An entourage is expected of some people. The President. Queen Elizabeth. Frank Sinatra. Muhammad Ali. Arnold Palmer. Most celebrities, in fact.
And airline pilots.
Wheres your crew, sir? asked the desk clerk in the Istanbul hotel. It was a question Id encountered before.
I dont have a crew with me, I replied. I just flew in to replace a pilot who became ill. It was my standard answer to such queries, which were much more numerous in Europe and the Middle East than in the United States. Continental hotels, obviously, were more accustomed to catering to entire air crews. A lone pilot aroused curiosity.
And curiosity breeds suspicion.
I needed a crew, I mused that evening while dining in a Turkish restaurant. I had doffed my uniform. Save on special occasions, I now wore it only when checking in and checking out of a hotel, passing a check or cadging a free ride.
The matter of a crew had entered my mind before. In fact, it entered my mind each time I saw a command pilot surrounded by his crew. His status was not only more believable than mine, but he also always seemed to be having much more fun than I. Stews, I had noticed, tended to act as handmaidens to the pilots. My life as a bogus birdman, on the other hand, was essentially a lonely existence. But then a man on the run is usually a forlorn figure. Its hard to play the social lion when youre moving like a scalded cat. My dalliances, by and large, had all the permanency of rabbits» relationships and about the same degree of satisfaction.
My fantasies of an aircrew of my own, of course, were motivated by more than just a desire for companionship. An aircrew-and I thought of an aircrew only in terms of stewardesses-would lend concrete validity to my role of airline pilot. I had learned that a solitary pilot was always subject to scrutiny. Conversely, a pilot trailing a squad of lovely stewardesses would almost certainly be above- suspicion. If I had a beautiful bevy of flight attendants with me in my travels, I could scatter my valueless checks like confetti and theyd be accepted like rice at a wedding, I thought. Not that I was having any trouble passing them at present, but I was passing them one at a time. With a crew behind me, I could cash the sham checks in multiple numbers.
I left Istanbul after a week and flew to Athens. «Dont you have a crew with you, sir?» asked the hotel desk clerk. I gave him my usual reply, feeling harassed.
The next day I flew to Paris to visit the Lavaliers. «I wish you flew for Air France. I could be a member of your crew,» Monique said at one point during the visit. The remark convinced me that an aircrew was a necessity.
But how did a pilot without portfolio, who didnt know how to fly, go about assembling an aircrew? I could hardly gather a few girls at random and propose, «Hey, kids, wanna go to Europe? Ive got this great scheme for passing worthless checks...» And since I had absolutely no connections in the underworld, American or European, I couldnt look for help there.
I was in West Berlin when a solution presented itself. It was long-range and fraught with risks, but it was also challenging. Pan Ams hives had always provided the bulk of my honey. If the carrier wasnt my parent company, I was in a sense its bastard child, and this was an issue demanding filial loyalty.
Id let Pan Am furnish me a flight crew.
I flew to New York and on arrival called Pan Ams personnel office, representing myself as the placement director of a small western college, Prescott Presbyterian Normal. «Im aware that you people send employment recruiting teams to various colleges and universities, and I wondered if you might possibly have our school on your schedule this year?» I said.
«Im sorry, we dont,» said the Pan Am personnel officer who took my call. «However, we will have a team on the University of Arizona campus during the last two weeks in October, interviewing students for various positions, and Im sure theyd be glad to talk to any of your students who might be interested in a career with Pan Am. If you like, we can mail you some brochures.»
«That would be nice,» I said, and gave him a fictitious address for my nonexistent college.
Mine was a plan that demanded the boldness of a mountain climber. I donned my uniform and went to Pan Ams Hangar 14 at Kennedy. With my phony ID card dangling from my breast pocket, I had no trouble at all gaining entrance, and I spent a leisurely half hour roaming through the stores department until I had accumulated the supplies I needed: envelopes, large manila holders and stationery, all boasting Pan Ams letterhead, a pad of employment application forms and a stack of colorful brochures.
Back in my motel room, I sat down and composed a letter to the director of the University of Arizona placement office. Pan Am, I said, was initiating a new recruiting technique this year. In addition to the regular personnel recruiters who would visit the campus in October, the letter stated, Pan Am was also fielding pilots and stewardesses to interview prospective pilots and flight attendants, since actual flight personnel could offer a better perspective of what a flying position with Pan Am would entail and could also better evaluate the applicants.
«A pilot will be visiting your campus on Monday, September 9, and will be available for three days to interview stewardess applicants,» the spurious letter stated. «Under separate cover, we are sending you some brochures and employment application forms which you might wish to distribute to interested students.»
I signed the name of Pan Ams director of personnel to the letter and placed it in a Pan Am envelope. I packaged the brochures and application forms in one of the large manila holders. Then I went to Pan Ams office building, sought out the airlines mail room and dropped the missives off with a young clerk, brusquely ordering they be sent air mail.
I thought Pan Ams own postage meter, with its little Pan Am blurb, «Worlds Most Experienced Airline,» would add a little class to the counterfeit mailings.
I dispatched the letter and the other material on August 18. On August 28 I called the University of Arizona and was connected with John Henderson, director of student placement.
