They weren't satisfied with phony cars that were about to be towed away by phony tow trucks. Or with phony tales of being locked out of phony apartments and needing a locksmith. No, Washington's con men (and women) have now stooped this low: They are using children as the centerpieces of their scams.
It was 5 a.m. on June 1 when Claire Simpson of Kalorama brushed the sleep out of her eyes and answered the knock at her door. There stood a woman in her twenties, neatly dressed in T-shirt and shorts.
She had a young daughter who was diabetic, the visitor told Claire. The baby badly needed some medicine, and the all-night Peoples Drug Store at Thomas Circle carried it, the stranger said. But she needed $20 in cash to pay for it.
When Claire balked, the woman promised that her father would come by to repay the loan by 7 o'clock that morning. She rattled off her phone number and address without being asked. "I normally never fall for this sort of thing," Claire says, "but this time, I decided to. You know, a sick kid and all."
Who knows if there ever was a sick kid? This much is for sure: There has never been a father bringing $20 to Claire's door, and there is never going to be.
It's easier to resist this sort of con if you ask yourself a few questions before leaping for your wallet. Among them:
Can't she get the money elsewhere? Can't she charge the medicine? Why is she walking the streets at 5 a.m.? Why hadn't she stockpiled enough medicine for just such an emergency? True, an accomplished con artist can field these questions, and any others you care to throw at her. But by slowing down the process, you're buying time -- perhaps enough to keep yourself from serving as just another well-intentioned fish.
On April 18, James K. McAllister, an FBI special agent assigned to the Washington field office, was in Quantico, Va., practicing antiterrorism maneuvers from a helicopter. Somehow, he lost his grip on a rope and fell to his death. McAllister is survived by his wife, Kimberly, and two children.
That's where such items in the newspaper usually end. But not this one. Because he died in the line of duty, McAllister's family was contacted by an organization called Heroes Inc.
Heroes helped with funeral arrangements. It offered financial counsel. And it arranged to provide all three survivors with tuition and expenses, if and when they decide to attend college.
Exceptional? Yes, in terms of generosity, but no, in terms of history.
Since it was started in 1964 by 150 private citizens, Heroes Inc., has given exactly the same aid to survivors of Washington area public safety officers who die in the line of duty.
James McAllister was the only new addition to the Heroes rolls over the past year. Since the first victim's family was helped 22 years ago, 105 law enforcement officers and firefighters have lost their lives. There has never been a year in which at least one public safety officer has not paid the stiffest price there is to pay. But Heroes has been there for the families of all 105 victims.
These 105 men and women protected all of us in life. The least we can do is to help protect their families after their deaths. If you'd like to contribute to this very worthy cause, make a check payable to Heroes Inc., and mail it to P.O. Box 1860, Washington, D.C. 20013. Thanks very much.
The high school reunion season is peaking. Here are the schools, classes and details:
Roosevelt '66: July 18-20. Call 649-4284.
Southern Senior High of Harwood, Md., '76: Aug. 16, Annapolis Hotel. Call 757-4102.
Wakefield '76: July 26 and 27. Call Sharon Yelton Pigg, 971-1037.
O'Connell '61: July 5. Call Paula Garneau Asselin (534-4420) or Ann Farquhar Martens (241-0325).
Robert E. Lee '76: July 11. Call Dave Crosby (548-7076 evenings).
George Mason '76: July 19. Call Lisa Gilley Varouxis (534-8379 evenings).
Wheaton '61: July 26. Call Sheila Vucci Price (424-4045 days) or Georganna Carpenter Rammling (593-4371 evenings).
Cardozo '51: Oct. 10-12. Call Georgia Reid Ivy (581-5531) or Helen Bolden Jones (449-3205).
Central '46: Sept. 19. Call Selma Goldburg Ulrich (572-5460 after 6 p.m.).
Kennedy '81: July 12. Call Linda Waters-Gowen (294-2955 days).
Suitland '61: Nov. 8. Call 627-3034.
ORGANIZING: Sherwood '66 (call James Lehman at 774-7561); Gar-Field '81 (call Stan Wybersky at 494-9141 or 494-4021); Mount Vernon '81 (call 360-5900); Roosevelt '37 (call Mimi Norton Salamanca at 299-8872); Takoma-Silver Spring '30 and '31 (call Calvin Brockdorff at 774-7433).