went to law school and had falsified all of his credentials.

    DebRo

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    1. Wow Deb, and he was counting on you to fix all his errors!

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    2. Whoa. That is completely fascinating, DebRo.

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  18. I've known two people who fall into this category - not con artists, fortunately, but people who spin out a fantasy version of life for others.

    One is a fabulist, who always has a new story of some amazing achievement or once-in-a-lifetime travel experience. Ross and I once had dinner with this person and another couple; the four of us who comprised the audience sat slack-jawed and increasingly stupefied by our dinner companion's tale, which, spinning off of a few of our "odd college roommate" reminiscences, became a melodrama of a mentally ill roomie, kidnapping, escape from the kidnapper in the nude, walking umpteen miles through the brush (naked), etc. etc. Instead of realizing the rest of us were sceptical and modifying the narrative, the fabulist went all-in on a literally unbelievable, go-for-broke scenario.

    The second is a fantasist, whose personality and background are built on a well-burnished and utterly believable lie. I've known this person well for years, and never would have known that the life-changing experience I had heard of many times was false if I hadn't finally met a family member who spilled the beans. My fabulist friend has led an unexciting and unaccomplished life, particularly considering others in the family, and I'm convinced the Big Lie originated in some deep well of inferiority and a desire to be "special."

    It's interesting that neither of the two people I've know were lying to take advantage of others, but both of them thrived on the attention and presumable admiration their falsehoods brought them.

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  19. I tend to be skeptical. In my town we have panhandlers at all the major intersections. The signs vary. My favorite is Vietnam War Era Veteran. They are organized to some extent. No poaching territory. They may trade spots for awhile. My husband has noticed some with disabilities whose disabilities disappear when they're walking off for a coffee break. Yes I'm cynical. I've found that those who really are homeless and in need do not stand at intersections all day with signs. My husband helps them out.

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  20. Pat, you are so generous to share this story, which is--sadly--not uncommon.

    This past week, while driving to and from the beach, my husband and I listened to a terrific podcast called "Dirty John," based on a L.A. Times series of articles. It was 6 episodes long and utterly fascinating. Sounds like John could be your Chad's big brother.

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  21. I've known two pathological liars.
    They were brilliant at it.
    The stories were wild, but just close enough to believable that everyone let it pass.
    Amazing.
    Libby Dodd

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  22. My daughters were victims of a nasty ponzi con artist. Their father and step mother invested in a financial pyramid scheme -- that was endorsed Corporate! Their Dad died before the fraud was discovered. Their pension and savings were gone. His wife now lives in a 8 x 10 room in the Yountville VA. gaagh.. The charming con artists, when they are crooks, teach devilish lessons.

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    1. I hope when I'm confronted by an opportunity that's 'too good to be true' I'll back away... but it's hard.

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  23. Wow, Pat! I was really getting into Chad's adventurous life when it abruptly came to an end in your retelling. I can see how you got hooked. There are people out there and maybe near that are consummate con artists in the art of self reinvention. I have been lucky that I haven't been victim to such a person, or have I? There could easily have been people in our lives we don't know were con artists.

    One thing that I am an easy target for, though maybe not so much these days, is giving people some money, small amount. My daughter says that I am highly gullible and too trusting, which is probably true. When she and I were in D.C. some years ago and waiting for the train on the subway platform, there was a woman sitting down asking for quarters. Well, of course, I dig down and find some to give her. My daughter told me that I was going to get killed one day believing the supposed down-and-out. She wasn't being mean, just worried. But, I kind of feel like you, Hallie, that I would rather be conned some than not give that person who really needed help a hand-up.

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    1. Interesting that one of the questions on the psychological test I used to administer went like this: why is better to give to an organization than a beggar? (Not those exact words.) but I wonder if that’s still on the test?

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  24. I laughed out loud so hard when I came to this:
    "Are you beginning to be suspicious? I wasn’t."

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  25. I am now writing a novel with such a character. It's loads of fun to try to get into such a mind.
    Some people are pathological liars, and feel more at ease lying than telling the truth--even when they have nothing to gain by it. Other people are more like antisocial personalities: they scam and con people. Some people believe their own lies. It's all fascinating, isn't it?

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    1. The ones who believe their own lies are the hardest to suss out.

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  26. Here's a fascinating article about an outdoorsy con man...https://www.outsideonline.com/2243621/appalachian-hustle

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  27. I'll admit I knew before coming in, because someone directed us to the blog after a re-telling of "Dirty John" podcast mention on FB. (Also the series, written is out there, for anyone who wants to read it. This is a chilling, fascinating, train-wreck relationship with one of these cons. I'd recommend everyone read it, just to be aware.) That being said, I have a friend who met someone on online dating. The first conversation I had with her, my Spidey Senses were zinging. But I didn't shut her down, because she'd closed up in the past, and I thought it best to just listen. There were promised trips to Europe, this, that, everything that she'd dreamed of. And yet, whenever certain things came up, he had to go to this appt., to his daughter's, to that event, not any of hers. One day she gave him almost a thousand dollars to buy something for his birthday that he'd been wanting. I swear I don't know how alarm bells weren't ringing in her head over this. But that was when we all spoke up. Of course, he disappeared shortly thereafter. She thought about pursuing him to get it back, then decided not to. How do you report getting conned out of money that you'd gifted to someone?

    Another is a friend like Julia mentioned. No harm, no foul, but *every* story is fantastical. And then one day, many years down the road, this person forgot that a past tale had been different. Another friend had suggested that this person was making it all up, and though I didn't want to believe this--only because I loved the tales--I had always wondered the same thing. When that little detail came in, that didn't mesh with another past detail told, I was a bit...forlorn. Like someone told me that Santa really is just a nice old man with whiskers, but no, that magic sleigh isn't real.

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  28. Years ago a friend used to tell tales of her trips overseas. I believed that Larry Hagman got on their bus in London to escape paparazzi (before we found out who shot J.R.) but I had trouble believing that all the handsome tour guides spent extra time with her. When I went on tours, the guides tried to pay equal attention to all the tourists.

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