Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Faking It : Elmyr de Hory - The Century's Greatest Art Forger

Flight to Mexico

Faulkner pressed charges against Elmyr in Florida and later initiated a federal case in Chicago, with charges including mail and telephone fraud. It became increasingly clear to Elmyr that his luck was running out. The authorities were not far behind him. He decided to escape by fleeing to Mexico City using a false identification to pass through the border. But his stay in Mexico wouldnt last long.

During his stint in Mexico City, a British homosexual was brutally murdered. Elmyr became a leading suspect, even though he had never met the victim. There was no evidence that Elmyr had committed the murder, but police jailed him anyway to extort money from him. Even after Elmyr was released, police continued to extract money from him.

Angered by the injustice, Elmyr hired a lawyer to bring a case against the police. Unfortunately, the lawyer also tried to extort Elmyr, charging him unusually high legal fees for a bare minimum of work. Fed up with the Mexican legal system, Elmyr tried to convince the lawyer to take one of his forgeries in exchange for the outstanding legal fees. The lawyer agreed to take the painting, unaware that the work was a fake. Elmyr then promptly left Mexico City before the lawyer could realize he had been deceived. Elmyr returned to the U.S. to start anew.

Things didnt necessarily improve for Elmyr after his return. In fact, things got worse. On occasion while back in the U.S., Elmyr would pick up art books depicting the many masterpieces of the greats and see, to his surprise, that several of his own reproductions were listed among the artists originals. When he learned of the prices the paintings or drawings fetched, he was even more shocked. Elmyr realized that the art galleries he had previously dealt with had paid him only a tiny fraction of what his reproductions were actually worth. Elmyr became angry, believing that the art dealers were swindling him, and he came to detest them. Of course, Elmyr was disregarding the fact that he too was scamming them.

To make matters worse, many of Elmyrs reproductions were beginning to draw fire. Several of his paintings and drawings were labeled as fakes. This significantly increased the risks for Elmyr every time he tried to sell a new forgery. His works were simply becoming recognizable and he had difficulty convincing art galleries to buy them. To reduce the chance of his getting caught, he decided to temporarily switch to reproducing lithographs, which sold for considerably less than his other fakes.

Dongen fake portrait by Elmyr de Hory
Dongen fake portrait by Elmyr de Hory

The days of lying on the beach and long distance business relations were gone. Money was short for Elmyr and he was forced to return to door-to-door sales at various galleries. It was the aspect of his work that he liked the least, but he had no choice.

He began to spiral into a deep depression. According to Talbot, Elmyr was quoted as saying at that particular time he was, broke, tired, depressed, sick of hiding and always doing something that had to be hidden. It was all getting to be too much for the now fifty-year-old forger. Life had not turned out like he expected.

This was when Elmyr decided to kill himself. He went to his temporary apartment in Washington, D.C., took several handfuls of sleeping pills and waited to die. To his dismay, he was discovered half alive more than a day later and rushed to the hospital.

His stomach was pumped and he was further treated for pneumonia that developed shortly after he had been admitted. He was required to stay in the hospital for several weeks and eventually recovered, deciding to give life another try. However, once again things did not turn out the way he hoped.

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