Crime Doesn't Pay
Unless You are Tom Ripley
The Talented Mr. Ripley is a work of fiction about a conman who covets a life of elegance and wealth and achieves it through a series of murders when that lifestyle is threatened. There are five Ripley books that have stood the test of time. Multiple movies portray him as a likable, charming, erudite, suave young man who intrigues us as he pursues a life of elegance, marries a wealthy woman and settles in France. His story unveils a thoroughly amoral human who, while often kind to others in his life, doesn’t seem to believe in good or evil. Having illegally achieved great wealth and absorbed the self-confident, elegant character of the friend he both loved and murdered, Tom Ripley sucks us, the reader, into his life. We actually cheer for him on his many escapades to protect the life style he coveted and achieved. Matt Damon played Ripley in the 1999 movie of The Talented Mr. Ripley and that movie may have inspired the making of another con-artist, a real life person, who also coveted the life of wealthy adventures achieved by the fictional Ripley.
The real “Tom Ripley” was Glenn Rycroft, another young man of great charm from a town near Manchester in Great Britain. A nice, likeable, believable, guy, Rycroft had many friends who trusted him and so they made easy marks for his con schemes. Unlike Ripley, however, Rycroft got caught and was eventually sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.
After college he went to work as a steward for British Airways where he learned to wear his uniform well and hob-nobbed with clientele of some means. He, too, envied the life if the rich and famous and schemed on an investment opportunity that seemed to have the backing of British Airways. His family and friends were his targets for money for an investment that he promised would return 20% in a year’s time. He pocketed the $200, 000 cash that he received and proceeded to take lavish trips to the world’s top resorts and famous hotels. He even included the same friends he scammed on his adventures. However, Glenn didn’t have an exit strategy for paying back his investors. When that time came he invented a new scam and claimed he was dying of brain cancer. He even researched the cancer traits he needed to exhibit to show he was truly sick and that therapy was very expensive. His friends were devastated.
Rycroft took a leave of absence from British Airways on another lie that his mother needed help because she had cancer. His family and friends promoted a charity event for him with money to go to British Airways foundation that had already lent him $30,000. A promoter of the event became suspicious. Rycroft’s scams were discovered and at age 27 he was sentenced to 4 years in prison in 2003. After leaving his trusting friends financially ruined and emotionally damaged he was released 2 years early from his prison sentence.
By 2005 Rycroft met up with a young bar owner that he took as a lover. Gareth MacDonald was a naive father of three who left his family for a life with the charming Glenn Rycroft. Within 2 years he would be dead -- killed by Rycroft when he discovered that money was missing from his accounts. After researching ways to kill, Rycroft convinced MacDonald to travel to London with him to pay back $5000 his Aunt and Uncle had loaned him. There in 2007, in a Travel Lodge Hotel, Rycroft was bashed MacDonald on the head with a fire extinguisher and killed him. In 2009, Glenn Rycroft was sentenced to prison for life. The judge described him as “thoroughly dishonest ...thoroughly unscrupulous and utterly cold-hearted... living in a fantasy world of warped imagining”.
That same description could have applied to Tom Ripley. Yet one conman succeeded and one did not. What was the difference in the character traits for survival? The BBC has aired the story over and over of Glenn Rycroft. Unlike Ripley he was from a solid family with brothers and sisters. He had a natural aura of self-confidence. Ripley was an orphan raised by a mean aunt who harped on his weaknesses. The fictional Ripley achieved his confidence by absorbing the character of a person he admired. He became a different man. His old self was discarded. With his new personhood he knew how to be successful and he didn’t like killing people.
Rycroft, however, didn’t have to recreate himself. He had a host of friends that believed in him and trusted in him. He used that trust to live a fantasy life of holidays at the best places around the world. He had no exit strategies, just short term adventures. Ripley was into Living a life of elegance forever. More crafty, still working cons, he survived because he always had a thought out exit plan.
The Talented Mr. Ripley is aptly named. Anyone interested in social pathology should study Tom Ripley. The series of five books is intriguing fiction. The lead character attracts our sympathy. The real life Glenn Rycroft offers a great comparative look at why the charming, believable, con-man could not be a successful “Tom Ripley.” Rycroft’s personality was spontaneously captured by scams. His goals were short terms and his behavior impulsive. He never had an exit plan.
Sociopaths and psychopaths are both charming and dangerous. They offer great studies on human behavior and that is why I chose this crime story.