The Player

Back in the 1980s, the tale of the so-called "Maidstone Con Man" captured imaginations well beyond the fairways of the storied club. Not many remembered that the charismatic swindler in question had once been a caddie there himself

 

When the Suffolk County police caught up to him, he was hours away from his great escape. The film script, had there been one, couldn’t have improved on it. Bill Parr checked into New York’s swanky Carlyle Hotel, his passport and a one-way Concorde ticket to London ready to go. You can well imagine Parr’s relief: In his wake he left behind a looming jail sentence, a mass of creditors, a trail of bad checks and loans, and some 17 defrauded “friends” — five of them members of the Maidstone Club, stunned at being conned into phony real estate deals by one of their own. 

The sums Parr swindled, adding up to less than half a million dollars, look quaint by today’s standard — not much more than the average swell’s credit card debt. And yet, in the 1980s, his crimes took on the magnitude of parable.

“He looked like Clark Kent — you know, tall, good-looking, with horn-rimmed glasses,” remembers Kathleen Stucklen, one of his victims, more than 30 years later. “It never occurred to us that we needed to do due diligence on such a longtime Maidstone member.” 

If you can’t rely on Bill Parr, his victims wondered, whom can you trust?

For more than a decade, William C. Parr, 53 years old at the time of his arrest, was the picture of settled success. He worked as a real estate executive in New York City. He had an elegant house on Pudding Hill Lane and an apartment on the Upper East Side. All three children attended private schools. His wife, Connie, was the consummate mom, serving as president of the Ladies Village Improvement Society and tirelessly fund-raising for charitable causes. 

The truth, however, was a little more complicated. 

If not exactly on the lam, Bill and Connie Parr were running from something when they arrived in East Hampton in 1970, running from Bill’s early shady dealings in Baltimore. It’s worth mentioning that in Connie Reed, Bill Parr had, as they used to say, married up. As a member of the McCormick & Company spice family, Connie was a card-carrying Baltimore society girl. Bill, more humbly, was an East Hampton boy — not one of the old-line Bonackers from Springs, nor an “upstreet” East Hamptoner descended from the proprietors who’d settled the place in 1648 (both heritages that come with a pride of their own), but the only child of immigrants who had arrived after World War I from what is today Croatia. Bill’s father, Louis, was certainly respectable as the owner of a grocery store, but, still, Bill grew up in a position he apparently wasn’t quite comfortable with: a local who wasn’t really local, a kid who didn’t quite fit in to the old social order.

“It was a different time, and while his past was not something he would have had to hide, exactly,” says a former member of the Maidstone Club admissions committee, “it was something he wouldn’t have advertised.”

A group of Maidstone caddies around 1950, when Bill joined other local boys in the summer work force. East Hampton Star Archive.

 

Anyway, those traces of his socioeconomic class origins had been effectively obscured by Parr’s education and years in Maryland. Bill was no fool; he had an M.B.A. from Cornell. After the Parrs married in 1962, Connie’s family set him up as sales director at Maryland Properties, a real estate subsidiary of McCormick & Company. It was a move the McCormicks  would come to regret. Over a three-year period, Parr conspired with an ad executive to swindle the company out of $100,000 in phony billings. He got off easy that time: a suspended jail sentence and seven years’ probation. The Parrs quietly relocated to Long Island and started over.

“This was long before the internet,” says a Maidstone member who preferred to be unnamed, “and news like that didn’t necessarily travel.”

Although the Maidstone is famous for its arch-exclusiveness — having supposedly resisted the membership application of Diana Ross and rejected Groucho Marx, and reportedly having snubbed President Bill Clinton during the Lewinsky scandal — it was, in those 1960s years of subcultural upheaval in America, on the lookout for new members, and the Parrs were swiftly admitted. To all appearances, they were a perfectly nice, good-looking couple from Baltimore. Connie’s pedigree and Bill’s low golf handicap seemed to speak for themselves.

“Nowadays summer people care more about getting reservations in the front room at Nick and Toni’s than getting into the Maidstone Club,” says the author Steven Gaines. But — as Gaines wrote in Philistines at the Hedgerow, his 1998 social history of the Hamptons — once upon a time membership in the Maidstone was, in certain aspirational circles, “considered such a dire necessity that applicants who were rejected often moved.” That the Parrs were welcomed was a golden seal of success, a defining virtue.

What other members didn’t know is that Bill had caddied there as a boy, and worked as a busboy. 

Back in East Hampton, Parr stayed on the straight and narrow. If he felt any unease over the comparatively humble origins that he had a habit of failing to mention, it did not show; in fact, it was Connie who confided in Kathleen Stucklen, the wife of Maidstone’s golf pro, that she felt she didn’t belong. “There were all kinds of cliques at the club who snubbed each other,” says Stucklen, recalling that faraway world of the 1960s and 1970s, “and if you didn’t come over on the Mayflower you weren’t on the inside.”

