The Hipster Grifter

It’s likely that when Kari Ferrell walked into the Vice magazine offices in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, last month to interview for an administrative assistant job, they thought they’d hit the jackpot. Ms. Ferrell—petite, 22 years old, of Korean heritage—had a huge tattoo of a phoenix across her chest and a cute pixie haircut. She was talkative, funny, charming, adorable. She had a tattoo on her back that read “I Love Beards.” She told them she’d been working for the New York office of the concert promotion company GoldenVoice, which puts on huge rock festivals like Coachella near Palm Springs, Calif., and that she’d moved to New York from Utah just a few months earlier. They hired her on the spot.

A few days later, one of Ms. Ferrell’s new colleagues came by her desk. “I said, ‘Excuse me, miss, is [her boss] downstairs?’” the 29-year-old told The Observer. “She thought that was very polite that I said, ‘Excuse me, miss,’ and after that she started talking to me, instant-messaging me. She asked if I was from the South. I told her no. It escalated from there.”

Within the space of a half-hour, Ms. Ferrell was peppering him with questions about his sexual history—how many women he’d slept with and so on. “She was coming on to me, and I was super into it for the first part of it,” he said. “I realized I could have fun after work—but then I was like, ‘Let me check this girl out.’”  He Googled her. Up popped a photo of his flirtatious new co-worker on the Salt Lake City Police Department’s Most Wanted list, wanted on five different warrants, including passing $60,000 in bad checks, forgery and retail theft.

“Long story short”

Soon after arriving in New York last August, Kari Ferrell moved into a tiny room on Bergen Street on the Crown Heights–Prospect Heights border. She made friends quickly—mostly guys, though there were always one or two girls in her orbit. (For this article, Ms. Ferrell did not respond to emails or a voice mail left on her last known cell phone number.) She met Bobby, a 23-year-old Rutgers student, at a GirlTalk concert in Manhattan in October. It seemed like the two of them were the only ones old enough to drink, Bobby recalled. They started talking, and, “long story short, I go home with her. The next morning we exchange emails. It turns out that night she stole my cell phone—but it was done in such a way that it wasn’t until months later that I realized: I didn’t lose my phone that night, she took it.”

Bobby started making the trip from New Brunswick, N.J., to Brooklyn every weekend. She told him she worked for GoldenVoice and gave him one of her business cards. She had an ATM card, Bobby recalled, but it never seemed to work; she could only get cash out of it, not use it as a debit card, and, she told him, it only worked at this one bodega near her apartment. So she would borrow money and promise to pay it back.

Soon she told him she was afraid she was pregnant. “She told me she took six tests—three were positive, three were negative,” Bobby said. “I told her to go to a gynecologist, get a real pregnancy test, and we’ll move forward from there.” She stopped bringing it up.

When Bobby had been seeing Ms. Ferrell for about six weeks, one of her friends told him that Ms. Ferrell was dying of cancer. When he confronted her, Bobby said she told him “the sob story—‘I’m estranged from my parents, I don’t know who my birth parents are, my adoptive parents are abusive.’ It never occurred to me that it would be odd that someone who’s dying of cancer, who has three months to live, would just move from Salt Lake City to Brooklyn.”

Bobby talked it over with some friends. “Basically, the consensus was to stick around because you like this girl, but don’t get too attached, because she’s going to be dead in three months,” Bobby said. Over the next several weeks, he said, they had “some very depressing conversations about how she didn’t want to die. My parents are doctors, and I’ve seen patients come in who are in their last stage of life. She was saying, ‘I don’t want to go through that, I’m going to take my own life.’”

Ms. Ferrell seemed healthy outwardly, but one day Bobby got a text message saying that she’d coughed up blood and was in the hospital.

“The doctors were treating her as if something was going wrong,” he said. “I was thinking, ‘Oh, great, here it comes, this is going to be the beginning of the end.’ The doctors at Bellevue said, ‘There’s something wrong with your appendix, it’s a little inflamed. But, good news, we couldn’t find any cancer in your lungs!’”

According to Bobby, Ms. Ferrell dismissed this diagnosis, saying that her cancer was the kind of thing that could show up on a scan one day and disappear the next.

The weekend before Christmas, Bobby and Ms. Ferrell went to a party. “She was dancing, smoking pot. I thought it was really strange that if she was dying of lung cancer, she’d be smoking pot.” Bobby went back to Rutgers and the night before he left for winter break, Ms. Ferrell called, threatening to kill herself. The next day, she called while he was at dinner with his parents. “She’s really weak, doesn’t want to talk, says, ‘I’ll call you later,’ and hangs up,” he said. “I’m just thrilled she’s alive. A couple hours later, I talk to her and she’s really depressed—she says it’ll never end, there’s no point. She’s being really mysterious and vague.” Finally she told him she had a psychotic ex-boyfriend, a criminal mastermind who could break into any cell phone. He had been stalking her in Utah, she said; he broke into her house and stole money. She said when she logged into her instant messenger, it said she was already logged in; she was panicked it was the crazy ex.

Bobby told some friends of his the whole story and they seemed incredulous, so he Googled her and found the wanted poster. “After I realized the whole thing was bullshit, she continued to send me texts,” he said “She texted me on Christmas to tell me that she loved me. As soon as I realized who she really was, I stopped contacting her.”

But Bobby wasn’t Ms. Ferrell’s only prospect. A month earlier, at the end of November at a dance party at the bar Happy Ending on the Lower East Side, she met a 28-year-old named Joe, who was living in Greenpoint. He was celebrating his birthday and invited Ms. Ferrell to a party he was having the next night. “She told me she was working for the company that does Coachella—GoldenVoice,” Joe said. “She would furnish all these details about having to run errands, go to meetings. One night she said she was sleeping in the office because she had so much work.” She also told Joe and his friends that she was working on a book for Vice—a coffee table book of photographs of men with beards posing next to her “I Love Beards” tattoo.

“She has this thing with guys where she talks about sex really upfront and kind of puts people off balance,” said Joe. (It was also around November that a guy named Troy was at Union Pool, the Williamsburg bar, when the bartender passed him a note from another customer. It read, “I want to give you a hand job with my mouth,” and was signed “Korean Abdul-Jabbar.” It was, according to Troy, from Ms. Ferrell. Another time, a patron at Fabiane’s, the café on Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg, said Ms. Ferrell passed him a note which read: “I want you to throw a hot dog down my hall.”)

The Hipster Grifter