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Friday, August 28, 1992 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Date Fakes -- Vulnerable Women Sometimes Are Easy Prey To Dashing Men Who Are Not What They Seem

Date fakes are con artists of the highest order.

Just ask an attractive, well-to-do Seattle-area woman in her mid-60s whom we'll call Millicent. Soon after being widowed, she met a tall, dashing man we'll call Henry, who shared her love of arts and culture.

An entrepreneur who had lost his fortune through an unfortunate legal entanglement - or so he said - Henry treated Millicent with a kindness she had rarely known. He talked of his friends in the White House, his influential family. Clearly, he was a man of breeding.

Her children were wary of Henry, but Millicent wouldn't listen.

"I was blindfolded; I didn't want to see," she said. "There were advantages to having an escort, and everyone said, where did you find that wonderful man?"

Date fakes prey on the vulnerable, the grieving and the lonely. They entice by telling a woman what she wants to hear, according to Gordon Deckert, a psychiatrist at the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine.

Date fakes have different motives. Some are misogynists who re-invent themselves to humiliate women. Others are narcissists, who believe they're entitled to lie to get what they want.

Others still "have a lousy view of themselves. Since they can't believe anyone else would like them for who they really are, they present themselves as someone else," Deckert said. "They have a deep feeling of inferiority."

In her book due out next month, "Maybe He's Just a Jerk"

(Morrow, $15), author Carol Rosen devotes an entire chapter to such con artists. "If you're used to being with men who can't express their feelings, he'll seem like a breath of fresh air," Rosen writes. "Suddenly, here's a man who says the things you've always dreamed about hearing - someone who is totally devoted to you . . . Once he gets you, though, the party's over."

Henry asked Millicent to marry him, but she wasn't ready. Still, she paid for everything, from his meals to exotic vacations. She was in love.

And increasingly suspicious.

She hired a private detective to tail Henry, and found he had hooked up with a millionairess. Not only that, he was penniless. He lived on a pension and off women.

"Looking back, it was so cold-blooded, so calculated, but it was camouflaged by his wonderful manners," she said. "Any woman he goes out with feels like Queen for a Day."

Millicent took a deep breath and wrote the woman a letter. It turns out, the woman had been so swept away by his charm, so touched by his loneliness (he claimed to have had no relationships for several years), that she agreed to marry him after knowing him less than a month. When the two women compared notes, the wedding was called off.

As a result, Millicent does not feel entirely safe. She knows Henry carries a gun and blames her for thwarting his marriage to money.

But Millicent vowed that no other woman will be taken by Henry. Once, she saw him charming a well-dressed woman in church. Millicent warned her. She saw him with another woman at a shopping center. Millicent warned her.

It's been two years since Millicent and Henry were together. There are no new men in her life. When they bumped into each other at a social function, "My heart still fluttered," she said.

And that makes her very angry at him - and herself.

"If he had been genuine, he wouldn't have needed money," Millicent sighed. "We could have had such a nice life together."

Some date fakes aren't gold diggers. They are compulsive, or pathological liars, according to University of Washington sociology professor Pepper Schwartz.

"They are the very dangerous ones who deceive themselves about what's right or wrong," Schwartz said. "They're the most devastating."

According to Health magazine, pathological liars are of average intelligence but have excellent verbal skills. One in five has been arrested for swindling, forgery, theft or plagiarism. According to one survey of 72 cases of pathological liars, one-third adopted false identities.

Literature has treated impostors humorously. In Shakespeare's "As You Like It," the banished Rosalind woos Orlando while disguised as a man. In the 1958 romantic thriller "Charade," poor Audrey Hepburn is romanced by a Cary Grant who adopts a new identity as soon as an old one is found out.

But in real life, impostors are not so funny.

Reginald Malone was a mail-order cop.

According to papers filed in King County Superior Court, one woman had her marriage to Malone annulled after two months upon finding he had lied about his military record. And his relationship with a live-in girlfriend fizzled when she found out the same thing. Malone was found guilty in 1989 of violating a restraining order, obtained after the girlfriend - a single mother of four - charged that he pushed her, threatened to kill her and harassed her through friends.

Laura Belcher met Malone, 39, a few months ago when she was helping with traffic at the Pike Place Market Festival.

President of her daughter's PTA, Belcher recently completed paralegal studies and is doing disaster-relief training with the American Red Cross. She serves on a nutrition-in-schools committee with Constance Rice, the wife of Seattle Mayor Norm Rice.

Malone said his first wife had died in childbirth and that he had a daughter in Europe who spoke eight languages. He claimed to work undercover for King County Police and had been on loan to the Drug Enforcement Administration for eight years. Belcher frequently drove him to where he supposedly was surveilling drug dealers at a hotel. The drug case blew up, he told her, when the dealers raped young girls and Malone and his partner rescued them.

So it was a little odd that when, as a joke, this dashing hero-cop handcuffed her daughter and wasn't able to remove the cuffs. But maybe he was just clumsy.

Belcher could only reach Malone by pager. But hey, her best friend was a cop, and she understood about the need for secrecy.

The two discussed marriage, and everything was fine until Belcher read an article in The Seattle Times warning readers to be wary of fake police.

The example used was Reginald Malone.

Malone had been arrested June 7. For two months, he hung out at the Renton Cinemas watching movies for free and regaling patrons with police tales. But Malone had ordered his police paraphernalia, including badge and even a badge-holder, through a catalog company in California.

