aka Brooke Reid Henson, was a girl with city smarts. Young and pretty, Reed never seemed to have enough money to spend, probably because she couldn’t and didn’t like to hold down a job. Work was such a yawn. Reed wanted money the easy way: through fraud and identity theft, and she was successful at it. Brooke Reid Henson wasn’t merely an alias; Henson was a real girl who had gone missing in 2006 from Travelers Rest, South Carolina. On July 4, 1999 Henson walked away from a house party in Travelers Rest, S.C., and was never seen again. Police feared the 20-year-old woman had been slain. Just in case authorities began to close in on her, Reed used two more aliases: Jennifer Myers, Natalie Fisher and Natalie Bowman.
Esther Reed, born March 8, 1978, to Ernie and Florence Reed. Reed’s parents separated in the early 1990s and Reed moved with Mommy Dearest to Lynnwood, Washington. Things went downhill for Florence and Reed. Reed droreedpped outreed of high school and her mother died of colon cancer soon afterward. Before her death Flo’s authority over Esther ceased. “The rest of you will be fine, but watch out for Esther,” she told Reed’s sister Edna, as she was dying. James Theriault, who taught Reed in high school, wondered if Reed was being abused, because she was so reclusive. “She had this shell,” he stated. Eventually he realized Reed was “highly intelligent“.
Even as a teen, for whatever reason, Reed wanted to erase all traces of her past, making it impossible for her family to find her. To escape from herself and her old life, she began stealing other people’s identities. Her father reported Reed as missing in 2004 after Social Security checks revealed she was alive. Creepy. Believe it or not, Reed had friends. I know, right? To throw them off her criminal trail about her continual money supply, she claimed to be a skilled chess player and that she won chess tournaments as her income.
Reed’s first assumed identity was that of Natalie Bowman, the name of the sister of an acquaintance (what?) and she enrolled in open-admission classes at Harvard Extenson School in Cambridge. The school is one of twelve degree-granting schools where students can achieve professional certificates and a liberal arts-based education for nontraditional students. If there was ever a nontraditional student it had to be Reed.
Eventually Reed’s dirty deeds began to catch up to her. Reed spent two years at Harvard then left to enroll in Columbia University. When investigators discovered the missing “Brooke Henson” was enrolled at Columbia, after they tracked Reed down she refused to admit to the ruse. Reed claimed she was Henson and that she was a domestic-violence victim who was hiding out for her safety. Reed had the audacity to agreed to a DNA test, but naturally she did what she did best: she vanished. You have to admit it’s impressive that Reed, a high-school drop-out, got herself admitted to some of the nation’s most academically prestigious schools. Meh. Why finish high school at all? Go straight from elementary school to Harvard. Why waste time?
In spite of her success as a con artist, Reed’s old anxieties never left and her fears overwhelmed her. At Columbia, she was sure that everyone was judging her. When she was called on in class, she panicked. A visit to the computer room was terrifying: what if there were no terminals, and everyone looked at her? Perhaps these fears were simply remnants of her old self in her home town, but it’s safe to say that her fraudulent existence also caused her distress. What if someone was onto her? Reed lapsed back into a terrified little girl. The farther she tried to run from herself, the more she sealed herself into a suffocating box.
Reed had already begun her light-fingered habits by October 1999 when she stole her sister’s checkbook. Nothing like family loyalty. When Reed was tracked down and appeared in court over the theft, Edna noticed Reed was now thin and “beautiful”. After the court proceedings the two sisters bickered loudly in public. Eventually Reed wrote to her sister:
“Usually there has always been something in my life that I hadn’t admitted to that I had done, so guilt was nothing new for me. Ever since I was a young kid, I have had urges of steeling. Most of the time I can overcome them. But as I got older, the things I took got bigger and the schemes I pulled to get them got worse. When I was fourteen I learned how to lock myself up in a little box and I had no idea how to unlock it..when I steel, I am able to shut off all feeling …it bothers me, but not like it should.” In other words, rehab was probably out of the question. Wonderful.
Reed achieved her physical transformation through diet pills and jogging. Released from her old life, Reed shed her layers of self-protection and in doing so, extra pounds. She insisted, “There was no reinvention. More of a re-emergence of a girl who had been hidden away.” Reed lost so much weight that she had a breast job to remove the sagging skin. It was rather fitting that Reed’s appearance morphed into something new, along with her new identities. Reed’s improved appearance must have buoyed her self-confidence with men. In the summer of 2005, through Match.com, she met a New York firefighter. “Brook” and he got together at a bar. She made it clear that all she wanted was sex. “She was not the kind of girl you would take home to meet your mother,” he once stated. Truer words were never spoken. Still Reed felt no better. She had lapsed back into that terrified, alienated little girl, as though she had never escaped that emotional box in the first place. It never occurred to her that the farther she tried to run from herself, the more she was sealing herself into that box. She was suffocating in there.
On February 2, 2008, Reed entered Room 317 at the Sleep Inn in Tinley Park, Illinois. Since she had been running from the law, her weight ballooned to 250 pounds. Her weight gain was intentional at first to hide her identity but it got out of control. She was “Jen Myers” now. The name was fictitious. Reed later claimed she couldn’t get herself out of the terrible situation she created for herself and she had to keep moving.Of course she could also have turned herself in, but that seemed to be too self-defeating. In the parking lot outside the Sleep Inn, one Officer Kevin Horbaczewski happened to pull up in his patrol car. He could hardly believe Reed was holed up inside. When he knocked, Reed simply opened the door. She handed over her Jen Myers driver’s license and he arrested her.
Eventually Reed stood trial and was convicted of three counts of fraud and one count of identity theft. She received 51 months in prison, three years of probation, and ordered to pay $125,916 in restitution. For someone as broke as Reed, that will take a long time. As of now, there is no more running and no more false identities. The con game is over.