Hoaxes From Space Part I: Bob Lazar

Gotta have his hustle tight.

The Pimp Daddy of Ufology

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the first public appearance of Bob Lazar.
If you’re at all interested in UFOs, you’ve probably seen video clips of Lazar chatting calmly and matter-of-factly about his experiences with extraterrestrial spaceships warehoused in the Nevada desert. In his Dan Dreiberg glasses and cheap shirts, he gives the impression of being an extra on the set of Office Space. But don’t be fooled – he’s one of the most significant figures in the entire history of ufology. His revelations about a top-secret test site close to Area 51 firmly established Dreamland as ground zero for UFO research, alien conspiracy theories, and profoundly retarded TV shows.

What you may not realize is that there are two Bob Lazars.

The first Bob Lazar was born in Florida in 1959, and was soon adopted by a successful businessman and his wife. He graduated from W. Tresper Clarke High School in Long Island. In the late ’70s the Lazar family relocated to Woodland Hills, California. Bob took some electronics courses at Pierce College in Los Angeles and worked at Fairchild Electronics. In 1980 he married the first of three wives, Carol, in Woodland Hills. Two years later the couple moved to Los Alamos, New Mexico, where Lazar established himself as a photo developer. In 1985 the couple invested heavily in a local brothel known as the Honeysuckle Ranch.

The other Bob Lazar was also born in Florida in 1959, adopted, and transplanted to California as a teen. But he somehow managed to gain entrance to MIT and Cal Tech, despite being in the bottom third of his graduating class. He acquired a Masters degree in electronic engineering from MIT while simultaneously living in the Southwest. He then earned a doctorate in physics from Cal Tech without attending a single class. While finishing university, he magically became a senior staff physicist at Los Alamos National Laboratory, designing components for nuclear weapons systems. Wow. This Bob Lazar has some serious science chops. He could kick the other Bob Lazar’s ass.

In 1982 the second Bob Lazar attended a lecture by Edward Teller at Los Alamos and struck up a conversation with him. Six years later, on a whim, he decided to send his resume to Teller. He was fed up with developing photos for a living. Nuclear physicists can do better than that.

Teller put in a good word for Lazar with someone from defense contractor EG&G. Which is rather odd, because they only met briefly that one time in ’82. But hey, scientists probably do inexplicable favours for each other all the time.
Lazar can’t recall the name of the EG&G employee who phoned him about the job, but that’s okay. Physicists have noggins so overstuffed with knowledge that they can’t be expected to remember anything so mundane. That’s probably why Edward Teller doesn’t remember ever meeting Bob Lazar, or recommending him for the most secret scientific project in the history of the world.
Initially, the people who interviewed Lazar told him was overqualified for the job. Later, they contacted him about another position. He began this job in December 1988.
Or maybe it was ’89. Whatever.

On his first day working for EG&G, Lazar met his immediate supervisor, Dennis Mariani, at McCarran airport. Together they flew to the Nellis Test Range. Both the infamous Area 51 and the mysterious Sector Four (S-4) are located in the northeast corner of Nellis. Area 51 is situated near Groom Lake, S-4 near Papoose Lake. Lazar often says Groom Lake when he means to say Papoose Lake, which is totally understandable. I’m sure Einstein couldn’t remember where he worked sometimes.
Near the airstrip Mariani and Lazar boarded a bus with blacked-out windows and took a 20- to 30-minute ride along an unpaved road to S-4. Lazar describes it as a sprawling facility with huge hangars built into the hillside and painted the same colour as the surrounding terrain.

Lazar assumed he would be working on a propulsion system for a new fighter jet. After all, this was the same place where basically all experimental aircraft had been tested: the Stealth fighter, the Vought V-173, the SR-71 Blackbird, the A-12, the U-2, Tacit Blue, the Avro Silverbug. Instead, he was placed in a briefing room and given over 120 documents to read. He was to be part of the Galileo Project, a secret program containing only 22 people. His security clearance was to be Majestic level (38 levels above his previous security clearance, Q, which is civilian Top Secret clearance).
Lazar learned he would be working for Naval Intelligence rather than EG&G. After gaining his security clearance he was put on call for work at S4 and summoned to fly out two to four times a month. Each time, he was driven to the site in a bus with blacked-out windows. His supervisors told him he would be working on an on-call basis until he was “brought up to speed”, then he could work more often. He always reported to S-4 in the late afternoon, allowing him to run his Vegas photo lab during the day. (He had moved to Vegas with his second wife, Tracey, in 1986. His first wife had committed suicide there two days after his wedding.)

Lazar was told he was replacing one of several Galileo Project members killed in a freak explosion. More on that later.

Throughout his employment with Naval Intelligence, agents from the Office of Federal Investigation would randomly drop by Bob’s house to snoop around. Majestic security clearance required him to waive all Constitutional rights and submit to phone surveillance. He was required to carry a concealed weapon, as there were fears that KGB agents would abduct one of the project members in retaliation for being booted out of the site.

So what was Lazar’s job? Essentially, he was charged with the task of reverse engineering the propulsion systems of extraterrestrial craft, at least nine of which were stored at S4. On his second or third visit to the site he was escorted into a hangar where one of the disks was housed. He didn’t think it was an alien spaceship at first, just some kind of experimental craft. Gradually, he realized it couldn’t possibly be of man-made origin.
He was permitted to examine only one of the saucers at close range, a sleek craft he called “the sport model”, and this was one that had been test-flown on several occasions before his arrival. It was also flown on Wednesday nights while Lazar was working at the facility.

The “sport model” was roughly 52 feet in diameter. Lazar witnessed one brief low-performance test conducted inside the hangar, during which the craft ascended thirty feet and hovered in almost complete silence.
The ship was made of some kind of brushed aluminum, seamless. Its hatch was an ingenious collapsible honeycomb made of a light, flexible material.
It had a gravity propulsion system with two settings: Delta (for lift-off and space flight) and Omacron (for earth flight, or any flight within a gravity field). It contained three large gravity amplifiers, pipes that emitted gravitational waves. The craft could operate on just one of these amplifiers (Omacron) or all three (Delta). Essentially, the ship created its own gravitational field and propelled as if continually rolling down a hill. This allowed high-speed maneuvering, defiance of inertia, and distortion of time and space. The power source was element 115. There were two levels on the ship, one containing the amplifiers and the other containing the crew seats and a reactor. The seats were tiny and the ceilings very low, a cramped space for the average human. According to stories Lazar heard, the saucer was very difficult to pilot.
He had an ominous feeling inside the craft. He didn’t know how the government acquired the saucers or where they originated, but he was told they came from a planet in the Zeta Reticuli star system.
The shapes of the other craft varied considerably (Jell-O mold, top hat, etc.).
In the briefing documents he was shown, Lazar saw a single photo of the head and chest of an alien entity that had been autopsied. It was a “typical Gray”, roughly three and a half to four feet tall. On one occasion, he glanced through the window of a door at S-4and glimpsed two technicians glancing down at something. He was later told this was an alien, but he didn’t know what to think. His friend John Lear told Jacques Vallee that he knew aliens existed and were working alongside U.S. scientists because Lazar had seen one of them, but Lazar played down the incident, essentially saying he saw nothing at all.
From briefing documents he learned that aliens had been tampering with humankind since we were “simian creatures”, and created modern man by genetically altering us at 63 stages of our evolution. Humans and aliens continued to secretly exchange information right up until 1979. In that year, according to information given to Lazar and others, an alien being housed in a government facility tried to prevent security personnel from entering a certain area. They were told that if they entered, the bullets in their guns would explode. A fight ensued, in which two aliens were allegedly killed and most (or all) of the scientists slaughtered. Later in this series, we’ll take a look at the sole survivor of this showdown.
Lazar learned that in May 1987, members of the Galileo Project examined a ship reactor by crudely slicing it in half. Later, when they attempted to run it, the reactor exploded and a few of them were killed in the blast. For some reason, it took over two years for these scientists to be replaced. And when Lazar was brought into the project, he wasn’t given carte blanche like the other scientists. His access to the saucers was severely restricted, and the only pieces of equipment provided to him were an oscilloscope and a digital voltmeter. In short, his hands were tied. He couldn’t do any actual work on the project even though he was officially a senior staff physicist.

