Investigators say she may be the queen of the "trashers" in the San Fernando Valley, a woman who could take a voided check or bank statement culled from a trash dumpster and turn it into a lucrative enterprise.
For years, investigators say, Marlene Olive made her living and fed an expensive drug habit by creating new identities and assuming the names of others. They call her a "cut-and-paste" artist, an expert at taking stolen or thrown-out checks, counterfeiting them and creating false identifications for passing them at businesses across the Valley.
Olive, who was arrested two weeks ago, is believed to have been one of the leaders of a ring of as many as 20 thieves. Police say she was the main supplier of phony checks and credentials to the group.
The victims were banks, small businesses, check-cashing companies, office equipment suppliers, supermarkets and mom-and-pop stores--any place that accepted the checks.
In the network of motel rooms that police say Olive used, they found typewriters, color copiers, portrait cameras, laminating machines and computers that helped her perfect the art of creating false IDs and phony checks. Los Angeles Police Detective John Metcalf said there was evidence that she had even attempted to forge California's new driver's license that was designed to be counterfeit-proof.
Investigators said there were 268 pieces of stolen or forged identification in the new Cadillac in which she was arrested.
Police say they have rarely come across a street-level forger believed to be as prolific or as skilled as Olive. The 33-year-old woman is the focus of an ongoing investigation by local and federal authorities to try to determine the extent of fraud attributable to her. But Metcalf, a veteran forgery detective, believes that the losses will never be totaled.
"We will never, ever figure out how much damage she has done," Metcalf said. "It certainly is very substantial. She is one of the premier--one of the biggest--forgers. She is way above the watermark."
Olive was arrested Feb. 25 at a Van Nuys motel and charged with possession of stolen credit cards, counterfeit identification and a forged check. She has pleaded not guilty. Because of her record of prior arrests and using false names, prosecutors deviated from the routine bail and persuaded a judge to hold Olive in lieu of $500,000 bail.
She remains jailed while detectives from Los Angeles and Glendale, along with a team of U. S. postal inspectors, work their way through thousands of documents and other items seized from her, attempting to determine which are bogus, which are real and which have been stolen. Metcalf said more charges will probably be filed against Olive, but putting together evidence will take weeks.
Under one name or another, Olive has been in and out of jails since she was 16 and was arrested with her boyfriend in the slaying of the Marin County couple who had adopted her as an infant. Her mother was killed with a hammer and her father shot to death. Their bodies were incinerated in a fire pit afterward.
The case was dubbed the "barbecue murders" by local newspapers and was later chronicled in two books. Olive was held responsible under juvenile laws for aiding in the deaths, and the boyfriend was convicted of both murders. He told police that he killed the couple at Olive's urging because she felt rejected for failing her mother's standards.
Olive was ordered held in the custody of the California Youth Authority until she was 21. The judge who sentenced her, according to the book "Bad Blood," said to her: "When you are released from custody, my advice is to change your name, move to another part of the country where people do not know about your crime and start all over again."
Police say that after Olive was released from a CYA facility in Ventura County, she came to the Los Angeles area and began changing her name often. Her arrest record continued in Hollywood and the Valley, with forgery and drug-related charges being filed against her at least seven different times. Metcalf said that twice she served one-year stints in jail, once for forgery and once for violating parole for using drugs.
In 1991, she was arrested three times on forgery-related charges, each time providing false identities to authorities. Each time, she posted bail and was released by the time fingerprint checks revealed her true identity.
"She had many, many, many IDs," said Deputy Dist. Atty. James Baker, who filed the recent charges against Olive. "She was always able to bail out before they really knew who she was. They would then have to go out looking for her."
"She went right back to what she was doing and it took us until now" to catch up with her, Metcalf said.