Making a career out of ripping people off takes a special kind of asshole. But to make a career out of defrauding the general public, get exposed as a fraud, and then keep right on defrauding people as if nothing ever happened takes a special kind of asshole with balls of industrial steel. Either that, or a sociopathic lack of self-awareness. Here are five people who just can't stop making shit up (and are inexplicably rewarded for it).
#5. Ed and Lorraine Warren
Warner Bros. Pictures
Hey, have you noticed how some recent haunted house movies have advertised themselves as being based on a true story? And that some of them -- like The Conjuring -- kind of make that the whole point, going on and on about the "real" adventures of this husband-and-wife house de-haunting team?
Warner Bros. Pictures
And their seeming inability to give the damn haunted doll to Goodwill and be done with it.
That's Ed and Lorraine Warren, who've made a half-century's worth of headlines as honest to goodness ghostbusters -- not so much the wisecracking Bill Murray kind as the shit-your-pants spider-walking Exorcist kind. They have performed thousands of paranormal investigations since founding the New England Society for Psychic Research in 1952 and were long considered the go-to experts on demonology, a field in which we imagine there isn't much competition. Their chilling true-life cases range from a demonic child's doll to a dude possessed by the spirit of a motherfucking werewolf.
Even their website is possessed by the ghost of GeoCities. (Do yourself a favor and stay for the song.)
One of the Warrens' earliest claims to fame was the Amityville Horror, which, as most people are now aware, was an elaborate hoax. But what's the big deal, it's all just fun and games, right? Who cares if these people go around selling Hollywood fake ghost stories?
Especially ones that are exactly one rubber mask away from being Scooby-Doo episodes.
Well, another famous case of the Warrens was detailed in their book The Devil in Connecticut, about a teenager named Arnie Johnson who murdered his landlord while possessed by demons he had inherited from a little boy named David Glatzel after David was given an exorcism arranged by the Warrens. Carl Glatzel Jr., David's brother, wound up suing the Warrens on the grounds that his brother was mentally ill, not possessed, and needed actual help from actual doctors. According to Carl, the Warrens promised his family that they'd become millionaires if they would insist that the boys had been plagued by demons instead of a completely treatable mental disorder. They also promised that Johnson could beat the rap by using demonic possession as a defense, a seemingly bulletproof tactic that somehow only succeeded in earning Johnson a prison sentence.
When the Warrens were writing In a Dark Place, the book upon which the cosmically forgettable 2009 film The Haunting in Connecticut was based, they contacted horror author Ray Garton to help. Garton went into the project thinking that he'd be interviewing a family who truly believed they were being haunted, but quickly found that the family was deeply troubled, and no one involved could keep their stories straight. When he expressed his concerns to Ed Warren, he responded, "All the people who come to us are crazy ... just use what you can and make the rest up ... make it up and make it scary. That's why we hired you."
John O'hara via sfgate.com
"Also, make sure to mention my Adonis-like physique and John Holmes-ian dong."
Where Are They Now?
While Ed passed away in 2006 (and is presumably getting forever pantsed by actual ghosts in the afterlife), Lorraine keeps the family business thriving, most recently by acting as a consultant for the 2013 film The Conjuring, a movie about the heroic deeds of Ed and Lorraine Warren and the heroic truck-driving skills of Ron Livingston.
Hollywood loves the Warrens. The Conjuring was just the latest in a slew of royalty-generating films based on their stories, and it went on to become one of the highest-grossing horror films of all time, with spinoffs and a sequel planned (a key plot point in the movie is how only a fool would doubt the Warrens). So the next time you're at the theater and see a horror movie poster proudly emblazoned with the words "based on true events," whip out your phone and Google that shit. Chances are you'll find Ed Warren's grinning face staring back at you, which is the closest most of us will get to an actual haunting.
#4. James O'Keefe
Win McNamee/Getty Images News/Getty Images
James O'Keefe has been called a right-wing Michael Moore, which means he is a documentarian who carefully edits his footage to make his subjects look like total dickheads to serve his own political agenda. He is on a personal crusade to expose corruption in taxpayer-funded organizations such as NPR (National Public Radio), ACORN (the advocacy group for low-income families being taken advantage of by predatory homeowner's loans), and Planned Parenthood (the organization that provides literature, birth control, and abortion and health care consultation for low-income people).
Truly, these are all monstrous organizations that must be brought down, and O'Keefe heroically rises to the challenge by staging "stings" involving him or one of his undercover "citizen journalists" using hidden cameras to catch representatives of these groups engaging in criminal activity.
Just a heads up: If you start popping the popcorn now, it'll be ready by the time you get to the raging comment section.
