Excerpt from Her King the Con: How an Online Love Affair Led to Near Disaster, by Shelley Frost and Linda Young
What you are about to read is an account by two sisters of a terrifying time in our lives. During the few months from the fall of 2018 into January 2019, our already strained relationship was put to the test by a romance-scam criminal located on the other side of the planet. While he was committing his worst acts against my younger sister Linda, I scrambled blindly, unable to figure out how to save her. Ultimately I gathered together the “squad”—six women, including me, who strategized and implemented the plan that would finally wrench Linda from the psychological grasp the criminal held on her.
After the dust had settled and the criminal had been expelled from Linda’s life, she and I rediscovered each other. Throughout 2019, I interviewed Linda, the squad members, and several therapists in order to put together the story in this book. During that time, my relationship with Linda made a complete reversal.
Linda had often shielded herself from knowing my opinions of her. She never wanted me to judge her decisions, so she hid behind a mask of toughness. After her ordeal was over, she made the choice to stop caring what I might or might not think of her actions. She finally accepted that I only wanted her to be safe and happy. That’s when the flood gates opened and Linda did not hold back. From never confiding in each other to suddenly getting a generous dose of very private information, my face may have turned bright red once or twice as Linda recounted the details of her online love affair.
As adults, I had heeded the vibe Linda put out and acted the part, never reaching out nor asking Linda if she needed to talk or have a sisterly hug. But after the trauma and emotional volcano we had just emerged from, I was more than ready to put aside polite small talk with my little sister, and instead finally have meaningful, productive, and honest heart-to-hearts.
The following story is as much about two sisters as it is about a devastating romance scam. Although the scammer, a highly skilled professional, wreaked havoc within our family while coming close to shattering my sister who deserved nothing but love and respect, his actions may well help other families and friends of romance-scam targets thanks to the information contained in this book.
In this story, Linda divulges the most sensitive and private details of her time under the spell of a romance scam artist. And in this book, I have diligently re-created every harrowing moment along with providing plenty of expert opinions sprinkled throughout. In a perfect world, no one would ever endure becoming the fair game of a scammer. And no family or friends would ever need guidance about how to extricate their loved one from the effective brainwashing these criminals are so skilled at performing. But if you, unfortunately, know someone dear to you who is being scammed and cannot see the truth, we hope that you may find tools and resources in these pages that can help.
Excerpt from Thinning of the Blood, by Brittany Gottschalk, ghostwriter, Shelley Frost
The street I grew up on was classic middle, urban America. My childhood home was on Lloyd and 55th street, in Milwaukee Wisconsin. It was an unremarkable, three-story, duplex with matching front doors and imposing brick columns that supported the roof of the front porch. In late 1992 into the early months of 1993, my parents, Leo and Ann, had been preparing one room in the house for the new baby boy they would soon be bringing home. Because the baby in her womb was so energetic and seemed to be “bouncing off the walls” my mother was certain she was carrying a boy. This belief lined up with her husband’s vision of fatherhood. He had always dreamed of having a boy to raise. A child who would excel in sports and academics. A child who would make him puff with pride.
My parents even had a name picked out for me – Marcus Anthony- and called me by that name in the womb. Can you imagine! Without a thought that their expectations were perhaps wrong, the two of them purchased toys made specifically for boys, filling the baby’s room with an assortment of industrial-based plastic playthings like trains and cars.
On March 3rd, 1993, a cold, blustery winter day, I came squalling into the world. A quick check confirmed to the doctor and my parents that I was not the boy they expected. I was a girl. At birth, my skin was the typical ruddy red of a newborn. But my head was covered in soft black curls and my infant eyes were chocolate brown. In the coming days, my complexion began to favor my mother’s – a woman of African descent. Because my father was of European descent, my mixed-race skin had a warm golden glow.
At age 5, I became cognizant of being a disappointment. My dad tried to act like my gender wasn't an issue, but he pushed me hard to play sports with boys. He practiced playing hardball with me instead of softball. His passive aggressive complaining only added to my insecurity.
