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Why We Love to Hate Women Who Grift

What is it about female con artists that activates a collective craving for justice? Bethanne Patrick, host of the Missing Pages podcast, explores what makes these stories so captivating.

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Confession time. You know you watched “Inventing Anna,” and you’re still not sure why Anna Delvey wound up in prison, while multiple billionaires beg favors from Supreme Court justices and walk free.

Or maybe that’s just me? I’ve long been fascinated at how differently we treat women who run scams from men who do the same, or worse. Is there a film called “The Talented Ms. Ripley”? A TV series like “Billions” with Bobby Axelrod’s sister Anne-Marie (I just made her up) at the helm of a hedge fund? Do we follow the hijinks of a female version of Walter White?

No. When a woman schemes, scams, cheats, grifts, or cons, we want to see her pay the price. Remember how closely we all followed Martha Stewart’s prison sentence? I don’t think anyone was fascinated by NAME REDACTED’s release-day crocheted poncho.

As a producer and host of The Podglomerate’s award-winning and chart-topping “literary true crime” podcast Missing Pages, I’ve spent the past two years up to my raised eyebrows in stories about how people have been affected by scams in the publishing industry, including the ever-present Caroline Calloway, the grift-tacular Anna March, and the once-naive Kaavya Viswanathan. I’m convinced that their stories are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to fraud in the literary world, and that the lower you go down that iceberg, the more and worse men you’ll find hanging on for their lives.

Here are some great Missing Pages episodes to help you consider my thesis, as well as my favorite podcasts about women who scam and the people who can’t stop thinking about them.

Image by Astrid Stawiarz / Stringer / Getty Images

Caroline Calloway Part I: Essential Snake Oils

Missing Pages
The Podglomerate

“The story is so rich with cray-cray we had to make it a two-parter! Influencer Caroline Calloway managed to get an almost half-million dollar advance for a book she never wrote. . . and when she had to pay back that half-mill, she got, well, very creative. Researching Calloway’s environs led to a long lunch at Minetta Tavern. Not sorry.” -Bethanne Patrick

Anna March: Inventing Anna

Missing Pages
The Podglomerate

BP: “Yes, occasionally I wind up in our Missing Pages stories, due to my long and bumpy history in the publishing world. I got taken—although others got taken more than I did, sadly—by Anna March, whose real name might be Delaney, or Ann, or something completely different. I hope you enjoy my perspective on this story, originally reported in the Los Angeles Times.”

Kaavya Viswanathan: The Untold Story

Missing Pages
The Podglomerate

BP: “Our interview with Kaavya Viswanathan, once known as ‘the Harvard Plagiarist,’ reinforced my view that modern media is a grand illusion, one where beloved news anchors play hardball with softball stories for their own purposes, and no one bothers to follow up and find out, if not the truth, further information that might matter.”

Scam Goddess

Scam Goddess

BP: “If you’re at all interested in scams, women, and women scammers, Laci Mosley’s fabulous Scam Goddess podcast is a must! Not only does she discuss all kinds of rackets, she always has a comedian as co-host or sidekick, including Chris Gethard, Oscar Montoya, Ayo Edebiri. . . As they say, it’s True Fun Crime. Episode 167, ‘The Liar in Literature’ with Atsuko Okasutka, is all about Missing Pages fave Dan Mallory.”



BP: “Oh, how I love Scamfluencers from Scaachi Koul and Sarah Hagi, who dive deep into those, like Caroline Calloway, who prey on our dreams and desires, whether for smoother skin, healthier hearts, or just finer handbags. Dr. Oz! Rip-off realtors! Even reality TV stars gone bad. . . but don’t miss the episode on Gina Champion-Cain and her blue-sky promises to revitalize downtown San Diego.”

Female Con Artists Who Deserve Their Own Movies

Kathryn Lindsay

BP: “Listen, not every woman who grifts has been covered by the podcast world OR the screen world (large or small). This Refinery29 list of female scammers has some all-time greats, from super well-known, like Elizabeth Holmes, to under the radar, like NYC’s Patricia Wutaan, who in 2015 was convicted of bilking men out of money through dating-website sob stories. Gotta hand it to her for the psychological chops.”

Can You Ever Forgive Me?: Memoirs of a Literary Forger

Lee Israel

BP: “Lee Israel has to be the most famous female scam artist in the literary world, due to her 2008 memoir, ‘Can You Ever Forgive Me?: Memoirs of a Literary Forger’ and its 2018 film adaptation starring Melissa McCarthy. Once a successful biography author, in 1990 Israel, down on her luck, began to forge letters from the likes of Dorothy Parker, Edna Ferber and Lillian Hellman, selling them to dealers. I’d love to cover the entire tale in ‘Missing Pages’ one day, because Israel maintains an amazing unrepentance.”

14 Books About Con Artists to Feed Your Obsession With Scam Stories

Eliza Thompson

BP: “This fine list of books about scammers does include books about men as well as women, but I love that it includes Tori Telfer’s ‘Confident Women’ (includes some great historical examples) as well as poker-player-supreme Maria Konnikova’s ‘The Confidence Game,’ which explains why we all fall for cons. Hmmm, maybe I should read that one. . ."

Bethanne Patrick

Bethanne Patrick is host of the Signal Award-winning and chart-topping "literary true crime" podcast Missing Pages, praised by Vulture, New York Magazine, The Guardian, and Washington Post for being one of the best podcasts of 2022. Missing Pages returns for its second season in fall 2023.

Bethanne Patrick is the ultimate literary insider. As an acclaimed literary critic for The Los Angeles Times, NPR Books, and many others, her reviews have moved hundreds of thousands of copies. Check your shelves: chances are you own a book (or three) with a Bethanne blurb on the cover. An influencer in the book world as @TheBookMaven, Patrick has 200k+ Twitter followers and originated the popular #FridayReads tag. The author of two books for National Geographic and editor of an anthology for Regan Arts, Patrick’s debut memoir Life B debuted from Counterpoint Press in May 2023. A board member at PEN/Faulkner, she lives in the DC area and teaches creative writing at American University.