In August 2010, Abby Ellin and her fiance moved into a one-bedroom rental at the Watergate in Washington, DC. It's a location infamous for being "ground zero for deception," and it's an almost poetic detail in Ellin's story of falling for a con man. Ellin is a journalist who allowed herself to suspend her disbelief upon falling in love—and she had to suspend a lot of it. Marie Claire published an excerpt from her upcoming book, Duped: Double Lives, False Identities, and the Con Man I Almost Married, and in it, she charts a course of highs, lows, and questions. She met the man who would become her fiance (she refers to him as "the Commander") via phone in 2006, when she interviewed the West Coast doctor while working on an article. They remained in touch and began to date in February 2010, when he was working at the Pentagon.
He presented himself—over a fancy first date at NYC's Four Seasons Restaurant—as a divorced dad of two who was a former Navy SEAL and still did undercover operations with the CIA. He claimed he met his ex-wife while rescuing her from a hostage situation in Iran in 1990. He said he worked as the medical director at Guantanamo one summer and implied he had treated Osama bin Laden. If it sounds unbelievable, it did to Ellin, too, but the top-secret nature of it all posed a problem: She couldn't fact-check it. "And maybe there was something to it," she writes. "Someone has to do these jobs in real life, don’t they? Isn’t that what we’ve learned from Homeland and Zero Dark Thirty?" He showered her with attention, flowers, jewelry, love notes, and, soon, an engagement ring. Read the full excerpt to find out what led her to end it—and the lies that unraveled afterward. (Read more Longform stories.)