IN HER EXCLUSIVE FIRST INTERVIEW, CON ARTIST ESTHER REED REVEALS TO CBS NEWS "48 HOURS MYSTERY" HOW SHE SCAMMED HER WAY INTO THE IVY LEAGUE, OUTSMARTED THE FEDS AND SPENT NEARLY NINE YEARS ON THE RUN
"I AM NOT CLEAR ON WHY PEOPLE CONSIDER ME A CON ARTIST. [NOT] EVERYONE WHO TELLS A LIE IS A CON ARTIST,"
SHE SAYS IN THE BROADCAST ON SATURDAY, MAY 9
She's a high school dropout who has scammed her way into Harvard and Columbia and has stolen over $100,000 in student loans. She's assumed at least four different identities that have taken her from Seattle to Arizona to California, Chicago, Boston and New York, among others. But in an exclusive interview with 48 HOURS MYSTERY, Esther Elizabeth Reed claims she is "not clear why people consider me a con artist. [Not] everyone who tells a lie is a con artist...I never borrowed a penny, opened a credit card that I did not intend on paying back."
In the interview Reed, whose relationships with several West Point and Annapolis military students have led some to suspect she was a spy, reveals how she stayed one step ahead of the authorities for nine years. "I knew I wasn't doing anything wrong enough to get caught," she says.
But Reed, who disappeared from her Seattle home in the summer of 1999, eventually did get caught. It happened by chance when she assumed the identity of Brooke Henson, a young woman who had gone missing from her South Carolina home the same summer as Reed. In 2006, Henson's family and authorities thought they had found Brooke enrolled at Columbia University. Instead, they stumbled onto Esther Reed's trail.
"I planned on being Brooke Henson for the rest of my life," says Reed, who immediately fled New York City and assumed a new identity. "After Brooke Henson I decided [I'm] not playing with real people. I'm going to create an identity. I didn't think I could get into any trouble for that."
As Jennifer Myers, Reed remained at large for more than a year and a half after escaping New York, but authorities were closing in. In the end, Reed was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Searching for a man who had murdered five women, police in Chicago were running checks on every out-of-state car when they came across Reed's. When they showed up at her hotel room, she knew it was over. "It was overwhelming. There was absolute panic and I said, 'I'm Esther Reed.'"
"It's horrible. It's an extremely difficult life to live," says former conman Frank Abagnale whose famed exploits inspired the hit movie Catch Me If You Can. "You're acting. You're not really that person. You're just pretending to be that person...Esther has talent. She's intelligent. She has personality. She has a lot of things going for her."
Esther Reed pleaded guilty to four felonies and says that her cross-country con, "just snowballed...my intention was to have a life that I could live. And I tried my best not to hurt people."
Peter Van Sant reports 48 HOURS MYSTERY: "Catch Her If You Can," on Saturday, May 9 (10:00-11:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. The broadcast is produced by Paul LaRosa and Chris O'Connell. Peter Schweitzer is the senior producer. Al Briganti is the executive editor. Susan Zirinsky is the executive producer.
CBS News 48 HOURS MYSTERY broadcasts are now available on iTunes.com.