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The Grand Schemes of the Petty Grifter

A war hero, an MIT grad, a Hollywood journalist, an IRA operative—Jeremy has claimed to be all those things and more. And oh, what a mess he's made.


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illustration showing people and items from the story

Illustrations by Kelsey Niziolek

The third Chimpanzee was intrigued. Late one night in June of 2009, 19-year-old Angela Stamm was at home in the quiet middle-American suburbs outside Indianapolis, scrolling through OkCupid. Her online identity, Third Chimpanzee, was a geeky reference to Jared Diamond's book on the evolution of Homo sapiens, and it didn't take her long to find someone else online that night who employed a nerdy moniker of his own. Arthur Dent, named for the protagonist in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, noticed Angela, and the two began to chat.

The online flirtation between the two rapidly grew intense. Before long, Angela learned that the man's actual name was Finn Keenan. He was 24, Irish, a former soldier, and a graduate of MIT. Angela found him quirky and exotic, with knowledge about anarchist politics and punk music—subjects that interested her. Finn was similarly taken. Angela was witty, and she appeared beautiful in her profile, professing to desire exactly what he was after: good conversation followed by emotionally uninvolved sex.

Angela agreed to meet Finn the next day, outside a Starbucks. She dressed simply, in a skirt and a tank top; the tattoo of a stag, visible on her shoulder, caught Finn's attention. He was goofy-looking, she thought, tall and thin with closely cropped red hair. She could tell he wasn't anything like the boring boys she'd known in Indiana.

“He had an Irish accent,” Angela recalled. “Not like a leprechaun—more lilting, musical. Just the fact that he was from Europe made him interesting to me. Our first date lasted 16 hours. We went to Steak 'n Shake and talked and talked. I enjoyed the way he viewed the world: skeptically.”

But she could also sense danger lurking beneath the surface, which intrigued her. Finn said he was hiding from law enforcement and he'd need to leave town soon because of immigration troubles. Finn confessed he was also broke, homeless, and unable to get work. That night, the pair wound up sleeping coiled together in Angela's tiny beater Mazda Miata. In the middle of the night, Finn began to whisper to her sweetly in Gaelic. Angela didn't understand what he was saying, but she held him tighter.

Angela, who at the time lived at home with her disciplinarian father, was working part-time at a Thai restaurant and preparing to go back to school in the fall. In the days after meeting Finn, she lent him $100 and took him to the DMV to get a new license, as he claimed to have lost his ID. She began to house-sit for her aunt, so Finn joined her there. He cooked pasta Alfredo while reciting the poetry of William Blake and Charles Bukowski.

“We had sex, and it was my first time doing BDSM,” Angela said. “The sex was amazing—too good to be true. He was dominant, and I was submissive. I was able to explore with him. It was a big part of the initial attachment. The bedroom bled into the rest of our relationship as he subtly manipulated me. I was head over heels.”

At the time, Finn was couch surfing, staying with a friend of a friend who had offered him more than just a place to sleep. When Finn applied for a new driver's license, he used his host's Social Security number and birth certificate. In return, Finn had agreed to supply the man with a Walther handgun, but the deal fell apart. Seeking revenge, Finn's acquaintance called Angela's family to warn them about her new boyfriend's true identity and criminal history: Finn's real name was Jeremy, and he was a convicted fraudster, the man said.

The acquaintance explained over the phone that Jeremy had spent most of his adult life in prison and that he was now a fugitive. Angela's family was outraged. The police were called, and a manhunt quickly ensued, with the penniless outlaw hiding out in a hospital, posing as a doctor, using a stolen white coat and a stethoscope to scam cafeteria food and a place to sleep.

Angela initially cooperated with law enforcement, and after Jeremy texted her, he narrowly escaped arrest. Finally he asked her for a clandestine rendezvous, so he could explain the truth. The young woman agreed—both reluctantly and excitedly. They met in a park, Jeremy watching her arrival to make sure it wasn't a trap. When she spotted him, Angela saw that Jeremy was wearing hospital scrubs. She knew he wasn't a doctor, she said with a laugh. She could feel herself being drawn into his world. When he spoke, his Irish accent was gone—he sounded like a midwesterner.