Nonetheless, he was subjected to extensive testing at the lab infirmary. The doctor drew a large amount of his blood, had him drink a glassful of yellow liquid that smelled like pine, and hypnotized him several times. He was never given specific reasons why these procedures had to be done.

Lazar was getting annoyed. Since he knew the test flight schedules, he decided to bring some friends close enough to the facility to view one of the flights.
On March 22, 1989, Lazar took Vegas real estate appraiser Gene Huff to a spot about 5 miles from the test site to watch the craft in flight. On the following Wednesday night, he took Huff, his wife, and a friend named Jim Tagliani to the same spot. The craft glowed so brilliantly blue during flight that the spectators had to avert their eyes; the only thing brighter is the sun, Huff later wrote. On April 5th they returned to the same spot, but were caught by security. They were given stern warnings not to loiter and not to photograph in the area.

The following day, Lazar was debriefed at Indian Springs Air Force Base, with Dennis Mariani and several armed security guards in attendance. One of the guards held a sidearm to his head when he didn’t give satisfying answers to their questions. They also showed him transcripts of phone conversations between his wife and her flight instructor, indicating they were having an affair. This was supposedly a pretext for revoking Lazar’s security clearance – emotional instability.
At some later date, Mariani phoned Lazar and demanded he return to the Galileo Project. Lazar refused. Mariani threatened him, but backed off. The demand was not repeated. Instead, Mariani asked for a personal meeting. They arranged to meet at the Union Plaza casino in Vegas. When they spotted each other, however, Mariani simply sat down to play blackjack and completely ignored Lazar.

This is the interesting part. This is the part where Bob #1 and Bob #2 merge. Bob #2, the cool Bob, was forced by the U.S. government to live the life of Bob #1, the somewhat pathetic Bob who developed other people’s photos and filed for bankruptcy. You see, sometime after his Majestic security clearance was revoked, government agents meticulously scrubbed Lazar’s entire civilian background, turning him overnight into a “nonperson”. Not only did they destroy or conceal all his academic records, they also somehow got rid of all his diplomas, enrollment records and receipts, student loans (not listed when he filed for bankruptcy), thesis notes, and university paraphernalia (sweatshirts, pennants, class rings, etc.). Apparently, they even airbrushed him out of all class pictures and yearbook photos and eliminated or silenced every single professor, fellow student, dormmate, roomie, and college bud who had any contact with Lazar at MIT and Cal Tech.
He’s still trying to recover the documentation that the government took. In the meantime, he can be forgiven for forgetting certain details about his university years. After all, as he mentioned to Jacques Vallee in 1990, those hypnosis sessions might have interfered with his memory in some way. He even had difficulty recalling if he went to work at S-4 in ’88 or ’89. He mentioned to ufologist Stanton Friedman that one of his Cal Tech professors was named “Duxler”. Friedman located a William Duxler, but he had never taught at Cal Tech. He was a math and physics professor at Pierce College in L.A. Lazar says he was taking some courses there while still attending MIT, which makes perfect sense. Smart people like to learn as much as they possibly can, so they often enroll at rinky-dink community colleges and Ivy League universities on the opposite side of the continent simultaneously. They’re smart. They can do that.
Lazar’s intellectual modesty can account for the fact that instead of mentioning his advanced degrees from MIT and Cal Tech to Vegas authorities, he mentioned only a Bachelor of Science degree in Physics and Electronic Technology from a long-defunct California diploma mill known as Pacifica University.

After being rendered a nonperson, Lazar naturally feared for his life. Threats had been made against himself and his wife, and his rear tire had been shot out as he drove on the highway, so he carried an Uzi in his car for a while. That’s when his friends John Lear and George Knapp convinced him that the best way to safeguard his life was to go public with his information on TV. Knapp recorded an interview with him at Lear’s house and aired it on Channel 8 in December 1988. By all accounts, this was the pinnacle of Vegas broadcasting.
But no one knew the name “Bob Lazar” yet. That’s because Lazar appeared only in silhouette, using the name “Dennis”. I guess Knapp and Lear forget to mention that anonymously revealing his information couldn’t make him safer in any way.

A fellow employee was supposed to come forward, but never did. Nor was “Dennis Mariani” ever found.

Knapp checked into Lazar’s education and credentials, of course finding that he didn’t technically have any. But in June 1982, Terry England of the Los Alamos Monitor ran a story about one of the jet cars Lazar had developed. England referred to him as “a physicist at the Los Alamos Meson Physics Facility”. I think that’s sufficient evidence that Lazar is a scientist with advanced degrees. So let’s move on to the physical evidence that supports Lazar’s claims.

Lazar managed to sneak a small amount – about a pound – of element 115 out of S-4 by simply putting it in his pocket and walking away with it. As there were about 500 pounds of the stuff at the site, it wasn’t missed.
Unfortunately, after his clearance was revoked, someone broke into his home and reclaimed it. And since element 115 didn’t technically exist yet, its properties couldn’t be compared to Lazar’s descriptions of them. What a shame.

But wait. Russian and U.S. scientists synthesized element 115 at Livermore in 2004. Antigravity cars, here we come! Whooo!

Oh, that’s right. Element 115 proved to be highly unstable, decaying in less than a second. This discovery quashed the hopes of scientists like physicist Henry Harris, who in 1997 speculated that UFOs could be powered by 115 (see notes). And even though Lazar thinks it isn’t, it’s highly radioactive. That it was lying around for anyone to touch or steal, when Lazar was escorted absolutely everywhere (even to the john) by armed guards, is incredible.
Lazar isn’t buying any of this. He
still says the naturally-occurring element 115 is stable and that the U.S. must have attained its supply from an off-world source. I’m sure he’s right. If it didn’t exist on Earth in 1988-89, and it wasn’t lying around at a top-secret government facility, how else could he have stolen a chunk of it? It’s just common sense.

