Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Skywayman: The Story of Frank W. Abagnale Jr.

Catching Up and Coming Clean

Frank seemed almost invincible. Most everything he attempted, he succeeded in, including eluding the police and FBI. With every new plan, he perfected his techniques in con artistry, forgery and impersonation. One particular scheme he devised showed evidence of how talented he had become in his criminal trade.

Thinking of a way he could cash a multitude of checks at one time, Frank came up with an extraordinary idea. He decided that he would no longer travel alone but with an aircrew, preferably consisting of beautiful stewardesses. If he were able to find women to act as a front for him, he would be able to cash in more checks, appear more credible and avoid any suspicion.

While visiting Arizona, Frank had set up an interview with the director of student placement at the state university. During the meeting, Frank discussed the possibility of recruiting a handful of junior and senior women to act as public relations representatives purportedly for Pan Am. He further suggested that the chosen women would be given the opportunity to spend the summer traveling Europe, with all expenses allegedly paid by the company. Moreover, the girls would be supplied with stewardess uniforms and comparable salary as well as letters of employment, which would grant them opportunity to work for the airline following graduation. It appeared to be the chance of a lifetime for anyone lucky enough to be chosen. Appearances were Frank's key method of deception.

The eight young women who were eventually chosen were all thrilled to have a chance to see other countries and experience to a stewardesses' lifestyle. Besides, the money was exceptional considering they were being paid to have fun. They had no idea that they were merely a part of an elaborate scam. The group of women traveled to more than a dozen European countries throughout the summer, taking part in photo shoots, supposedly to be used for advertising purposes by Pan Am. The photo sessions, scheduled by Frank with commercial photography companies, had no particular relevance except to make the scam more credible to the girls.

DiCaprio and Hanks pose with stewardesses
Leonardo DiCaprio played Abagnale. Here he used college girls for photo shoots to scam money.

Franks real interest was to manufacture phony Pan Am expense checks for each girl for the primary purpose of having them endorsed over to him. The sum of each check was made out for an amount significantly larger than their actual expenses. Frank paid the bills and pocketed the remaining money, making sure the women were constantly with him to make the transaction all the more convincing. By the time the summer was over and the girls returned home after having been paid for their services, Frank had pocketed approximately $300,000.

Following his audacious scam, Frank decided to slow down with the check fraud game for fear that the authorities would catch up with him. He moved to Montpellier, France, at the age of twenty, not far from where his mother was born. Frank quickly settled into his cozy new cottage, after having changed his name to Robert Monjo. To further protect his identity, he posed as a successful Hollywood screenwriter and author.

Finally, for the first time in years Frank made an attempt to live a normal life. However, he knew that the risk of being caught significantly increased if he continued to stay in one place for a prolonged period of time, but it was a chance he was willing to take. He had simply spent too long on the run and he was tired.

It was only a matter of time before the authorities caught up with Frank. In fact, they were not too far behind. Heading the FBI investigative team was Joseph Shea who spent years looking for Frank. In fact, it had taken years just to figure out that Frank was not an adult but actually a kid. Only four months after Frank moved to France, Shea learned of Frank's location. Apparently, an ex-girlfriend who was a stewardess recognized him on a wanted poster and immediately notified the French police, who in turn contacted the FBI.

Retired FBI agent Joseph Shea
Retired FBI agent Joseph Shea
 

The authorities went to the small city to collect the young man who had generated so much financial havoc around the world, having passed a total of $2.5 million dollars worth of bad checks. They eventually found Frank shopping in a grocery store nearby his home. They immediately apprehended him, taking him to the Montpellier police station to be booked for his crimes committed in France. After a brief interrogation, Frank admitted to being Frank Abagnale Jr. but refused to reveal any specific information concerning his crimes.

In less than a week's time, Frank was tried in a French court and a couple days later found guilty on several charges, including fraud. He was sentenced to one year in the notorious prison Perpignan, but ended up serving only six months of the prison term. It was more than enough time, considering the horrific conditions of the institution.

  

Following his extradition to Sweden and eventually to the United States, Frank once again found himself on the run after having escaped the police and FBI on several occasions. There weren't many places left for him to hide. According to Abagnale's book, The Art of the Steal, he was apprehended a final time while hiding out in New York. He was eventually released into the custody of the FBI and tried for his crimes.

Frank was found guilty and received a sentence of twelve years. Following his sentencing, he was remanded to the Federal Correction Institution in Petersburg, Virginia. However, he was granted early parole at the age of twenty-six years, having spent a total of five years behind bars. Finally, Frank was free and had the chance to make a new beginning, although it would prove to be difficult.

Following his release, Frank worked at a series of low paying jobs, although they were mostly short-lived. Frank tried to conceal from his employers that he was an ex-con, knowing it was likely they would not hire him if they knew the truth. However his employers would eventually learn the truth and immediately fire him.

After a while, Frank began to get frustrated because he knew he had talents that could be of use to somebody somewhere. He just had to find a client that would be interested in his skills and maybe in some way profit from them. He also knew he had to find a way to market himself.

Surprisingly, it was the very people that captured Frank that would offer him a second chance. The FBI and other law enforcement agencies were just the people who could gain from what he knew. They needed to know the workings of a criminal mind from first hand experience so that they could use the knowledge to better apprehend offenders. Frank began to lecture to them for free, realizing that he had to in some way repay his debt to society.

Before long, more jobs came Frank's way but ones which paid. In fact, as the years went buy, Frank's knowledge was in great demand by major companies around the world. Companies realized that they could save millions if not billions of dollars protecting themselves from con artists and counterfeiters and Frank was just the man that could provide them with the valuable information they needed.

Frank Abagnale with FBI officers
Frank Abagnale with FBI officers
  

To date, Frank is one of the world's foremost authorities on document fraud, including check swindling, forgery and embezzlement. According to his company website Abagnale.com. Frank has been a consultant, lectured and instructed hundreds of seminars worldwide and continues to offer his services for free to the FBI. Moreover, he has published several books, manuals and articles and has designed secure checks that are utilized by businesses worldwide.

Recent photo of Frank Abagnale
Recent photo of Frank Abagnale
  

There is no doubt that Frank has made great efforts to make amends for his past wrongs.  He successfully rehabilitated himself and has channeled his talents in a more positive direction. According to an interview with Frank by Laura Pulfer, Frank stated that his relationship with his wife of more than a quarter of a century and his belief in God has led to his about face. He currently lives in the Midwest with his wife and three sons.

 

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