fool for love

Yesterday I saw “I Love You Phillip Morris” starring Jim Carrey and Ewen McGregor. I’m not a fan of Carrey’s work nor did I like the script but I was intrigued enough to investigate the true story it was based on…..

image found here

Nine years into a 144-year jail sentence for assorted charges, including felony escape and embezzlement, Russell is one of the Michael Unit’s most notorious and closely guarded inmates. Ask him why he is here, incarcerated and alone, and he will answer without missing a beat that it is because he was a fool for love.

Bryan Ferry was also once a Fool for Love

Steven Jay Russell has many other names. As well as the 14 known aliases he used while fabricating bogus credentials and passing himself off variously as a judge, a doctor, an FBI agent and a bar student, he has been nicknamed “Houdini” and “King Con” for his remarkable ability to escape from prison. From 1992, when he was imprisoned for the relatively minor charge of insurance fraud, Russell managed to escape four times from several different Texan jails over a five-year period.

Houdini image found here

Russell’s shenanigans were driven by his obsessive love for a fellow inmate called Phillip Morris whom he met in jail. Russell and Morris, who was serving a sentence for failing to return a rental car, were both released on parole in 1995. Setting up home together in Houston, Russell went in search of money to lavish on his lover. He persuaded a medical insurance company to hire him as their chief financial officer on the basis of a greatly exaggerated CV with all references directed back to him. In five months, he embezzled $800,000 from dormant accounts to fund the couple’s glamorous lifestyle of Mercedes-Benz cars, jet-skis and matching Rolex watches. Russell even had his teeth capped and plastic surgery on his eyes.

Steven Russell found here

Eventually, he was found out and sent back to jail, but not before impersonating a judge over the telephone and demanding his own bail money be lowered from $900,000 to $45,000 (he paid with a cheque that later bounced). Despite managing repeatedly to outwit the federal authorities, Russell was always caught because, each time he escaped, he would end up beating a path to Morris’s door.

Phillip Morris found here

Russell’s escapes were never violent but they were ingenious. Twice, he simply walked through the front gates. In 1993, while languishing in the Harris County Jail in Houston for making a false insurance claim about an injured back, Russell disguised himself as a workman with a walkie-talkie and a pair of women’s black trousers stolen from the infirmary. “I tapped on the security gate with my walkie-talkie and the guy let me through,” he explains, nonchalantly.

Jim Carrey as Steven Russell found here

Three years later, he stockpiled green felt-tip pens from prison art classes, squeezing the ink from the cartridges into a sink of water and dying his overalls the colour of surgical scrubs. “You have to be very careful because if you wring them out, you get streaks in the material,” he says matter-of-factly. Underneath the makeshift medical clothes, Russell taped plastic bags tightly to his body so that police dogs would not be able to follow his scent once he was on the run.

Surgeon’s scrubs USB keys found here

He was out but not for long. Within the year, he was back in jail, this time plotting his most daring escape ever. Over a 10-month period in 1998, Russell began to feign the symptoms of Aids. He ate almost nothing and took laxatives in order to look as emaciated as possible. He wrote up fraudulent health records on the prison library typewriter and sent them to the relevant department in the internal mail system for inclusion in his medical file. Astonishingly, Russell was so persuasive that the Texas authorities never ran their own tests and he was transferred to a nursing home. From there, he posed as his own doctor over the telephone and received permission from parole officers to take part in a non-existent treatment programme. A few weeks later, the bogus doctor called the prison to let them know that, sadly, Russell had died.

In reality, Russell was very much alive and on his way, once again, to be with Phillip Morris. “That escape was the most difficult,” says Russell. “I had to completely discipline myself to lose the weight and did lots of reading up on the symptoms of Aids. But now he claims that he is resigned to a future behind bars – he says that planning all those escapes was “exhausting”