It wasn't long after that I learned that my mother never wanted children. Yet that did not stop her from threatening me that if I didn’t behave, she would have another baby. I took this to mean that a brother or sister in my life would end any love my parents had for me. The new kids would become the center of their world and I would be out in the cold. Little did I know that I'd eventually find out that whatever "love" they had for me was no kind of love at all.
To compensate for the mistake of being born (and a girl at that), I worked hard to be on my best behavior. Rarely was I around children my age, except at daycare. I guess this helped me to avoid acting like a typical little kid, which adults favored. Many adults would tell my dad how mature I was for my age making him beam with pride. I didn’t fuss, or whine or throw temper tantrums very often. In fact, it was my paternal grandfather whose self-confidence I seemed to have inherited. The man is a total bastard, and he is loud and boisterous to boot. Born in 1930, my grandfather was a boxer and U.S. Air Force pilot who became a lawyer never caring what anyone else thought of him.
Now that I am an adult, I feel embarrassed to see many of my grandfather's traits in myself, which is probably why I can be so inexorable at times. However, not worrying about how others might perceive me has helped me to achieve so many of my goals and joys in life, and I'm grateful for that.
Early in my life, I committed myself to be the best at everything I tackled, especially if it was something that I knew would give my parents joy. Surely my achievements would win them over, right? Nope. This was a plan doomed to fail. How could I, a small child, understand the damaged people who were my mother and father? How could I at such a young age, ever think for one minute that my actions and behavior could ever make them truly love me?
When my mother was a child, she witnessed violence in her family. She would tell these stories to me, not considering that I was perhaps too young to process the imagery she described. My mother told me how her father’s anger was so frightening that her mother would flee the house with her father chasing her, a weapon in his hands. As if that was not brutal enough for my young ears, she told me the terrifying story of the time she witnessed her father killing his son, my mother’s brother, my uncle Ron.
Despite this, my mother was a happy child, quick with smiles and laughter. This all changed on the day of the car accident when she was 6 years old. During the collision, my mother’s small body shot through the windshield. She suffered a severe head injury, and her mental state was never the same again. She began to have unexplainable mood swings, similar to that of her father. Should someone want to take her picture, she lashed out. If you used the wrong words in conversation, she became inconsolable. She became very reclusive not wanting to play with other children, which carried into her adolescent and adult years. Her smiles and laughter belonged to a child who no longer existed. As she got older, her only companions would be my granny and random friends who seemed to go through a revolving door after they figured out she was batshit crazy.
My father’s upbringing took place in Slinger, Wisconsin. When he was a teen, he had the fortunate opportunity to live with his godfather, a famous civil rights activist named Brother Booker Ashe. Brother Booker was a Catholic Capuchin monk who ran Milwaukee’s House of Peace for the needy. He was an advocate for his community creating innovative programs such as a library, classes, and job placement programs. Willy Thorn, author of Brother Booker’s biography said, “When it comes to African American people in Wisconsin and Milwaukee, Brother Booker may be the most important man this side of Hank Aaron.” I wouldn't consider myself a religious person, but I believe that those in the Capuchin community are some of the only people who put their money where their mouths are when it comes to living their faith.
Despite being under the influence of this great man, my father rebelled and became addicted to drugs. Out of control, he ran away from home. He then impregnated a 14-year-old girl who gave birth to a daughter, my half-sister, Jamae. At first, my father did not accept the child as his own. In later years, as she became a teenager, my father had a change of heart and began including her in my nuclear family. I've known Jamae for as long as I've been alive. My dad encouraged a sisterhood between Jamae and me, but I never got the same feeling from my mom. Only later, perhaps motivated by duty or rebellion, I tried to keep Janae in my life. But as with most things regarding my blood relatives, my efforts were futile.
