3 Shows That'll Get You Invested In The World of Financial Crimes
Sometimes I need a break from violent crimes – not that nonviolent crimes don't have victims. But they have a different feeling as you hear the case details, the challenges the investigators faced, and the claims of both the accused and the victims.
What to Watch
1. Vanishing Act - Hulu
I'm not always as excited about reenactments, but I was unfamiliar with this case and wanted to give it a chance. If you're like me and are unfamiliar with the details, here's a quick summary:
Melissa Caddick, accused of embezzling $40 million, disappeared the day after the Australian Securities & Investments Commission executed a search warrant on her home in Sydney, Australia, in November of 2020. Vanishing Act is a fictionalized version of her story, including suggestions of what may have happened when she disappeared.
I recommend the short series. Melissa Caddick did disappear, and only some of her remains have been recovered. The writers had to take a lot of liberties with what she was thinking and how she spent her final day. Still, the bulk of the story seems pretty accurate. It provides a fascinating insight into how many people are deeply affected by financial crimes.
(Small not-really-a-spoiler: My favorite part of the story was when, because of a ridiculous coincidence, one of Caddick's clients learns that she is a fraud and withdraws her money. I just love it when people get caught for reasons no one could have predicted.)
2. Bernie Madoff In His Own Words - National Geographic
Caddick's story reminded me, of course, of Bernie Madoff. In fact, he's referenced as her inspiration in the series, but I couldn't confirm that (other than the timing of her actions aligning with his public downfall).
There have been a variety of accounts of Madoff's story – a movie, Dateline episodes, etc. But the best one that I saw was Bernie Madoff In His Own Words. It told the same story as the others, but the creators added audio clips Madoff recorded from prison. Hearing his explanation of what happened – not excuses or denial – was fascinating. At times, he seemed as shocked at his own story as everyone else, and his bewilderment made the interviews even more enjoyable.
3. All The Queen's Horses - Amazon
Finally, one of my favorite documentaries is All the Queen's Horses. The documentarians did an excellent job telling the story, but the crime itself is what is so fascinating. Rita Crundwell, the Dixon, Illinois, city comptroller, stole $53 million from the city she lived in and worked for over the course of 20 years. How did no one catch her? Crundwell, too, was caught because of an unlikely series of events. But it took decades for her deception to be uncovered. I'm reminded of the Truth Default Theory – we naturally accept what those around us share as the truth.
At the start of this post, I mentioned a different feeling when you look at financial crimes, and I think that sense often works against the victims. Until it's happened to you, you may not realize just how far-reaching the impact can be.
It's critical to really listen to the individual stories and realize how devastating these actions are and how easy it was for all of them to become victims of one deceptive person. Spouses of the perpetrators (typically genuinely unaware of the illegal activities) are often immediately left without any resources, their assets intertwined with their significant other's accounts. Individuals who invested at any level face an uncertain future, unable to pay for their children's education, retirement, and other life plans, which all felt like a sure next step until the crime.
Resources for Citizen Investigators & Internet Sleuths
These cases have been covered in a variety of media formats. Here's what I recommend:
Draining Dixon: How Rita Crundwell Embezzled More Than $50 Million from Her Illinois Town (compilation of newspaper articles from the Chicago Tribune)
The Wizard of Lies (a movie with Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer)
The End of Normal (a memoir written by Mark Madoff's widow/Bernie Madoff's daughter-in-law)
What other financial crimes have caught your attention? Drop them in the comments!