Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Skywayman: The Story of Frank W. Abagnale Jr.

The Making of a Swindler

While stationed in Oran, Algiers during World War II, Frank W. Abganale Sr. met and fell in love with a beautiful and young French-born woman named Paulette. The two were married shortly thereafter and moved to the suburbs of New York following the war. While there, Frank Sr. established and ran what became a highly profitable stationery store on Madison Avenue.  The couple had one daughter and three sons including Frank W. Abagnale Jr. who was born on April 27, 1948.

Frank Jr. had an uncomplicated early childhood and maintained a good relationship with his parents, especially with his father with whom he was particularly close. However, in his mid teens Frank Jr.'s life took an unexpected turn when his mother decided to leave his father. The separation was not only difficult for Frank Jr. and his siblings, but especially so for Frank Sr. who remained deeply in love with his wife.

Bronxville New York map & surrounding area
Bronxville New York map & surrounding area

Frank Jr.'s life was forever changed by his parent's separation and eventual divorce. Following the breakup, Frank Jr. chose to live alone with his father after moving from the family home in Bronxville, New York. The two shared a very close relationship and often spent time together. Frank Sr. would sometimes take his son with him on business outings where he'd meet up with other prominent businessmen, street-wise blue collar workers and politicians. Frank Jr. learned a great deal from his interactions with his father's associates, which greatly contributed to his already burgeoning store of knowledge. Yet, although Frank Jr. showed obvious signs of high intellect, it didn't prevent him from getting into trouble during his teenage years.

At around the time his parents divorced Frank Jr. got mixed up with a gang of juvenile delinquents, who often took part in petty crimes, including shoplifting. Eventually, Frank Jr. broke away from the gang whose practice of thievery was far too unsophisticated for him, especially after they were arrested and thrown temporarily into a juvenile detention center. The incident did not prevent him from stealing, but instead marked the beginning of an extensive criminal career. Frank Jr. was a clever teenager and began to develop more proficient and lucrative ways of obtaining money.

Despite his bad behavior, Frank's father forgave him and even entrusted him with a 1952 Ford and a gas credit card. The car and gas card were to be used to help little Frank get to his new part-time clerical job at a nearby warehouse. However, Frank Jr. had other plans.

Like most teenage boys, girls were at the forefront of Frank's thoughts. He was an attractive youth who didn't have much difficulty attracting attention from young ladies. To his delight, the car elicited even more notice from the opposite sex, which resulted in a steady flow of dates. The only problem was that he made a limited amount of money from his part-time job. He had to devise another method of being able to afford to take his girlfriends out. It wasn't long before he decided that the gas card could serve as a key to solving his problems. 

Frank devised a clever, yet unethical scheme for obtaining money. Over a period of several months, Frank Jr. went about town charging items from the gas station onto his credit card. He made deals with numerous gas station attendants, in which he would charge countless numbers of tires, car batteries and other accessories onto the card and then be given in return only a fraction of the amount of the sale back in cash. The attendants pocketed the remaining part of the money, usually around 50%. It seemed like a win, win situation. The gas attendant made a buck, Frank Jr. obtained quick cash and the gas station also profited when it came time to collect on the bill. Yet, it wasn't necessarily a winning situation for Frank's father who eventually got stuck with a gas bill of several thousand dollars.

Following his devious exploits, Frank was returned to his mother's custody and promptly placed in a private school for delinquent boys for the period of one year. Also around the time of his son's reckless caper, Frank Sr.'s stationery business was undergoing financial difficulty. It is believed that the enormous credit card bill further exacerbated his monetary problems. Eventually, Frank Sr. faced financial ruin and the closing of his stationery store.

Frank Jr. later showed regret for having duped his father whom he loved and respected greatly. He was simply a young man with growing needs and an insatiable appetite for women and adventure. Unfortunately, money played an important role in the pursuit of his interests. None-the-less, Frank Sr. was a confident and forgiving man and showed little concern for his loss of fortune or anger at his son's misdeeds.

Due to the stress surrounding the divorce and his father's financial misfortune, Frank left home in 1964 at the age of sixteen. He was determined to forge his own way in the world, which was exactly what he did. In fact, he would become one of the country's most notorious forgers.

 

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