«Mr. Henderson, this is Frank Williams,
«Oh, yes, Mr. Williams,» enthused Henderson. «Were looking forward to your visit and we did receive your material. In fact, weve posted it about campus, and you should have a goodly number of applicants.»
«Well, I dont know what was in the letter you received,» I lied. «But I have been instructed by the flight supervisor to interview only juniors and seniors.»
«We understand that, Mr. Williams,» Henderson said. «In fact, all the inquiries I have received so far have been from juniors or seniors.» He volunteered quarters on the campus for me, but I declined, saying Id already made reservations with a hotel favored by the company.
I appeared on the University of Arizona campus at 8 a.m., Monday, September 9, and Henderson greeted me cordially. I was, of course, in uniform. Henderson had set aside a small room for my use during my stay. «We have thirty applicants to date, and I have scheduled them to appear in lots of ten each day,» he said. «I know, of course, youll be talking to them individually, and you can set your own daily schedule, if you wish. But the first ten will be here at 9 a.m.»
«Well, I think Ill talk to them as a group at first, and then interview them individually,» I said.
The first group of ten coeds was, collectively and individually, simply lovely. More than ever, looking at them, I saw the need for a crew of my own. The ten of them eyed me like I was Elvis Presley about to swing into action.
I affected a businesslike air. "First of all, ladies, I want you to know this is as new to me as it is to you. Im more used to a cockpit than a classroom, but the company has assigned me this task and I hope I can carry it out successfully. With your help and understanding, I think I can.
«I say «understanding» because I dont have the final say as to who will be hired and who will not. My job is just to select girls who I think would be most suitable as flight attendants and to make a recommendation in their behalf The personnel director has the authority to reject any or all of the candidates I offer. However, I can also say that you might be hired on my recommendation without your having to be interviewed by anyone else.
«There is also this-its unlikely any of you will be hired by Pan Am before you graduate. But if you are selected as a future stewardess, its our policy to give you some sort of assistance during your last year in school just so you wont be tempted to take some other job. Am I making myself clear?»
I was. The girls said so. I then dismissed them as a group and began interviewing them individually. I wasnt really sure of the type of girl I wanted in my «crew,» but I was sure of the type I didnt want. I didnt want a girl who couldnt handle it if she learned shed been conned into an elaborate scam.
Totally naive and patently prudish candidates I crossed off immediately. Those who were personable and attractive, but superstraight (the kind of girl an airline would like as a stewardess), I marked as questionable. I put check marks after the names of girls who impressed me as easygoing, somewhat gullible, a little daring or devil-may-care, ultraliberal or not likely to panic in a crisis. I thought the girls who possessed such traits would be the best bets for my make-believe flight squad.
Henderson sat in during the morning sessions, but during the lunch break he led me to a file room behind his office and showed me an entrance near where I was interviewing the girls. He handed me a key to the door. «Theres very rarely anyone on duty here, since our student records system is completely computerized,» he said. «So youll need this key. Now, Ive pulled the files of all the applicants and put them aside on this desk here, in case you want to study the record of a particular girl. This way, you can operate pretty much on your own, although well be available to help you if you feel you need help, of course.»
I was intrigued with the record-keeping system and Henderson obligingly showed me how the system worked before taking me to lunch as his guest.
I finished with the first ten applicants early in the afternoon and the following morning met the second batch of candidates. I gave them the same spiel, and like the first ten, they were equally amenable to my terms. The last girls, too, were exposed to the same con, and by the afternoon of the third day I had narrowed the field to twelve candidates.
I spent a couple of hours studying the files of the twelve on an individual basis, recalling my own interviews with them and my impressions of them, before settling on eight. I was leaving the records room when I was seized with an amusing whim, one that took me less than thirty minutes to satisfy. When I left the room, Frank Abagnale, Jr., a native of Bronxville, had transcripts in the files showing him to have earned both a bachelors degree and a masters degree in social work.
The next morning I delivered my «thesis» to my eight finalists, since they were the lambs who had made possible my whimsical sheepskins.
The girls were excited when I assembled them, in the perfect mood for the con I put down. «Calm down, please, calm down,» I implored them. «You havent been hired as stewardesses. I think you ought to know that now.»
The words achieved the desired multiple shock. And momentary total silence. Then I grinned and laid it on them. «Thats because youre all juniors and we want you to finish your education before joining Pan Am,» I said.
"I think I mentioned before that the company likes to assist approved stewardess candidates during their last year in school, and Ive been authorized to make you eight girls an offer I think youll find interesting.
«I have been informed that the company intends to hire a number of girls as summer interns for the coming year, and these girls will be sent to Europe in different groups to act as advertising representatives and public relations people. That is, theyll be used as models for photographs for Pan Am ads in various world publications-Im sure youve all seen the kind Im talking about-and some will be used as speakers at schools, civic group meetings, business seminars and that sort of thing. Its a show-the-com-pany-flag type of tour and usually we use real stewardesses or professional models dressed up in flight-attendant uniforms.
«But this coming summer, were going to use girls whove applied for stewardess positions and it will serve as sort of a pretraining period for them. I personally think its a good idea for several reasons. One, it will allow our ad people to use pictures of our own personnel, depicted in cities we serve, and secondly, we wont have to pull actual stewardesses off the flight line when a photo situation calls for an actual stewardess. Thats always made it tougher on the other stewardesses in the past, because summer months are our peak passenger months, and when we have to pull attendants off flight duty, other girls have to do their work.
