I was taking applications at a model call in the summer of 2011. I noticed Becca immediately. Working in the modeling world since childhood, I knew a supermodel when I saw one. Becca was 5’10”, a size four, and had one of the most amazing faces I’d ever seen. This girl was going places.
I was planning a photo shoot for the next week. Something beautiful, inspired by old movies and Italian Vogue. Becca had to be there. Becca was accompanied by her mother, Elizabeth. She was only fifteen, most girls that age bring their mothers to model calls. Model moms can be very difficult, but we tolerate them more when the girl is under eighteen.
I’ve worked for my mom since I was twelve. We run a modeling agency and produce fashion shows. It’s a family business, and my mom and I are very close. So we respected the fact that Becca and Elizabeth were equally close.
Elizabeth was a very attractive woman, in her late thirties, which made her younger than most of our other model moms. She had tons of energy, and was very talkative. When I get going, I also talk way too much, so I didn’t really consider that a problem. There was something unique about this woman; she used phrases like “epic win” and “w-t-f”, her favorite movie was The English Patient, and she was a very important person. She had been a model for Wilhelmina in the 1990s.
She was a journalist, she wrote for the Huffington Post, she knew everyone who was anyone. She was always talking about her book. It was going to be a bestseller. She was just finishing up some revisions; it was going to come out in February of this year. George Clooney was writing the forward, and Nigel Barker was taking the cover photo. She was going to see that he also took some pictures of Becca, which we could use to promote her as a model.
In the next few weeks, Becca did the photo shoot, and came to several other events we were involved in. By October, we saw Becca and Elizabeth at least once a week. Elizabeth was brilliant; she understood the most obscure references and had seen the most artistic of independent films. Becca was equally bright; she was a big Anglophile like me, and she reminded me a bit of a more elegant, confident version of myself at that age. She was what I had wanted to be as a teenager but couldn’t. I should have been annoyed with her, but she was my absolute favorite model.
Elizabeth wanted to volunteer with our event. She was eager to help out. She would have some free time before her books came out. The movie rights had just been sold. Angelina Jolie would be playing her. She told me I would be welcome at the movie premier. She even said I could work as her assistant during her book tour. She sent me Facebook messages with links to her favorite blogs. I liked her as a person, and she was one of the most fascinating people I’d ever met. And she was a pathological liar.
There was never going to be a book. Her supposed publisher, Random House, has never heard of her. She doesn’t know George Clooney, she doesn’t know Angelina Jolie, and she’s not an important person. She even lied about how Becca’s father died in combat.
I don’t know how she made me believe the things she did. All I can say in my defense is that everyone else we knew, including people who do have legitimate connections, believed every word, too. When you take all of Elizabeth’s lies and look at them in one place, it seems ridiculous and over the top. But she built an amazing narrative in which all of her lies seemed plausible. Her father owned an important publishing company and she grew up surrounded by literary greats. She worked as a model in her late teens, and fell head-over-heels for Becca’s father and ended up married with a kid in Oregon. He died tragically, and she ended up using her father’s connections to get a job in political journalism covering different campaigns. She worked in the Clinton White House, she worked for Bush, she was the head speechwriter for John McCain’s campaign. But her real passion was Africa, and she met George Clooney through charity events. Her book was going to be a memoir on her experiences traveling in the Congo trying to help victims of genocide. Angelina Jolie, noted philanthropist that she is, took an immediate interest in the project. There were dozens of other stories that I can’t even clearly remember; celebrities she was friends with, important things she was doing.
I’ve known plenty of liars in this business. A fashion designer who was living out of a budget hotel once told me he owned a company worth twenty million dollars. A supposed “film maker” claimed to have won three Oscars and two Academy Awards. A woman working at a Rudy and Kelly salon in a dead mall once swore to me she was BeyoncÃ©’s personal hairdresser. Every time I nodded along quietly, and then went home for a good laugh. But Elizabeth was an absolutely phenomenal liar. While she certainly name-dropped far more than someone with so many connections actually would, at no point was there any kind of obvious tell. She never acted like a star-stuck hick. She never tried to use her supposed connections for financial gain of any kind. Most pathological liars you hear about on TV are trying to cover up a crime, or get people to give them money. Elizabeth never did that. There was no motive but to seem important. Looking back, there were some minor contradictions; her timeline was a complete mess, and at one moment she was talking about working in the White House and in another she was claiming to have been in Oregon for the last sixteen years. But nothing jumped out at the time. Her daughter also never talked about any of her mother’s stories, unless directly asked. And then she usually changed the subject right away. It sickens me a bit to think of this child being forced to feed her mother’s delusions.
