On August 6, 2019, the FBI issued a warning on the growing sophistication of online criminals who create fake personas to commit romance fraud. This warning was in conjunction with the release of its annual cybercrime report, which found that, between 2017 and 2018, complaints of confidence/romance fraud grew from 15,000 to 18,000. Even more alarmingly, the amount of lost money increased by 70 percent. Criminals are getting increasingly sophisticated in their efforts to commit fraud and recruit money mules, according to the FBI. Nearly $650 million was stolen from people age 60 and over, the report showed this age group to be particularly vulnerable. As a result, the elderly are the preferred prey for scammers.
Loneliness, though, doesn’t just make us vulnerable to high-tech hustlers, especially when faith is involved. On August 14, deputy churchwarden and parish council secretary Ben Field was convicted of murdering 69-year-old Peter Farquhar for his money. Mr. Farquhar was a successful academic and author but had struggled for years to reconcile the inner conflict he experienced between his gay sexual orientation and his Anglican faith. Psychopath and religious conman Ben Field saw someone ripe for exploitation.
While financial gain was his main motive, it appears that the 28-year-old psychopath also got pleasure pretending to love his “fiancé’” while secretly lacing his food and drink with hallucinogenic drugs and sedatives and trying to convince him that he was “going crazy” by moving objects around in the house, erasing Mr. Farquhar’s phone contacts and then denying it, and engaging in other forms of gaslighting. Before he died, Mr. Farquhar told friends he was afraid he was losing his mind.
At the same time that he was declaring his devotion to Mr. Farquhar, Mr. Field was working hard behind his back to convince their mutual acquaintances that his beloved was an alcoholic suffering from dementia. He also relished the role of self-sacrificing caretaker that his deviousness earned him, referring to his lies and deception as a “ruse cruise;” his acting was so good that Mr. Farquhar’s family at first refused to believe that Mr. Field had anything to do with their loved one’s death. In October 2015, Mr. Farquhar was found dead in his living room with a bottle half-full of whiskey beside him. His death was ruled an accident due to acute alcohol intoxication.
Moving on to the Next Victim
That might have been the end of this tragic story were it not for Ben Field’s greed and the next victim’s courage. Shortly after Mr. Farquhar’s death, Ben Field began romancing an 83-year-old neighbor of the deceased. Presenting himself as a lost soul reeling from the death of his elderly friend, Mr. Field quickly wormed his way into the heart of Ann Moore-Martin, a single retired teacher who was deeply religious, single, and had no children. Not only did his caring and religious disguise quickly earn Ms. Moore-Martin’s trust, but he also pretended to fall in love with her, sending her love notes, giving her a picture of him she placed beside her bed and asking her to marry him.
Pretty soon, Mr. Field was up to his old tricks. He wrote white messages on her mirrors and convinced her these were messages from God (at least one of these suggested she leave her house to Mr. Field). He secretly took a photo of Ms. Moore-Martin during one of their intimate moments, thinking he could use it to blackmail her or shame her into killing herself if he needed it. According to his own diary, he had several conversations with her in which he attempted to plant the seeds of suicide, hoping that might speed along his inheritance after he talked her into changing her will. And, of course, he took her money, conning her out of $30,000 by telling her his brother desperately needed a dialysis machine.
Undoubtedly, Ms. Moore-Martin’s fate would have been similar to Mr. Farquhar had she not had a seizure and been hospitalized. Once she was away from Ben Field (who was living with her), she began to regain her perspective, especially after she confided in her niece about the writings on the mirrors and Mr. Field’s requests for money. Ms. Moore-Martin, realizing she had been conned, changed her will back to its original version and, took a closer look at the death of Ms. Moore-Martin’s neighbor. When Ms. Moore-Martin died in May 2017, police took a closer look at Mr. Ben Field.
Evidence of a Potential Serial Killer
Investigators found a treasure trove of evidence in Ben Field’s possession. They found photos he had taken of the messages he had written on Anne Moore-Martin’s mirrors. They found notes documenting his “suicide chats.” They found receipts from drugs he had purchased off the Internet and a video he had taken of Mr. Farquhar after he was drugged. They also found a notebook containing a list of people, including his own parents and the two neighbors he scammed, that he titled 100 Clients. In court, he stated it was a list of “people who may be useful to me, either as targets of fraud or in other ways.” Some of them fit the same profile as his victims—living alone, private, affluent, with no children.
He admitted during his trial that he didn’t believe in God as was involved in the church to find future “targets.” At the time of his arrest, Ben Field was five days away from possibly being selected for ordination as a minister.
The Bottom Line
Throughout my life, I’ve seen some of the best things done in the name of God. During my many years as a forensic psychologist, though, I’ve seen some of the worst.
When it comes to spirituality, everyone has their own path to follow. But it’s important to remember that not everyone who preaches sermons or attends synagogues or joins a Christian dating service or prays five times a day has the same moral compass that you do. Watch what a person does, not what they say. Because sometimes “the devil” shows up as everything you’ve ever wished for.