For 12 years, Kathi Spiars gave her heart to a man she first knew as Steve Marcum.
She was intrigued by his mysterious past – a past that included time spent as a hitman for the CIA. But then, his stories began to unravel, revealing a lifetime of lies.
Even his name was a fraud. Steve Marcum was really Eric Wright.
But when Kathi was finally forced to confront the truth about the man she loved, she began a frightening journey, digging into his dark past. Correspondent Susan Spencer reports.
Kathi first met Marcum back in 1980 at a Denver restaurant where they both worked. Soon, they were a couple and went everywhere together
Though only a busboy, Marcum always had a lot of money. He bought Kathi a Porsche and told her that he had come into a big inheritance when his father died.
"I fell in love with a man that was so giving," says Kathi. "And fun and spontaneous."
First, Marcum told her that part of his inheritance included unrefined gold bars that he kept in the toilet tank. "The one thing that's left when a house burns down is that nice porcelain toilet that doesn't burn," he said. "So if the house burns down, I know where my gold will be."
He also told her he had worked as a hitman for the CIA. But he claimed that his days of espionage and aliases were over now -- and that he was now hiding from the CIA.
He then told Kathi that before coming to Denver, he served time in a California prison for murder. He said he was defending a woman who had been attacked by someone in a bar.
Kathy believed his stories, and admits that she found his tales exotic and romantic: "He said because of his life, he'd never been married. He'd never had children … he had obtained tons of different IDs and aliases because of the work he had done."
In 1981, the couple decided to get married. "Love is blind," says Kathi. "I think I was blinder than most, although I didn't want to believe it at the time."
As the months wore on, Marcum's stories became more complicated and contradictory. In one case, Kathi says there was an anonymous call to the house, for someone named "Eric Wright."
Kathi threatened to leave Marcum unless he was able to produce some proof of who he was. Marcum agreed to show her. They got into the car and headed for Fresno, Calif., where he claimed he was born. They ended up in the town of Exeter, in the central valley, Marcum's real hometown.
There, Kathi says Marcum had trouble finding his mother's grave at Exeter's cemetery, where he said she was buried. She said he fell to the ground, sobbing hysterically, yelling, "Those bastards. They took her. They took everything."
Kathi said Marcum's performance at the cemetery was so convincing that, incredibly, she believed that his stories about the CIA, his dead family, and his hitman days were all true. She claims that she even felt guilty about not believing him before: "I felt sorry for him. I felt sorry for ever doubting him."
Marcum, however, had this to say about what happened: "I've told these outrageous lies that frankly amazes me that anyone ever believed … Kathi did, but Kathi likes drama. Keep in mind that Kathi loved the drama of the whole thing."
So what was Marcum hiding from his past?
For one thing, his real name – something that Kathi stumbled across during her visit to his hometown in California. She found several pictures of Marcum in a high school yearbook. The name listed beneath the pictures was Eric Wright.
"The reason he told me he didn't tell me his name was Eric Wright … it was too dangerous for me to know," recalls Kathi.
But there were growing problems in their marriage, and in the early '90s, Marcum's behavior changed. Kathi says he became unpredictable, erratic, and sometimes even physically abusive.
"He got so mad at me that he picked me up underneath the arms, off my feet, and I'm dangling there, and he threw me into a wall and threatened to kill me," says Kathi. "That's the first time I saw Eric Wright."
Marcum, now Eric Wright, denies ever threatening Kathi, who began to dig deeper in her husband's secret past.
Kathi started with the high school yearbook and located a teacher who had gone to school with Wright. He advised her to contact Eric's parents and sister – family members her husband had never told her about.
Kathi says that when she confronted Marcum, he said, "What have you done? You have just got us killed." Because of his old CIA ties, Marcum said that revealing any detail of his past could cost them their lives.
Soon, their troubled 13-year marriage fell apart, and their divorce became ugly. This only made Kathi more determined than ever to uncover the truth. "All along I wanted to know what had happened to my best friend," she says. "And what I found out is that my best friend really never existed."
She found out that her best friend wasn't even legally her husband. In fact, he had three children, with two different women. And before he met her in Colorado, he'd been - not a prison inmate - but a businessman, living with his last wife and child in California.
Kathi began wondering if there might not be a grain of truth in some of Eric's lies: "He was so detailed about killing people, murdering people."
She then started taking extraordinary precautions, and went into hiding for nine years, frequently on the move, while still investigating Wright. She often traveled under assumed names and lived off a small amount of money she had saved.
But questions raised from her investigation have landed Wright in a California jail, facing the distinct possibility of life in prison.
Fishermen spotted a badly decomposed body floating face up in a California aqueduct one summer 23 years ago. Fingerprints revealed the victim was Lester Marks. He was described by police as a small-time crook in San Francisco who specialized in fencing stolen jewelry.
The case went unsolved. But Kathi was convinced that all the lies Wright told her were made up to conceal a possible crime. Her investigation led her to Lt. John Huber with the San Joaquin's County Sheriff's Office. She asked him if there were any unsolved crimes from around 1980 – when the couple first met, and she also mentioned those mysterious gold bars that Eric had in his toilet tank.
This rang a bell with Lt. Huber, because murder victim Lester Marks was known to have bars of unrefined gold, Huber thinks, from melted-down jewelry. Huber believes Marks' gold could have been worth as much as a quarter of a million dollars. But the gold was never found.
Huber discovered that Wright had also been in the precious metals business, working for a company that operated out of San Francisco. Intrigued, Huber launched his own investigation and on and off for 10 years, he looked for anything linking Wright to Marks' murder.
In 1997, he took what evidence he had to a grand jury. It found the case too weak to act on, but too suspicious to forget about. Wright ignored a request to appear before the grand jury and fled to Mexico.
Huber was able to get an arrest warrant and finally, more than two decades after Marks' death, Mexican police took Wright into custody.