Now, if any or all of you would like to take part in the program this summer, Im authorized to hire you. Youll have an expense-paid tour of Europe. Youll be paid the same salary as a starting stewardess, and youll dress as stewardesses, but you wont be stewardesses. Well supply your uniforms. Also, youll be given a letter of employment, which is very important in this instance. It means that those of you who do decide to become stewardesses after graduation will be applying as former Pan Am employees, and youll be given priority over all other applicants.
«Do I have any takers among you?»
They all volunteered. «Okay,» I said, smiling. «Now, youll all need passports. Thats your responsibility. Ill also need your addresses so the company can keep in touch with you. Im sure youll have your letters of employment within a month. Thats it, ladies. Ive certainly enjoyed meeting you all, and I hope that if and when you become stewardesses, some of you will be assigned to my crew.»
I informed Henderson of the offer Id made the girls, and he was as delighted as they had been. In fact, Henderson, his wife and the eight girls all hosted me that night at a delightful dinner party around the pool in the Hendersons back yard.
I flew back to New York and rented a box with mail-answering service that had offices in the Pan Am Building. It was the perfect cover, since it allowed me to use Pan Ams own address in subsequent correspondence I had with the girls, but all their replies would be directed to my box with the mail-service firm.
After a week or so, I sent a letter of employment to each of them, along with a covering letter signed by myself (as Frank Williams) informing each of them that-surprise! surprise!-I had been assigned by the company to head up the European operation involving them, so they were to be my crew after all. I also enclosed a phony little form Id made up, requesting all their measurements for purposes of having their uniforms made up. I directed each of them to address any future questions or information directly to me, in care of my box number.
Then I turned to getting ready for the tour myself. The passport I had was only a temporary one, and in my real name. I decided I needed a regular passport that I could use as Frank Williams and decided to take a chance that the passport office in New York was too busy for its employees to play cop.
I walked into the office one morning, turned in my temporary passport and ten days later was issued a regular passport. I was pleased to have the document, but it was, after all, issued to Frank W. Abagnale, Jr. It was not a passport that would serve Pan Am First Officer Frank W. Williams, should the need ever arise. I started looking around and found what I needed in the hall of records of a large East Coast city. It was the death notice of Francis W. Williams, age twenty months, who had died at that young age on November 22,1939. The archives disclosed the infant had been born on March 12, 1938, in a local hospital. I obtained a certified copy of the birth certificate for $3.00 by presenting myself to one of the clerks as the same Francis W. Williams. It seemed logical to me, and Im sure it would make sense to anyone else, that anyone named Francis would prefer to be called Frank.
I took the copy of the birth certificate to the passport office in Philadelphia, together with the necessary photos, and two weeks later had a second passport, one that matched my Pan Am uniform. I was now ready to command my crew, if nothing occurred in the next several months to upset my Arizona apple cart.
I spent those months knocking around the country, keeping a low profile in the main, but occasionally dropping a few phony Pan Am checks or counterfeit cashiers checks.
At one point I ended up in Miami, staying in the penthouse suite of a Miami Beach hotel, the Fontainebleau, under the guise of a California stock broker, complete with a briefcase full of $20s, $50s and $100s, and a rented Rolls-Royce, which I had leased in Los Angeles and driven to Florida.
It was all part of a grand scam I had in mind, which was to drop some really big counterfeit cashiers checks on some of the Miami banks and some of its more elite hotels after establishing a reputable front. I earned the reputable front in large part sheerly by accident. I had made it a point to acquaint myself with some of the hotels top management people, and one of them stopped me in the lobby one afternoon and introduced me to a Florida broker, one whose financial genius was known even to me.
A staunch Floridian, he had the true Floridians thinly disguised contempt for California, and I gathered from most of his remarks during our casual encounter that he didnt hold California stockbrokers in any esteem, either. He was so blatantly rude and arrogant at times that the hotel executive was patently embarrassed. After a few minutes I excused myself, he was so hostile. He grasped my arm as I was leaving.
Whats your opinion on the Saturn Electronics offering? he asked with a supercilious smirk. Id never heard of the company and in fact didnt know any such firm existed. But I regarded him blandly, then dropped one eyelid. Buy all of it you can get your hands on, I said and walked off.
A few days later I encountered the man again as we were both waiting for our cars to be brought to the front entrance. He greeted me with grudging respect, which surprised me. I should have listened to you on that Saturn stock, he said. How the hell did you know Galaxy Communications was going to take over the company?
I just grinned and gave him another wink. Later I learned that Saturn Electronics, after its acquisition by Galaxy, had closed from five to eight points up on each of the previous four days.
That evening I was accosted at the elevator by a well-groomed man in his thirties who introduced himself as a prominent city official.
Rick [one of the hotel executives] told me about you, Mr. Williams, he said. He said you might be setting up an office here and perhaps make your home in Miami during part of the year.
I nodded. Well, Im thinking about it seriously, I said, smiling. Ill probably make up my mind within a few weeks.
Well, perhaps I can help you/ he said. My wife and I are giving a party tonight and some of the citys and the states top government and business leaders are going to be there, including the mayor and some people from the governors staff. Id like to invite you, if youd consider coming. I think it would be an enjoyable evening for you, and like I say, you might meet some people who will help you make up your mind.
