Last October, Wired was kind enough to publish a story I’d been working on for 16 months—the tale of a lonely Appalachian woman acted as a money mule for a crew of Nigerian con artists. That woman, Audrey Elaine Elrod, was lured into the conspiracy by a scammer who posed as a Scottish oil worker on Facebook. Elrod fell head-over-heels in love with this fictional character, who dubbed himself “Duke McGregor.” The crook who played McGregor bilked Elrod out of her paltry life savings, then flipped her into an accomplice who relayed other victims’ funds to Warri, Nigeria. Inevitably, the Feds caught wind of Elrod’s shady financial dealings and prosecuted her for structuring, which is why I had to meet her in a West Virginia prison.
Numerous readers have asked me to provide a deeper take on Elrod’s state of mind throughout her misadventure. Was she genuinely duped into helping McGregor, for example, or did she know full well that her MoneyGrams to Warri were illicit? And more important, was there any point in the enterprise when she realized that McGregor was an utter fraud? The piece is purposely vague about addressing these questions, for I believe there’s never a satisfactory way for a journalist to summarize a person’s motivations and intentions. We know so little of ourselves, so we shouldn’t produce stories that make it seem as if we understand every contour of a stranger’s heart.
That said, I do wish I could have found a way for the story to feature a scene from Elrod’s July 2014 sentencing hearing. For it was there that, in the course of a single sentence, that she revealed volumes about how she viewed her personal conundrum:
THE COURT: Ms. Elrod, let me ask you a question. Why did you do this?
ELROD: Because I thought that [McGregor] cared for me, and if I I didn’t he wouldn’t.
In other words, though Elrod apparently recognized that she was engaging in criminal behavior, she was too addicted to the fictional McGregor’s affection to stop. The kind words that he provided her had become her everything; to lose that illusory love was unthinkable, and worth whatever pain might ensue.
(Also, yes, Microkhan is back for 2016. Thanks for cutting me some slack over the previous 18 months.)