(CBS) What happened to Jamie Laiaddee? In the age of ubiquitous security cameras and digital devices that track our every move, how does a 34-year-old Phoenix, Arizona woman simply disappear?
And how does a person who has friends and family go missing for 10 weeks without anyone noticing and sounding the alarm? Jamie Laiaddee's story is, in many ways, a cautionary tale for the 21st Century young woman living in a high tech world who thinks she can recognize danger and steer clear of it.
Jamie Laiaddee, a University of Michigan graduate, was smart, cautious and thoughtful, in short, the last person who should have fallen prey to a con man. But her con man was a wolf in Wolverine clothing: Bryan Stewart was a member of her U of M alum club in Phoenix, Arizona. What could be a "safer" place to meet a man? He was a personal trainer who told her that he had graduated ahead of her at Michigan. He was handsome and funny and he seemed to care a lot about her. And Jamie was lonely. In college, she lived with close friends, but after graduation, everyone went separate ways and Jamie moved to Phoenix where she knew no one.
Jamie had a well-paying job selling medical equipment and owned a home in Chandler, an affluent suburb. Shortly after she met Bryan, he moved in with her and she was soon paying most of the bills. She even bought another vehicle so he could drive to work.
There were some warning signs that all was not quite right with Bryan. In the summer of 2007, he was arrested for burglary. Jamie paid for his attorney and the charges were reduced to trespassing. She was concerned enough to hire a private detective to check him out, but the background check came up with nothing and she stayed with Bryan.
Whether it was her choice or at Bryan's urging, Jamie, who had always worked hard to keep in touch with her college friends, began to fade from their lives. She also distanced herself from her parents, Thai immigrants, who raised her in Pasadena, California and were pressuring her to go to follow in her older sister's footsteps and go to medical school.
In 2009, when she then lost her job and large income, she was largely isolated. What we know about her comes from Bryan who says she was despondent and determined to run away from her life. And that's exactly what he says she did.
Bryan Stewart told friends that Jamie broke up him on the evening of March 17th, 2010 and moved to Denver, Colorado the next day. None of her friends in Phoenix questioned his story even though he was still driving her car and using her credit cards. It wasn't until Jamie's father called the police in late May that anyone realized that something was amiss and by then, she had been gone ten weeks and any relevant evidence was missing too.
If Bryan Stewart didn't have an outstanding warrant for a traffic ticket, Jamie's disappearance might have remained a mystery. However, when investigators stopped him on May 28th, 2010, they were able to arrest him on that warrant and search his apartment. That's when they uncovered something that Jamie Laiaddee and even the private detective she hired missed: Bryan Stewart didn't exist. The man Jamie lived with, trusted her life with, supported and loved, was, in fact, Rick Valentini, a con man with three ex-wives, two children, a criminal record and a trail of lies.
He had even forged his University of Michigan diploma!
Jamie's friends all expressed shock when they learned about her boyfriend's double life. "This just doesn't happen to one of your friends", they say, but it can and it does. Rick Valentini is handsome, smooth and knew that a diploma from the University of Michigan--seamlessly forged--would open doors and shut off questions.
I was anxious to sit down with this man who fooled so many people, but even after talking with him, pressing him for hours, it is still hard to figure out who he really is.
On the surface, he's charming and it is clear why Jamie was taken with and by him. But there is also a deep anger roiling just beneath the surface: anger at his mother, at the cops and with anyone who questions his story. He appears to be a man barely able to hold in his anger. That may be the side of Rick/Bryan that Jamie encountered the night she disappeared.
Rick Valentini insists--in the face of evidence to the contrary--that Jamie is still alive and living under a false name in a different state. But that's not the woman Jamie Laiaddee was. There's is nothing in her past to suggest that she would leave her old life behind, or more importantly, let a man she once loved, go to prison for a crime he didn't commit. Jamie Laiaddee is dead...but where did Rick Valentini put her?
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