I accepted his invitation, because he was right, in a way. It was quite possible some of his guests could help me. By letting me fleece them.
It was a black-tie affair, but I had no trouble finding a tuxedo rental shop that was open and which could fit me on such short notice. I also had no trouble locating the city fathers home, which proved to be uncomfortably close to a certain bankers home. I hoped she wasnt a guest also, but I had the parking attendant position my car for a quick getaway, just in case.
She wasnt a guest, but the most stunning and attractive blonde Ive ever encountered, before and since, was a guest. I noticed her moments after I joined the throng of guests, and she kept attracting my attention all evening. Oddly enough, although she seemed always to be the center of a circle of admirers, she didnt seem to be with any one of the men paying her court. My host confirmed the fact.
Thats Cheryl, he said. Shes a standard decoration at parties like this. Shes a model and shes been on the covers of several magazines. We have a pretty good arrangement with her. She lends excitement to our parties and we make sure she gets mentioned in all the society columns. Come on, Ill introduce you.
She made it immediately known that shed been curious about me also. I saw you arrive, she said, extending her hand. Thats a lovely Rolls. Is it yours or did you borrow it for the occasion?
No, its one of mine, I said.
Her eyebrows arched. One of yours? Do you have more than one Rolls-Royce?
I have several, I replied. Im a collector. I knew from the gleam in her eyes that Id made a dear friend. She was obviously impressed by wealth and material possessions. In fact, I was continually surprised throughout the remainder of the evening that such a beautiful exterior masked such a venal and covetous interior. However, I wasnt interested in her lack of virtues. I was attracted by her obvious vices. She was avariciously gorgeous.
We werent together the entire evening. We would part occasionally and go prowling separately, like two leopards seeking prey in the same jungle. I found the prey I was hunting, a couple of fat and juicy bank pigeons. She also found her prey. Me.
I took her aside about 2:30 a.m. Look, this partys about dead, I proposed. Why dont we go back to my penthouse and have some breakfast?
Her reply was a blow to my ego. Whats it worth to you for me to go back to your hotel with you? she asked, eying me provocatively.
I thought you were a model, I blurted, surprised.
She smiled. Therere different kinds of modeling. Some modeling jobs come higher than others, she said.
I had never paid a girl to go to bed with me. The world of professional sex was an unknown realm. To my knowledge, Id never before met a hooker or a call girl. But apparently I had now. However, I still wanted her in my bed, and having established her true calling, I made an attempt to establish her price. What the hell, I had plenty of money. Uh, $300? I ventured.
She grimaced prettily and shook her head. No, Im afraid $300 isnt enough, she said.
I was astonished. Obviously Id been cavorting in luxury for years without knowing the value of the wares Id enjoyed. Oh, all right, lets double it and say $600, I said.
She gave me a coolly speculative look. Thats closer, she said. But for a man of your means, I should think it would be higher.
I looked at her and was irritated. I had established and followed a certain felonious code of ethics since taking up crime as a profession. Among other things, Id never diddled an individual. For instance, Id never purchased a wardrobe or any other personal item with a hot check. Too many department stores and business firms held an individual salesperson responsible for bogus checks. If a salesman took a check for a suit, and the check bounced, the cost of the suit came out of the clerks salary. My targets had always been corporate targets-banks, airlines, hotels, motels or other establishments protected by insurance. When I splurged on a new wardrobe or anything else of a personal nature, I always hit a bank or a hotel for the needed cash.
It suddenly occurred to me that Cheryl would make a lovely exception to my rule. Look, we could stand here all night and argue price, I said. I hate quibbling. Instead of going to my place, why dont we go to your apartment, spend an hour or so there, and Ill give you $1,000.
She reached for her purse. Lets go, she agreed. But I dont have an apartment at the moment. I lost my lease and Im staying at a hotel in Miami Beach. She named the hotel, which was one not too far from mine, and we were there within thirty minutes.
She was inserting her key into the door of her suite when I turned, saying, Ill be right back.
She grabbed my arm. Hey, wherere you going? she asked, somewhat agitated. Youre not going to back out, are you?
I took her hand off my arm. Look, you dont think I carry $1,000 in my pocket, do you? I said. Im going downstairs and cash a check.
At three-thirty in the morning! she exclaimed. Youre not going to get a check cashed for that amount at this hour. You couldnt get one cashed for $100.
I smiled loftily. I think so. I know the owners of this hotel. Besides, this is a certified cashiers check, drawn on the Chase Manhattan Bank in New York. Its like gold here. I cash them all the time.
Let me see it, she asked. I reached inside my jacket pocket and extracted one of the Chase Manhattan counterfeits Id acquired before coming to Miami. It was in the amount of $1,400. She examined the voucher and nodded. It is like gold, she agreed. Why dont you just endorse it over to me?
Uh-uh/ I declined. This check is for $1,400. We agreed on $1,000, and while $400 isnt that important, a deal is a deal.
I agree, she said. So endorse it. Ill give you the $400. She dug in her purse and came up with a thin sheaf of $100s, from which she took four and handed them to me. I endorsed the check and handed it to her.
I have the sequel from what reporters call reliable sources. Several days later, when her bank informed her the cashiers check was a counterfeit, she called the Dade County Sheriffs Department, furious. She eventually was contacted by ORiley.