What about other evidence? If he could steal some element 115, Lazar could surely have pulled an Ellsberg and snagged some of those amazing briefing documents. In March of 1990 he told Jacques Vallee there were over 200 of them (80 more than there had been in his earlier accounts), and not one of them was marked with classification information. There was no document control system in place, no hint of the documents’ origins. Just text. Even if he was caught, he probably couldn’t have been prosecuted for stealing unclassified documents.
Well, I guess Lazar just forgot to grab one of them. Or maybe he didn’t have anywhere to conceal it. People wore awfully tight pants in the ’80s.

Then there’s the Los Alamos phone directory. As reported by George Knapp, a page from the Los Alamos National Lab phone book for 1982 contains Lazar’s name. This is concrete evidence that he really worked as a senior staff physicist there, right?
Except, as pointed out by ufologist Stanton Friedman, the directory includes not just employees of Los Alamos, but employees of the Department of Energy and an outside contractor, Kirk-Mayer. The designation “K/M” follows Lazar’s name, indicating he worked for Kirk-Mayer, not Los Alamos.
Lazar evidently worked at Los Alamos as a repair technician, not as a senior scientist.
According to Gene Huff, Kirk-Mayer and Los Alamos have confirmed that Lazar was issued an employee ID number known as a “Z number”. However, he also admits that anyone who works at any of the Los Alamos facilities is given a Z number, presumably even if they’re doing contract work. George Knapp learned that Los Alamos has no other record of Lazar’s employment there. Nor have any co-workers corroborated his presence, not even friends who worked at Los Alamos at the same time, including Joe Vaninetti and Joe’s roomate, a physicist named Melissa Cray or Crey.

But Lazar did produce a W-2 form from the Department of Naval Intelligence, showing that he was paid for work done in ’88. Never mind that he was paid less than $1000 for working on the most secret project in the history of the world. Scientists are woefully underpaid, you know.
Never mind, also, that Lazar’s Social Security number turned out to belong to a woman in New York. I’m sure there’s some reasonable explanation for that, and someday Lazar may even tell us what it is.

Though a polygraph test was inconclusive, a professional hypnotist offered his opinion that Lazar’s emotional responses to his remembered S-4 experiences were genuine.

Okay, forget physical evidence. Sincerity and believability should count for something when you’re evaluating UFO stories, right? And Lazar does not come across as your average UFO crank. He expresses little excitement about the saucers and their alien pilots, doesn’t know much about their origins, and admits that he was not privy to a lot of information. In a 2003 interview with Art Bell, he said he’s rather tired of talking about UFOs, because he worked near them for such a short time. He’s not dazzled by the potential energy applications of alien technology, either. He thinks antigravity would be an impractical energy source, and suspects the potential weapons applications are of far more interest to the government.
He spends very little time on UFO-related things these days. Since the ’70s, he has been developing jet cars that can travel 350 mph, as well as hydrogen power adapters for homes and vehicles. He and third wife Joy have moved to Sandia, New Mexico, and set up a scientific business called United Nuclear.
His biggest adventure since the early ’90s was a 2003 raid on his home business by agents of the Consumer Product Safety Commission. He was selling chemicals that can be used to make fireworks.

There’s also the fact that Lazar sounds like a scientist. He certainly seems to know a decent amount of scientifical-type lingo. At least, his non-scientist friends think so. Fellow physicists are more critical of him. In 1996 Physicist Dr. David L. Morgan wrote, “Mr. Lazar on many occasions demonstrates an obvious lack of understanding of current physical theories. On no occasion does he acknowledge that his scenario violates physical laws as we understand them, and on no occasion does he offer up any hints of new theories which would make his mechanism possible. Mr. Lazar has a propensity for re-defining scientific terms, and using scientific language in a confusing and careless way. For these reasons, I don’t feel that Lazar’s pseudo-scientific ramblings are really worthy of any kind of serious consideration.”
This is probably just professional jealousy. Maybe Dr. Morgan applied for cool flying saucer jobs and didn’t get them. He had to settle for being a plain old physics professor at the New School.

On Coast to Coast AM, John Lear declared he still believes Lazar “110%”. Former astronaut Edgar Mitchell has spoken with Lazar and thinks his experience was real, though he believes Lazar probably misinterpreted some of the technical data. It’s of little consequence that Mitchell also supports the theories of Hal Puthoff, which are incompatible with the UFO propulsion system Lazar described.

You can’t know about physics and top-secret test sites if you don’t have some scientific background. It’s probably of no significance that Don Merck, the father of Lazar’s second wife, was working on explosives at Los Alamos in the early ’80s, or that Lazar was friends with Los Alamos physicist Melissa Cray (Crey) and her roommate, also a Los Alamos employee.
Lazar said element 115 was stable, and scientists had speculated that the super-heavy elements (above 110) could be stable. How could he possibly know that? As a research scientist pulling double duty as a business owner, he certainly didn’t have time to read about this in the May 1989 issue of Scientific American.

Lazar shouldn’t be suspected of hoaxery just because he lived at the epicenter of American UFO research and rumour-mongering at the same time the Bennewitz affair, Area 51, UFO crashes, the underground base at Dulce, cattle mutilations, and alien abductions were coming to the attention of the international UFO community. That’s just a coincidence. Guys like Bennewitz may have been suckered by all the UFO talk, but Lazar is too smart for that.

We mustn’t forget that Lazar had absolutely no reason to make up his story. He wasn’t into UFOs and he didn’t flaunt his knowledge of them, except when he got a personalized “MJ-12” license plate for his (repossessed) Corvette, and showed up uninvited at UFO gatherings, and collaborated with John Andrews to design a Testors flying saucer model based on “the sport model”, and appeared on Knapp’s TV programs, and was a guest on Art Bell’s syndicated radio program several times, and when he and Gene Huff produced a video about his experiences, and when he sold the movie rights to his story. Just because he maintains a website chock-full of UFO stuff doesn’t mean he has any interest in the subject.

We shouldn’t make too much of the fact that in 1990 Lazar was busted for pandering, possibly making him the nation’s first physicist pimp. He says he was merely helping out a friendly madam by installing computers, security cameras, and other electronic equipment at the Honeysuckle Ranch. Huff claims the madam fell madly in love with Lazar, and when he didn’t reciprocate she fingered him as the operation’s pimp out of spite. However, he also admits that Lazar mentioned his work at the brothel on a TV segment produced by George Knapp. It was this comment that piqued the curiosity of local authorities. Lazar was ultimately charged with six felonies and pled guilty to all of them to avoid legal expenses. Remember, physicists are underpaid. And it really doesn’t matter that in bankruptcy papers filed in 1986, Lazar failed to report any income from a brothel.

Sure, Lazar can’t prove that he has advanced scientific degrees, or that he worked as a senior staff scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratories and S-4, or that he reverse engineered spaceship technology. He hasn’t really explained why a nuclear physicist like himself would make his career developing photos for nearly a decade when he could have been teaching or conducting research. Yes, he may have fudged a few facts about his primary source of income for five years. And a few details about his work at S-4 may be slightly inconsistent and completely incomprehensible to anyone with higher brain function.