He unloaded the burden of his past, or at least the version that he claimed to be his life story. His real name, he said, was Jeremy Keenan, and he was 35 not 24. He hadn't gone to MIT. He'd been in prison, but he'd walked away from a work-release program. He told her about an ex-wife and the young daughter who'd died of cancer; he hinted about surreptitious military missions overseas, a complicated weave of intrigue and tragedy and adventure. It was the tale of a broken and neurotic outlaw on the run—and it was irresistible to the lonely and directionless 19-year-old.

“I knew I was in trouble, because I still had feelings for him,” Angela said. “My body was saying, ‘Danger, danger.’ Alarm bells were going off. But I was still so interested. I wanted to know what the secret was. It was very dramatic and dangerous and attractive.”

But Angela couldn't make the leap—not yet. Concerned for her safety, her father confiscated her car keys, but she set up a secret e-mail address to communicate with Jeremy, who was now staying at a five-star hotel in Indianapolis. Angela said that when she asked how he could afford such accommodations, Jeremy explained that of course he wasn't paying for the room, but he wasn't actually stealing from anyone; the only victims were credit card companies and large corporations. “It was kind of a turn-on,” Angela said. “I'm not a huge fan of capitalism, anyway. Jeremy was using the system, instead of the system using him.”

Jeremy told Angela that he was going to leave Indiana and live on the lam and he wanted her to come along—to be Bonnie to his Clyde. He told her he would wait for her in the nearby town of West Lafayette if she chose to run away—if she dared to run away—with him. He was offering the excitement of a new life, a chance to see the world. She packed a duffel bag with clothes, a Tibetan singing bowl, and a belly-dancing scarf. She scribbled out a note to her father: I'm sorry I have to do this. I can't handle this level of control and I feel misunderstood.

Now imagining herself a fellow fugitive, Angela called Jeremy.

“It's done,” she said.

“Turn off your phone and stay off the interstate,” Jeremy instructed her, saying that the law would be looking for her.

When she got to West Lafayette, meeting Jeremy at another scammed hotel room, she discovered more about him.

“You should know I've got a gun,” Jeremy said, opening the bedside drawer to reveal a Walther pistol.

“What the fuck!” Angela screamed. “Why? Where did you get that?”

“Trust me,” Jeremy said. “I feel safer with it.”

Angela felt panicked by her simultaneous attraction to Jeremy and her fear of learning too much about him. As she lay in bed that night, a scary sense of intimacy wound itself around her thoughts. “We had sex,” Angela said. “It was tender, not BDSM. I knew that something here was big. It was the first night of this chapter of my life.”

Jeremy Wilson wanted Angela Stamm to be Bonnie to his Clyde, so they ran away for six wild months together. Courtesy of Angela Stamm.

I first encountered Jeremy seven years later, in the winter of 2016. He'd been arrested and was sitting in a jail cell in New York City when we began what became a three-year correspondence—an intriguing and in-depth snail-mail relationship that coincided with Jeremy's ongoing gauntlet through the justice system.

What he wanted me to know, first and foremost, was that he wasn't just another scammer and criminal. He was remarkable, he said, and his adventures and exploits—however legally murky or factually dubious—had been fittingly grand.

When he was arrested in New York, Jeremy had been calling himself Jeremiah Asimov-Beckingham—and claiming that he was from the United Kingdom and possessed two Ph.D.'s and a litany of military decorations, earned as a Special Forces soldier in Afghanistan. Under this identity, Jeremy had stolen a BMW in Massachusetts and racked up charges on a fraudulent credit card. Cops located the car using its GPS system and lured the unsuspecting “Beckingham” into a precinct house in Chelsea by telling him that the vehicle had been impounded after being damaged in a police shoot-out. The ruse worked, and Jeremy turned up to collect the car at the police station—wearing a Wounded Warrior cap—where he was charged with fraud.

When the authorities ran his fingerprints, they discovered his name was Jeremy Wilson and he had a decades-long criminal history. Jeremy disputed none of his crimes. In fact, he offered a voluminous confession of his recent adventures, kiting checks worth $70,000 and purloining the BMW. There was only one thing Jeremy contested. He said his last name wasn't Wilson; rather, it was Keenan—and he claimed he was guilty of far more than the cops could imagine.

“Who the hell are you?” the cop asked, staring at Jeremy's rap sheet. “That, sir, is an excellent question,” he replied.

Jeremy told me the same story. He said his father was Brian Keenan, a notorious prisoner and a leader of the Provisional Irish Republican Army during the Troubles in Northern Ireland. He confessed to me that he'd been involved in multiple murders and had roamed the earth for years as a trained assassin—“hound” was the term he used—participating in terror attacks and facing combat in war zones in the Balkans and Africa as a kind of real-life Jason Bourne.

