Exposing A Con-Man

In one of my favourite films, “Catch me if you can” starring Tom Hanks and Leonardo DiCaprio, DiCaprio plays a young con-man who successfully convinces people he is a pilot, a lawyer, and even a doctor, before Hanks’s character (a determined FBI agent) pursues him, and a sophisticated game of “cat and mouse” ensues. DiCaprio has an alluring charm characteristic of con-men, which he masterfully leverages to conceal his lies with increasing confidence and ease.

Con-men themes in the movies are by no means new. Think Oceans 11, Focus, The Good Liar, Maverick, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, and the Hustle to name a few. Usually, the protagonist is a likeable “not so evil” character that endears himself to the audience, if not his victims. But as in most of these films, the law catches up with DiCaprio and the con-man’s caper is drawn to a close. Although a light-hearted depiction of con-men, these films instilled in me with a growing interest into the activities of the modern-day, accomplished con-men that take manipulation to the next level.

I wanted to know and understand the inner rationale of these criminals. What drives them? Why do they target certain people, and, more interestingly, how do they get away with it?

A typical con-man is comfortable exploiting people’s weaknesses. They display traits of narcissistic personality disorder and, in the worst cases, sociopathic tendencies. They prioritise self-interest and ruthlessly use people for their own selfish gain. They have aninability of empathise with others, often thinking of themselves as the victim and thereby justifying to themselves why they are above the rules. They enjoy being able to take and do what they please and fail to take responsibility for these actions. They thrive on the feeling of power and superiority as a means of compensating for what in most narcissistic cases is a deep, yet unrecognised sense of insecurity.

As I began researching and talking to people about their experiences, I became aware that everyone knows someone who has been a victim of a con man. Some stories I heard were just examples of small-time con-men; isolated examples of manipulation, ripping off the vulnerable or unsavvy consumer.

On several occasions, however, one small “breadcrumb” led me to uncover incredible real-life examples of elaborate masters of manipulation, involving fraud, assaults, and even manslaughter. I heard stories of broken women, destroyed businesses, abused children and what it feels like to live a life on the run. Although the majority of the victims I spoke to were not prepared to be identified, they all shared common feelings of shame, embarrassment and humiliation for being so blind to the charm of the manipulator.

Over the past several years, I narrowed my research to focus on six particular con-men (from six different countries) who,at the time of writing are actively operating unhindered by the authorities. These individuals live their lives at the cost of others, showing no remorse for their actions but moving from victim to victim, always seeking to stay one step ahead of the game.

Over the next series of articles, I will name and unpack each case, as a warning to others to steer well clear of these individuals.

The first example is a trumpet teacher from the small town of Cracroft, Christchurch, New Zealand. For all intents and purposes, Brian Gilkison lives what appears to be a quiet life in New Zealand. An air traffic controller and businessman whose ventures include: The Great New Zealand Honey Company, Nelson Flying, New Zealand Apiaries and Barnstormers 2000.

However, on a deep dive into his past, I discovered multiple stories from women who have been abused and defrauded hundreds of thousands of dollars by Gilkison. Several allegations have been made of sexually assaulting not only his ownsons and multiple other children. A police investigation failed to uncover the truth and Gilkison walks free today.

Recently Netflix released the documentary “The Tinder Swindler”, the story of a modern con-man based on the life of Shimon Hayut. Hayut went by the name “Simon Leviev”, the son of Lev Leviev an Israeli-Russian diamond magnate, investor and philanthropist. He methodically love-bombed women in true narcissistic fashion, using them to fund his lavish lifestyle, all whilst seduce the next unsuspecting love-interest.

Much like Hayt, Gilkison reportedly always has one female in his life with another on the side waiting for her turn to take centre stage. He defrauds the first woman to maintain his lifestyle, pouring thousands of dollars into his businesses, court fees and studies. Meanwhile, a new partner is being groomed for the inevitable discard of the first supply once funds run dry and her purpose has been served.

Gilkison’s need for control extended to monitoring his victim’s conversations and knowing their whereabouts at all times. Some of his victims reported he changed their passwords and duplicated their email accounts. Gilkison isolated his victims from their family and friends, as is typical for narcissistic abuse. They become increasingly dependent on him and lose any support networks that might challenge the abuse. Over time the women reported feeling that they were losing control of their lives and mental health.

Even more disturbing is a particular method Gilkison used to gain control over his victims. He doused their meals in poison: just enough to become cognitively impaired and increasingly reliant on him. His poison of choice is the readily available weed-killer “Roundup”. Yes – a freely available chemical that would not raise suspicions if found inside the house. His victims reported to have experienced symptoms such as abdominal cramps, anxiety, breathing difficulty, diarrhea, dizziness and drowsiness while they were in a relationship with him.

The list is extensive of women and children who have been abused and manipulated by Gilkison. Victims I spoke to have reported verbal abuse, sexual abuse, poisoning, physical abuse,-controlling behaviour and financial abuse. Most victims did not wish to be named or go on the record due to the shame they felt for allowing themselves to be so vulnerable and to be taken in by such a master manipulator.

During my research, I not only looked at the victim’s statements, but I dug deeper into what happened when their crimes were reported to the police, what action was taken (if any) and what powers the police used to arrest and charge the offenders. Unfortunately, the system has failed to bring Gilkison to account and despite several allegations being raised, no convictions have been made.

Gilkison not only committed intimate partner abuse but was reported to be a psychopathic racist by one source. He recently gloated over the devastating suicide of an up-and-coming New Zealand Cyclist. And in an incident whilst working as an air traffic controller, despite andinvestigation, he reportedly acted negligently and caused the death of two Japanese pilots.

How is it possible that in today’s modern world of the internet, Google searches and electronic devices that such individuals are still able to operate unchecked? How do they continue to offend whilst avoiding exposure?

My hope is to shine a light on these offenders, to warn others of them, and to seek in some small way to achieve justice for their victims.

How about you? Do you find giving feedback difficult? Or is it just all a part of a good client/customer relationship?

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