Espionage. Fraud. Secret families. Prostitution. Sexual Abuse. Vigilantism. What is it that compels people to lead double lives? It could be the promise of money or power, or it could just be for the thrill of it. Maybe some people just can’t help themselves. Here are a sampling of real-life characters who managed to successfully lead double lives — at least for a little while.
Back in 2010, America was shocked by the news that Russia’s external intelligence agency was operating an espionage ring in the United States. More shocking was the fact that the 10 spies involved were living what appeared to be normal suburban lives around the country. One spy in particular set the media to a frenzy. Anna Chapman, the alias of Russian spy Anna Kushchyenko, is very hot. For five years, she lived in Manhattan’s Financial District and purportedly operated an international real estate company, for which she commanded more than 50 employees. She kept her spying secret from everyone, including her husband, who had been suspicious of some of the secret meetings she attended. When Chapman was arrested, some steamy photos of her from Facebook made it to the press. Articles began appearing with quotes like this one, from her ex-husband: “The sex was great and she had this incredible body.” Then she posed for playboy and appeared on the cover of Maxim in Russia. Now she lives a triple life, not just as a CEO and spy, but as a sex symbol, as well.
Chapman wasn’t the first sultry spy to lead a double life. Mata Hari, the performing name of Netherlands-born Margaretha Geertruida Zelle, was the most popular exotic dancer in Paris around the turn of the 20th Century. She gained worldwide renown for her bawdy act, which relied heavily on wearing faux-Egyptian and Asian costumes, and then taking them off. She was so popular that Ernest Hemingway even claimed to have slept with her, despite the fact that he was a teenager when she died. At the start of the First World War, Mata Hari found work as a spy for French Intelligence. She then double-crossed the country, providing intelligence against France to Germany. After a long trial, she was sentenced to death by firing squad.
Klaus Fuchs was a theoretical physicist from Germany who worked on the Manhattan Project at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. He was highly respected for his ingenuity in the field of atomic research. And, yes — you guessed it — he was also a spy. From 1947 to 1949, Fuchs covertly provided information regarding the United States’ atomic weapons programs to the Soviet Union. With Fuchs’ help, the USSR was able to assess that the States were not yet capable of engaging in Nuclear War. Fuchs was eventually arrested and, because Russia was then considered a “friendly” nation, sentenced to only 14 years in jail.
Frank Abagnale, Jr.
His story is well known by now, owed mostly to the notoriety of Catch Me If You Can, the Steven Spielberg movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks that was based on his autobiography. For those of you who have not seen it, Abagnale is a notorious con artist who successfully posed as an airline pilot, a teacher, a doctor, and a lawyer in the late 1960s. He started duping the airlines when he was 16, and managed to fly more than a million miles for free over the course of a couple years. After forging a degree from Columbia University, he taught a course in sociology at Brigham Young University. From there he went to Georgia, where he posed as the chief resident pediatrician of a hospital. At 19, he forged a degree from Harvard and, after managing to pass the Louisiana Bar Exam, worked at a law firm for eight months. He was finally caught in France, at the age of 22, for forging checks. He now writes books that teach consumers how to avoid becoming victims of fraud. A Broadway musical about his life, also titled Catch Me If You Can, opened in April 2011.
Back in 1986, a 27 year-old man from Kansas City named James Hogue assumed the identity of a 16 year-old orphan and enrolled at a high school in Palo Alto, California. Despite the fact that a local reporter revealed his identity, he managed to escape his parole (he was arrested for stealing bike parts) and went to New Jersey, where he enrolled at Princeton University under the alias Alexi Indris-Santana. He was incredibly successful at the college, and even joined “The Ivy,” one of the school’s oldest and most prestigious clubs. For years, no one suspected that he was a fake. After completing his sophomore year, Hogue was arrested and charged with forgery, falsifying documents, and wrongful impersonation. He spent three years in jail. In 1996, he was arrested again for trying to pass himself off as a grad student at the same university.
Dominic Carter has a face that you can’t help but trust. He has to; for years, he was a political anchor on NY1, a TV news station in New York City. As a local celebrity, he was considered a valued member of the community. Which is why it was such a shock when in 2009 it was revealed that he had been accused of domestic abuse. Police found evidence that Carter had punched, kicked, and partially strangled his wife. But that isn’t even the most surprising part. A few months later, a relative claimed that Carter had been raising a secret family, and had two children out of wedlock with a high-school sweetheart.
This British City Tycoon has a lot of cajones. In 2009, his wife divorced him, claiming £11 million in damages. Her grievance? He had fathered a secret family, for whom he had bought a £7 million home right around the corner from their house. Myerson’s affair lasted ten years, and despite the fact that his wife claimed to be completely unaware of their existence, they were common knowledge to his friends and business partners. He was hardly careful about his two families, and even took them to the same vacation home in his native South Africa. Myerson’s take? “I might be an old-fashioned male chauvinist but I believe men should look after all their children and the women they are involved with in a traditional way.” How valiant!
