Lord Peter the Cheater was trying to talk himself out of a prison term stemming from a stolen 350-year-old oil painting when last we heard from him.
The Long Beach man had been exposed as a smooth-talking con artist who set Great Britain on its ear by romancing a string of women while pretending to be a member of the English aristocracy.
He had pleaded guilty to taking a stolen 17th century painting by Flemish master David Teniers the Younger out of the United States and trying to sell it to a London gallery for $150,000. But he had reformed, Charles Lee Crutcher told a federal judge in Los Angeles in 1994. He had changed his ways, he promised.
Now a dispute that is boiling over in Long Beach is focusing new attention on the 57-year-old, who is using the name Charles Decrevecoeur.
A Long Beach woman who contends that she is his latest victim has accused Decrevecoeur of posing as a Long Beach firefighter as he continues his romantic ways. She says she has gone to court to keep him at bay and gone public to "prevent other women from going through what I'm going through."
Decrevecoeur has retaliated by alleging to the Department of Motor Vehicles that she is an unfit driver, reporting her to the Internal Revenue Service as a tax cheat, telling the college where she takes classes that she made unauthorized use of a school database and accusing her of misrepresenting herself to a healthcare group to get free passes to a trade show, according to court papers.
"He's trying to ruin my life," said Jeannie Maxon, a 50-year-old hair products manufacturer and distributor who lives in a beachfront apartment in Belmont Shore. Although she denies each of Decrevecoeur's assertions, she has been ordered by the DMV to present medical documentation by the end of May to prove she is fit to drive.
"I want people to know about Charles," she said. "He's charming, but I feel he's dangerous."
These days, Decrevecoeur is far from the upper crust of England. He works at a Starbucks in a Long Beach strip mall and says it's part of a penance for his past pretend life.
In an interview, he acknowledged that he "went too far" in boasting to people he was a firefighter and said he agonized over reporting Maxon to the DMV and to other places.
But he says that he now is a changed man -- and that this time he means it.
"I know now I have to actually work the rest of my life. I've done exemplary work at Starbucks," he said. "It's given me an extraordinary opportunity. I've cleaned up my act."
Charles Crutcher was acting like aristocracy in the 1980s in Great Britain.
Born in Los Angeles and raised in Lakewood, he moved to England in 1977.
His Chelsea neighbors knew him as Lord Peter de Vere Beauclerk, the son of the Duke of St. Albans. He dressed in dignified, well-tailored suits and bowler hats and always carried a neatly furled umbrella when he walked his Labrador named Hussar. He variously described himself as a highly educated investments advisor to the Vatican or as a financial consultant to the city of London who belonged to the same polo club as Prince Charles.
Although authorities said he was married to a British woman and had a 3-year-old daughter, Crutcher swept a string of other unsuspecting women off their feet, including the daughter of the royal jeweler. When he asked her to marry him she said yes.
Oddly, Crutcher placed an announcement of her engagement to Lord Peter de Vere Beauclerk in the London Daily Telegraph. It was immediately spotted by the real Lord Peter's brother who -- with police in tow -- confronted Crutcher at a pub. As plainclothes officers moved in, the pretend peer jumped into a rented car and sped off, dragging along one policeman who was hanging on to the car's door handle. He drove through a rhododendron hedgerow to escape.
According to Scotland Yard, Crutcher was being hunted by authorities on charges of "deceit" and shoplifting from Harrod's when he dropped from sight in the late 1980s. About the same time, a rare oil painting by Teniers called "A Peasant Filling His Pipe" disappeared from a London gallery.
The 8 1/2 -inch-by-6-inch painting reappeared in London in 1993. Crutcher had shipped it to a gallery in hopes of selling it for $150,000. The gallery operator notified police when he discovered that the Teniers painting had been reported stolen in 1987.
Scotland Yard investigators asked for the FBI's help. When Crutcher was arrested at a Belmont Shore sports shop where he worked as a $6-per-hour clerk, he said his late father, a former South Gate High School graphic arts teacher, had hoarded money and purchased the Teniers painting for $29,500 in 1986 -- a year prior to its reported theft.
Several former girlfriends from England and the United States testified during two Los Angeles trials. One jury could not reach a verdict and a mistrial seemed to be looming in the second trial as Crutcher unexpectedly pleaded no contest to illegally taking the stolen painting out of the U.S.