She came to Washington on a three-day seminar from Ohio and took a room at a downtown hotel. During the seminar she met another woman from the Midwest and one evening the two of them joined two young men in the bar of her hotel for a few drinks.
While they were having cocktails the waiter came over to say that the tall, dark, heavyset man at the bar had sent them a round of drinks. They accepted; he nodded. That was that.
Shortly afterward, the waiter came over to the table and told the woman from Ohio she had a phone call. When she took it, the man identified himself as the one at the bar, saying he was Richard Avedon, the famous fashion photographer. He told her he thought she was lovely and would like to photograph her. Couldn't they have a few drinks and talk about it?
Flattered, she stopped by the bar and greeted him, they chatted and she agreed to go off with him for a few drinks.
She informed her friends she was going. While they were barhopping he told her he wanted to use her as a model and that he would set her up in an apartment in New York. After the bar closed he escorted her back to her room at the hotel. As she was saying good night he forced his way into the room and raped her repeatedly. Then he fell asleep.
She crept out of the room, went to the room of her friend and they called hotel security. Two guards were sent up; one called the police while the other went to watch the door where "Avedon" was sleeping.
Suddenly a tall heavyset man in a tan suit answering the description of the rapist darted down the hall and into the elevator. The guard watching the door chased after him. Finally he apprehended him. But it was not the rapist at all. It was, in fact, Howard Cosell who just happened to be staying at the same hotel. When the guard returned to his post, "Richard Avedon" was gone.
The next morning she was to have met him at the airport to fly to New York where he was going to set her up as a model. When the airline was called it confirmed that there were New York reservations for "Richard Avedon" and the young woman.
The police covered the airport the next morning and stationed men on the plane. To no avail.
"Richard Avedon" never showed up.
That was Aug. 8, 1974.
The man posing as Richard Avedon still has not been caught.
Since then he has been reported in contact with 32 women, committed at least three known rapes and possibly more, extracted thousands of dollars from unsuspecting young, attractive and hopeful women in 25 cities throughout the United States, from Honolulu to Vancouver, British Columbia, to New York, Miami, and Arizona.
His latest victim was last Monday in New York.
Detective Tom Kelly of the D.C. Police Department's Sex Squad is beside himself. Never, he says, he had a case like this, where he has a photograph of the suspect which has been positively identified by all 32 complainants, where he has several sets of partial fingerprints and where he thinks he knows the real identity of the suspect.
But his hands are tied. Only one of the rapes took place in the District. The rest are out of state or even out of the country. So for the past four years he has been keeping a file on the man who calls himself Richard Avedon, taking statements from each new victim, compiling more thorough identification, keeping in touch with police departments across the country and virtually tearing his hair out with frustration that the man is still at large.
It started for him with the young woman from Ohio. From there he worked his way back, digging out other similar cases, some as far back as 1969.
"Our first suspect," he says, laughing, "was, naturally, Richard Avedon. The real Richard Avedon. So we contacted him in New York. He was terribly upset about it. We established an immediate rapport with him."
The real Avedon was stunned. "The first I knew of this," says Avedon, "was when I got a call from the Washington police wanting to know if I was 6 feet 2 and had a scar over my left eyebrow."
Soon he began receiving calls himself from women who had been approached by the impostor. He referred them all to detective Kelly in Washington and soon arranged a meeting in his New York studio with the New York police and several of the women. "It was heartbreaking," he says.
For Avedon there has been no professional damage, but he is, after more than 30 assaults in his name, obviously distraught. Of the suspect he says, "He must be tortured to adopt someone else's life. But he must be stopped. Some crimes are worse than others and this is one of them."
Detective Kelly's first real break-through was in November of 1974 when the police received a photograph of the suspect which, according to Kelly, has since been positively identified by every single complainant.
The picture - the only one there is - was taken in Honolulu with one of the victims. She was from Houston, Tex., on her way to Honolulu for a vacation when she met "Avedon" in the airport bar in Los Angeles. He gave her the usual line about her being beautiful and how he wanted her to model. She told him she was on her way to Honolulu and he changed his plans and joined her.
When they arrived in Hawaii he persuaded her to give him $600 so that he could set her up in an apartment in New York. They went to a cocktail lounge and he talked her into registering him in her hotel. While they were there a roving photographer snapped their picture - which they declined to buy. Shortly afterwards he said he had a few errands to run and left. He never returned.
Realizing she had been taken, the young woman went back to the lounge, retrieved the photograph, cut herself out of the picture and sent it to the Real Richard Avedon with a letter describing the whole episode. He forwarded it to Kelly.
"It's driving us crazy," says Kelly, "because we can't figure out how this guy gets around. We think hes a salesman, that he goes to where his business is, checks into a hotel under his own name, then checks into another hotel under the name of Richard Avedon. But clearly he does not have to answer to anyone either personally or professionally and he has to have some money of his own."
Kelly thinks the suspect is "a little crazy, a little schizo. He'd really like the be someone. Someone like a Richard Avedon. He could be hero-worshipping Avedon. But he is playing a game. He's definitely a con man. Whether he's an habitual rapist or not I don't know. I think more than that he's an 'opportunist' - his first interest is the con, not the rape. He's infatuated with the idea of being seen in public with good-looking women, infatuated with having sex with them, with having them hand over their money to him."
