By the spring ofMissi Brandt had emerged from a rough few years with a new sense of solidity. At 45, she was three years sober and on the leeward side of a stormy divorce.
The perfect man who wasn’t
She was living with her preteen daughters in the suburbs of St. Paul, Minnesota, and working as a flight attendant. Missi felt ready for a serious relationship again, so she made a profile on OurTime. Among all the duds—the desperate and depressed and not-quite-divorced—a year-old man named Richie Peterson stood out.
He was a career naval officer, an Afghanistan veteran who was finishing his doctorate in political science at the University of Minnesota. They talked about their kids he had two; she had threetheir divorces, their sobriety. Richie told her he was on vacation in Hawaii, but they planned to meet up as soon as he got back. Missi sat in her living room, alternately furious at him for letting her down and at herself for getting her hopes up enough to be let down.
Check out the full table of contents and find your next story to read. At 10 p. Chris sent Missi a picture of Richie in a hospital bed, looking a little banged up but grinning gamely for the camera. Missi felt a wave of relief, both that Richie was okay and that her suspicions were unwarranted. When she finally did meet him in person, her relief was even more profound. Richie was tall and charming, a good talker and a good listener who seemed eager for a relationship.
Plus, dating him was fun. Richie had a taste for nice things—expensive restaurants, four-star hotels—and he always insisted on paying. The girls liked him, and so did the dog. Richie mentioned that his cousin Vicki worked for the same airline as Missi. Missi thought it was a fun coincidence. A few months into their relationship, she missed a shift at work and got fired. Richie leaped into provider mode.
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Maybe he could put her and the girls on his university insurance. The longer they kept dating, though, the more problems cropped up.
It got to feel as if every text from him was an announcement of some new disaster: He had to check his daughter Sarah into rehab; he had to put his beloved shih tzu, Thumper, to sleep. Richie had lingering medical problems from his time in the service, and Missi was constantly having to drop him off at or pick him up from the hospital. He was always canceling plans, or not showing up when he was supposed to. When Missi got fed up— Why did I get out of a crappy marriage just to be in this crappy relationship?
The wallet also contained a couple of credit cards belonging to someone named Linda. When Missi googled Derek Alldredhalf a dozen mug shots of Richie—Derek—popped up, alongside news articles with alarming phrases such as career con man and long history of deception.
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Missi sat down on the couch and slowly read every word of every article she could find: Derek Alldred had posed as a firefighter and scammed hospitals out of drugs. Derek Alldred had married a woman, pretended to pay the bills on their home, then vanished after it was foreclosed on. As she read, Missi began to feel sick, as if her body was having trouble physically assimilating the idea that her boyfriend was not a scholar and war hero, but rather a serial con man.
It took a bit of detective work, but eventually Missi tracked Linda down on Facebook and sent her a message. On their first date, after the server set down their plates, Rich closed his eyes and said a beautiful prayer. Paul over the summer.
It was touching. After a few months, Linda lost her job with a financial-services company, but Rich made it seem okay. He found them a house to rent in an upscale suburb of St. Recently, though, the relationship had been rockier. Rich drank a lot, and his constant trips to the hospital—which he blamed on the persistent effects of his war wounds—were exhausting.
When, a couple of days later, she finally opened the links Missi had sent, she realized why. He solved that problem for her, announcing that he was once again in so much pain, he needed to go to the emergency room.
Linda dropped him off and then called the police on her way home. She sat up for hours. At three in the morning, Derek told her he would catch an Uber home, and Linda alerted the police. When she saw the red-and-blue lights through her window, she sent Missi a message, letting her know that Derek was in custody. Linda handled the package gingerly; it felt like a missive from an alternate reality. The women later found out that he had actually been living at the shelter before he moved in with Linda. She broke it off with him but stayed friendly. On the Fourth of July, he sent her a picture of himself looking tan and happy, his arms around Missi and her kids on the boat that Linda had paid for.
I bought a boat and took my sister and her kids out on it todayhe wrote.
My life has calmed down, want to try again? Joy decided to give him another chance. The false life that Derek—it was still hard not to slip and call him Rich—had constructed for himself was thorough: He had a University of Minnesota address and an ID card that allowed him to swipe into university buildings. He would FaceTime the women from UM classrooms between classes. He had hour-long phone conversations—ostensibly with his admiral, his faculty supervisor, or his daughter Sarah, three people who turned out not to exist—during which Linda could hear a voice on the other end of the line.
He had uniforms and medals and a stack of framed, official-looking awards: a Purple Heart and a Silver Star, a seal Team One membership, a certificate of completion for a naval underwater-demolition course. That would be crazy.
A mericans love a con man. Con men thrive in times of upheaval. The country was rapidly urbanizing; ly far-flung places were newly linked by railro. Americans were meeting more strangers than ever before, and thanks to a growing economy, they had more money than generations.
The age of the internet, with its infinitude of strangers and swiftly evolving social mores, has also been good for con men. Of those, more than 14, were for relationship fraud, a that has more than doubled since After weeks or months of intimate s, texts, and phone calls, the putative boyfriend will urgently need money to replace a broken laptop or buy a plane ticket home.
Derek stands out for how remarkably prolific he was: He often had two or three separate relationship scams going at a time. T he police released Derek after 48 hours, telling Linda they wanted to build a stronger case. By then he was long gone. While Linda sorted through her finances, her sister-in-law delved into old news articles about Derek, looking for any information that might be useful in bringing him to justice.
Most of the women quoted were anonymous, or referred to only by their first name. A woman named Cindi Pardini, however, had used her full name. A tech professional living in San Francisco, she said Derek had stolen hundreds of thousands of dollars andairline miles from her over the course of a few months in She was in touch with about a dozen victims.
The second daughter, Sarah, was a fabrication. And she talked with one of his childhood friends, who said that Derek, who had grown up in a wealthy suburb of San Francisco, was trouble from an early age. Cindi was in touch with one of his earliest victims, a woman who had met Derek in the early s and had been convinced that he was a medical student conducting important cystic-fibrosis research.
Cindi added Linda to a group text with several other victims, and Linda found some comfort in swapping stories with them, and in seeing that they were far from stupid. If anything, Derek seems to have preferred intelligent women; his victims included a doctor and a couple of women who worked in tech.
Linda herself was an engineer at a nuclear-power plant. He told her he was a lawyer with a big downtown firm; in reality, he was hiding out from a warrant for defrauding the Saint Paul Hotel. When she reported him to the police, she was told that legal action would likely be a waste of her time and money. But JoAnn still regrets not taking Derek to court.
He used different names and occupations, but the identities he took on always had an element of financial prestige or manly valor: decorated veteran, surgeon, air marshal, investment banker. Con artists have long known that a uniform bolsters an illusion, and Derek was fond of dressing up in scrubs and military fatigues. He tended to look for women in their 40s or 50s, preferably divorced, preferably with a couple of kids and a dog or two.
Many of his victims were in a vulnerable place in their lives—recently divorced, fresh out of an abusive relationship, or recovering from a serious accident—and he presented himself as a hero and caretaker, the man who would step in and save the day. Derek seems to have counted on the fact that credit-card abuse is often not taken all that seriously by law enforcement when the victim and the perpetrator know each other.
He conned a of victims within the state of Minnesota. The judge denied the motion. About six months later, Derek was released. F or years, Derek had evaded punishment by moving around; local police had limited ability to chase him across state lines.