From Town & Country
“I am one of the millions of people fascinated by true crime,” says Rachel Grady, one of the filmmakers behind the addictive new series Love Fraud, premiering August 30 on Showtime. The difference between the series (directed by the Oscar nominated team of Grady and Heidi Ewing) and the countless true crime stories on the air is that Love Fraud isn’t a cold case or crime that’s been resolved. It’s a crime investigated in real time.
The series follows a man named Richard Scott Smith, who’s accused of of conning a series of women, some of whom he was dating, others he married (occasionally at the same time). He’d often meet the women online or at a karaoke bar and would quickly romance and then defraud them—draining their bank accounts, using their money to buy big-ticket items like cars, or having them participate in misleading financial transfers—before suddenly disappearing.
Over the course of two decades, he seems to have conned an unknown but not insignificant group of women out of a cumulative fortune.
The active investigation is a large part of what makes Love Fraud so exciting to watch. Not only do Grady and Ewing turn their camera on the dozens of women scammed by Smith but they allow viewers in on the chase to find him, giving the series an extra jolt of adrenaline and making the series feel so urgent. How did it get made? And what will the four-part series uncover? Here is everything we know about the real-life events behind Love Fraud.
It wasn’t the story Ewing and Grady set out to tell.
The directors, who previously made documentaries including Jesus Camp and One of Us, hadn’t heard of Richard Scott Smith when they first considered a project about con artists. Ewing recalls reading Mary Turner Thompson’s memoir The Bigamist and thinking the story—about a woman whose husband had a secret second family—could make a great film.
“I read the book and brought it to my business partner to ask if there was something there,” she says. “We agreed there was, but the writer had told her story before. For us, we’re interested in observational cinema and if you know what the outcome is, you usually don’t make the film.”
They decided instead to find a story that was not yet resolved. “We got our staff together,” Ewing says, “and spent months looking for a story that wasn’t so well known. In that time, we ran across the blog [put together by women Smith had conned]. This was clearly a man who was on the run—or at least no one knew his whereabouts—and his victims had united to warn other women, vent, and find out information. We saw that and thought, what is this?
Making the series required building an unusual team.
In order to start researching the story, the filmmakers reached out to women who had recently commented on the blog and many of them ended up appearing on screen, combining forces to help find Smith. The production also hired Carla Campbell, a bounty hunter who might just be the breakout star of the series.
“We met Carla, who’s like the real-life Calamity Jane,” Ewing says, “and it was a done deal.”
The filmmakers would go on to employ private investigators to help them track Smith, who never stayed in one place long and was rumored at one point to have fled to Belize. “It’s transparent in the series that we as filmmakers have hired PIs to look for him,” Ewing says. “Were we changing the course of the outcome? For sure. But we felt that he was a dangerous person who should be brought to justice.”
Smith was not an easy subject to find.
“We were crossing our fingers the whole time,” says Grady. “Obviously, there was risk on everyone’s part that there would be some sort of satisfying resolution. That’s what made it exciting but also nerve-rattling.” The filmmakers tracked him to various locations—including a Kansas City building where they caught him moving out and a Wichita restaurant he’d opened with a new girlfriend, among others—but pinning him down proved elusive. After all, this was a man accused of using for decades multiple aliases and a well-honed disappearing act in order to pull of his con. “He slipped through our fingers a few times, and each time we thought it could be the last time we got a glimpse of him,” Grady says.
“But it was exciting, even if we were there 10 minutes too late. That sustained us for the year we were chasing him.”
The series brought Smith’s victims closer together.
Over the course of Love Fraud, viewers meet a slew of the women conned by Smith. They share information about his tactics, theorize about his next moves, and tell the camera about the ways in which he charmed them and then proceeded to drain their bank accounts. “I have a bone to pick with how women are presented as competing with one another or fighting over a man,” Ewing says.
“All of these representations, in Hollywood or documentary films, are things I’ve never experienced in my life. What we see here is women banding together, swallowing their pride about having been conned, and doing something about it. It felt refreshing to show that, because it’s not the conventional wisdom about how this could have gone down.”
The final outcome still remains to be seen.
The series will be released in weekly installments on Showtime, and without giving away spoilers, it’s safe to assume that anyone watching will want to stay glued to the final episode as the series moves towards an astounding conclusion. But the real story doesn’t necessarily end where the series does.
“People have already been reaching out to us, based on seeing the trailer,” Grady says. “I think we’ve just discovered the tip of the iceberg.”
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