Kelly notes that the suspect is a verbal bully but has only used violence once.
During the interview with Kelly at police headquarters Tuesday, a phone call came in from Richard Avedon. "Oh, no," sighed Kelly. "If this is another one I'll scream."
It was. This time in Manhattan. After getting details, Kelly placed a call to the young woman, who was by then hysterical, but who consented to give him the details of how she was conned by "Richard Avedon Dawson" this past Monday out of $3,500 and fended off an attempted rape.
Her story was virtually the same as the others and she had positively identified the picture of the suspect as the same man.
She is a secretary in a New York law firm and was walking down the street when a man approached her and said, "Smile." She did and he asked her if she had ever been a model. Yes, she answered, in fact she had done some modeling. He then introduced himself to her as Richard Avedon Dawson, the famous photographer, told her he would like to use her in some shots and asked her to have a few drinks.
He plied her with Black Russians, persuaded her to give up her apartment in the Bronx and move to Manhattan. He got her to cash $3,500 worth of checks in order to put a downpayment on an apartment and buy her a new wardrobe.
He took her to Saks Fifth Avenue, forced her to try on some clothes (at one point she says, he ushed her into the dressing room when she hesitated) and bought her a pair of shoes with her own money.
Later he rented a limousine and they begin to barhop. Finally they drove to the airport motel where he had the chauffeur of the limousine register for him, then he took her in.
She says he tried to rape her once in the room but she began to scream and he got scared. He walked her to the limousine, gave the driver her address, told her he'd meet her at her apartment the next morning and they would fly to Reno, Nev., for a weekend before she was to begin her modeling career. He told her he loved her and wanted to marry her. She never heard from him again.
Once she realized she had been taken she called the limousine service and the driver announced that he had driven for this man several times before.
One of the things that defies Kelly and the real Richard Avedon is what it is about this guy that women fall for. Why do they buy his corny line? Why do they go off with this not very attractive stranger? Why do many of them give up their life savings or, for that matter, even pay for his drinks? Why do some of them go to bed with him?
Kelly says that every one of the women has said that he is the fastest, smoothest talker they've ever met and they say they can't remember what he said but it just sounded good. And he says that, from his point of view, the most important factor is that the women are all extremely attractive so that it would not be unlikely that someone would want to photograph them. Some are, in fact, professional models.
Almost none of the women wants to talk to the press because of the embarrassment and shame at having been duped. But one victim from Milwaukee agreed to explain "Richard Avedon's" appeal. She asked not to be identified.
"He's definitely not attractive," she said. "But not as ugly as the picture. He's very confident and very self-assured. Very well spoken. I've done a lot of modeling and he really sounded like he knew a lot about modeling and about photography. I met him when I was driving out of a shopping mall and he flagged me down in my car. He said I walked like a princess, carried myself well and he's like to use me as a model. He said he was Richard Avedon. At first I didn't think someone like Avedon would have to do that but he was such a fast talker that pretty soon I did believe him. I asked for identification and he pulled out something that had Avedon's name on it."
She says he talked about business a lot, that he told her he was a part owner of condominium in New York where he rented out apartments to his models. The rents sounded reasonable. "He made me feel real secure, like he had it all figured out, like he had it all handled well.
"He told me he thought I was attractive," she says, "but he specifically said he wasn't making a pass at me."
She did get a little suspicious when he asked her to pay for the drinks which she did with her Master Charge card. Then he made plane reservations and told her he would pick her up the next morning. He never showed.
"I know it sounds strange now but at the time it just all sounded so logical," she says.
The secret to his success, she says, is this: "He makes you feel very secure. He has the whole thing wrapped up, figured out. It's like walking into a fairyland. He makes you feel like a princess. He told me he wanted me to be seen around New York with him socially, that he guaranteed me a glamorous job and a good salary and a beautiful apartment. And all HAD TO DO WAS STEP ON A PLANE. It's too good to be true. I can see how anybody would fall for it. He realy is smooth. I feel a lot better now," she said a bit wistfully," knowing there were so many others. I felt like I was really naive."
Late Tuesday afternoon a detective from a police department in California called Tom Kelly to say he had seen a wire story about the Avedon case and he thinks it may be the same man he locked up for two years between 1974 and 1976 on numerous counts of rape and grand larcency. In 1974 the real Avedon had written a piece for Playboy magazine about the suspect and Detective Kelly had figured that the reason his suspect had dropped out of sight was because of the article. The call from California suggested another explanation. There is a 90 per cent chance, says Kelly, that it's the same guy. As this story goes to print the FBI is working on an identification.
According to the detective in California, the man boasted to the police that one of the reasons they would have a hard time convicting him is because he "specialized in women." He also boasted that none of the women would ever dare testify against him because it would be too embarrassing for them and if any of them did he would "make them sound so bad nobody would believe them."
Tom Kelly is betting he's wrong. He's determined to solve this case.
"If it's is that last thing I do I'm going to get him," he says. 'I'm not going to give up until I catch the son of a gun."