That doesn’t mean he’s not telling the truth.

Notes on Sources:

Lazar’s friend, Gene Huff, has written a synopsis of Lazar’s experiences, first posted at alt.conspiracy.area51 in 1995 (now available here). Huff is a Vegas real estate appraiser who met Lazar in 1985 (Lazar’s photo lab processed many local appraisers’ property photos).

In 1993, after hearing Lazar speak at The Little A-le-Inn, Los Angeles Times reporter Roy Rivenburg checked into Lazar’s credentials and background. He encountered the same lacuna that George Knapp had already found.

In 1994 Tom Mahood compiled a timeline of Lazar’s work history and activities. It contains clear inconsistencies that have since been explained away, in part, by Gene Huff’s synopsis.

Jacques Vallee’s 1990 interview with Lazar is recounted in Vallee’s book Revelations (Ballantine, 1991).

Henry Harris’s comments on element 115 and UFOs can be found on p. 159 of Captured by Aliens by Joel Achenbach (Citadel, 1999).

Two Years Among the Truthers

The Significant Other has retired from 9/11 Truth activism after 2+ years. I have come to realize that total immersion in this movement can be more damaging to the psyche than I ever imagined. I even feel physically lighter now that I’m not reliving the trauma and pain of 9/11 every single day – watching the buildings crumble in slow motion, hearing the panicked screams of New Yorkers as they run through dust-choked streets. Add to that the politics, the continuous drama, the paranoia and mistrust and accusations of CIA involvement, and you have a good recipe for a nervous breakdown.

Have I learned anything from 9/11 Truth? Yes, I have. I have learned that the blowback theory of 9/11 is perfectly sound, that even educated and intelligent people can be really freaking stupid and/or gullible sometimes, and that when asking difficult questions you should never settle for the first answers you get. Keep asking until the answers make sense.

While I have met some cool and smart Truthers in the past two years, it’s a relief to be free of all connections to the rest, such as:

– The lawyer who collects testimony from “time travel whistleblowers” and branded me an “accessory after the fact to war crimes” because I questioned his theory that chemtrails containing psychoactive chemicals are sprayed over specific areas in advance of 9/11 Truth events.
– The peacenik who won’t work with any other Truthers because everybody in the Pacific Northwest is an FBI agent.
– The guy who thinks he’s on some sort of “Federal Army” mission to reveal the truth of 9/11, and threatens to arrest anyone who “interferes” with that mission. In other words, other Truthers who don’t pay enough attention to him.
– Everyone who insists the Jews and/or the Zionists did it.
– The would-be politician who was dropped from her party of choice for declaring that Israeli-owned businesses in the World Trade Center were tipped off in advance of 9/11, but blames Jewish interest groups for her own stupidity.
– The dude who briefly considered fleeing the U.S. because it’s “run by Zionists”, even though he lives in a Midwestern state occupied by roughly 4 Jewish people.
– All the people who will tell you that TV rots your brain, then believe everything they read in the alternative press and everything they see on YouTube “documentaries”.
– The chiropracter who smoked a big fatty before giving a “lecture”, then sent me a rambling and emotional 5-page screed when I said I didn’t understand what he was trying to say. He’s now a UFOlogist who believes he’s part of ancient Native prophecies. When the 2012 chaos hits, he’s going to head for a fenced-off area reserved for the world’s elite.
– The convicted murderer who threatens to sue everyone who calls him a convicted murderer.
– The former LaRouche propagandist who looks and sounds like Mr. Lebowski.
– The NYC CAN petition organizers who screwed up royally for no good reason, wasting everyone’s time and getting their hopes up.

Buh-bye. Here’s hoping that Lacuna Inc. will someday be able to erase all my memories of the past two years.

Chicago Tea Party Rant a Hoax?

On March 2, a Playboy.com article by Mark Ames and Yasha Levine, “Backstabber: Is Rick Santelli High On Koch?” (since removed from the site), revealed that CNBC commentater Rick Santelli’s apparently spontaneous rant of Feb. 19th, in which he suggested having a “Chicago tea party” to protest Obama’s housing stimulous plan, was really a carefully crafted stunt funded by big business (specifically, the Koch conglom).

It was an intriguing allegation, and certainly not outside the realm of possibility; bogus grassroots movements engineered by corporate and/or political interests have become common enough to earn a moniker: astroturfing.

But the Chicago Tea Party rant hasn’t been proven to be an instance of astroturfing, as Megan Macardle of The Atlantic online explains. While “Chicago Tea Party” websites with suspiciously pre-existing domains popped up immediately after Santelli’s rant aired, Santelli so far denies any involvement with them and maintains his speech was spontaneous. And the orgs involved don’t have any clear connection with Koch Industries or the Koch family. Which is probably why the Playboy.com story was yanked almost as soon as it appeared. I’d also like to point out that Big Biz doesn’t need to create pissed-off Tea Partiers to oppose Obama’s housing stimulous plan, as about a million drunken ranters on YouTube will attest.

Christine Maggiore (1957-2008): A Sad and Inevitable End

I have just learned that Christiane Maggiore died on December 27, at the age of 52. My condolences and sympathy go out to her only living child. She did not have to die so soon.

Maggiore’s friends and supporters say her six-month bout of fatal pneumonia was in no way related to her HIV/AIDS. They insist she could not have died from HIV/AIDS because HIV is not a disease, does not cause AIDS, and does not have to be medically treated. Despite the ongoing denial, it seems Maggiore met the same unnecessary, agonizing death to which she consigned her daughter in 2005.

Diagnosed as HIV+ in 1992 (along with a former boyfriend), Maggiore became a poster child for a small but vocal movement of people, most of them HIV+, who claim that the media spreads mininformation and propaganda about an imaginary AIDS-HIV connection, and that AZT is more harmful than AIDS. Maggiore established a foundation to spread this message.
She and her husband, Robin Scoville, had two children. While pregnant with daughter Eliza Jane, Maggiore appeared on the cover of Mothering magazine cover with “NO AZT” written on her pregnant stomach, and was cheered by rock concert crowds when she spoke out aginst the prevailing HIV/AIDS theories. She breastfed her kids and refused to have them tested for HIV/AIDS, insisting the diseases can’t be transferred from mother to child by any means. For herself she sought only alternative treatments.
It’s a curious fact that HIV+ people who don’t inform their sex partners of their staus are routinely charged criminally, while HIV+ moms are not.

In 2005, 3-year-old Eliza Jane Scoville developed a bad cold and an ear infection. Very reluctantly, Maggiore followed a pediatrician’s advice and gave her daughter amoxicillin. Within days, Eliza Jane became wan and listless, then suffered some sort of attack in the night. Her parents frantically called 911, and the toddler was rushed to hospital. She soon died.
Maggiore immediately blamed the amoxicillin, for it was the only drug Eliza Jane had ever ingested. Both parents maintained she had been perfectly healthy until then.
An autopsy revealed otherwise. Eliza Jane had full-blown AIDS and had died from related pneumonia. Even faced with copious medical evidence, Maggiore vehemently denied her child had AIDS. The coroner’s findings were politically motivated, she said. But she did have her son tested, for fear he’d be taken away if she didn’t (he is HIV/AIDS negative).

