An Insider’s Account of the Woman Who Fooled New York

Book review: My Friend Anna, by Rachel DeLoache Williams (Amazon / Book Depository)

If you’d asked me before I met Anna, I wouldn’t have thought I lacked this type of common sense. I was skeptical of strangers, suspicious of new people. But I didn’t see Anna coming. She slipped through my filters. You read about those characters in books, you see them in movies, but you don’t expect to meet one in real life. You don’t think it’s going to happen to you.
If you haven’t yet had the experience, I can tell you: it is deeply unsettling to learn that someone you care about, a person you think you know well, is an illusion.

I’ve made no secret of my penchant for con artist stories, and the case of fake German heiress Anna Delvey, who conned New York’s glitterati until her unpaid hotel bills did her in in 2017, is an entertaining and surprising one. Delvey (real name: Anna Sorokin, of Russia) scammed hundreds of thousands of dollars from banks through what basically amounted to check kiting — depositing checks and withdrawing money before they cleared, somehow, I’m confused by that part — then spending it extravagantly living in Manhattan luxury hotels, buying Apple gadgets, expensive meals, personal training, drinking constantly, and chartering a $35,000 private jet to gatecrash the Berkshire Hathaway annual shareholders’ meeting while occasionally tricking friends and hangers-on to spot her when her credit cards mysteriously wouldn’t work.

It’s a doozy of a story. Last year a friend of Anna’s, Vanity Fair photo editor Rachel DeLoache Williams, wrote an article telling her side, including that Delvey stuck her with around $62,000 in unpaid flight and hotel bills after a trip to Marrakech. This book expands on that story and Williams’ recollection of their friendship.

Like in The Woman Who Wasn’t There, there’s scant knowledge about the conner themselves. Anna allegedly spent her days in business meetings with lawyers and bankers trying to create a Soho House-like members-only arts club and foundation. So Williams fills in by laying out, in excruciating detail, what it felt like being conned. Her voice comes across as still so raw and reeling that it’s hard not to feel those emotions alongside her.

She attended Anna’s pricey private workout sessions, got tipsy in infrared saunas (the worst idea), trailed along as Anna moved between luxury hotels (what kind of Eloise fantasy was that, anyway?), got pedicures with wine delivered to the salon, and planned the trip to Morocco with personal trainer and videographer in tow to document it for Anna’s would-be foundation. It is all so weird and it actually just sounds mostly terrible.

Most of the book’s latter half revolves around Williams’s attempts to get reimbursement from Anna for the Marrakech vacation, the expenses of which had to be charged to her personal and corporate credit cards after Anna’s were declined. It includes the ins and outs of messages begging for and promising payment, the precise details and complications spun by Anna of bank and wire transfers and so on. Her anxiety is palpable, but it doesn’t make for interesting reading. She also fails to capture something that I think is critical in understanding this story and how Sorokin pulled off her con, and that’s the weird world of New York money and power. It’s a hard one to explain or depict, but no genuine attempt was made.

The world was charmed when she was around—the normal rules didn’t seem to apply. Her lifestyle was full of convenience, and its easy materialism was seductive.

There’s also not a lot about what their friendship was like. It sounds mostly founded on being drinking, out-and-about buddies, and they didn’t have heart-to-hearts. Williams describes Anna’s quirks, like that she’s brash and sometimes rude, but she and others seem to write everything off as side effects of being rich.

The writing flows well, but there are some narrative oddities that I think come from trying to describe too much in detail. Like noting that she wasn’t hungry on an evening out with Anna because they’d had pizza in the office, apparently forgetting that she’d just described having dinner a few pages before. These kind of discrepancies always bother me in nonfiction even though they’re small, and made it feel like this book might’ve been rushed.

She does capture something helpful about the trauma of being conned by someone close to you, allowing her vulnerability to show, which is valuable since people can be quick to judge the conned.

I feel bad saying this, since Williams was a victim and suffered enormous stress before her financial nightmare courtesy of Anna ended, not to mention the feelings of betrayal and anxiety that will linger and affect trust and other relationships, but this doesn’t feel like the best window into this story. Although her information was ultimately helpful for the prosecution of the case, and she assisted in the sting that finally got Anna arrested, there’s just not a whole lot of insight here, except for how it all felt to Williams. Which is fair enough. This story is far from over — Shonda Rhimes is producing a Netflix project based on the investigative journalism of this piece by Jessica Pressler, which was my introduction to this whole story, and I suspect that kind of reporting appeals to me more.

It’s not what the marketing promises — Sex in the City meets Catch Me If You Can– but it’s entertaining enough, and as Williams points out, almost everyone has had one of these con artist types enter our lives at some point. It helps to understand someone else’s experience, even if it feels train-wrecky every step of the way.

