Obsessed with 2019’s breakout fraudsters Anna Delvey and Dirty John? Here are five more must-know cultural binges.
Stories of scammers – pathological liars or devious fraudsters who con people into handing over their money and/or their hearts – are currently fuelling a new wave of true crime entertainment. It’s not hard to understand why: web-like tales of double lives, false identities and dangerous charm are prime fodder for podcasts, books, TV series and films.
In the last 18 months, the story of John Meehan – a charming doctor who hid his terrifying past from his wealthy wife – has spawned a podcast, Netflix series and documentary (all called Dirty John). The downfall of Elizabeth Holmes, who convinced the world that she had revolutionised blood testing before being exposed as a fraud, has inspired a podcast (The Dropout), a book (Bad Blood by John Carreyrou), a HBO documentary (The Inventor) and an upcoming feature film starring Jennifer Lawrence. And no doubt we’ll soon be inundated with a slew of binge-able content about Anna Sorokin – the woman better known as Anna Delvey, the fake socialite who was recently found guilty of theft and grand larceny.
Until then, however, here are five equally tantalising and sordid tales of swindlers, tricksters and liars for you to get your teeth into.
The Professor & The Parson by Adam Sisman
Why would anyone create a false identity and lie their way through life? For money, fame, riches, love? In the case of ‘Robert Peters’, it was to find adulation in the cloistered worlds of academia and the Anglican church.
In this astonishing tale of eight marriages, three prison sentences, an FBI investigation and a bizarre (and awful) appearance on Mastermind, the shadowy, defrocked Peters manages to pop up officiating weddings, speaking at historical congresses in Vienna (turning green when he realises he’s been spotted) and leaving a trail of bounced cheques, abandoned wives and job sackings in his wake.
Historian Hugh Trevor-Roper put together a dossier on Peters, which was discovered by writer Adam Sisman after Trevor-Roper’s death. That file served as the basis for The Professor & The Parson, Sisman’s fascinating, eye-opening account of how one man spent half a century creating a life that would never survive the internet age. Possibly…
Based on the genius 1988 film Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, The Hustle stars Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson. They star as chalk-and-cheese con artists (Hathaway with questionable Brit accent and lovely Gucci blazers; Wilson airing her inimitable homespun slapstick) who join forces to target a Zuckerberg-esque mark.
Directed by The Thick Of It’s Chris Addison, it’s all a bit big, broad and daft – but there are some seriously funny visual gags to make it worth your time come burger-and-movie night.
In Seventies Alabama, black preacher Reverend Willie Maxwell found himself under suspicion of murder after three of his relatives and two of his ex-wives died in murky circumstances.
Acquitted thanks to his white lawyer, the reverend was then shot dead in front of 300 witnesses. His killer’s subsequent trial caught the attention of To Kill A Mockingbird author Harper Lee, who’d made her name writing about justice and race in the South. This astounding book by Casey Cep explores what happened next.
Who The Hell Is Hamish?
Hello, little podcast delight. Courtesy of The Australian, the newspaper that brought us hit podcast The Teacher’s Pet, this series explores the life and swindles of Hamish Watson – a laidback surf dude who was imprisoned earlier this year for stealing $7m via dubious investment funds across three continents.
Told from the perspectives of the unlucky people who were ensnared by Watson’s charm and destruction, this is a fascinating insight into a man who lied and lied only to fall foul of his hobby: marathon running.
Mommy Dead and Dearest
The Act is a much-lauded US true-crime drama that’s begging for a UK release date. It tells the ‘it actually happened’ tale of Dee Dee Blanchard (Patricia Arquette), who convinced the world that her daughter Gypsy Rose was paraplegic, intellectually disabled and a cancer survivor. But Gypsy Rose was none of those things – as she came to discover for herself.
While we wait for The Act to drop on these shores, watch Mommy Dead and Dearest, the jaw-dropping documentary the series was based on. Un-bel-ieve-able.
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Additional words: Naomi Joseph
Main image: HBO
Francesca Brown is books editor for Stylist magazine and Stylist Loves; she also compiles the Style List on a weekly basis. She is a self-confessed HBO abuser and has a wide selection of grey sweatshirts. Honestly, you just can’t have enough. @franabouttown