Like her mother, Eliza Jane Scoville did not have to die so young. She was sacrificed so that her parents could make a point.

Maggiore’s untimely death could serve as a hard lesson for HIV/AIDS denialists and people who reject the germ theory of disease. I hope they will benefit from that lesson before they, too, die preventable deaths.

Doesn’t Dance With Wolves (and other Holocaust memoir hoaxes)

Misha Defonseca: A new addition to the Bogus Holocaust Memoirists Hall of Shame

Don’t you just love it when your timing is spot-on?

Today I was skimming through some of my notes on suspected literary frauds. These are cases that set off all my B.S. bells, but I can’t prove they’re bogus: The works usually don’t contain enough information to make them debunkable, or the authors salt them with just enough fact to make them believable.

One such case was Misha Defonseca, a Belgian Holocaust survivor whose ghostwritten memoir, Surviving with Wolves (1997) described her nightmarish yet miraculous survival in Nazi-occupied Europe. When her parents were sent to the camps in 1941, 8-year-old Misha was left in the care of a Catholic family that mistreated her. Rather than stay with them, she walked nearly 3000 miles across Belgium, Poland, Germany, France, and Italy to find her parents. On her trek, she was adopted by a pack of wolves; they shared rabbits with her, protected her, and allowed her to look after their pups while they hunted. Because of this experience, Misha is able to communicate with wolves even as an adult.

Misha also had a love affair at age 9 and knifed an SS officer to death at age 10. In 1945, after four years of wandering Europe alone, Misha was discovered and reunited with her grandfather. Both of her parents had been killed in the camps.

Misha’s friend and neighbor in Massachusetts, where Misha and her late husband had moved in 1988, was so intrigued by Misha’s tale that she offered to ghost-write a book about it and arrange for its publication by Mt. Ivy Press, a small publishing house owned by friend Jane Daniels.

Misha’s book became a bestseller in France and Italy, receiving warm reviews and recommendations from the late Leonard P. Zakim, New England Anti-Defamation League director; journalist/historian Padraig O’Malley; and Elie Wiesel. Walt Disney optioned the rights to the story, and Oprah expressed interest in featuring Misha on her show.

In 2001, Defonseca and her ghostwriter, Vera Lee, were awarded a $32 million in damages as a result of their 1998 lawsuit against their publisher. A judge found that that Jane Daniel had, indeed, misrepesented the resources of Mt. Ivy Press and failed to properly market the book overseas as promised. Most significantly, she had withheld overseas royalties from Defonseca and Lee. Defonseca lost her home as a result of the financial misdeeds.
An appeals court upheld the verdict in 2005.
This legal trouble prevented Disney from turning Surviving with Wolves into a feature film, but
French filmmaker Vera Belmont’s film Survivre avec des loups opened in Belgium late last year.

So I wondered, what is Misha the Wolf Lady up to these days? Is she still pulling in $10,000 speaker’s fees at Dartmouth?

Well, not quite. On February 29th, after doubts about Misha’s background were raised by genealogical researcher Sharon Sergeant, she confessed that she did not walk across Europe and never lived among wolves. She’s not even Jewish. Her real name is Monique De Wael. Her parents were Catholic members of the Belgian Resistance movement, and they did die in the camps – when Monique was four years old. She remained safely with her grandfather and uncle in Brussels throughout the war.

In a statement issued through her lawyer in Belgium, Monique explained, “Ever since I can remember, I felt Jewish. . . . There are times when I find it difficult to differentiate between reality and my inner world. The story in the book is mine. It is not the actual reality – it was my reality, my way of surviving. At first, I did not want to publish it, but then I was convinced by Jane Daniel. I ask forgiveness from all those who feel betrayed.”

“Misha” now officially joins the ranks of the Bogus Holocaust Memoirists Hall of Shame:

  • In 2004 the University of Western Australia Press published Stolen Soul, the Holocaust memoir of a 69-year-old mining camp cook named Bernard Holstein. Holstein told heart-rending stories of being experimented upon by Nazi scientists, living with wolves, joining the Resistance, and travelling to Australia as an orphan. Holstein lacked a German accent, but his arm bore a number tattoo. His publisher, Judy Shorrock, had no doubts about his story until she received a phone call from Bernard’s brother. Bernard was really Bernard Brougham, son of a Catholic family from New South Wales; he had never been to Europe.
  • Binjamin Wilkomirski’s 1994 memoir Fragments described his experiences in a Polish concentration camp at age 4. A Swiss historian later uncovered documents showing that Wilkomirksi spent the duration of the war in Switzerland.
  • Bizarrely, Wilkomirski’s internment in Auschwitz-Birkenau had been corroroborated by a fellow survivor named Laura Grabowski – who turned out to be Laurel Rose Wilson, AKA Lauren Stratford, author of a memoir about horrific ritual abuse suffered at the hand of her adoptive mother’s Satanic cult. Satan’s Underground had been thoroughly discredited by Cornerstone magazine, and it was clear that Laurel Wilson had spent her entire childhood in Washington state with her Christian adoptive parents.
  • Under the alias Helen Demidenko, Australian columnist Helen Dale wrote the novel The Hand That Signed the Paper (1994). It related events of the Holocaust in the Ukraine, which Demidenko claimed to have drawn from the experiences of her Ukrainian family. Indignation erupted when Dale was revealed to be British. Despite the controversy, The Hand That Signed the Paper won the Vogel Award for a first novel in 1994 and Australia’s most prestigious literary prize, the Miles Franklin Award, a year later.
  • Jerzy Kosinski initially claimed that his novel The Painted Bird was a thinly fictionalized account of his own boyhood experiences. It follows the horrific travails of a young child forced to fend for himself in WWII Poland, hiding from the Nazis, travelling from village to village. He witnesses terrible acts of cruelty inflicted by these villagers upon each other, and falls victim to their violence many times. In reality, Kosinski had spent the war in the care of a Catholic family. Other accusations of plagiarism and deception were periodically leveled against Kosinksi until his suicide in 1991, including allegations that The Painted Bird was not originally written in English, as Kosinksi claimed, but in Polish.
  • In the summer of 1941 a book titled My Sister and I became a best-seller in the U.S. It was supposedly the diary of a 12-year-old Dutch boy, Dirk van der Heide, who survived the German invasion of Rotterdam. His mother had been killed by a Luftwaffee bomb and his dad was in the Army, so Kirk and his little sister Keetje made their way to England on their own and ultimately fled to America. In his book Witness to War, Richard Aldrich claims that My Sister and I was an elaborate piece of propaganda created by the Briish secre services, designed to help draw the U.S. into the war.