Malone said he's always had a fixation with police.

"I just got caught up in the situation. I say things and it tends to get out of hand," he said. "I know I've got a problem, and I'm trying to work on it. I know I've hurt people I truly care about. I should have allowed them to accept me for who I am, instead of trying to be something I'm not."

While impersonating a police officer is a crime, lying about one's identity to a prospective mate is not.

"People probably do that all the time," said Mike Bailey, a King County fraud detective. "But unless there's a crime committed, there's nothing we can do about it."

Malone received a suspended sentence and a $100 fine for impersonating an officer and for theft - that is, not paying for movie tickets.

Belcher figures no fine in the world will pay for a broken heart.

"All I want is a committed, open relationship with someone who loves me. But I can never seem to get my hands on that. Here Reggie met a woman who would have supported him no matter what he did for a living and he abused that. There's no reason to pick on nice women. It happens to us because we're accepting," Belcher said.

Issaquah psychologist Blake Andersen said the liars all but brainwash their targets.

"These men are very charming and persuasive. They buy you nice things, tell you nice things, but their gestures are just to secure your confidence. Like any con man, then they go in for the big haul," he said.

Anderson said women become emotionally involved with these men, spot their inconsistencies, but then dismiss them.

A Seattle computer programmer was so charmed by a date fake, she moved in with him. Two years later, she married him. And when she finally figured out his game three years later, she divorced him.

He began the courtship by buying her lavish gifts. It was years before she figured out that he would run up charges on one credit card, fail to pay the bill, and then get himself a new card. He borrowed money from her and never paid it back.

The man claimed he was going to different technical schools around the country, and would be gone for long periods of time.

It turned out he had different relationships around the country and moved whenever he was found out.

Sandy Taylor, a Tacoma private detective who specializes in checking out suspicious mates, said she's caught a man who pretended to be transferring to Seattle, but was actually unemployed and took all her client's money. Another client hired her to follow a boyfriend who refused to give his address and phone number. He said he'd been divorced several years ago. Taylor found out he was married and was using a false name.

Women dupe men, as well. Schwartz said a male friend of hers dated a woman who pretended to be a medical student. Taylor said she's also handled a few cases of women fooling men, but the majority of con artists are men going after women.

"I was vulnerable big time, and that would have been obvious to anyone who talked to me," said Times reporter Karen Alexander, who was going through a divorce when she met Norrie, whom she believed to be a soccer player. "I was a sitting duck. It's embarrassing because I'm a reporter, but this could happen to anyone."

Alexander saw no reason to doubt Norrie (his last name is not being used). She and a friend were sitting in the lounge of a Vancouver, B.C., hotel where they were vacationing in March when a man sent over a glass of wine.

Then he came over and introduced himself. Referring to himself as a soccer player for the Vancouver 86ers, Norrie was warm and personable, even talking about how the cooks at his training camp prepared his favorite food for him: fried tomatoes. He spoke knowledgeably about the game and talked about his houses in London, France and Dundee, Scotland.

Norrie visited Alexander in Seattle. She took him to a staff party, where other journalists were charmed by him and his stories of life on the soccer field.

The relationship intensified. When Norrie said he required laser surgery for a bone spur in his hip, Alexander sent him flowers. Norrie said he was being traded to Detroit, and asked Alexander to come with him. He met her parents and invited them to visit in Scotland.

The two were talking marriage.

There were a few little things that bothered Alexander, but she didn't pay much attention to them.

"The house in France seemed a little funny, because it dropped out of the picture. But the house in London kept getting better and better. Eventually, he said Rod Stewart moved in next door," she said.

Deckert said professional liars frequently claim ties to famous people.

And Norrie never gave a phone number so she could reach him at training camp.

"But it was so small. How could you be suspicious of that?" she asked.

On May 1, he called her to say he had some legal entanglement regarding his trade and would be late for his next visit to Seattle. He said he was staying at the Vancouver Yacht Club.

After he hung up, Alexander wanted to talk to him some more, so she asked directory assistance for the number of the club. Not only was Norrie not staying there, the club did not rent rooms to anyone.

Then she called directory assistance again asking for Norrie. There was none listed. The next morning, she called the phone company business office and asked who was listed on the long-distance number from her home.

It was Norman - with a slightly different last name than the one he had given her.

By this time, Alexander said she felt she was moving into the Twilight Zone, but she couldn't stop herself.

She called the Detroit Free Press and asked for the sports desk. She asked about the soccer team.

There hadn't been one by that name in Detroit for 10 years.

On a hunch, she called the Vancouver number and he answered.

"That just blew him out of the water," Alexander said. "It turned out everything was a lie. He's married, but claims he's separated. Who knows? He has two children. To this day, I have no idea if he ever played soccer."

"It was so difficult to split the reality from the lies," she said. "Finally it dawned on me that there was no reality to this relationship whatsoever."

Norrie's number in Vancouver has been disconnected, and there is no forwarding number.

Emotionally, Alexander was devastated. She had fallen for a man who didn't exist.

Taylor advises women to be careful, especially because these con artists will deliberately target women who've just been through a breakup or divorce.

"Don't follow your heart, or you'll just get screwed over again," she said. "Get to know the person before you tell too much about yourself. Meet the family, the friends and, above all, don't listen to hard-luck stories."

Interestingly, Belcher and Alexander said almost the exact same thing: "You know in investments, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Well, the same is true of men," Alexander said.

Copyright (c) 1992 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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