Nov 29, 2009

Meet my aunt..

I do have a real writer in the family. Her name is Catherine Hamm. She writes the travel column for the LA Times. This article I am posting is the true story of her honeymoon to my uncle. I am so proud. My uncle is very special and dear to me, and he was a widower for many years, until he met and married my Aunt Cat. So you readers are specail to me, and I would like you to meet the real writer in my family...Here she is-

A different journey than bride bargained for
After a Hawaiian rental goes awry, The Times travel editor tracks the agent and her alleged many lives.
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A Texas man said Amanda J. George gave him this photo, showing her with Robert Downey Jr., left, Woody Harrelson and Keanu Reeves on the set of the film "A Scanner Darkly." He said she told him she was a screenwriter.

By Catharine Hamm
November 26, 2009

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I knew her only as Amanda, and the more I learned about her life, the more surreal it seemed.

Part of it read like a fairy tale: A smart, pretty girl flees her Alaska home, meets a Scottish aristocrat and falls in love. They marry, move into a manor house and have three children.

But that was only one of the lives she'd led.

Her incarnations were varied: Hollywood screenwriter. Concierge to the stars. Rental agent for exclusive Hawaiian vacation homes.

Acquaintances say she had butter-smooth charm and uncanny powers of persuasion. But her most valuable asset may have been the anonymity of the Internet, at least until an electronic forum enabled those who had crossed paths with her to trade information.

One of her alleged victims, a bride intent on her own fairy-tale wedding, spent a year following leads and piecing together Amanda's past.

I was that bride, but in the end, I took no pleasure when she landed behind bars.

Mine was a later-in-life attachment, with none of the trappings of royalty. Carl and I met at a Christmas party in 2003, and a romance developed, slowly but steadily. We continued to live apart until a health scare prompted us to take the plunge. We set a May 2008 wedding date and asked a wedding planner to find a venue close to my childhood home on Oahu.

About three weeks before the big day, plans for the place we had chosen fell through, and the planner asked the caterer for help. The caterer's assistant surfed the Web and found an ideal setting.

When I saw pictures of Kailua Palm House on Oahu, I immediately fell in love. Coleman Wiggins was listed as the rental agency, and the agent's name was Amanda.

In e-mails and phone conversations, Amanda told us that, because time was short, I would have to wire the money to the homeowner's bank account in Tyler, Texas. I sent the funds -- $2,750 for a two-day rental, plus a $2,000 cleaning deposit.

A few days later, I e-mailed Amanda to ask for the address of the house and a signed copy of the rental agreement.

"Of course," came the reply.

Then silence. Our wedding planner e-mailed Amanda but got no response.

By May 4, 12 days before the wedding, I was getting queasy. The planner called Amanda, who said she was in a taxicab in New York and her cellphone was about to go dead. She said she would call back.


On May 9, the planner sent an e-mail threatening legal action. The planner and the caterer got Amanda on the phone. She hung up on them.

Four days before the wedding, we found another venue, and I put the bill on my credit card, despite a 2% premium. If I had done that earlier, I would have been protected by the Fair Credit Billing Act and wouldn't have lost my money.

On our wedding day, the humiliation of having been ripped off hung over Carl and me. I wondered how I could have been such a fool. As travel editor at the Los Angeles Times, I constantly counsel readers to keep their wits and wallets about them. I had failed to follow my own advice.

After our short honeymoon, I contacted the Honolulu Police Department, the Internet Crime Complaint Center and Southside Bank in Tyler, which turned my case over to the Smith County Sheriff's Department.

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