The turning point was at a photo shoot in December, and I didn’t even realize it until a month after the fact. Elizabeth was talking eagerly about calling a friend to get her daughter a SAG card. Obviously, that’s not a real thing people can do, but it didn’t jump out at me at the time. I jokingly asked if she could get me one, too, and she got rather upset and claimed her connections were for her daughter and her daughter alone. She was also going on about how she was doing a reading at the London Book Fair. It so happens that I know a royal blogger turned author who has been at the London Book Fair. I made some casual comments about my friend’s experiences, and Elizabeth went quiet and didn’t talk to me much for the rest of the day. I had no idea what was wrong. It was only two months later, when I discovered her web of lies, that I pieced it together. She thought she’d been caught in a lie, and now she was determined to avoid me like the plague.
The event that caused the whole mess to unravel was a lie she’d told about being best friends with 1990s supermodel Christy Turlington. Apparently, she and Christy had modeled together as teenagers, and they had been close friends ever since. Christy was throwing a party for New York Fashion Week, and my mom and I were invited. Becca and Elizabeth were going to be attending Fashion Week as representatives of GQ, thanks to a connection Elizabeth had. They were going to every show and would meet us to tour New York agencies to try to get Becca a contract with a major agency with my mom as mother agent. We were also going to Fashion Week, but in slightly less glamorous circumstances. Elizabeth had been avoiding me for a few weeks at this point; I had no idea why but I’d assumed my joke about her getting me a SAG card had offended her. My mom casually asked her if this party was still happening, so we’d know if we needed to pack an evening look. New York in February is pretty chilly, so there was no need for us to bring cocktail dresses and heels if we weren’t going to the party. Elizabeth never got back to us. On the day we were supposed to tour agencies with Becca, Elizabeth claimed she was working at the UN all day and had no way of getting Becca in touch with us. At that point, it all fell to pieces.
Everything she told, except for a few off the least interesting details, was a lie. Even things that were easy to check. Even things that didn’t serve to make her seem more important at all. She demanded we drop Becca from our website a few weeks later. Apparently, Christy Turlington had taken some time out of her busy schedule to get Becca signed with Wilhelmina in New York. Needless to say, Becca is not on Wilhelmina of New York’s website. Becca has apparently signed with a local agency that pays a licensing fee to use the Wilhelmina name, but she is not being promoted by them and she will not appear on their website because it’s basically a scam in which clients have to pay $900 to be promoted. Elizabeth doesn’t have anywhere near that much money.
Elizabeth’s lies did some long-term damage. We alienated some close connections because of things she’d told us they’d done. We now know Elizabeth and Becca were never in New York. While they were supposedly in New York, as well as during a supposed trip to Florida, Elizabeth called us from a landline phone number in Virginia. Needless to say, there’s no book, there’s never going to be a book, and there certainly isn’t going to be a movie.
For the life of me, I don’t know how I believed her for so long. I don’t know why I didn’t check out some of her claims before I took her word as fact. I remember doing a quick Google search and did come up with some results related to a blog she was doing on Africa. I focused on what was there and how that might tie into her claims, rather than all of the things that should’ve been there but weren’t. She was so charming and so engaging that it was hard to see her as anything but sincere. I’d known plenty of liars, but never any who were so invested in their lies. I’ve never known anyone else to go into such elaborate detail on stories that they make up. She could talk for hours about people she’d never met or who didn’t even exist.
The fact that she told these elaborate stories in front of her daughter, who knew she was lying but was never going to expose her, gave her stories an extra layer of credibility. I couldn’t imagine making up stories in front of someone who knew I was a liar, but Elizabeth had raised Becca by herself and forced Becca to be compliant in her lies. Becca doesn’t like it, but her mother is the most important person in her life and she’d never betray her. I strongly suspect that the reason they left Oregon was because of Elizabeth’s lies catching up with them. When Becca first realized we knew her mother was a liar, she unfriended me, my mother, and several of our associates on Facebook. Elizabeth never did. I ran into Becca at a fashion show and she ran in the other direction. She look terrified. I can only imagine how much her mom has embarrassed her over the years. Becca’s behavior hurt me a bit because I had considered her a friend, and I still think she’s a wonderful person. What her mother has done to her is nothing short of child abuse.
I don’t think Elizabeth could stop lying any more than she could stop breathing. I suspect her stories have gotten more outrageous over the years as she’s become more aware of what she could get away with. I hope Becca doesn’t grow up to be like her mother. I wonder what growing up with a pathological liar as your only parent would do to someone. I wonder what age Becca was when she figured out her mother was making up stories. She’s struck a delicate balance of supporting her mother’s lies to the extent she doesn’t expose them, but nothing more. At first I thought she was just shy about her mother’s accomplishments and that she didn’t want to seem like she was stuck up. I wonder if she’s ever confronted her mother. Does Elizabeth lie to Becca when it’s just the two of them? I’m sure she has, but I wonder if she knows her daughter knows she’s lying. Perhaps Elizabeth truly believes everything she says. Either way, I think she would die, or perhaps even kill, rather than admit that she’s anything less than a very important person.