As we've previously discussed, O'Keefe's most famous antic -- the one that allegedly discovered evidence of ACORN employees advising people how to disguise the source of any illegal income -- was proved to be categorically false, and he was forced to pay out $100,000 for slander (ACORN still got shut down, though). His other famous expose, in which he revealed how the head of fundraising for NPR was in favor of pushing an agenda of worldwide sharia law so long as it resulted in donation dollars, also turned out to be a steaming butt biscuit (O'Keefe had edited NPR's Ron Schiller quoting various politicians in such a way as to make it seem like Schiller was reciting his own personal views -- imagine someone deleting the phrase "According to Adolf Hitler" from the beginning of a sentence and you get the idea).
Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
As anyone who's ever tuned in mid-sentence and thought the History Channel was calling for a master race can sympathize with.
O'Keefe then released a video in 2012 supposedly exposing rampant cases of voter fraud by discovering non-U.S. citizens who had been permitted to vote in the presidential election. But when ThinkProgress did a simple Nexis search on the voters in question, they discovered that they were, in fact, U.S. citizens (many of whom willingly contacted ThinkProgress to prove that O'Keefe was lying about their alleged wrongdoing).
O'Keefe then tried to bust Patrick Moran, the director of field operations for a congressional candidate's campaign, for encouraging his employees to commit voter fraud. Yet when authorities investigated the accusations, it resulted in all charges against Moran being dropped. It seems the one thing O'Keefe doesn't have in common with Michael Moore is that O'Keefe has apparently never been right about a single goddamned thing in his entire life, which is what happens when you invent lies about things that you don't like.
Win McNamee/Getty Images News/Getty Images
"Next time we should do some of that research stuff people talk about."
Where Is He Now?
O'Keefe is now considered such an expert on undercover journalism that he wrote a book about it that almost instantaneously became a New York Times best-seller.
Meanwhile, O'Keefe is still putting his exposes on YouTube, and people are still falling for them, despite the fact that every single one of them is partially if not entirely fabricated. His video exposing voter fraud (which, as you remember, was itself fraudulent) set off a chain reaction that, according to Slate, "had more of an impact on the 2012 election than any journalist" -- again, despite the fact that it was totally untrue. Conservative outlets such as Fox and Breitbart continue to laud O'Keefe's "undercover journalism," even though his latest stunt -- busting small environmental filmmakers at the Cannes Film Festival for accepting funding from foreign oil interests -- has already been proved to be deceptively edited. In the world of inflammatory political videos, there really is no penalty for getting caught in a lie.
#3. Theresa Caputo
Theresa Caputo, also known as the Long Island Medium, can totally talk to dead people, for reals, no joke. She claims to have started Haley Joel Osmenting when she was 4 years old and has been a practicing (and certified!) medium for over 10 years, showcasing her amazing abilities on her hit TLC reality show since 2011. She presumably keeps her hair in the shape of a microphone to help her receive transmissions from the spirit world.
Aquanet is an essential element in summoning departed souls. You'd think they'd have advertised that by now.
Let's watch her bomb spectacularly in front of a room full of people who stubbornly refused to have recently deceased mothers and then marvel as she blames it on fickle spirits, because clearly it's the ghosts' fault and not the fact that she can't actually communicate with the dead:
Professional debunker James Randi examined Caputo's act and, to no one's surprise, determined that it was nothing more than a very familiar sideshow routine. Just like John Edward and countless others before her, she's simply quite skilled at an age-old technique known as cold reading, a method in which a performer "can pick up enough information in what seems like innocent, idle conversation" to make it seem like they are reading your mind. Basically, it's just intuitive guesswork. She's so good at it, in fact, that along with D.J. Groethe (president of the James Randi Educational Foundation), Randi awarded her the 2012 Pigasus Award, reserved for "the most deserving charlatans, swindlers, psychics, pseudoscientists, and faith healers." It's the kind of award you don't accept in person.
Although it would be nice to have something in the ol' trophy case besides dust and a father's disappointment.
Meanwhile, an investigation by Inside Edition found that, while Long Island Medium is edited to make it appear as though Caputo is a font of supernatural wisdom, she strikes out again and again during live readings. She brushes off these embarrassing gaffes by insisting that the blazingly incorrect message she received must have been intended for someone else (this is known as "piggybacking").
Private investigator Ron Tebo maintains a collection of Caputo's failures on YouTube (he did the clip above) and spent over a year interviewing her past clients to discover that the majority of them felt ripped off (because Caputo happily demands cash payment in exchange for sharing her incredible gift). Her response to fraud allegations is the verbal equivalent of a shrug -- "I respect and understand skeptics. I'm not trying to prove anything to anyone, that's not why I do what I do. I feel, and have been told by my clients, that my gift has really helped them, and that's all that matters to me."
Almost all that matters.
Where Is She Now?
At the time of this writing, Long Island Medium is in its sixth season of exploiting people's grief on TLC. When she's not filming her carefully edited carnival show or appearing on daytime talk shows, she's touring the country and writing New York Times best-sellers, all based on a "psychic ability" that has been thoroughly debunked for over a century.