In our letters, he detailed his participation in heinous crimes, but he could offer no proof, only hundreds of pages of meandering narration in tidy, small handwriting, mostly in all capital letters, with asterisked asides, thought bubbles, and ornate illustrations of birds of prey or dragons.

It was evident that Jeremy was smart and articulate, an autodidact who, in our letters, digressed into long dissertations on scientific and existential questions. On countless phone calls and during a jailhouse meeting we shared, he was much the same. In person, he was tall and thin, with a shaved head, his body covered in prison-house tattoos. He possessed a quiet, thoughtful manner that seemed out of place in the cacophony of the Brooklyn Detention Complex; in another life, he might have been the MIT graduate student he so wished he had become. He described himself as possessing a genius-level IQ, and he displayed an amazing command of arcane U.K. terror events from the '90s, bombings and killings that had absolutely no verifiable connection to Jeremy other than his tales—but that were so obscure that his detailed knowledge seemed inexplicable.

According to the official records, Jeremy Wilson was a kid from Speedway, Indiana, the son of a teenager named Patricia Clark and her husband, Lonnie Wilson. Jeremy described the dysfunction of his childhood in Indiana, with his bohemian mother divorcing his father and remarrying a man Jeremy loathed, estrangement from this stepfather leading him to become a teenage runaway. It was the tale of a middle-class kid stealing his grandfather's car and disappearing into the maw of straight-edge street punks and low-level cons.

But Jeremy said there was a crucial aspect of his life never captured in official records: his secret origin. He told me he'd actually been born in the United Kingdom in 1973 and smuggled into America, where a fake Cesarean birth was staged to hide the truth of his provenance. He said his mother had traveled to Northern Ireland in the early '70s, had a one-night stand with the charismatic Irish rebel Brian Keenan, and he was the product of that tryst. This paternity claim explained his whole improbable life, he insisted: He was the son of a violent Irish rebel, not just another American con man, even if he had no way to prove it.

There were constant reminders of Jeremy's impulse to commit fraud, like the letter of recommendation from the fake professor, or the army uniform he'd started to wear.

When his fraud case went to trial in New York, in March of 2017, the issue of Jeremy's supposed true identity was deemed immaterial and he was essentially forbidden from delving into it or his criminal past. I was the sole spectator in the courtroom. The evidence against him, including a videotaped confession he'd given to police, was overwhelming.

Jeremy fidgeted as the jury watched the video, grainy footage of him in an interrogation room wearing a Harvard hoodie and describing how he'd adopted the identity of an invented Englishman named Beckingham. This was his most recent “legend,” he told the police, referring to the many alter egos he had created. “People don't assume you're fucking with them,” Jeremy said on the video, as jurors stole glances in his direction.

Jeremy was promptly found guilty of multiple counts of fraud. Prior to his sentencing, his defense attorney commissioned a psychiatric report that noted that Jeremy didn't exhibit the symptoms of psychosis or delusional thinking, even if his accounts of his “dual life” were improbable. “As evidenced by his myriad identities, Mr. Wilson does not have a consistent sense of self,” the psychiatric report concluded. “He becomes whoever people want him to be.”

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Jeremy told me the stories he'd told the psychiatrist, sprawling tales that swirled like Walter Mitty fantasies. He knew how crazy it all sounded. In the '90s alone, Jeremy claimed to have been involved in terror bombings in London, protested against the World Trade Organization in Seattle, led counter-sniper operations in the Balkans, and traded arms and blood diamonds in Africa. While Jeremy's circuitous tales of international derring-do proved impossible to verify, evidence of his more quotidian, more personal—and in many ways more intriguing—adventures could be reported and fact-checked.

Angela Stamm, his runaway partner for six months in 2009, had been Jeremy's one great love, he told me, even though they were now estranged. When I tracked her down, she was working as a manicurist in Indiana, a witty and charming young woman who was able to laugh at her experiences with Jeremy, even as she spoke of that time with a mixture of disbelief and amazement.

Angela told me that the day after she ran away from home to meet Jeremy, the pair took a bus to Chicago. Jeremy talked about his feats as a soldier and a global adventurer. He didn't tell her his elaborate backstory all at once, or in any coherent way. Angela said she wanted to trust him, and believe him, but it was a struggle. Her father had been in the military, and she knew that soldiers who'd really been in combat rarely talked about their experiences, and certainly not in the grandiose manner affected by Jeremy. She'd had her doubts, but she was undeterred.