Whyd he give you this check? asked ORiley.
That doesnt matter, she snapped. He gave it to me, and its bad, and I want the bastard caught.
I know, said ORiley. But I also need to know how this man thinks, so I can catch him. Your description fits Frank Abagnale, but hes never given any bad paper to an individual. He doesnt even pass bad paper in retail stores. Why, all of a sudden, is he giving a square John, and a beautiful woman at that, a worthless check for $1,400? What was the purpose?
ORiley is something of a con artist himself. He obtained the full story from her. I dont mind his getting a free piece/ she concluded bitterly. Hell, Ive given it away before. But that bastard conned me out of $400 cash. That I resent.
I have always agreed with ORileys assessment of the matter. We both got screwed.
However, her session with me was probably more delightful and less costly than the encounters I had with the two bankers before leaving Miami. I ripped them off for more than $20,000 each. I also flimflammed the Fontaine-bleau by paying my bill with a counterfeit cashiers check that yielded me several hundred dollars change.
I put the Rolls in a storage garage and sent a telegram to the California leasing firm informing them of its whereabouts. Cheryl was right. It was a lovely car and deserved better than being abandoned to the elements and vandals.
I holed up in Sun Valley, keeping a low profile and an honest demeanor, for the winter. As spring approached, I flew back to New York, set myself up in a brownstone flat in an elegant section of Manhattan and dropped reminder notes to each of my prospective stews. The replies I received assured me that my fictional status as a Pan Am promotional executive was still believed, so I proceeded to fulfill my fleshly fantasy. I knew the name of the Hollywood firm that designed and manufactured all of the stewardess uniforms for Pan Am. I flew to Hollywood and, wearing my Pan Am pilots garb, called on the fashion firm. I presented a phony letter of introduction to the woman in charge of Pan Ams account, detailed the fictional public relations tour of Europe and had my explanation accepted at face value. Well have the ensembles ready in six weeks, she said. I presume you also want luggage for each of the girls?
Of course, I said.
I stayed in the Los Angeles area while the girls» clothing was being fashioned, attending to other facets necessary to the escapade. I paid a call to the Pan Am stores department at the Los Angeles Airport, dressed as a pilot, and picked up all the hat and uniform emblems theyd need.
Id had all the girls send me one-inch-square color photographs of themselves. I used the photographs to make up fake Pan Am ID cards, similar to mine, and listing the status of each as «flight attendant.»
When the uniforms were ready, I picked them up personally, driving a rented station wagon with counterfeit Pan Am logos on the doors, and paid for the uniforms by signing an invoice for them.
In late May I sent each of the girls a letter, enclosing an airline ticket for each-tickets Id bought and paid for with cash-and telling them to assemble in the lobby of the Los Angeles airport on May 26.
The gathering of my eaglets was one of the boldest and more flamboyant productions of my poseur performances. I went to one of the more luxurious inns surrounding the airport and booked a room for each of the girls, and also engaged, for the day after their arrival, one of the hotels conference rooms. I made all the bookings in Pan Ams firm name, although I paid cash for the facilities. I satiated the curiosity of the assistant manager who handled the transaction by explaining this was not regular Pan Am business but a «special feature» of the airlines promotion department.
On the morning the girls were to arrive, I donned my Pan Am pilots uniform and visited Pan Ams operational department at the airport, seeking out the manager of the carriers car pool.
«Look, Ive got eight stewardesses coming in at two P.M. today on a special assignment, and I need some transportation to get them to the hotel,» I said. «You think you can help me out?»
«Sure,» he said. «Ive got a regular crew wagon available. Ill pick them up myself. You gonna be there?»
«Ill just meet you here at one-thirty and go with you/» I said. «You need me to sign anything?»
«Nah, I got you covered/ Jetman.» He grinned. «Just have one my size.»
The girls showed up on time and were duly impressed with the gleaming Pan Am crew wagon, which was actually just an oversized station wagon. The pool chief and I loaded their luggage and he drove us all to the hotel, where he again assisted in unloading their luggage and getting the girls situated. I offered to buy him a drink after we were through, but he declined. «I like your kind of duty,» he said, grinning. «Just call on me anytime.»
The next morning I assembled the girls in the conference room, where I passed out their ID cards and presented them with their uniforms and luggage. They squealed with delight as they inspected the ensembles and the luggage, each piece of which was monogrammed with the owners name and Pan Ams logo.
There were more squeals of joy as I outlined our itin-nerary: London, Paris, Rome, Athens, Geneva, Munich, Berlin, Madrid, Oslo, Copenhagen, Vienna and other European spas. I quieted them down and took on the air of a stern father.
«Now, this sounds like a lot of fun, and I hope it will be, but were on serious business, and I wont put up with any nonsense,» I told them. "I have the authority to discharge any one of you for misconduct or for goofing off, and I will send you home if I have to. Lets get one thing straight-Im the boss and you will live by my instructions and follow the policies I outline. I think youll find my rules eminently fair, and you should have no trouble following them, and therefore no trouble at all.
