Divorcee Jean, 55, signed up to online dating website plenty of fish in the hope of finding Mr Right. She was flattered when a user called Gary, 57, messaged her and after a few weeks she agreed to meet him. A widow, he said his wife had died of cancer.
He was a charmer and the couple quickly made their relationship official. It wasn’t long before Gary got jean’s name tattooed on his arm and within months he popped the question.
Together they planned their wedding – booking the church, choosing jean’s gown and ordering the bridesmaid dresses. But just weeks before the big day, Jean found out Gary wasn’t the man she thought he was. He was a crooked casanova and his wife was alive and well.
Conman Gary had a number of aliases and his real name was Richard. Jean later discovered the love rat had three other women under his spell and had fleeced them out of a total of £18,000.
‘What’s the worst that can happen?’ I thought to myself, tapping my details into dating website Plenty of Fish.
At 55 and with two failed marriages behind me, I was more than ready to find my ‘Mr Right’. My sister, Gail, 53, had met her man online ten years ago and they had been together ever since, so I didn’t think there was any harm in creating a profile.
‘Fun-loving and looking for someone honest and reliable,’ I typed, keeping it brief. I didn’t have a long list of criteria for a potential suitor to meet, but after suffering the heartbreak of a cheating ex, I knew I could only be in a relationship with someone I could trust.
Logging on and scrolling through my messages soon became addictive, and as soon as I got home from my job on the deli counter at Asda I would be straight on the computer having a browse. I had met up with a couple of the men I had met through the site, but it was fair to say the dates had been disastrous. One man even looked so much older in the flesh than his picture I genuinely thought it was his dad.
So when a man named Gary Richardson, 57, got in touch I was flattered, but he had no photos of himself so I knew I had to be cautious, and requested he send one across. We exchanged mobile numbers and it wasn’t long before we started texting and speaking on the phone. Within a few days we arranged to meet up at the Toby Carvery in Chester, Liverpool, a short drive from my home in Little Sutton, Ellesmere Port.
I was a nervous wreck, but Gary quickly put me at ease with his warm smile. We tucked into a roast dinner and sat chatting for hours. Gary really opened up and revealed he was a widow and that his wife had died of cancer. I could tell it had really affected him and felt a pang of sympathy, as he became choked up. At the end of the date he was a gentleman and offered to pay.
A few days later we met for lunch too and although he seemed lovely, I just didn’t feel the instant connection I had been hoping for, so afterwards I cowardly sent him a text. ‘I’m sorry, I don’t think this is going to work,’ it read. There just wasn’t any chemistry. ‘But I think you’re gorgeous,’ he was quick to reply. ‘Please let me take you out again.’
Grovelling Gary was such a smooth talker and he kept pestering me until I agreed to meet up for the third time. ‘One more date won’t hurt,’ I thought to myself, as I applied some lipstick and took a final twirl in front of the mirror. Gary pulled out all the stops, picking me up and whisking me away to Llandudno, Wales, for fish and chips by the seaside.
As we sat having a glass of wine in the pub, I started to see a different side to Gary. He was charming, funny and confident. I was glad I had given him another shot. He turned out to be everything I was looking for in a man. ‘I really like you, Jean,’ he said, with a twinkle in his eye. He was so forward, it made me blush.
We checked into a B&B down the road and made a weekend of our trip. It wasn’t long before we became a couple and made our relationship official. I introduced Gary to my children, Lee, 35, Vicky, 33, Connor, 18, and Jennifer, 16, and he started to spend more and more time at the house.
Watching him in the mornings as he ruffled his hair in front of the mirror I would joke: ‘You take longer to get ready than me.’ He always pulled on a freshly-ironed white shirt and did up his tie. When he put his suit jacket on to head his job as a debt collector for Lombard’s Finance he looked really smart. I had to admit it was nice to have him around, especially when I got home from work at the end of the day.
As I walked through the front door after work one Sunday the smell of chicken and vegetables wafting through the house hit me. I was shocked to see Gary was slaving away over the stove, rustling up a roast dinner with all the trimmings for the whole family. ‘I thought I would treat you,’ he said, beaming. ‘What did I do to deserve you, eh?’ I laughed, wrapping my arms around him.
Within a couple of months Gary and I had become serious and I was starting to think I might have finally found ‘the one’. I could hear Gary downstairs on the phone to his daughter one morning and it sounded like there was a problem. ‘Look Sam, I’ve helped you out in the past, please help me. I really need you to,’ he said.
‘No, I don’t know if she has any money. I’ll ask,’ he continued. My ears pricked up when I heard he might be in financial trouble. ‘Jean,’ he bellowed up the stairs. ‘Would you be able to lend me some money?’ he asked. I popped my head over the banister and feeling a bit pressured I agreed.
Gary explained he used to own a Jaguar garage and sell and repair the cars, but he had been the subject of a tax investigation. He said he needed to pay off a whopping tax bill before he was able to open a bank account and that he was due money from a £88,000 pay-out following his wife’s death.