“I didn't believe him from the start,” Angela told me. “I didn't want to deny him his story, but I was personally skeptical. I asked leading questions and he would dodge them. He contradicted himself. The timing didn't work. I thought he was trying to impress me, and make me feel sorry for him—to feel sympathy.”

After they'd arrived in Chicago in 2009, Jeremy's Irish brogue returned, to Angela's surprise. He set about inventing another new identity, as Finn Jeremiah O'Neill. At a Kinko's, he created an official-looking document with a corporate letterhead copied from the Internet. Jeremy printed the letter, faxed it, and then walked with Angela to a nearby luxury hotel. He instructed her to wait outside. Minutes later he emerged with a room key, to her amazement.

“For a stay of less than 24 hours and with no room-service charges, you fax a corporate authorization to the hotel to bill the room to the company,” Jeremy told me, explaining his technique for scamming hotel rooms for free. “Make a reservation and show up late, after 5 p.m. When it comes to turning over your credit card, you say they should already have a credit card authorization faxed to them. They find it and generally check you in. About two hours later, you'll get a call in the room saying that the card number won't let us make charges—can you give us another card? To which you reply, ‘Actually, no, hence the fax. I'm sure it's easily fixed, but my office is closed. Can this wait until morning?’ They say, ‘Oh, of course, we have you staying with us for three nights.’ Then you leave at 7 a.m. the next morning, after raiding the continental breakfast. You get a full belly, hot shower, and comfy bed, and all you ‘stole’ was a room that was likely empty, anyway.”

To find a more sustainable form of shelter, Angela and Jeremy searched the website Couchsurfing.com for someone willing to take them in for free. While riding the train to meet a potential host, Jeremy gave Angela the story he wanted her to follow—now always speaking in his fake Irish accent.

Jeremy said his name would be Finn. He was born in Belfast, and he was an Army Ranger with immigration troubles, trying to get a passport. “We're a young couple who need help because of a bad situation,” Jeremy said.

The hosts were a couple in their 20s living in a loft in Wicker Park, and they seemed tickled by Jeremy's Irish accent and sweet disposition. Jeremy insisted on cooking portobello-mushroom burgers for everyone, generosity to their hosts he would always insist on when they couch surfed. To maintain their ruse, Angela said, she referred to him always as Finn, never Jeremy, even when they were alone, lest she slip up or be overheard.

Insinuating himself with the Irish expat community in Chicago, offering hints of his involvement in the Troubles and risking his phony accent with real Irish people, Jeremy got a job as a bouncer at a pub. He and Angela shared an interest in anarchy; they both believed in polyamory and wanted an open relationship, but finding boundaries wasn't easy. At a Couchsurfing.com party they attended, with young people from all over the world, Angela met a pretty blonde from Germany and she started flirting with her, to Jeremy's delight. Tipsy, the German woman came home with them, and the threesome disappeared into the bedroom together. Angela worried that she was crossing all kinds of lines, but she was unable to stop herself.

“It was like living in a dream,” Angela recalled. “I felt disconnected from the reality of the situation. It was a weird feeling. I could call 911 any time, or just talk to a cop, and I often wanted to, but I felt guilty. I was trapped in the lie. I was under his spell.”

Sitting on the couch one afternoon, the two began talking about their future, imagining living above a pub in Ireland someday. Jeremy asked Angela to marry him; he was speaking in his concocted Irish accent. She didn't say yes—but she didn't say no.

Jeremy's constant paranoia as a fugitive seemed to be confirmed when, on the street one day, a fellow former inmate from Indiana recognized him and called out his name—“Jeremy, Jeremy.” He recoiled in horror, afraid the ex-con could report him to the authorities and now certain that Chicago was too close to Indiana. Then a former boyfriend of Angela's was able to track Jeremy's identity as Finn online, and the ex messaged her on Facebook. When Angela spoke to Jeremy about this, she witnessed a new side of him as he announced in a blind panic that they had to leave town. Jeremy suggested Colorado or Montana. “We'll find a place that sings to us,” he said.

Jeremy left the apartment in the morning, returning within a couple of hours driving a blue Kia hatchback rental he'd obtained under false pretenses.

“Is this stealing a car?” Angela asked as they drove away from Chicago.

“We'll drop it off when we get where we're going,” Jeremy replied.

