The fall 2002 semester has just come to an end. Cal State Fullerton students are celebrating the end of the semester and the completion of finals, and among them is adjunct student Natalie Bowman. But thereâ€™s something different about Bowman. She has a secret. Her real name isnâ€™t Natalie Bowman, itâ€™s Esther Reed.
For years, Reed had been on the run from the Secret Service, the United States Army, federal marshals and the South Carolina Police Department for one thing: identity theft.
Reed was born in Townsend, Mo., on March 8, 1978, to Ernie and Florence Reed, and was the youngest of Florenceâ€™s nine children. Growing up, Reed had a rough childhood, being the object of ridicule and abuse from her eight brothers and sisters, and it didnâ€™t get any better when her parents separated in the early â€™90s, according to a Rollingstone article titled, â€œThe Girl Who Conned the Ivy League.â€
With her parents now separated, Reed moved to Lynwood, Wash., with her mother. Eventually, Reed dropped out of high school and not long after her mother fell victim to colon cancer, leaving Reed alone to fend for herself.
This is when Reed came up with the idea of starting a new life. A new life, not as simple Esther Reed, but as someone entirely different.
First, Reed assumed the identity of â€œNatalie Fisher.â€ â€œFisherâ€ was a novice collegiate debater who had aspirations to win a national debate championship someday. CSUF debate coach and professor Jon Bruschke first met â€œFisherâ€ at a summer debate institute and persuaded her to enroll in CSUF and to debate for his team.
Upon enrolling in CSUF as an adjunct student in the fall of 2002, â€œFisherâ€ changed her name to â€œNatalie Bowman.â€ Did Bruschke think it was strange to first meet this young lady as â€œNatalie Fisherâ€ and then a year later as â€œNatalie Bowman?â€
Sure. He assumed she had gone through a divorce and had changed her name, wanting to forget the mistakes of her past.
While attending CSUF for little over a semester, â€œBowmanâ€ had competed in four debate competitions, including a Pepperdine Tournament where she went into the finals, winning five out of her six preliminary debates. After spending some time at CSUF, Reed decided it was time to move on in her life and, once again, find a new beginning. Reed went on to assume the identity of a missing South Carolina woman named Brooke Henson, who went missing in 1999 and was assumed dead, until Reed brought her back to life.
Reed acquired Hensonâ€™s Social Security number, applied for an Ohio driverâ€™s license in Hensonâ€™s name, and obtained her GED.
After doing so, she took her SATs, scoring a 1400 and admission to Ivy League school, Columbia. While attending Columbia, â€œHensonâ€ excelled in academics as well as a social life, but only for a short while. She then became paranoid and self conscious, thinking that all who looked at her would figure out who she really was.
To help with her paranoia, Reed obtained a birth certificate in Hensonâ€™s name, and eventually a U.S. Passport. Back in the real Brooke Hensonâ€™s hometown, Investigator Jon Campbell of the South Carolina Police Department was trying to close the case of the missing person for years. He had finally gotten a lead. He had heard that there was a girl in New York saying she was Henson.
He contacted Hensonâ€™s aunt, Lisa, to ask her to write up questions only the real Henson would know.
Being skilled in the art of identity theft, Reed answered all of these questions correctly when asked by the NYPD.
Convinced that Reed was an impostor, Campbell demanded a DNA test.
When Henson turned up missing, Campbell further researched â€œHensonâ€™sâ€ past, only to find that she dated West Point cadets and she had cell phone records that showed contact with people all across the country.
Among that, she also had a wire-transfer from Germany, which was from her boyfriend to help her out financially, and that this woman who stole the identity of Brooke Henson was really Esther Reed, according to a Rollingstoneâ€™s article. Campbell came to the conclusion that Reed was a spy.
But Campbell had it all wrong. With Reed no longer being able to use Brooke Henson as an alias, she took on the fictitious name, â€œJennifer Myers.â€ She had been living her life from motel room to motel room. This was to be the last time Reed would be known as someone else.
On Feb. 2, 2008, â€œMyersâ€ retired to a motel in Tinley Park, Ill., where a local police officer spotted her green â€™93 Subaru Legacy in the parking lot.
Officer Kevin Horbaczewski knocked on â€œMyersâ€™â€ door, saying he was there to check out a noise complaint. This was the downfall of Reed. Horbaczewski took her away in handcuffs and into the station. Reed would later be charged with fraud and identity theft and sentenced to 51 months in Alderson Federal Prison in West Virginia. Reed is expected to be released in October 2011.
CSUF criminal justice professor Garrett Capune believes that from what heâ€™s heard about Reed, â€œit is more like a mental health issue than a criminal justice issue.â€ Reed didnâ€™t damage anyoneâ€™s reputation, she just made them have a better education, Capune explained. Capune also believes that her â€œ51 months (sentence) sounds about rightâ€ with identity theft being a rather new charge. According to IMDB.com, as well as Production Weekly, Amanda Seyfried will portray Esther Reed in an upcoming film, due to start production sometime in 2011.
Reed has been featured on â€œAmericaâ€™s Most Wanted,â€ CBSâ€™s â€œ48 Hoursâ€ and multiple newspapers across the nation.