On the other side of the coin, Holocaust deniers have cast aspersion on many legitimate memoirs, including Olga Lengyl’s Five Chimneys, Miklos Nyiszli’s Doctor at Auschwitz, Martin Gray’s For Those I Loved, and even the Diary of Anne Frank. They point to small inaccuracies or inconsistencies in these books as evidence that they were entirely fabricated, or opine that some of the authors’ stories are simply too outlandish to be real. For this reason, accusations of Holocaust-memoir fakery must be approached with great caution. Remember, truth is always stranger…



– Wikipedia entries for Misha Defonseca, Misha: A Memoir of the Holocaust Years , Jerzy Kosinski

– “Holocaust Memoir Turns Out to Be Fiction“, Compiled by Lawrence Van Gelder, The New York Times, March 3/2008

– “Incredible Journey” by David Mehegan, The Boston Globe, October 31/2001

– “Auschwitz tale is not all that it seems” by Lisa Pryor, The Sydney Morning Herald, December ,

Anthony Godby Johnson, the Invisible Boy


Boy Wonder

Tony Johnson was a dreamchild: A kid who excelled effortlessly in school, never accepted handouts, and was determined to better himself, despite having a childhood that might have made Dickens blanch. What follows is Anthony Godby Johnson’s story as he told it in his 1993 memoir, A Rock and a Hard Place: One Boy’s Triumphant Story, and as experienced by some of the literary luminaries he befriended.

By his twelfth birthday, Tony had already been to hell and back. Born to outwardly average parents in New York City sometime in 1978, he was brutally beaten and pimped out to his policeman father’s friends on a routine basis from the age of four. He was deliberately deprived of food, a proper bed, and even minimal affection. By rights, Tony should have suffered psychological damage that would make Harry Harlow’s monkeys look as calm as monks, but Tony had the fortune to be an infinitely old soul with a blazing intellect. He mothered himself with episodes of Mr. Rogers and aspirin, and took such solace in study that he was transferred to a Brooklyn school for gifted children. Even a spell of suicidal depression at age 11 couldn’t keep him down, for he found unexpected salvation in the form of a suicide-hotline worker. This man, Mr. Johnson (a pseudonym), immediately dispatched a social worker named Vicki to rescue Tony. Finally freed from the pedophile ring in 1989, Tony was diagnosed with several serious ailments, including untreated syphilis that had reached such an advanced stage it caused permanent damage to his lungs. He would spend most of his teen years in and out of hospital, always on the verge of death.

Tony was not destined to become the sum of his setbacks, but a magnetic force. People of all ages were drawn to his humor, his resilience, his astonishing strength of character. In many ways he was a typical teenager, swearing like a sea captain and talking baseball and girls, yet he radiated the inner peace of a lama, He was a lot like his heroes, Mr. Rogers and Kermit the Frog. The miraculous touched every corner of his life and spread to those around him. The man who talked him out of committing suicide, Mr. Johnson, was so taken with Tony that he called him his son, and traveled to New York to meet him. Johnson instantly fell in love with Tony and his new mom, Vicki. Vicki and Johnson married and adopted Tony, relocating to a town in the Midwest where the New York pedophiles couldn’t find them.

Tony flourished. Despite continual bouts of pneumonia that required lung draining, a stroke that left him temporarily paralyzed and a coma, Tony graduated from high school at fourteen with the help of private tutors. Good colleges courted him. Then he tested positive for AIDS, sending his new family into a tailspin.

The Make-a-Wish Foundation supplied 14-year-old Tony with a computer so he could begin writing his life story. This would not be the story of his near-destruction at the hands of his parents and their buddies, but the story of his salvation, and the blooming of love and compassion that followed. Vicki, Johnson, and a coterie of new friends relentlessly encouraged Tony to fulfill his destiny. To do that, he would need some mentors. One of them was AIDS counselor Jack L. Godby, a gay black man from Arkansas who got to know Tony through correspondence and phone conversations. Godby formed such a close bond with Tony that Godby became his “Pops” (Johnson was “Dad”). Tony collected several such “moms” and “dads” in his teen years, as though overcompensating for the absence of his biological family.

Tony was drawn to the stories of other survivors, writers like Paul Monette and Armistead Maupin, both of whom had both been touched by AIDS. (Maupin had lost friends and lovers to AIDS, and Monette had been diagnosed in 1991). At thirteen, Tony was such a devoted fan of Monette that he swapped sports magazines for copies of his novels Love Alone and Borrowed Time during one of his many hospital stays. He raptly listened to radio installments of Maupin’s Tales of the City, the bittersweet adventures of a group of gays and lesbians in ’70s and ’80s San Francisco. Though he was a typically girl-crazy teenager, Tony was extremely sympathetic to the persecution suffered by gays and lesbians.
Vicki encouraged her son to write to some of his heroes, and he did. He penned fan letters to Mr. Rogers, Monette and Maupin, Mickey Mantle, Tom Robbins, Bob Paris, Jermaine Jackson and Keith Olbermann, among others. He entered into correspondence with most of these men, but others developed an even stronger bond with the boy through marathon phone conversations. These worldly older men were invariably charmed and awed by Tony’s disarming combination of childlike simplicity (he still loved coloring books), wisdom, and grit.

Monette, Maupin, and Mr. Rogers all provided blurbs for A Rock and a Hard Place: One Boy’s Triumphant Story. Maupin wrote, “I want to be like this young man when I grow up.” Monette and Jack Godby provided introductions for the book, Fred Rogers the afterword. Crown Publishers released the book in 1993, when Tony was just fifteen years old. He wasn’t expected to live long.

Armistead Maupin became more closely involved with Tony than any of the boy’s other mentors soon after his editor, David Groff of Crown Publishers, sent him a copy of Tony’s manuscript for perusal. A warm but unfawning phone call from Tony reinforced his impression that this boy had a unique voice. Maupin became one of the many adults to phone Tony at his new home in the Midwest to offer him ongoing support and encouragement. Like the others, he discovered that Tony, laid up in bed most the time and too weak to do anything that other 14-year-olds do, gave far more than he took. He could relate to adults on an entirely mature level, and he radiated humor. In a string of late-night phone conversations that were often interrupted by Tony’s violent fits of coughing, the celebrated gay author and the tough-talking teenager formed such a tight bond that Maupin tentatively began referring to Tony as his son. Tony called him Dad.

In his fourteenth and fifteenth years, Tony lost a leg and a testicle to AIDS and contracted TB. Death seemed so imminent that his loved ones lived in fear of it, but Tony focused only on living. By all accounts, he rarely (if ever) slid into depression or self-pity. Everyone connected to him took courage from this precocious strength, and when it was published, A Rock and a Hard Place deeply affected readers across the U.S., from clinical social workers to grade-school teachers. Vicki set up a Geocities website, Tony’s World, through which her son could update fans on his condition and post articles on child abuse issues. His story was a wake-up call to all adults: Horrific child happens right around the corner from where you live. But love can bring trampled children to their feet.


