Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Skywayman: The Story of Frank W. Abagnale Jr.

Practicing and Evading the Law

While in Louisiana, Frank met up with a stewardess who he met during his deadheading adventures several years prior. The two dated for a while, but the woman never knew Frank's real identity for fear that she might expose his illegal escapades. Instead, Frank led her to believe that he was not only an airline co-pilot but that he also had a degree in law, although he never practiced.

During a party one night that the two attended, Frank's girlfriend introduced him to a lawyer who worked in the offices of the state's district attorney. The lawyer took an interest in him, especially because Frank claimed that he received his law degree from Harvard. The lawyer told Frank that there was a position open at the attorney general's offices that he should pursue. He said to Frank that all he had to do was take his university transcripts to the examiner's office and apply for the Louisiana bar examination. Once he passed the bar, Frank would be able to fill the position.  

It was a challenge that intrigued Frank and he believed that he might actually be able to pull it off. Not long after his conversation with the lawyer, Frank made counterfeit transcripts, allegedly from Harvard Law School. After conducting research on the classes offered at Harvard, he gathered the necessary materials to construct the mock transcripts. The end result was impressive. Although he had never seen an actual transcript from the law school, it looked as if it might be able to pass as real. He decided to give it a try and put it to the test.

The next step was to attempt the bar exam. Frank studied law books for weeks before he felt confident enough to take the test. Once he felt he knew a sufficient amount to pass, he registered with the examiner's office, supplying them with his fake transcripts. Eventually he was summoned to the office to take the exam. It was no surprise that he flunked, since he had never attended law school in his life.

Sketch of the Louisiana Bar Association
Sketch of the Louisiana Bar Association
 

Frank later stated in an interview with Faraci that "Louisiana at the time allowed you to (take) the Bar over and over as many times as you needed. It was really a matter of eliminating what you got wrong", which was exactly what he did. Surprisingly, after his third try Frank passed and received a license to practice law. 

Shortly thereafter, Frank applied for the job at the offices of the attorney general. Following an interview, he was hired as a legal assistant working in the corporate law division of the attorney general. He was also given an annual salary of approximately $13,000. Frank had risen to the challenge and succeeded in his quest. There was no doubt that his art of deception had rivaled some of the most talented con artists in history.

According to his autobiography, Frank enjoyed his new position, regardless of the fact that he was more or less a glamorized errand boy, fetching documents and even coffee for his superiors. Even though he acquired the job under false pretenses, Frank was earning a somewhat legitimate living, which paid well. It seemed as if he had found his niche, yet Frank's false sense of security didn't last long.

The attorney general had on his staff another lawyer who happened to be a real Harvard graduate. Frank began to feel the pressure, especially when the new lawyer made repeated attempts to befriend his alleged fellow alumni. When the lawyer began to ask too many questions about his background, Frank became particularly uncomfortable. He knew that if he were to stay there for a prolonged period of time, his scheme would be uncovered or the authorities would eventually catch up with him. Frank decided to leave his job as a lawyer and pursue another career.

Pan American Airlines plane
Pan American Airlines plane
 

Frank fell back temporarily into his old persona as an airline co-pilot. This time, he acquired a second uniform from Trans World Airways (TWA) and created a new FAA license and ID pass card. Thus, he had a complete set of credentials for both Pan Am and TWA. Once again, he was free to travel around the world, cashing bad checks with unsuspecting banks.

 

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