Wednesday, February 11, 2009
Esther Reed Gets Four Years
I've posted about Esther Reed before. It's an incredible story. What I do not understand is why she is being sent to prison. The CIA should be hiring this woman! What money did she steal? Who did she rob? Who did she kill? She used other people's names, but in the end, who did she hurt? Anyone? I don't get it. Story at the Huffington Post Vicky Ward Contributing editor, Vanity Fair Esther Reed: How An Ordinary Girl Faked Her Way Into The Ivy League Today in a courtroom in South Carolina, Esther Elizabeth Reed's fantasies finally ended. The 30-year-old brunette, who has spent eight of the past ten years on the run, often entering Ivy League schools under adopted fake identities, and evading cops with an extraordinary web of deception, faces up to over four years in prison. For one man, Jon Campbell, a slight, sandy-haired tenacious investigator in the police department of the tiny town of Travelers Rest, South Carolina, it is the end of what became an obsessive case resembling the plot of Steven Spielberg's Catch Me If You Can, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks as the FBI detective Carl Hanratty always hotly in pursuit of his prey. Campbell was Reed's Hanratty. In summer 2006 Campbell had received a phone call from a police officer in New York. Campbell was informed that Brooke Henson, a beautiful young woman who had disappeared in peculiar circumstances from her family home in Travelers Rest in the early hours of July 4th 1999 when she was just twenty -- and had since become the town's only unsolved missing person -- had been found. She was, so Campbell was informed an honors student at the Ivy League school of Columbia on New York's upper West Side. New York police had gone to seek out the young woman on the Columbia campus after a New Yorker from whom she had been seeking part-time employment doing housework had googled her and seen she was listed as a missing person on the internet. Brooke Henson told police who interrogated her that she had no desire to be reunited with her family since she was a victim of domestic abuse. She wanted to be left alone to get on her with studies. She was very convincing. The New York police officer told Campbell that they intended to close Ms. Henson's file. Campbell replied that they could close the case if they liked but there was no way the woman they had found was the real Brooke Henson. "Take some DNA" he suggested. "The Brooke Henson I knew could never have got into Columbia" he said into the phone. The girl he knew was a high-school dropout, a party girl. Something in his voice made New York officer go the extra mile. The next day Campbell's phone rang again. Brooke Henson had failed to show for her DNA test. Campbell wasn't surprised. When, weeks later, New York cops forced entry into her apartment, they tripped over a pile of calling cards from New York officers. They had been dropped through the mailbox. They found no hair, no trace of anything that would have DNA. But they did find a video card, signed in Boston, MA bearing the name "Natalie Bowman." Once again they called Campbell and relayed their findings. Who was the young woman if it wasn't Brooke Henson? Officially this was his case. Campbell rolled up his sleeves and went to work. A 40-year-old graduate of Bob Jones university, he was more anxious than anyone to solve a mystery that had preyed on his mind and exasperated him for years. Back in 2001 he had been assigned the case and handed two boxes of "indecipherable" material. He had re-interviewed dozens of local people and taken DNA samples to try solve what had really happened to Brooke Henson and found himself thwarted at every turn. "Everyone in this town had a theory about what happened to Brooke," he said. "But none of them was right." Particularly exasperating for him were the prank calls. There was a medium who claimed to have seen her body beside "yellow rope" and then there was the inmate from a neighboring jurisdiction who got cops to drive him around in the pouring rain and dig. He was pretty sure Brooke Henson had been murdered and he thought he knew who had done it and even probably where. He had just never found a body -- much to his chagrin. So, he was intrigued by whoever this impostor was, pretending to be Brooke. Maybe she had information that could help him; maybe she had known the young woman. First he had to find out who she was. He began a lonely few months of phone calls and paper trails. He called Kim Finnergan head of security at Columbia. Finnergan was helpful at first but then stopped sending him documents once the school got "lawyered up." Thereafter they cited privacy laws. Campbell had to get a federal subpoena to force them to continue to help him. It was like pulling teeth. He learned there were two Natalie Bowmans. One was a dead end in that she is a bona fide medical graduate student at Columbia and a former graduate of Harvard. Another one showed up, before two years at Columbia, in Harvard's records. He saw she had been on the debate team there in 2002. From there she had apparently vanished. Harvard had no record of her graduating. Like Columbia, Harvard was not helpful. But Campbell learned that in both places her file was flagged as a victim of domestic abuse. It is possible both knew "Natalie Bowman" or "Brooke Henson" was not her real name. Campbell retraced the steps of Harvard debate team in 2002. Harvard had taken on West Point. A few more phone calls led him to Natalie Bowman's former boyfriends -- cadet officers who had been on West Point's debate team and who had since left to take senior military postings, including the supervising of others in Iraq. He called the parents of one young man, in Detroit. Finally he got the name he was looking for; the young man's parents believed the woman calling herself Natalie Bowman was really one, Esther Reed. They'd seen her driver's license which been issued in Seattle. Rest of story.