Remember the OJ Simpson trial? Perhaps OJ wasn’t living a double life (just a really crazy single one), but his lawyer was. Back in the 1970s, Johnny Cochran seemed to be happily married to a wife he met in college, and lived with their two children. In 1974, the defense attorney, who would later become famous for representing celebrities like Simpson, Tupac Shakur, Michael Jackson, and Sean Combs, bought a house in North Hollywood for his mistress and their son. His wife divorced him in 1977 on grounds of abuse and infidelity. He continued the relationship with his mistress and in 2004 she sued him for “palimony,” which is apparently this thing in California where he has to pay her alimony despite the fact that they were never married.
Warren G. Harding
Before he was the 29th President of the United States, Warren Harding was an Ohio senator with a reputation for personal scandals and corruption. During his tenure in the senate, Harding was a part of the “Ohio Gang” of politicians, who supposedly threw debauched orgies at their house in Washington, D.C. Beginning in 1905, Harding carried on a 15-year affair with Carrie Fulton Phillips, the wife of a Marion, Ohio businessman. When he ran for president in 1920, he was forced to disclose his extramarital relationship with her to the Republican Party (not to be confused with the contemporary Republican Party), as well as one with another woman, and Phillips became the only person to successfully blackmail a political party for a yearly stipend. While in office, Harding engaged in two more affairs, one with the very young Nan Britton, who claims to have carried his daughter, and wrote so in her tell-all 1927 book, The President’s Daughter. Harding is generally considered to be America’s worst president.
It rocked the political world in 2008 when it was revealed that New York’s gubernatorial darling Eliot Spitzer, a man infamous for cracking down on corrupt corporate dealing and exploitative Wall Street bankers, was also a frequent client of a high-end prostitution service. The then-governor had been enjoying high approval ratings and a productive term when it came to light that he had spent between 15 and 80 thousand dollars at the agency over a course of six months. Needless to say, Spitzer stepped down from his office and is no longer married to his wife, on whom the CBS drama The Good Wife is partially based.
Talk about a political boondoggle! Former Idaho Senator Larry Craig, a staunchly conservative Republican, fell into the public eye in the 1999, when he became a leading critic of Bill Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal. He even referred to Clinton as “a nasty, bad, naughty boy” on NBC’s Meet The Press. It stands to reason that eight years later, Craig was literally caught with his pants down in a men’s bathroom at Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport in Minnesota. He was trapped by a police operation meant to capture men soliciting public sex acts that were reportedly occurring at the airport. Taking a guilty plea in the case, Craig was discredited in the conservative political community and resigned from his Senate position, a decision he later attempted to reverse.
Ted Haggard was a remarkably successful evangelical Christian pastor in Colorado Springs, Colorado and the leader of the National Association of Evangelicals until 2006, when it was revealed that he had been engaging in a number of vices that contradict the views of the evangelical culture. For three years, Haggard employed a “masseuse” named Mike Jones to engage in homosexual sex with him. He also purchased and smoked crystal meth with him. Haggard was formerly characterized by his political stance against gay marriage, as well as homosexuality in general. Haggard has since left the church and continues to claim that he is not gay and has never smoked meth.
Arnold and Jesse Friedman
The Friedmans were a typical-seeming family from suburban Long Island known to their community as a troupe of children’s birthday party entertainers. Patriarch Arnold Friedman fell under police investigation after receiving child pornography in the mail, and police discovered that he had been providing children with private computer lessons in his home, which, of course, suddenly seemed fishy to them. He later pleaded guilty to charges of sexually abusing children. He and his son, Jesse, were sentenced to life in prison. Footage of the family and the trial was compiled for an Oscar-nominated documentary called Capturing The Friedmans.
John Wayne Gacy, Jr.
John Wayne Gacy was another children’s birthday party entertainerâ€”one who led an even more horrifying secret double life than the Friedmans. Gacy was known to the people of Des Plaines, Illinois as “Pogo the Clown,” but was given the nickname “Killer Clown” after it was discovered that he raped and murdered 33 teenage boys and young men between the years of 1972 and 1978. Gacy, a twice-married man, was a respected businessman and community activist. After the investigation of a missing 15-year-old led police to Gacy, the remains of 26 victims were discovered in the crawlspace beneath his house. He was diagnosed with multiple personality disorder and later executed by lethal injection.
Bernhard Goetz, AKA the “subway vigilante,” was a seemingly mild-mannered man who operated an electronics business in Manhattan in the 1980s. It was a bad decade for the city, and crime rates were reaching record numbers. In 1981, Goetz was attacked by a group of three young men, who robbed him and left him with permanent injuries. Goetz bided his time, then decided to take matters into his own hands. In 1984, he boarded a subway train armed with a revolver and shot and seriously injured five alleged muggers. The case invoked a national controversy, with one side appalled by Goetz’s criminal negligence, as well as the racial overtones of his actions, and the other impassioned by his heroic response to his attackers. Goetz was acquitted of all charges except carrying an illegal firearm and served 8 months in jail.