By Caitlin Kelly
The world is divided into two groups: people who have become unwitting victims of crime, and those who have not.
It is further subdivided into those who have sought redress and action, from the police and their judicial system, and those who chose not to.
And, yet again, into those whom the judicial system offered recompense, in the form of an arrest, successful prosecution and conviction.
One description we all hope to avoid in this world is plaintiff.
In late December 1997, I met a man through a personal ad in a local weekly newspaper. “Integrity and honesty paramount,” it read. He said he was an athlete and a lawyer. He was slim, slight, dark-haired and dark-eyed, handsome and intelligent. He dressed well and wore crisp white button-down cotton shirts.
He had small teeth, like a child’s, and small hands, someone physically unimposing, someone you’d be silly to fear.
But someone you should.
He was, it became clear much later, a convicted con man who had wrought havoc in Chicago, defrauding local business — and several area women — before being arrested, convicted and serving time.
Then he picked up and moved to suburban New York, where he began again.
And found me.
I won’t bore you with the many arcane details of the four months this man was in my life, morphing , (or not, really), from attentive, generous boyfriend to threatening and emotionally abusive criminal.
When we met, I was planning to fly to Australia, alone, hoping to report a story for my first book, but I missed my connecting flight — costing me an additional $1,800 for a last-minute one-way ticket on Christmas Eve — then, as now, a huge sum for a self-employed writer. Purporting to be a wealthy and successful lawyer, he offered to pay my ticket — just as well, since his deliberate tardiness had made me late for that first flight from New York to Los Angeles.
Instead, it was the first of many traps he laid, his “kindness” a powerful form of entrapment-through-gratitude. He wove a web of obligation and connection, skilled from years of practice.
For years after I rid myself of him, and his ancient, wizened mother, Alma, who helped him in his schemes, I wondered who else he was targeting, cheating and lying to. I wondered if anyone would ever get him arrested and charged and convicted — my local police and district attorney literally laughed me out of their offices when I brought them evidence of the six felonies he had committed against me, including credit card theft and forgery of my signature.
I even wondered if another victim — as one friend also suggested — had killed him, as enraged as I had been once I realized how he’d manipulated and duped me.
So last week, I Googled him. And found a record of his New York City death, in 2007, at the age of 48.
I shook and slept very badly that night. Could it be that he truly was gone? How? When?
When I realized what he’d been doing to me — and to other women simultaneously, as it turned out — I confronted him. The man who had been proposing marriage and telling me “I love you” changed his tune with one phone call.
The next three words were somewhat different, after I asked him if he had stolen and used my credit card — as my issuer had alerted me.
“It’s not provable,” he said icily.
And it was not.
Since then, I refuse to visit the town he lived in, a fact I only discovered by hiring a private detective, a calm, gentle man in whose debt I will remain for life as only he — a former New York City detective — truly understood the psychic devastation such vicious deception leaves in its wake.
My job as a journalist is discerning the truth in people, making intelligent judgments about their veracity.
For many months, I doubted this ability, terrified to trust any new man in my life. I lost any faith I once had in the police and judicial system to protect me from harm. I changed my locks and bank account numbers and got an additional unlisted phone number. My family and friends were furious with me for not figuring out who he was, quickly and easily.
It taught me, too, about my own vulnerability, how my isolation and sense of insecurity — like carrion in the road — had attracted his determined attention. I wised up.
It is hard to accept that he is no longer a threat to me or to anyone else.
But I am relieved.