"First off, youll notice that each of you is identified as a stewardess on your ID card. As far as the personnel of the hotels where well be staying, and the photographers with whom well be working are concerned, you are stewardesses. But we will all travel as civilians, and that includes flying or driving, and I will tell you when you are to wear the uniforms. Youre on a very desirable tour, duty that could cause some dissension and jealousy among our regular cadre of flight attendants, male and female. So if you do have occasion to mingle with regular flight crews, just say youre with our New York public relations office, on a special assignment, and answer as few questions about your actual status as possible. If anyone presses, refer him or her to me.
«Now, youll be paid every two weeks, a regular company paycheck. Its very difficult to cash a check in Europe, so when I give you your paycheck, if youll just endorse it, Ill cash it at the local Pan Am office or at one of the banks or hotels with which weve made arrangements.
«Now I know some of you are wondering why you cant just send your checks home to be deposited. Therere two reasons. First, the checks will probably be issued on one of our foreign accounts. The company likes the checks to be cashed in Europe. Second is the exchange rate. If you cash a check yourself, it will be cashed at the current exchange rate and youll usually end up losing money. So Ill cash your checks, give you the cash and then if you want to send any money home, you can send a money order or a cashiers check home. Does anyone have any questions?»
No one did. I smiled. «Okay, then, youre on your own for the rest of the day and the night. But get a good nights sleep. We leave tomorrow for London.»
We did, too, using tickets that had cost me a small fortune in cash. We landed in London in a clammy, predawn rain and I instructed the girls to change into their stewardess uniforms before we went to the hotel.
I was, understandably, nervous and apprehensive at the outset of my scheme, but I plunged ahead recklessly. I even checked us in at the Royal Gardens in Kensington, gambling that none of the employees would associate TWA Pilot Frank Adams with Pan Am First Officer Frank Williams. I hired a van to take us from the airport to the hotel, and the registration clerk, to my relief, was a total stranger to me.
«Were Pan Am Flight 738,» I said. «We were diverted from Shannon and I dont know if anyone made reservations for us or not.»
«No problem, Captain,» said the clerk. «That is, if the girls dont mind doubling up. Weve only five rooms available.»
The girls slept until nearly noon. Then I loosed them on the town by themselves, telling them I had «set up a photo session» with the local Pan Am office. What I did was to go through the London telephone book until I found what I was looking for, a commercial photography firm. I called the company and identified myself as a Pan Am public relations representative.
«Ive got eight girls at the Royal Gardens, stewardesses, and what we need is some color and black and white shots suitable for advertisements and promotion brochures you know, candid stuff of the girls at Piccadilly, some of them at the Thames bridges, that sort of thing,» I said. «Do you think you can handle it?»
«Oh, quite!» enthused the man to whom I spoke. «Why dont I have one of our boys pop right over with some samples of our work? Im sure we can do business, Mr. Williams.»
The firms representative and I had lunch and worked out a deal. Id picked one of the better firms in London, it seemed. Theyd even done some work in the past for Pan Am.
«Well, this is a little different, something new were trying,» I said. «One thing youll like, Im sure, is that youll be paid in cash at the end of each day. Just give me an invoice for the amount.»
«What about the proofs?» asked the camera firms rep.
«Well, chances are well be long gone to another city-
weve got a hectic
He whistled and raised his glass of beer. «That is a different way of doing things, and I like it,» he said, grinning contentedly.
The next morning, a three-man camera crew in a passenger van loaded with photographic equipment called at the hotel and picked up my eight fledglings. I didnt go with them, but simply told the chief cameraman to use his own judgment and imagination and return the girls in a reasonably sober and presentable condition.
«Gotcha, guvnor.» He laughed and shepherded the girls into the van.
I had business of my own to conduct. I had embarked on this illicit odyssey well provisioned with sinful supplies: counterfeit cashiers checks (products of my own handiwork), Pan Am expense checks and regular paychecks (Papa Lavaliers unwitting artwork) and Pan Am reimbursement authorization forms (pilfered from Pan Ams own stores department), the last more for bluff than effect.
There were a lot of factors weighing in my favor. London, and most of the other major cities on out itinerary, was dotted with branches of major American banks.
The next morning I gathered the girls in my room and explained the hotel policy on airline crews, then spread out eight phony Pan Am «expense checks» for them to endorse. Each check, of course, was for much more than the hotel bill. «Ill need your ID cards, too, and while Im settling the bill, youll all have to stand in sight of the cashier,» I said. Not one of them questioned the amount of the check she signed, if any one of them bothered to notice.
The scam went off flawlessly. The girls clustered in a group in the lobby, in view of the cashier, and I presented the nine fake checks in payment for our lodging and other charges. The cashier raised the only question.
«Oh, these are rather high, Captain, Im not sure I have enough American dollars to make change,» she said, inspecting her cash drawer. «In fact, I dont. Youre going to have to take pounds in change, Im afraid.»
I acted miffed, but accepted the decision, knowing the cashier would probably make a profit, or thought she would. The pounds she gave me, however, were real. The Pan Am checks werent.
We flew to Rome that afternoon, where, over the next three days, the procedure was repeated. The hotel cashier in Rome, too, questioned the amount of the expense checks, but was satisfied with my explanation.
«Well, Im sorry about that,» I said. «But were on an eighteen-day tour of Italy, and, of course, you can give me change in lira if you like.»
He liked, since it meant a personal profit of some fifty American dollars for him.