“I don't want to know specifics,” she said.

This was the bargain they were making with each other: Each believed they were protecting the other, as they raced west in a stolen vehicle, caught up in a folie à deux. After getting pulled over in Wisconsin, they were convinced they were going to be caught, but Jeremy's fraudulent license fooled the cop. Crossing through the Badlands of the Dakotas, Jeremy introduced yet another identity he was now going to inhabit.

“So I'm going to go by Angus now,” he said, switching from his Irish accent to a Scottish brogue. The new accent was subtler than his singsong Irish, but the transformation caught Angela by surprise and she burst out laughing.

“Don't you want to go by Sean Connery?” she asked, comically imitating the accent of the famous Scotsman.

There seemed to be a glimmer of humorous self-awareness in his eye—like he knew that they were playing an elaborate game. But he persisted with his fresh alter ego, building a new biography. Instead of being an Irish soldier, he told Angela, he was now a Scotsman who'd served in the American Special Forces. His full name was Angus “Jocko” Ferguson.

Angus had the same personality and interests and tastes as Finn (and Jeremy), but he narrated an ornate tale of the Scotsman's picaresque adventures to Angela—like the wars he'd fought in, always casting himself as both a decorated hero and a wounded and vulnerable warrior. Now in the Rockies, Angela developed a severe case of vertigo, as if dizzied by the mounting frauds and lies.

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In early August they pulled into Missoula, Montana, a quiet college town nestled on the banks of the Clark Fork River and comfortingly surrounded by mountains—the kind of remote settlement where they might be able to hide out for the long term.

Couchsurfing.com yielded a place to stay, so Jeremy and Angela introduced themselves to a man named Reid Reimers and his roommate, both active members of the local amateur-theater scene. Jeremy told them that he'd studied theater in Scotland, with an emphasis on Shakespeare, and he was keen to participate in their forthcoming cabaret night. Charmed by Jeremy's tales of the stage, which blended, improbably, with whispers about secret military operations he'd been involved in, the hosts seemed to enjoy their guests, upgrading them from the couch to a bedroom in the house.

As they settled in, Jeremy decided that Angela needed a new identity as well: She could be located online by her surname, and she needed to hide to protect him. He suggested one of the Spanish words for “deer,” to match her shoulder tattoo—venado. She liked the sound of it, so he set about obtaining fake IDs for Angela Venado, copying and pasting letterhead from Indiana court records to provide a Social Security number—just as he'd done for his Finn identity.

With Angela now bedridden with dizziness, Jeremy took to disappearing for hours at a time, returning with a duffel bag filled with military uniforms, boots, and armored vests, claiming he was issued them by the U.S. military when he said he enlisted in the Reserves. He talked about going on military exercises and fast-roping from helicopters as part of the training he was undertaking. When he showed up with a slew of household goods—including a computer, a bed, and a flat-screen TV—he told Angela that he'd “hacked” into Walmart's computers to steal the items.

“Funny things happen,” he told Angela. “Just trust me.”

To check her e-mail, Angela would secretly log on to a laptop. She told me she received an e-mail from her father, explaining that he was going to cancel the credit card he'd given her because of large charges made at a Walmart in Montana. Angela wrote back, asking for proof of the bogus charges, and her father sent an image of a statement showing Jeremy's purchases.

“Jeremy didn't hack anything,” Angela told me. “He had no computer know-how. He wasn't good with computers or the Internet. He'd been in prison most of his life.”

Angela confronted Jeremy, but he said someone else must have stolen the card. It was his pattern as he continued gaslighting her. “Your lack of trust is going to ruin us,” he said. Oddly, Jeremy's accent disappeared during the argument.

Over time, Jeremy hosted the amateur cabaret show, and he participated in a local production of The Rocky Horror Show. It seemed to Angela that Jeremy loved acting—indeed, he was acting all the time. Life in Missoula was pleasant in many ways, but there didn't seem to be any endgame in mind, and there were constant reminders of Jeremy's impulse to commit fraud, like the letter of recommendation he forged from a fake professor, or the veteran's health-benefit card he finagled, or the army uniform he started to wear, a costume that changed his affect to crisp militarism—at odds with his anarchist politics.

“You can turn me in anytime,” Jeremy frequently told Angela, a dare that she felt was a way of lording his vulnerability over her.

