One of the most heartless scams of all.

One of our very good friends and personal heroes, a lady private investigator by the name of "Rat Dog Dick," was the driving force behind the investigation of the case that came to be known as "The Digitalis Murders."

There were two main players in the story.

Main Player #1 was a lonely old man with a healthy bank account and a clear deed on his San Francisco house.

Main Player #2 was a very much younger woman.

When the curtain fell, she had taken over the bank account and owned the house free and clear. He was dead.

Rat Dog's amazing investigation led to murder charges against the woman. The agent of death was digitalis. The details outlined a classic "Sweetheart Swindle."

The victim, usually a lonely person, is most often lured into the trap by simple attention. The heartless crook begins a slow dance of worming his/her way into a position of trust, and then takes that trust all the way to the bank. The spoils may be money, jewelry, property or a variety of other things of value. It often involves outright gifts or emergency loans of money. The result is never pretty.

Early this year we received a call from an American college professor who was currently living/working in Paris. He was very concerned about his 82-year-old widowed mother and wanted to know where he could go for help. He suspected that she was being slowly swindled by her 63-year-old "boyfriend." Evie, although legally blind, was sharp as a tack, and met Bruno when he began doing handyman work for her. She was able to see well enough to get around on her own, however she no longer had a driver's license or could read without a magnifying glass. She had a pristine '62 Cadillac Eldorado with 8,000 original miles on the odometer. She owned her home (valued at three million because of its location) outright,  had nearly $700,000 in liquid cash and an equal amount in stock certificates. By today's standards, Evie was a wealthy woman. Bruno had nothing except a monthly SSI check, which is why he was looking for handyman work.

Evie's son had long done his mother's taxes for her. As he went through her box of receipts, records and bank statements for 2005, he noticed a disturbing pattern. His mother would send Bruno out with her bank card so that he could buy a can of paint and a brush, and the bank machine receipt with show a withdrawal of $300. Bruno had found a reason to make a home repair purchase almost every day, and was averaging $1,500 a week in bonuses.

Evie and Bruno were also fond of going on cruises, compliments of Evie, of course, and her bank account had dwindled from $700,000 to $612,000 in one year. When the son tried to talk to his mother, she became combative and uncharacteristically shouted, "I am quite old enough to spend my money any way I see fit. Leave me alone." When she was told about the cash withdrawals from the ATMs, she said that she was not concerned but would ask Bruno to be more careful with his receipts. "Why do you want me to die miserable and alone? Bruno is wonderful. He's taking me dancing tonight and we might even get married in a few more months!"

There was little that we could do to help this family. Evie was well beyond the "age of consent" and she was in control of her faculties. Making poor choices borne of loneliness is not a good enough reason to convince a judge to assign her a conservator. Even after doing a Criminal Records Search on Bruno - and finding a previous conviction for Elder Abuse that stemmed from an almost identical situation as what he was doing with/to Evie - there was no clear cut protective action.

Sweetheart Swindles are not ONLY perpetrated against old people. Nor are women the only victims. This is a crime that knows no age boundaries and it can happen to men or to women. In some cases the actions can be construed as criminal (with intent to defraud) and action can be taken. If you need help determining if you can do something or not, contact us. We'll refer you to the appropriate authorities or agency that can help you.