Excerpt from Pair-of-Dime Shift: A Special Educator's Forty-Five Years of Reflection, by Debbie Wilkes, Ghostwriter, Shelley Frost
In 1970 I joined my fellow college classmates to visit Western State School and Hospital, an institution for the developmentally disabled in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania. We were all studying for our teaching degrees, but my passion was to someday help educate children with developmental disabilities.
As our bus trundled toward our destination, my mind went back in time to the day I met a young boy who had cerebral palsy. I was an eight-year-old Girl Scout looking to earn a service badge. At birth, the boy suffered brain damage, resulting in a group of disorders that caused his muscles to weaken. He had difficulty with movement, and sometimes his muscles spasmed out of his control. He could not walk, so his parents carried him in their arms, or he rode in a stroller.
When I met the boy, I knew right away that I wanted to do whatever I could to help make his life better. During our weekly visits, my job was to help him with “patterning therapy.” In the 1950s, the accepted theory of development for the "brain-injured child" was that stimulation was the key to unlocking a child’s potential. A child could only progress if they met certain milestones in the proper sequence. Should a child with an impairment be unable to complete the "normal" stages of development, the belief was that the child would never graduate to the next level. An infant who cannot crawl will not evolve to their first steps, making it unlikely they will ever walk.
Today patterning therapy has been debunked by the American Academy of Pediatrics. In fact, many experts believe that the treatment was ineffective and perhaps harmful. Families were subjected to additional stress due to the high expectations for positive results. They were also spiraling financially, trying to pay for the high costs of providing their children with this specialized treatment.
But back then, I was a young girl eager to help the boy strive towards a “typical” life. To steer him towards a day when he could walk across a room, I would gently grasp his legs, moving them in a walking motion. We would do this time and time again as the regimen was designed to cause muscle memory. I would slowly guide his arms upwards, making sure to avoid quick, jerky movements like the spasms the boy so often endured. Then I would help him to bend his elbows, holding his forearms and moving them as if he were crawling across the floor.
During those weeks that I met with the boy, I remember someone telling me that I was wasting my time. They declared that people like him were lost causes and should just be institutionalized. I had no idea what they were talking about. I had never heard of an “institution,” not understanding that thousands of kids just like this boy were locked up inside these houses of horror.
Having seen with my own eyes how the boy was progressing, I ignored the naysayers, knowing in my heart that the time I spent with him was elevating his quality of life. In my mind, the patterning therapy would help him physically, and someday his world would become bigger—he would be able to leave his house, explore his neighborhood, and perhaps even go to his local public school.
The boy had a quick mind that was ripe for learning. He and I would sit for hours talking while I gently pushed his limbs to learn what they were meant to be doing. If only he could attend school with children his own age! I felt hope that maybe I could one day make a difference for kids who had limitations. Where could this lead, I wondered. Did I dare hope that someday all children, no matter their differences, could be accepted by their peers and just be friends?
On the day that I rode the college bus toward a building inhabited by hundreds of people labeled as handicapped, I was jolted back to those memories of the boy with cerebral palsy. I also flashed back to being told that people like him were useless to society and should be shut away. Within minutes I would learn first-hand the truth about these dismal places. The experience was profound and brought into focus how I would dedicate my life’s work.
The bus pulled into the long driveway lined with thickly leafed trees shading a velvet green lawn that circled buildings resembling a college campus. I could never have imagined what was behind the sparkling windows. I stepped off the bus and followed my fellow classmates towards the impressive front doors. As we neared the building, I caught a whiff of stench that threw me off guard. My stomach dropped, and I felt like running back to the safety of the bus. But within moments, we were ushered inside, and what I witnessed took my breath away.
Children and adults were scattered about the hallways, sitting against the walls, many of them wearing only diapers. Some moaned and yelled. Others looked catatonic, their eyes glassy, their mouths slack. The smell was overpowering, and my head began to swim. But even as the words screamed in my head that I couldn’t do this, I knew I had to bear witness to this horror in order to change it. On that day, my determination to make a difference cemented itself into my soul.