Finally, needing money because Jeremy hadn't found work, Angela took a job with an environmental group. Part of her duties required collecting petition signatures. When she had to travel to a nearby town for a Shakespeare festival one weekend, Jeremy came along, dressed in his army garb. Once there, he grew upset when he sensed Angela's interest drifting toward a young and handsome motorcycle-riding photographer. Jeremy angrily confronted her, the military uniform he was wearing adding menace to the scene. He sat close to her on a bench and spoke in a loud voice, in a way that seemed to threaten violence.

“Get away from me,” Angela said.

“Why?” he asked.

“You're scaring me.”

“You belong to me,” he hissed, attempting to assert himself.

Driving back to Missoula the next day, they passed a sign for Malmstrom Air Force Base. Still wearing his uniform, Jeremy took the moment as a chance to impress Angela by using his fake veteran ID. Angela had grown up on military bases and knew they could get exotic foods that weren't available in town at the commissary; she had ID showing that she was the daughter of a former member of the military, so she qualified for entrance. As fate would have it, the base was on a high-alert exercise, so the guard at the gate turned them away. They could have driven off, but Jeremy was in character and he was self-righteously outraged as well as deluded that his Special Forces uniform was more than a mere costume.

“Arrogance being what it is, I instead drove over to the visitors' center and laid some command presence down,” Jeremy recalled.

A guard ran the Illinois license plate of their car and discovered it was stolen. They were ordered to pull into a parking lot, and a sense of doom descended on the pair of runaways. Moments later, the car was surrounded by armed men ordering them to lie facedown on the ground. The two were taken to separate interrogation rooms. Jeremy maintained his indignant-officer routine and Scottish identity as Angus Ferguson while Angela sobbed uncontrollably as she sat handcuffed to a chair.

“How well do you know Angus?” a female officer asked Angela.

She didn't tell them that Angus wasn't his real name, nor did they ask.

“It's not my car,” Angela said. “I've only known him for a few months.”

Having been released by the police and dropped in a Walmart parking lot hours from Missoula later that night, Angela called her hosts, who came to pick her up, a kindness she told me she regretted taking advantage of. She avoided questions about what had happened at the base, and together they managed to raise bail for Jeremy. As they left the sheriff's office, a guard nodded at Jeremy's military uniform and indicated that one of the adornments was upside down.

In the car, Jeremy told Reid that he was part of a covert military operation and he'd been flagged by a rogue branch of the army. “They're turning against me,” he said, his bizarre tale leading to an uneasy silence in the vehicle.

Jeremy seemed to realize that he had to leave immediately, before the authorities ran his prints and discovered that he was a fugitive. He asked Angela to come along, but she refused. In the middle of the night, Jeremy left in a taxi.

“Don't tell me where you're going,” Angela said.

Hours later the police descended on the house.

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Fleeing, Jeremy told me he drove farther west in another stolen rental car, this time a blue Mustang, first to Spokane and then Portland before arriving in San Francisco, crossing the Golden Gate Bridge into the city at two in the morning. He checked into another fancy hotel, employing his usual scam to take an executive suite. Untethered from the fear of implicating Angela in major financial fraud, he'd decided he was now going to live large on the lam.

“I didn't really have a plan at the time or know how long I'd need the hotel room,” Jeremy told me.

Jeremy and Angela spoke by Skype often, discussing whether he should turn himself in. At one point, he admitted to using her father's credit card at the Walmart in Missoula—and she stopped communicating with him, at least for a while. Unabashed in his fraud, he was no longer concerned about housing or food. He rented a small apartment and began DJ'ing anarchist events and attending fetish nights.

Angela had moved to Atlanta, to live with her mother, but she and Jeremy inevitably were back in touch. In November, he flew her to San Francisco. When he picked her up at the airport in the Mustang, she assumed it was stolen. After they got to his apartment that night, she said they needed to break things off.

“I don't love you anymore,” she said.

“I don't believe you,” he replied in his midwestern accent.

Jeremy was desperate to convince her that he was going to build a new life, but it was no use. “A fantasy was shattered,” Angela recalled, saying she flew home the next day.

Then Jeremy had an idea. A serious problem he faced was that he had no practical vocational skills with which to get a decent job, a reality that—to his mind, anyway—continually forced him into a life of crime. What if he could get legitimate work, maybe even a career? Would that win Angela back? One day he was reading a music magazine when he came across an article that mentioned that the British Broadcasting Corporation had begun using more freelance journalists.

“That got me thinking,” Jeremy told me. “Could I do that?”