He promised that if I let him borrow £4,000 his daughter would transfer it back to me within a week. Ignoring my gut instinct, I handed Gary an envelope containing a wad of cash and made a note of what he owed me.
‘I’m going to get a tattoo of a rose on my back,’ I told him one day, hoping he would come with me to hold my hand. ‘I’m going to get your name then,’ he smiled. ‘You don’t have to do that,’ I giggled, brushing it off, thinking he was joking. But Gary was serious and when we got to the parlour he had ‘Jean’ with two hearts permanently inked on to his wrist.
‘See, I’m never going to leave you,’ he said, holding up his arm to show it. As weeks passed and the money Gary had sworn his daughter would return never appeared, I started to badger him about it. But Gary had made it clear he wasn’t going anywhere, ‘so what’s the rush?’ I thought to myself, not wanting to put pressure on him and drive him away.
He was under enough stress as it was with the investigation. ‘That’s my daughter, always letting me down. I will pay you back, don’t worry,’ he would say reassuringly. With no reason to doubt him, I believed every word he said.
In the meantime he insisted we spend our days off going on mini breaks together. He took me to Shropshire, Southport, Blackpool and Colwyn Bay for weekends away and we were constantly going out for meals out, he would insist of wining and dining me. And it wasn’t long before he popped the question.
Unable to afford a ring, he took me to a swanky jewellery shop where we were treated to champagne and chocolate. Gary told me to pick something expensive. ‘You deserve it,’ he said, using the money I’d lent him to put down a deposit on the diamond and agreeing to pay it off before I could pick it up and wear it.
We had an engagement party with a few of my nearest and dearest, but Gary hadn’t been able to pay the full amount for my ring so embarrassed I slipped one my ex-husband had given me onto my finger. Meanwhile I kept lending Gary a few thousands of pounds here and there to help with his tax bill, while he waited for the pay-out. He promised to repay me as soon as he had cashed it in, and with us soon to get married, I knew he wasn’t about to up and run away.
We started to plan the wedding together, booking the church in Port Sunlight where my dad had been buried. With the invitations sent out to our guests, the purple colour scheme chosen, flowers arranged and reception venue organised, there was only one last detail to sort out – my dress.
Slipping into my elegant gown, I took a deep breath in as Vicky tied the lace-up back. ‘How do I look?’ I asked, giving her a twirl. ‘Just beautiful mum,’ she sighed. Glancing at my reflection, I felt every bit the blushing bride and I couldn’t wait for Gary’s expression as he saw me walk down the aisle towards him.
Gary had been determined to contribute towards the big day and wanted to pay for mine and the bridesmaid’s dresses. But it was only at my final fitting, just weeks before the ceremony, I discovered he hadn’t coughed up. He had lied to me and said he would fork out the money for it, but at such late notice I knew there would only be one thing for it. I would have to splash out again. Fuming, I was sick of it.
It was the final straw. I confronted Gary and told him I was cancelling the wedding. Devastated and humiliated, I had to pop notes in all of my family and friends doors saying the wedding had been postponed due to financial difficulties. But despite the disappointment, I still carried on seeing Gary. He convinced me that we could re-arrange the wedding when his pay-out finally came through.
He suggested we book a holiday to Barbados to get over our upset and so we wouldn’t be moping around while we were supposed to be tying the knot. Two days before we were due to fly, I called the tour operator to complain our tickets hadn’t arrived and was told the balance hadn’t been paid.
‘Typical,’ I thought to myself. I started to see that Gary was a crooked Casanova. And before long Gary had disappeared without repaying me the money he owed. It was only a few months later, when the police turned up at the supermarket and pulled me to one side, telling me Gary had been arrested on fraud charges. I discovered that Gary was a seasoned fraudster who conned women he’d wooed through online dating websites.
He used a sob story claiming his wife had died of cancer, when she was actually alive and well. But the cruel deception was all part of a con to trick vulnerable women – including myself – out of a total of £18,000.
Eventually his lies had caught up with him when he was jailed for offenses committed between 2010 and last year.
Gary even had the cheek to call me from jail, but I knew there was nothing he could say to worm his way back in. I found out he had snared four victims through internet dating sites. I wasn’t the only one – and some of us had overlapped. He was a love rat.
He didn’t have job either, so where he was going when he was suited and booted was anyone’s guess. I felt like a fool. Gary wasn’t even his real name. He had used various aliases and was actually named Richard Robinson. It all started to make sense. I had questioned him about his old mates calling him ‘Robbo’ and he had convinced me it was a nickname from his school days.
He already was jailed for four and a half years for a bank fraud too. But was sent back to prison for an additional 12 months for the latest offences. The court heard how his wife – who he was separated from at the time – was standing by him despite his actions. I’m just thankful I didn’t walk down the aisle with him and now he’s out of my life.
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