With no foul play suspected, the police labeled Aundria a runaway and passed her case along to the Youth Services Bureau. Few people who knew the Bowmans questioned the official narrative. Over the years, there had been whispers about the family. Once, when Aundria was in middle school, she boarded the school bus bleeding from her wrist. Some kids gossiped about a suicide attempt, but others said Aundria had cut herself trying to get back into her house after her parents locked her out. There were rumors that Dennis, a former Navy reservist with reddish-brown hair, a goatee, and wire-rimmed glasses, and Brenda, a portly woman with curled bangs who’d once worked at the jewelry counter at Meijer department store, abused Aundria. But back then, what happened behind closed doors was considered family business.
His true identity, which was revealed after his arrest at J.F.K. airport last November, isn’t Prince Khalid of Saudi Arabia, but Anthony Enrique Gignac, a Colombian orphan adopted by an American couple and transported to Michigan when he was six years old. Embarking on a life of crime and deception that spanned 30 years, he became an “epic con artist” for whom “no scheme is out of reach,” according to a U.S. attorney. His most recent scam involved allegedly duping 26 international investors out of $8 million, while simultaneously attempting to con Miami billionaire Jeffrey Soffer, the ex-husband of supermodel Elle Macpherson, into taking him on as a partner in the Fontainebleau hotel. Gignac initially pleaded guilty to both schemes—only to reverse himself at a hearing in July, where his attorney successfully argued for a trial by jury.
If Robert Perreau was telling the truth—if he had, indeed, been taken for a rube by his conniving sister-in-law—then he would hardly have been the first. From a young age, Margaret Caroline Rudd had an almost supernatural ability to manipulate those around her, especially when it came to men. Her opinion of the opposite sex was no doubt cemented in her formative years, after she was expelled from boarding school at the tender age of 13 for so-called “illicit relations” with a staff member. Social mores of the time placed blame firmly upon the victim, at least if the victim were female, and local gossip could barely keep up with the flirtations and affairs that supposedly followed. At 17, Caroline ran off with an English soldier whose regiment was stationed near her small Irish hometown, but his commanding officer promptly sent her home again. Undeterred, she continued courting military men—who offered both a secure income, and an escape from the drudgery of rural life—until she won the heart of another young soldier named Valentine Rudd. Ten days after meeting, the two were married.
This Pulitzer winning article about a serial rapist is more than just an account of crime and investigation, but an insight into our very own stereotypical mindset.
But her misdemeanor had made the news, and made her an object of curiosity or, worse, scorn. It had cost her the newfound independence she was savoring after a life in foster homes. It had cost her sense of worth. Each ring of the phone seemed to announce another friendship, lost. A friend from 10th grade called to ask: How could you lie about something like that? Marie — that’s her middle name, Marie — didn’t say anything. She just listened, then hung up. Even her foster parents now doubted her. She doubted herself, wondering if there was something in her that needed to be fixed.
So began the trials of Ann Bilansky. There were two: the legal one and the one staged in the court of public opinion. Often it was hard to tell which was which. Newspapers across Minnesota and as far away as the East Coast wrote breathless accounts of the purported murder and subsequent courtroom drama. People read those stories, staining their fingers with ink, because they were thirsty for news of the devilish Mrs. Bilansky. Like any good gothic novel or penny dreadful, the story was thrilling—all the more because it was true.