Before he approached the BBC, he decided to see if he'd enjoy the work and if he was any good at it. The band the Melvins was playing a show in town, so Jeremy bought a video camera and persuaded a couple of acquaintances to pose as his crew. At the venue, Jeremy introduced himself as Angus Ferguson, a correspondent from MuchMusic, then Canada's version of MTV, and he wound up hitting it off with the band, he told me. The prank was a blast, Jeremy decided, and he figured that journalism could be a way to make some legitimate money and perhaps even create a new and durable identity.

Days later, he drove down to L.A. in search of the BBC's office in Santa Monica. In his Scottish brogue, he introduced himself to a reporter and claimed he'd been hired as a freelancer by the New York office. The man reluctantly let Jeremy use a desk, where he quickly generated a memo from New York vouching for one Angus Ferguson. Now Jeremy-as-Angus was able to pick his own assignments, interviewing music groups like the Flaming Lips and politicians like then San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom; he claimed that he edited and submitted his filmed interviews of Taylor Swift and the Black Eyed Peas and was twice paid, though he had no idea if the pieces ever aired or if there was any real proof of these deeds. He told me the BBC liked his irreverent and light-handed style of reportage; no evidence of these pieces can be found.

One encounter that can be confirmed was his brush with one of Angela's favorite bands, the Decemberists, whom Jeremy arranged to interview—hoping that it might help him persuade her to come to California again. While mingling with the group before a concert, Jeremy got two members of the band to pose with him for a photo while holding a piece of paper that read: “We Wub Woo Angela!”

Achieving some measure of success as a fake journalist, Jeremy claimed that he started submitting work to other outlets—ITV, Sky, CBC, MTV, MuchMusic—always unaware if any of the pieces were broadcast and, in truth, indifferent to the outcome. Six months earlier, he'd been a homeless American fugitive in Indiana, and now he was a Scottish entertainment correspondent in Hollywood and having a great time.

Using his fake identity, Jeremy rented an apartment in Marina del Rey, near the beach, in L.A., taking on an aspiring actress as a roommate. He set about building a new life. Connecting with the fetish scene, he was once again cast, this time as Rocky, in a production of the The Rocky Horror Show that played to a packed house. He was trying to amass money to move overseas, to New Zealand perhaps, using a fake passport, where he could disappear into the ether forever—and persuade Angela to join him. He had a string of sexual encounters, many through swinger websites. He took a woman with him to Vegas to gamble, telling her on the way that he might be suddenly called away on duty because he was with the Special Forces, as the tattoo on his arm indicated; in the middle of the trip, the woman told me, he vanished in his uniform.

“So what was the plan, other than to make Angela return in a fit of jealousy?” Jeremy asked me rhetorically. “I was going to network my way into a real job in the industry, and so cement my identity as Angus the Scotsman into the public eye that no one could possibly believe I was anyone else. I wanted public perception to subsume reality. Insanity? Well, are the Kardashians actually the new American royalty? L.A. is a crazy town. Reality isn't the same in that 20-mile zone. I just needed one more bet to come through. I needed a new pair of identities for Angela and I.

“Somehow, through some flux distortion in the time-space continuum, I had become cool,” he continued. “But the universe was about to slap me in the face.”

The day after Christmas 2009, Angela arrived in L.A. for a weeklong visit, teasing Jeremy for still not getting rid of the stolen blue Mustang. People ask fewer questions if you drive a nice car, he explained to her. She discovered that he'd been dating a series of women, and it seemed to her that none of them were aware they were having sex with an ex-con fugitive—they all thought he was a Scottish journalist. Preying on lonely and vulnerable women was one skill Jeremy had perfected. The deception upset Angela, particularly as it related to him injecting the “poison” of his lies into his emotional and sexual connections—but she still engaged in threesomes with him, and they went to Burner parties together. “It was dangerous and exciting,” she recalled, “a sexy nightmare.”

Flogging Molly was an Irish-American rebel-punk outfit that Jeremy particularly liked, and so he arranged to cover their gig in Vegas early in the New Year, taking a cameraman along with Angela. Jeremy drank Guinness and conducted phony interviews, with the lead singer drunkenly declaring that Jocko Ferguson and Angela had been brought together by fate.

