I know now that in giving $20 to a young couple at a Pasadena supermarket parking lot I was conned.
More than 40 readers have written to say that exactly the same couple told them exactly the same story, and they parted with from $5 to $100 in cash.
There can be no doubt that all of us have been taken in by the same young couple, working parking lots from Malibu to Pasadena, but mostly in the San Fernando Valley.
In every case the young man approaches a person parking or getting out of a car and begins his hard-luck story, talking fast. They are from Lodi, usually, or Stockton, Fresno or Modesto. He is here to enroll in UCLA. They were looking in Sherman Oaks for an apartment and found one for $1,400 down. While they were absent, someone broke into their battered red-orange car (he shows bulge in door), stole all his photographic equipment and his wife's purse, which she had tucked under a seat. His wife is two months pregnant (always), and has morning sickness. She has had nothing to eat all day (though sometimes she is munching on a pizza or an apple). She sits in the car. They need money for gas and food. They have tried Traveler's Aid and other agencies to no avail. Conclusion: Their sympathetic victim gives them money. They shower him or her effusively with "God bless you" and promise to return the money. They ask for a card or address.
"I, too, was a soft touch for the same couple," writes Helen McGrane of Woodland Hills. "Fortunately I only had a $5 bill with me. . . ."
"It was an exact duplicate of your experience," writes Margaret Gorman of Woodland Hills. "The same young couple, same car, same story, approached me. . . . I, too, was told 'God bless you!' " (for a $20 bill).
"Last fall as I was getting into my car (on Lankershim Boulevard)," writes Valerie Fee of Manhattan Beach, "I was approached by a well-dressed young man who was very agitated. . . ." He told exactly the same story; and his wife was two months pregnant. Fee filled their car with gas on her credit card and received many "God bless you's."
Christine Ellenchau of Hollywood writes that she and her mother fell for the same story and gave the couple $60. "I gave him a card with my address, fully expecting to be reimbursed, but this was at Thanksgiving last year!"
Col. Roland B. Scott of Sherman Oaks got the same story from the same couple, driving "a beat-up small red car," in Tarzana. He refused to give them money and was verbally abused (as were others who refused to contribute).
"The exact scenario happened to us in Sherman Oaks," wrote Genevieve Asher. That was six months ago, and the wife was two months pregnant."
"My husband and I were putting groceries in our car at the Hughes Market lot in Malibu last September," writes Marian C. Cox of Malibu. "The battered red-orange car you described pulled behind us and the smiling young man asked if we could help him and his pregnant wife. They had come down from Visalia. . . ." And so on.
"Same car (slightly battered, reddish-orange)," writes Karin Levine of Woodland Hills. "I, too, contributed."
"Instead of Lodi," writes Adele Stogel, "they needed to get back to Stockton." Otherwise, same story.
"I fell for their appeal about five times more (money wise) than you did," writes I. G. Leabow Jr.
"Same car, same story," writes Patricia Ann Nelson of Canoga Park, "but the pregnant wife was eating an ice cream cone. . . . I gave them $10."
"Reading your story stood what little hair I have on end," writes Maurice Andrew. "Same sweet characters, sweet smiles, beat-up car, same dialogue. . . ."
"The same exact scenario happened to me at the Hughes market in Sherman Oaks," writes Yvonne C. Clark. Clark cashed a $25 check in the market and gave the money to them. They gave her an address in Modesto. She later wrote to say that they could use the money to help someone else. Her letter was returned "No such address."
As Marian Cox suggests, that young woman must have the gestation period of an elephant.