I decided against jaunting around Europe by air, not because of the expense but because it would have exposed the girls constantly to other airline crews. That was my biggest problem in implementing my scheme-shielding the girls from other airline people. As I previously pointed out, airline people like to talk shop, especially if they work for the same carrier.
There was, naturally, some unavoidable contact with other flight crews, since the success of my check-cashing scam demanded we stay at hotels which catered to airline personnel. There was always the risk that one of the girls, while in uniform, would encounter another, actual, Pan Am stewardess, and a disastrous dialogue would ensue.
Actual stew: «Hi, Im Mary Alice, out of L. A. Where are you based?»
My girl: «Oh, Im not based anywhere. Im just over here on a P.R. thing.»
Actual stew: «Youre not a stewardess?»
My girl: «Not really. Therere eight of us, and were doing some photographic modeling for promotion and advertising purposes.»
Actual stew (to herself): «Like hell. Ive been with Pan Am for five years and I never heard of any such work. Id better report this to the chief and see if these people are for real.»
I wanted to avoid any such scenario, so I would frequently reinforce my instructions to the girls with repeat lectures. «Look, when youre out in civilian clothes and you meet a Pan Am flight attendant in uniform, dont say you fly for Pan Am, too, because you dont,» Id warn them.
«If youre in uniform and you encounter another Pan Am stewardess, just say youre here on vacation if your status is questioned. You may feel thats being deceptive, and it is, but we have a reason. We dont want other airlines to find out about this venture, because theyd most likely, with some justification, put the word out in the industry that Pan Am isnt using real stewardesses in our travel ads or promotional brochures. And we dont really want our line stewardesses to know, as Ive told you, because it would likely cause dissension. For a working stewardess, this would really be a choice assignment.»
The girls cooperated splendidly in that respect. And I rented a comfortable, almost luxurious Volkswagen bus for our meandering around Europe. At times my scheme seemed more like a leisurely vacation than a felonious venture, for we often spent days, sometimes a week or more, in colorful little out-of-the-way spots in this country or that one and during such detours I curbed my crooked activities. It was not part of my plan to shaft the peasants.
But my scam got back on the track in major cities. Before entering such a metropolis, wed stop and change into our airline uniforms, and, on our arrival at the hotel of my choosing, the scheme would pick up steam and begin operating again.
Every two weeks I paid the girls with a counterfeit payroll check, then had them endorse the checks over to me in return for cash. Since I was paying all their expenses (although each thought Pan Am was picking up the tab), most of them purchased money orders and sent them home to their parents or their bank.
The girls were entirely guiltless, of course. Not one, during the summer, ever had an inkling she was involved in a criminal venture. Each thought she was legitimately employed by Pan Am. They were completely duped by my con.
Mine was an idyllic intrigue, but often hectic and taxing. Riding herd on eight lovely, vivacious, exuberant, energetic girls is akin to a cowboy riding herd on a bunch of wild steers while mounted on a lame horse-damned near impossible. I had determined at the outset of the scheme that there would be no personal involvement with any of the girls, but my resolve was endangered a score of times during the course of the summer. Each of them was an outrageous flirt, and I, of course, was a prince of philanderers, and when one of the girls was inclined to make a sexual advance (and each of them did on several occasions), I was hardly prone to fend her off. But I always managed.
I did not lead a celibate life during the summer. I had ample opportunities to engage in side liaisons with the girls of whatever localities we were frequenting, and I took advantage of each and every opportunity.
Monique was not one of the liaisons. When we visited Paris and I sought her out, she informed me our relationship was finished. «Ill still be your friend, Frank, and I hope youll still help Papa in his business, but I want to settle down and you dont,» she said. «Ive met another man, a pilot for Air France, and were pretty serious about our future.»
I assured her of my understanding and, in fact, was somewhat relieved. I also affirmed that her father would continue to get «Pan Am business,» although that statement was a lie. I was beginning to feel some guilt concerning my duplicitous use of Papa Lavalier, and had opted to release him as a pawn in my scurrilous game. Anyway, hed already provided me with enough supplies to drain a dozen bank vaults if I used them all.
The girls and I ended our tour of Europe in Copenhagen, where I put them on a plane for Arizona. I dispatched them back to the States with their arms laden with roses and a flowery speech designed to allay any suspicions that might arise in their minds in coming weeks.
«Keep your uniforms, keep your ID cards and keep your check stubs [Id always returned a check stub when I cashed a check],» I instructed them. «If the company wants the uniforms and IDs returned, youll be contacted. As far as employment goes, just return to school, because were not going to hire you on a permanent basis until you graduate, and then youll be contacted by a company representative. It probably wont be me, because Ive been ordered back to flight duty. But I hope youll all end up as part of my crew again, for Ive had a wonderful time with you this summer.»
I had had a wonderful time, all things considered. If the girls put a lot of gray strands in my hair, they also, unwittingly, put a lot of green stuff in my pockets. Something like $300,000 in all.
The girls did hear from Pan Am, as a matter of fact. After three months of a steady stream of photographs, from dozens of European cities and all showing the same eight girls in Pan Am stewardess costumes, advertising executives of Pan Am launched an investigation. Eventually the entire matter ended up in ORileys hands and he deftly sorted it out and put it into focus for the carriers officers and also for the girls.
