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Tuesday, April 29, 2008


You remember The Great Impostor, Robert Crichton’s book about Ferdinand Waldo Demara, who created and lived identities from deputy sheriff to Benedictine monk. Tony Curtis played the part in the 1961 movie which also starred Edmond O’Brien, Raymond Massey and Karl Malden. Demara actually tried to enter a Trappist monastery but failed, then joined the Army but ended up going AWOL.

Fast-forward almost 50 years and enter the female version of Demara/Curtis in Esther Reed, a country girl from Montana, with a good enough intellect to bamboozle the best. She first appeared on America’s Most Wanted in November of 2007, and after a nine year run was captured on February 2, 2008, in suburban Chicago. Esther was an above average student, loved to debate, but following her Mother’s death from cancer in 1998, turned to a life of crime. The question, of course, is who will play her part in the movie.

Whoever that is will have a wealth of profiles to explore, according to the Greenville News. Like stealing the identity of Brooke Henson, a Travelers Rest woman who disappeared nine years ago and whom Police believe to be dead; the latter not considered tied to Reed. Or using her above average intellect to hustle over $100,000 in student loans, and using a Pennsylvania woman’s date of birth and Social Security number to get a fake driver’s license, hit on a West Point cadet, then passes herself off as a chess champion.

Next, on to Los Angels where she convinced a Cal State Fullerton professor to recommend her to Columbia University, claiming to have changed her name because she was in the witness protection program. Returning to Henson’s name, she earned a GED in Ohio, passed a SAT college admissions exam in California that got her into Columbia, where she got the $100,000 student loans.

But she wasn’t through with Henson, using her birth certificate and an Ohio identification card to get a job at Columbia U. in the Vice President University Development Alumni Relations office. In New York a year later, Reed confirmed her identity as Brooke Henson to police, even coming up with answers to personal family questions. She refused to take a DNA test and took flight once again. When they finally caught her in Chicago, she was using yet another identity created from an Iowa driver’s license, compliments of a Kentucky birth certificate and marriage license from Nevada. During all this time, which took place in multiple cities in multiple states, Reed was also using illegally obtained credit cards to charge with. Thanks to Eric Connor of the Greenville News for this running commentary.

As a result of all her escapades, Esther could get up to 47 years in the slammer, and more than $1 million in fines. This is obviously one of the most bizarre cases you will ever hear about, but it points out to just what length an individual will go to steal your identity.

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