Vicki Johnson was Tony’s primary caregiver while Mr. Johnson worked, and she protected him fiercely. The family’s real identity was concealed to prevent his former abusers from locating him, since most of them had not even been investigated for molestation. Everyone who knew Tony through phone conversations, including Maupin and Monette, were eager to meet Tony. He was open to the idea, and so was Vicki, but due to his health and safety concerns, face-to-face meetings never took place. Maupin once made it all the way to the Midwest only to be told that Tony was too sick to receive visitors (he later told ABC News the same thing happened to a rabbi who traveled all the way from Israel to see Tony). Finally, Vicki Johnson politely insisted that phone friends refrain from attempting to visit. She explained that Tony was lurching from one medical crisis to the next, always on the precipice of death, and any excitement could undo him. Vicki even began to change her phone number frequently, presumably to prevent Tony’s fans from interrupting his recovery with their late-night calls. Gradually, Tony’s friends began to wonder why no one had met face-to-face with Tony. Not even his editors at Crown Publishers in New York nor his agent, Ron Bernstein, had ever met with the young man. Anthony Godby Johnson was the Invisible Boy, always a phone call away, but forever out of reach.

Before the end of 1993, suspicions were cropping up in the literary world. Armistaud Maupin’s partner, Terry Anderson, felt certain that Tony and Vicki Johnson were the same person. He pointed out to Maupin that their voices were nearly identical over the phone (Tony, embarrassed by his high voice, told callers he hadn’t gone through all the changes of puberty due to his illnesses). After his aborted visit to the Johnson household, Maupin began to have his suspicions, too.

They were not alone in their doubts. Gay author John Preston openly declared A Rock and a Hard Place a hoax. Ron Bernstein, Tony’s agent, had almost struck a deal with HBO to make a film about Tony when Vicki declared that no one from HBO would be allowed to see Tony in person, causing the deal to collapse. This incident stirred the first serious doubts in Bernstein’s mind.

It was Keith Olbermann who first did some detective work. He had been so moved by A Rock and a Hard Place that he contacted Tony, and quickly become a supporter and “brother” to the boy. They were collaborating on a book about baseball when Olbermann’s doubts surfaced. He had been having phone chats with Vicki and one of Tony’s doctors, and gradually noticed that all three voices sounded extremely similar. Also, there were never any background noises on the line – no other voices, no rummaging sounds, no indication that Tony was in a busy household or a hospital.

The private investigator Olbermann hired to check into Vicki and Tony found that Vicki used the surname Fraginals. She did not live in the Midwest. She lived in her hometown of Union City, New Jersey, with two adult women presumed to be her daughters (it is now known she didn’t have daughters). There was no sign of Mr. Johnson or Tony, and the second-story apartment the three women shared was not suitable for a sick boy. It was not even wheelchair-accessible.

Olbermann had given a thousand dollars to Vicki to help her pay for “black market” medication she claimed Tony desperately needed, and according to Maupin, Vicki had solicited donations from other supporters, too.

Newsweek reporter Michele Ingrassia was the first person to investigate Tony’s background thoroughly. She interviewed his editor at Crown, his publicist, some of his penpals, the Make-a-Wish worker who arranged for Tony to receive his computer, and the head of an HIV/AIDS group who was in contact with Tony and Vicki. None of these people had ever laid eyes on Tony. Ingrassia next tried to find any record of a NYC policeman and his wife being convicted of the sexual abuse of their son in the late ’80s or early ’90s. She found nothing. Her May 30, 1993 story on Tony was titled “The Author Nobody’s Met.”
The article should have ended there, since Ingrassia hadn’t been able to suss out any concrete information about Tony or his family, but Ingrassia then waded into borderline libelous speculation by hinting that Paul Monette had invented Tony and penned his memoir, perhaps in a misguided effort to raise AIDS awareness. This idea was picked up by other media outlets, then quietly dropped when supporting evidence failed to surface. Monette stated that while he had acted as Tony’s writing mentor over the phone, he had no part in the writing of A Rock and a Hard Place. He had never actually met Tony. Up to his death in 1995, Monette was uncertain whether Tony was a real person or not.

No one fitting the description of the man known as Earnist Johnson was ever located, though his service as an Air Force sergeant should have made him traceable. He had never appeared in public. Vicki Johnson was the sole spokesperson for Tony. As suspicions mounted, she became even more aggressive in her defense of him. She was quick to verbally attack anyone who questioned her adopted son’s motives, much less his existence.

To everyone’s astonishment, Tony continued to survive and thrive. In 1994, at just 16 years old, he penned a regular column for a Hawaiian AIDS publication. He also maintained a Geocities website to update fans on his health and share articles about child abuse. It was through his online posting that people learned his father had been murdered by vengeful pedophiles in prison.

In 1997, his story was told in the ABC documentary About Us: The Dignity of Children, hosted by Oprah Winfrey (Winfrey, as you probably know, has been at the centre of a great many literary hoaxes over the years). An actor portrayed the younger Tony, and his voice and identity were disguised. Strangely, reports surfaced that Tony was living with the documentary’s producer, Lesley Karsten, as her “son” during this time. In phone calls, emails and letters Ms. Karsten confirmed that she was now the primary caregiver for Tony. He was an adult by this time, but still required constant care.

Karsten also announced that she was marrying a longtime Johnson family friend, Jerry DiNicola. In online postings, Karsten and Tony expressed fears of being attacked by the pedophiles who had abused Tony and killed his father, and seemed grateful that DiNicola was a tough guy who could protect them. He had fought in VIetnam and was even a POW.

Vicki and Earnist faded into the background. According to Tony, they had divorced and Vicki had moved to Illinois with her new husband.

Interest in Tony waned after this point. The questions surrounding his existence, A Rock and a Hard Place, and the mysterious Ms. Karsten were left unresolved.

Then, in 2000, at the end of a painful period of reflection and investigation, Maupin published his thinly fictionalized account of his experience with the Invisible Boy, The Night Listener. He had been talking to Tony for over six years at this point, and though he had never confronted Tony or Vicki about his suspicions for fear he could be wrong, the time had come to deal with his nagging inner voice. In 1997 Maupin told Tony and Vicki that he was writing the novel. Amazingly, Tony accepted this with quiet grace. “I’m a big boy,” he told his friend. “I know the difference between fact and fiction.” Maupin even asked Vicki to name the boy character in the book, and she chose “Pete.” Vicki became “Donna”.
After the novel was released, however, Maupin received an angry call from Vicki. She was incensed that he had “trashed” Tony, and broke off all contact with him.

The novel sparked fresh interest in the mystery of the Invisible Boy, leading journalist Tad Friend to investigate. His story, “Virtual Love“, appeared in the November 22, 2001 issue of The New Yorker. Like Ingrassia, Friend concluded that no one but Vicki Johnson was willing to admit seeing Tony Johnson with her own eyes, though Maupin and perhaps other friends had received snapshots of an adorable preteen boy with light-brown hair, big brown (or green) eyes, and a radiant smile. This boy remained unidentified for many years.