My Friend Anna: The True Story of a Fake Heiress
by Rachel DeLoache Williams
published July 23, 2019 by Gallery Books

Amazon / Book Depository

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13 thoughts on “An Insider’s Account of the Woman Who Fooled New York

  1. This is a book I was eagerly looking forward to reading. I enjoyed reading an article about the saga, can’t remember where, maybe it was in Vanity Fair? Your reservations are spot on – one wants to learn about the background and the motivations of the deceiver. Despite this, I will still give it a go. Like you, I have a penchant for deceiver stories, I love the sheer effrontery of the perpetrator and I appreciate the reminder not to be gullible. Did you read this already, it’s a corker! also from The Cut https://www.thecut.com/2019/07/bruce-hay-paternity-trap-maria-pia-shuman-mischa-haider.html

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The author wrote the Vanity Fair article last year and there was one from a journalist in The Cut too, maybe you read one of those. It’s still worth a read when you’re interested in the story though! I’d just hoped it would shed a little more light than it did. And we can always use a reminder about warning signs and points where we might be allowing ourselves to be gullible or vulnerable.

      I hadn’t read the story you linked, and omg! What the hell! That one is really strange, because as he points out that’s a really, REALLY long and involved con. What was their end game there? I feel terrible for the professor, homeless and that deeply in debt, what a mess. I wonder who the Maria Pia Shuman person actually is.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I really think con stories need the journalistic touch in telling them, as they’re usually just too complex or confusing to be told from one person’s perspective of what they’ve seen or recall. It’s interesting enough but just feels tip of the iceberg. Glad you liked reading about it though! 🤗

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I’m so disappointed with book marketing that I completely ignore it. They pick the two biggest names they can think of that seem even tangentially connected to what they’re selling, and use that to draw people in. The whole just-like-Gone-Girl era is finally over, and I’m relieved.

    I have to say, what gives a person the hubris to think they deserve all the things Anna took from others? It would make loads more sense to me if she conned people into a house and some furniture and maybe a car. But a life of pedis and wine? Where did she see that leading to?

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    1. That does seem like exactly what they do, just mash two things that share a few keywords together. I guess to try to rope in existing fans. I don’t read fiction but I noticed all the “just like Gone Girl” blurbs, hopefully the next to go will be the trend for titles using the formula The Girl/Lady/Woman in/on/at the (place/location).

      She was massively entitled and without knowing anything about her background we have no insight into why she was like she was. Maybe it’ll come out at some point. The only thing she seemed to really want to do was make her arts foundation and live in luxury hotels, but like, how long did she think this ruse would last when she was stealing money from banks? Knowing how much money is where and with who is what they do, it’s not taking change from your mom’s purse. This story is nuts all around.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. How in the world did this one slip past my radar? Like you, I’m all in for con stories. And I love the call to The Woman Who Wasn’t There— I absolutely devoured that book. Just chilling. It’s a shame that this one doesn’t seem to have much depth though. But maybe that’s the author’s closeness to the subject. It kind of goes back to that discussion we were having about authors inserting themselves into true crime narratives. While she was directly involved in the case, maybe a broad journalistic perspective would have been better. I think I’ll still give it a chance though! What a wild story.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The Woman Who Wasn’t There was incredible, wasn’t it? I could not BELIEVE that story, or how easily it unraveled! It took a reporter asking the most basic due diligence questions and her entire ruse fell apart instantly. There was a short documentary about it, I think also called The Woman Who Wasn’t There, and it used to be on YouTube. It was good to put faces to the names.

      It’s weird in light of our other discussion, isn’t it, because this author absolutely should have told her side of this story. But I think it’s exactly as you said, that broader perspective and any journalistic element were missing and it suffered for it. She was a little TOO close, or at the least it felt limited in perspective. Definitely still give it a chance though, it was a quick and — I hate to say since she clearly suffered a lot here–entertaining read. This is one of those stories that’s so crazy I just want to know everything about it. Maybe the journalist that wrote the Cut article (which is great and I linked to in the review) will write a book on it too.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I went back and read the article and WOW. That’s a brilliant piece of journalism— I’d love to see that expanded into a book. Something like that might make a nice companion to this more personal piece.

        And yes! I saw the documentary. Absolutely heartbreaking. And frustrating in how fast her story unraveled under scrutiny. But then, why would anyone question someone who claimed the experiences she did?

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Isn’t it incredible? That’s the story that sucked me in to this one. I really hope she expands it into a book, but it’ll be the basis for the Netflix project Shonda Rhimes is producing. I thought it would be a good companion piece too, since the journalist can take a more objective outside approach and this gives you a look at how it felt from the inside. I really hope she pursues it!!

        That was definitely the key in how Tania Head got away with that. 9/11 was and is still is such a wound that people felt guilty questioning anything. It just blew my mind that something as straightforward as her fiance’s last name was never asked. That shouldn’t even have been considered offensive, just due diligence in journalism!

        Liked by 1 person

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