Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Skywayman: The Story of Frank W. Abagnale Jr.

Making the Grade

During his travels, Frank visited the state of Utah, which impressed him with its natural beauty and lovely women. He was especially drawn to the university campuses in the area, where the ladies were particularly youthful and stunning. It was a place Frank was not eager to leave, so he decided to stick around and teach a few classes, despite the fact that he had no previous teaching experience or credentials. However, he refused to allow such minor details deter him.

Brigham Young University sign
Brigham Young University sign

Frank contacted the dean of Brigham Young University and set up an appointment, posing as a professor of sociology. He informed the dean that he worked as a university instructor for a couple of years before he left the field and became an airline pilot. He suggested that he was interested in returning to his roots as a teacher and would be like to work at the university. The dean was highly impressed with Frank's background and charm and he looked forward to their meeting.

With falsified credentials in hand, Frank went to the scheduled interview. After a brief discussion with Frank, the dean made his decision. According to his autobiography, Frank was "hired within the hour to teach two six-week courses during the summer at a salary of $1,600 per semester." Once again, Frank had accomplished the unthinkable. He immediately began to research the position and study the books he would use so that he would be prepared for his new job.

His masquerade as a professor was a success. Frank's classes were not only interesting and the talk of the campus but he was also highly revered by his students. Moreover, Frank thoroughly enjoyed his newfound, although temporary position. Unfortunately for Frank his stint as a professor was short-lived and at the end of the summer he was let go with an invitation from the dean to return when a permanent position became available. 

Frank left Utah and made his way to California where he returned to what he knew best, "paperhanging" or writing bad checks. He became even more sophisticated in his role as a con artist and forger, making tens of thousands of dollars more than he had previously. Most of the money he made was from cashing counterfeit expense checks that he manufactured himself. In fact, Frank was so proficient at his criminal trade that he managed to accumulate almost $100,000.

Frank was now in his late teens and incredibly wealthy for his age. But he was still lonely. This loneliness ended when he met and fell in love with a young stewardess. Frank and the young woman were so enthralled with one another that they began to discuss marriage. However Frank began to feel ill at ease because she had no idea who he really was. Moreover, she was a "good girl" and he feared she would not accept his shady background.

One day, Frank decided to come clean. He revealed to her his true identity and his devious criminal lifestyle, hoping that she would overlook his shortcomings and unconditionally accept him. Frank was surprised when instead of forgiving him she informed the police and the FBI of his whereabouts. Frank narrowly evaded capture and was once again on his own and on the move.

Frank traveled the world over using his airline uniforms to hitch rides to far-off destinations. He also continued to "paperhang" as often as he could. During a trip to France, he met a stewardess with whom he began a relationship. Before long he learned that his girlfriend's father ran a family print shop. Naturally, Frank was very interested in meeting her father, eager to make a proposition to him. Eventually, he was introduced to the man and asked him if he would be interested in performing a large print job, allegedly for Pan Am. Frank requested an order of 10,000 Pan Am payroll checks, which the girl's father agreed to fill.

To Frank's delight the checks were superbly made. Unbeknownst to his girlfriend or her father, Frank successfully passed them off to area banks in return for large amounts of cash. He then returned to the states, where he collected even larger sums of cash from his illegal exploits.    

Not long after his return to the U.S., state troopers apprehended Frank at a Boston Airport while he was waiting for a flight to depart. They immediately took him to jail and charged him with vagrancy until they were able to gather enough information on him proving he was the infamous Frank Abagnale Jr. However, the police never had a chance to discover his true identity. Frank was released on bail just barely missing the FBI who was enroute to collect him. Once again, he escaped a close call with the authorities, yet he refused to let the incident slow him down. In fact, Frank became even bolder in his attempts to obtain money.  

According to Abagnale's book, soon after he was released from jail, he rented a security guard uniform and stood in front of a night-deposit box at the airport where he was captured just hours earlier. Frank held before him a large canvas bag and waited for people to drop off their nightly deposits, which they did by the dozens. They, like many others had been misguided by Frank's uniform. When the bag began to fill, he decided to put the loot in the car he rented for the occasion. However, the bag was too heavy for him to carry. Surprisingly, a couple of state troopers assisted Frank with loading the bag into his car unaware that he was in the process of stealing the money. Frank drove off with more than $60,000 in cash, outwitting the people who sought to detain him.