I understand all eight of them took it gracefully, if with some vivid and descriptive language.
I stayed in Europe for several weeks after parting with the girls, then returned to the States, where I wandered around like a gypsy for several weeks, never staying in one place for more than two or three days. I was becoming moody again, nervous and edgy, and the knowledge that I would probably always be a man on the move, a fox perpetually hunted by the hounds, was beginning to weigh on my conscience, affecting my conscious life.
I virtually ceased my check-swindling activities, fearful the hounds were close enough and reluctant to create additional spoor. Only rarely was I challenged to display my creative criminality.
One such time was in a large midwestern city. I was sitting in the airport restaurant after arrival, enjoying lunch, when I became interested in the conversation in the adjoining booth, an exchange between an elderly, stern-faced man and a very young, servile companion, apparently an employee. I gathered from the conversation that the older man was a banker, en route to a convention in San Francisco, and from the remarks he made to the young man it was clear he expected his bank to make money in his absence. He was cool, crusty, arrogant and obviously proud of his lofty status, and when he was paged on the airport intercom I learned his name. Jasper P. Cashman.
That afternoon I did some discreet digging into Jasper P. Cashmans background, utilizing a local newspapers library. J. P. Cashman was a prominent man in his community, a self-made tycoon. Hed started as a teller in his bank when the financial house had assets of less than $5 million. He was president now and the banks assets exceeded $100 million.
I scouted the bank the following day. It was a new
building, still boasting its expansion motto on the large front window. The
interior was roomy and pleasing. Tellers on one side, junior officers scattered
across an opposite wall. Senior officers in airy,
I rented a car, drove to a modest city 175 miles distant and opened a checking account for $10,000 with a counterfeit cashiers check. Then I returned to Cashmans town and the next day called at his bank. I wasnt really interested in the money involved in my swindle. Cashmans manner had irked me, and I simply wanted to sting him.
I was the picture of the affluent businessman when I entered the bank. Gray three-piece suit. Alligators, luster-shined. Countess Mara tie. A leather brief-case, slim and elegant.
Cashmans companion at the airport was one of the junior officers. His desk was neat and tidy. His nameplate sparkled with newness. He obviously was newly promoted. I dropped into the chair in front of his desk.
«Yes, sir, can I help you?» he asked, patently impressed by my dress and bearing.
«Yes, you can, as a matter of fact,» I said easily. «Im Robert Leeman from Junction, and I need to cash a check, a rather large one. Ive all the proper identification and you can call my bank for verification, but I dont think thatll be necessary. J. P. Cashman knows me, and hell verify the check. You can call him. No, Ill do it myself, since I need to talk to him anyway.»
Before he could react, I reached over, picked up his telephone and dialed Cashmans correct extension. Cash-mans secretary answered.
«Yes, Mr. Cashman, please.... He isnt.... Oh, yes, he mentioned that last week and it slipped my mind. Well, listen, would you tell him when he returns that Bob Leeman dropped by, and tell him Jean and I are looking forward to seeing him and Mildred in Junction for the hunt. Hell know what I mean.... Yes, thank you.»
I replaced the telephone and stood up, grimacing. «Doesnt look like my day,» I said ruefully. «I needed the cash, too. I cant get to Junction and back in time for this deal. Well, good day, sir.»
I started to turn and the young officer stopped me. «Uh, how big is the check you wanted to cash, Mr. Leeman?»
«Pretty good sized,» I said. «I need $7,500. Do you think
you can take care of it? I can give you the number of my bank in Junction.»
Without waiting for a reply, I dropped back into the chair, briskly wrote out a
check for $7,500 and handed it to him. As I figured, he didnt call the bank in
Junction. He stood up and turned toward one of the
He walked into Jamess office and said (as I later learned) exactly what Id conditioned him to say. «Sir, theres a Mr. Leeman here from Junction and he needs to cash this rather large check. Hes a personal friend of Mr. Cashman, and he wanted to see Mr. Cashman, but as you know Mr. Cashmans in San Francisco.»
«A personal friend of the old mans?»
«Yes, sir, business and social, I understand.»
«Cash it. We sure as hell dont want to irritate any of the old mans associates.»
A minute later the young officer was handing the phony check to a teller. «Cash this for the gentleman, please. Mr. Leeman, Im glad I could help you.»
I wasnt too well pleased with the Pavlovs-dog swindle. In fact, I didnt enjoy it at all. I left town that day and several days later stopped in a remote Vermont village to do some meditating. Mine were gloomy cogitations. I was no longer living, I decided, I was merely surviving. I had accumulated a fortune with my nefarious impersonations, swindles and felonies, but I wasnt enjoying the fruits of my libidinous labors. I concluded it was time to retire, to go to earth like a fox in a remote and secure lair where I could relax and commence building a new and crime-free life.
I reviewed the places I had been on the atlas of my mind. I was mildly astonished at the extensiveness of my travels, recalling my journeys of the past few years. I had crisscrossed the globe from Singapore to Stockholm, from Tahiti to Trieste, from Baltimore to the Baltics, and to other places I had forgotten Id visited.
But one place I hadnt forgotten. And its name kept popping into my thoughts as I sought a safe haven. Montpellier, France.
Montpellier. That was my safe haven, I finally decided. And having made the decision, I didnt give it a second thought.
I should have.