Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Clifford Irving's Hoax


Clifford Michael Irving was an only child born to Jay and Dorothy Irving of New York on November 5, 1930. Little is known about his formative years, but Clifford was believed to have had a contented childhood. Growing up, Clifford was greatly influenced by his father Jay who played a significant role in his son's life. According to Fay, Chester and Linklater, Jay was a magazine cover designer and the creator of a popular newspaper cartoon figure called Pottsy. Jay had great expectations for Clifford and saw in him potential to be successful, even more so then himself. After all, Clifford was a handsome and determined young man, who was popular amongst his fellow students and full of ambition.  

Clifford graduated in 1947 from the High School of Music and Art in Manhattan and immediately enrolled in Cornell University. It was at the university that he became interested in literature and writing. He surrounded himself with a colorful group of aspiring young writers who shared his ambition to one day be a literary success. Throughout the years, Clifford's popularity grew as he became increasingly active in extra-curricular activities. Since he was in the upper echelon of the school's social strata, it seemed only fitting that he date a young woman in a similar position, which he did.

The young woman whom he dated was named Nina Wilcox and within a relatively brief period of time the two were engaged. Eventually, they were married. However, the relationship was short-lived. After approximately two years Nina and Clifford were divorced.

Clifford worked at a series of odd jobs while he began writing his first novel, which would later be titled On a Darkling Plain. In 1956 Putnam eventually published the book, yet it warranted little attention. During this time, Clifford was traveling around Europe and working on his second novel, which later became known as The Losers. During his stay on the Spanish island of Ibiza he met and fell in love with a British woman named Claire Lydon.

Claire and Clifford were married in 1958 and shortly thereafter moved back to the United States and settled in California. The marriage was an unhappy one and Clifford was often unfaithful to his wife. The marriage ended abruptly in disaster a couple years later when Claire was killed in a car accident.  

Clifford was shaken by Claire's untimely death and escaped from his grief by plunging into the writing of another book. The manuscript, a Western called The Valley, was completed in 1960 and captured the attention of the prestigious McGraw-Hill in New York. The book was eventually published and Clifford's reputation as a writer began to excel.

Clifford's love life was also picking up, especially after he met a young English model named Fay Brooke. It wasn't long before the couple married and together they began their ascent up California's social ladder. However, Clifford was quickly disillusioned with the rich and famous crowd that surrounded him and he began to yearn for something different.

In 1962, the couple moved with their newly born son Josh to the island of Ibiza, where Clifford felt most at home. The island's expanding expatriate group made up mostly of artists, poets and writers welcomed the new family and received them into their circle with open arms. Clifford reveled in island life. He especially enjoyed and became well acquainted with the beautiful women that frequented the isle.

Baroness Nina Van Pallandt
Baroness Nina Van Pallandt

One of the women whom he developed a relationship with was Baroness Nina Van Pallandt, a Danish singer who lived on the island. The relationship outlasted his marriage, which ended in divorce in 1965. However, the Baroness and Clifford would never tie the knot. Clifford would marry another in 1967, a Swiss/German artist named Edith Sommer.

Edith was unabashedly in love with her husband and was determined to make the relationship a success, unlike their previous marriages. Clifford was also convinced that he had finally met the woman of his dreams. The couple bought a farmhouse on the island and began to focus on expanding their family.

Edith and Clifford Irving
Edith and Clifford Irving

Within a year of their marriage the couple welcomed the birth of their son Nedsky, who was followed by another son one half year later named Barney. Not only was Clifford's family life a success, but his literary career was also taking off. He published several more novels, one of which was called Fake! about a master art forger named De Hory who was a neighbor of the Irving's. The book was a great success and earned him acclaim. Everything was working in the couple's favor and they maintained a happy existence, at least for a while.

The happy couple began to experience problems after Clifford revived his relationship with his ex-mistress Baroness Nina Van Pallandt. Edith was very jealous of Nina and Clifford's liaison and convinced the two to end the love affair. She threatened Clifford with divorce if he did not. He finally agreed but time would prove him incapable of keeping his promise. However, by the beginning of 1971, Edith and Clifford had more important things to focus their energy on apart from extramarital affairs. They were busy devising a hoax that they hoped would lead to fame for Clifford and riches for the entire family.


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