Friend revealed that “Vicki Johnson” was most likely Joanne Victoria Fraginals, a single woman in her forties then residing in Union City, New Jersey. A former schoolteacher, she may have worked as a social worker, but there was no sign of a husband or ex-husband who fit the description of Johnson. Earlier, Michele Ingrassia had visited the pharmacy below Vicki’s apartment and learned that no one there knew of Tony.

Karsten continued to insist that her “son” was very real, alive, and unwell, still guarding his identity to protect him from the rogue New York cops that were out to get him. Tony’s website remained online, though it became inactive shortly after Friend’s article appeared and was never updated again.


Sometime in the late ’90s, as Friend was conducting his investigation of the Invisible Boy, Vicki Fraginals married Dr. Marc Zackheim, a psychotherapist who worked with Indiana group homes for toubled teen boys and also maintained a private practice in Illinois. If there was a “Mr. Johnson”, he had divorced Vicki without ever living with her in New Jersey, because no one Ingrassia and Friend questioned had any knowledge of him, and the P.I. hired by Olbermann described Vicki as a single mother.
The Zackheims settled in Illinois. In 1999 they adopted four brothers, ages 1-6. In 2004, Dr. Zackheim was accused of molesting boys in the group home where he worked. He was acquitted.
Marc Zackheim acted as the family spokesman whenever someone inquired about Tony. He accused Maupin of inventing the hoax scenario to exploit Tony’s story for profit. This still wouldn’t explain why so many people “close” to Tony also doubted that he ever existed, nor why the same voice analysis expert who identified Osama bin Laden’s voice on tape, Tom Owen, determined that the recorded voices of Vicki and “Tony” issued from the same person. Nor would it explain why “Tony” and the Zackheims continued to hide his identity from the world, when the threat from the pedophiles was long past (surely, they would have realized by the mid’-90s that Tony was not going to out them).
Since Vicki and Mark apparently met after Tony came of age, it’s possible Dr. Zackheim believed his wife’s stories of having raised an AIDS-afflicted teenager. But that’s unlikely. He threatened legal action against people attempting to investigate Tony’s background, a threat so empty one has to wonder why he felt desperate enough to utter it. Perhaps he knew how unstable his wife is, and was only trying to protect her from further humiliation. He passed away in 2009.


The Karsten/DiNicola period of Tony’s life is perhaps the strangest one in this saga. Lesley Karsten is a real person. However, there is no evidence of a former Vietnam POW named Jerry DiNicola. Like “Earnist Johnson”, Jerry probably existed only in the imagination of Vicki Zackheim. Why would a professional woman such as Karsten perpetuate the Tony hoax by taking it to the next stage? Why would she pretend to be married to a man invented by a woman she barely knew, and why did she take on the challenge of protecting the reputation of a non-existent young man at a time when most of his supporters had fled?
Jack L. Godby, the AIDS counselor who wrote an introduction for A Rock and a Hard Place, was a notable exception; he still received phone calls and letters from Tony on occasion, and seemed to believe his “godson” was real. If he was, he truly was a miracle. He contracted AIDS no later than 1989, yet somehow survived bouts of pneumonia, TB, a stroke, a coma, and the losses of his leg, spleen, and one testicle. Medical researchers would be knocking down his door, if they knew where to find it.
This spiritual and medical marvel has gone silent. He didn’t even surface long enough to rebut The Night Listener or Tad Friend‘s “Virtual Love.” The Invisible Boy is now the Invisible Man, lost in the shadows of Vicki Zackheim and Lesley Karsten, the Invisible Women.


Since A Rock and a Hard Place was released in 1993, several eerily similar (and equally mysterious) hoaxes have been perpetrated. In the late ‘90s, an online community rallied around 19-year-old Kansan Kaycee Nicole Swenson, a cancer patient. Her supporters were devastated when she died of a brain aneurysm in 2001. Then a group of suspicious Metafilter friends looked into Kaycee’s story and discovered that Kaycee was the invention of a middle-aged mother named Debbie Swenson, who did not have cancer. Swenson feebly explained that she created Kaycee to tell the stories of real cancer patients she had known.

Then there’s the case of “J.T. LeRoy”, an HIV-positive cross-dresser who wrote darkly comic fiction about his life as a boy prostitute. San Francisco musician Geoffrey Knoop finally confessed – under pressure from suspicious reporters – that J.T. was the invention of his 40-year-old girlfriend, Laura Albert. He/she was played in public by Albert or by Knoop’s younger sister, Savannah, sporting dark sunglasses and blonde wigs.

Scarcely a week after the James Frey and J.T. LeRoy scandals erupted, Navajo author Nasdijj was unmasked as well. Nasdijj had written three acclaimed memoirs. In The Blood Flows Like a River Through My Dreams (2000), he described the life and death of his adopted son, “Tommy Nothing Fancy”, who suffered severe Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Geronimo’s Bones (2004) was about his own childhood on a reservation and in migrant-worker camps. The Dog and the Boy are Sleeping (2003) was about the life and death of his second adopted son, an AIDS-afflicted 12-year-old boy named Awee, and the difficulties of obtaining adequate AIDS care on the reservation. Other Navajos had their doubts about Nasdiij, but that didn’t stop the New York Times and other prestigious publications from giving his memoirs rave reviews. Then reporter Matthew Fleischer of the LA Times revealed that Nasdijj was really Tim Barrus, a middle-class white man from New Jersey whose first career, as an author of gay erotica, had failed. Barrus isn’t Native, wasn’t raised by migrant workers, and never adopted children. [Correction: Barrus and his wife, who divorced sometime in the ’70s, adopted and briefly cared for a boy reportedly suffering from autism. He survived to adulthood.]

Commenting on the James Frey/J.T. LeRoy scandals, Armistead Maupin told ABC News, “I assumed the publishing industry would be embarrassed. But the problem is that the publishing industry salivates a little too hard over the Jerry Springeresque stories.”

2007: The Boy in the Photos Has Been Identified

Thanks to ABC’s 20/20, which aired a story on the questions surrounding “Tony” around the time the film The Night Listener was released, the little boy in the photos sent to Maupin and others has been identified. A New Jersey woman named Cary Riecken, watching the program, recognized him as Steve Tarabokija, a grade-school classmate of her son at Sacred Heart Grade School in North Bergen, New Jersey (two other viewers recognized him, as well). Cary Riecken and the Tarabokija family appeared on a 20/20 update on January 12, 2007.

Vicki Fraginals had been Steve’s fourth-grade teacher at Sacred Heart. She was remembered as a very involved teacher who threw herself into activities like school plays and frequently took photos of her students. Cary Riecken characterized her as a woman who craved attention and pity.

Steve, a 26-year-old traffic engineer, was completely unaware of the Tony controversy and Vicki’s use of his photos. He recalled her as one of the “nicest” grammar-school teachers he had, but his family felt Mrs. Zackheim owed him an apology.

In lieu of an explanation, the Zackheims’ lawyer sent a 140-page document to 20/20, with sworn statements from the Zackheims and three other people who claim to have met Tony in person. The document didn’t address the photos at all.

The blurry image of “Tony” on the front cover of A Rock and a Hard Place was also a photo of Steve Tarabokija.