The con man was on top of the world—until his phone buzzed. It was a text from the aspiring actress who'd been staying at his apartment in L.A. Apparently, Angela had lost her purse at a party and a friend had dropped it off with the concierge at Jeremy's building. Collecting the bag, the roommate looked inside, only to discover Angela's fake driver's license in the name Venado, along with her real license from Indiana with the surname Stamm. The roommate then searched Jeremy's room, finding his Walther and what he called his “Jason Bourne” stash of false IDs.

“Who are you?” the text asked.

Jeremy called and tried to talk her out of alerting the authorities. He told Angela not to panic. Trying to avoid arrest, Jeremy phoned the police in L.A. and told them his roommate was stalking him because of his BBC credentials and connections with celebrities. Returning to L.A., the noose tightening, he took Angela to the airport and put her on a plane back to Atlanta. “Sorry this has to end this way,” he said to her as they parted. “I hope to see you again.” He said this all in his Scottish accent.

Planning for flight himself, he set about preparing to sell the multiple computers and extensive comic-book collection he'd accumulated. Then he went down to his car—only to find it missing. (Unbeknownst to Jeremy at the time, the ruse that followed would be repeated five years later, by cops in New York City.)

Jeremy went to the towing company to retrieve the vehicle and was startled, he said, by the click of two guns being put against the back of his head. Jeremy was accused of stealing the identity and car of the BBC journalist Angus “Jocko” Ferguson, as if there really were such a person. He was then fingerprinted and the miasma of his many criminal pasts began to take shape.

“Who the hell are you?” a sergeant asked, staring at Jeremy's rap sheet.

“That, sir, is an excellent question,” he replied.

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Jeremy's younger half sister, Mary Rybak, keeps a small repository she calls Jeremy's Box. It represents the last physical vestiges of her brother's life in Indiana. The contents included poetry their mother had written, as well as samples of her writing from college. There were also redacted reports from the time of Jeremy's arrest in 2010, after his six-month spree with Angela. “He is by all accounts just a very peculiar and thorough impostor,” a forensic report concluded. “Your case but I'd run him through Foggy Bottom [State] or Langley [CIA] to be sure.”

Jeremy ultimately pleaded guilty to four counts and was given an 81-month federal sentence for the frauds he perpetrated in 2009, during his six months running with Angela (she was never indicted for a crime). Over the subsequent years spent in prison, Jeremy fell out of touch with Angela and with his half sister, due in large part to his insistence that he's the son of an Irish Republican, not a lost soul from a broken family in Indiana.

Jeremy told me he was trapped, with little formal education, a long criminal history, unable to get any work on the outside save for the most menial jobs. He was smart, funny, charming, in the way of a confidence man, and he was aware of how crazy his stories sounded—but he couldn't let them go.

“I have no family,” he wrote. “No friends. No support. No resources. I am homeless. I have no ID. I can't access social services, without committing perjury or fraud. No one believes me.”

After he was convicted at his trial in 2017, Jeremy was sentenced to 7 to 14 years in New York. He was then extradited to Massachusetts to face charges for the crimes he'd allegedly committed in that state. In Massachusetts, he was charged as a habitual offender, which would mean a mandatory minimum of ten years, to be served after his term in New York. Even when those terms were done, Jeremy would potentially also have to serve out his remaining federal time for violating his supervised release.

Angela and Mary told me that they're convinced that Jeremy no longer knows the truth about himself, a view he described as “prescient”; he's too caught up in the intricate web of deception that he'd woven. Ensnared in an Alice in Wonderland conundrum—“Who in the world am I?”—Jeremy wrote to me from prison most recently to say he was now certain that this article could be decisive in determining his fate. His reasoning was paradoxical: If I portrayed him as an incorrigible impostor, he felt sure he would be treated ever more harshly by prosecutors, but if I believed him to be a killer and terrorist operative for the IRA, well, then perhaps he could, in turn, prompt a law-enforcement investigation and atone for his many sins.

Jeremy's knuckles bear the tattooed Gaelic words mair fior, which translates to “stay true”—but to whom, or to what? After all our letters and conversations over three years, I hope he finds a way to solve the mystery of his identity, but it occurred to me that the ultimate victim of his decades of lies might well be the con man himself; Jeremy's final mark was Jeremy. As of the time of this writing, no one knows who Jeremy truly is—not even Jeremy.

“I want to be who I am,” he wrote to me. “The son of Brian and Patricia. Anything else is a dream.”

Guy Lawson is the author of ‘War Dogs,’ the book upon which the film of the same name was based.

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This post originally appeared on GQ and was published June 12, 2019. This article is republished here with permission.

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