In his Brooks Brothers plaids and blazers, Bill, on the other hand, was the life of the proverbial party. He was an affable and frequent presence on the links, as smooth socially as Connie was awkward. It was only in looking back that members admitted that Bill may have tried too hard to fit in as a big spender. He drove a Cadillac with “Parr 4” vanity plates and routinely flew between New York and East Hampton. (While, of course, Cadillacs, vanity plates, and private planes have never really been comme il faut among old-school WASPs, who tend to prefer Subarus, anonymity, and, when splashing out, perhaps the Jitney’s “ambassador service.”) With a flourish, Bill eagerly picked up restaurant tabs. “Red or white?” he’d ask, then make a great show of ordering both. He insisted on taking the Concorde to Europe or booked leisurely first-class crossings on the QE2.

At the Maidstone, the Parrs befriended another nice East Hampton couple called the Kings. The Parrs and Kings became close, but not too long after those friendships blossomed both couples divorced. Bill married Bambi Dodge King on an early spring day in 1982. “Connie was attractive and very much a family woman,” recalls Stucklen.  “But Bambi was beautiful, fashionably dressed, kind of flashy” — the Concorde, you might say, of second wives.

“That second wife was his downfall,” claims Stucklen, though Parr, as his unscrupulous actions in Baltimore proved, hardly needed provocation. 

Parr had been decorated with a Bronze Star during the Korean War. Despite a fraud charge in Baltimore, no one in his hometown realized something was seriously amiss for many years. East Hampton Star Archive.

 

“No one ever backs a con man into it,” says Maria Konnikova, author of the 2016 nonfiction book The Confidence Game. “It’s a combination of predisposition and opportunity.”

In 1983 Parr left his job at a mortgage firm. He joined the real estate outfit of Pearce, Urstadt, Mayer, and Greer but quit after six months with zero to show for it. He had sold the house on Pudding Hill, and he and Bambi downscaled to Sandpiper Lane in Amagansett. The spending, however, continued unabated, even as the power company cut the lights. He wrote checks on closed bank accounts and ran up Bambi’s credit card bill. It wasn’t long before Parr began hawking deals of his own.

On the surface, at least, the Northgate Gardens apartment complex in West Nyack, N.Y., was a perfectly solid investment, as was, next, a property in Spring Valley, N.Y. For anywhere between $10,000 and $44,000, Parr offered investors huge annual percentages on returns in those buildings, which he planned to flip. But Parr’s desperation got the better of him. He oversold the Nyack and Spring Valley shares, respectively, by 168 and 180 percent. Unbeknownst to his investors, Parr had actually bought the Nyack property for $975,000 and sold it the same day. He kept the handsome $325,000 profit all to himself.

“The funny thing is that it’s far easier to make money legitimately than it is to con, because after you succeed, you then have to live the lie. But con men get addicted to the power of it,” says Konnikova, whose book looks at the psychology of the con.  “They are calling all the shots and persuading people to do their bidding.” 

This would have been particularly true of a man like Parr, says Konnikova. He no doubt gloried in hoodwinking those he imagined would have looked down on his less-than-blue-blood origins had they known. “It would be the ultimate thrill,” says Konnikova, for a former caddie with something to prove. 

If Stucklen had not raised the alarm, Parr might have coasted for a little bit longer. “That $25,000 was our nest egg, pretty much all we had in savings,” she says. When Stucklen didn’t hear from Parr about the progress of the deal, she panicked and repeatedly called his house to track him down. Backed against the wall, Parr turned ugly. “What was it he said to try and scare me?” Stucklen says, thinking back, trying to remember. “Something like, ‘Call here again and I’ll put you six feet under!’ ”

Ultimately, Stucklen rounded up other victims and began to put the pieces together. A group of Maidstone members — including George Semerjian, Donald Burr, Roger Thiele, and Seymour Schutz — joined her in filing a complaint against Parr. The Rackets Bureau of the Suffolk County D.A.’s office had him tailed; in a particularly cinematic moment, one would-be dupe met with Parr over lunch wearing a wire. Parr was twice arrested and released over the spring and summer of 1985 on his own recognizance. Nonetheless, he unabashedly continued to lure fresh marks into the West Nyack and Spring Valley projects. 

As stories of Parr’s transgressions appeared in The East Hampton Star, more victims came forward to say they’d been fleeced. But it was a New York magazine exposé called “The Maidstone Scam,” published in September 1985, that blew the lid off. “We couldn’t believe he’d jeopardize his membership,” one stunned victim was quoted as saying (as if this were the most important thing Parr had sacrificed). “He was so proud he made it into the Maidstone Club.”

In the days before his October 1985 sentencing, Bill Parr traveled to Minnesota to offer a sweet deal to his dear friend Albert Heiam, who had been the best man at his first wedding. Heiam thought the deal — a building in Kingston, N.Y. — checked out and handed over a cashier’s check. Parr immediately tried to convert the $35,000 into traveler’s checks, but when the bank called to verify the transaction, Heiam’s suspicions were raised. Parr swore to his old buddy that he was on the level. In fact, he had no connection to the Kingston building at all.

When Heiam looked further into the situation, though, the New York magazine story turned up. He called Patrick O’Connell, an assistant district attorney in Hauppauge who knew the case intimately. O’Connell immediately tracked down the judge presiding over the case, who was in court. “I told him the facts, that Parr had committed another fraud,” said O’Connell. Parr, it became evident, was planning to jump bail and leave the country.

It was Bambi who led cops to the Carlyle. She had agreed that she would try to get her husband to surrender over a drink at the bar, but couldn’t find a parking space to keep their date. The police cuffed Bill outside the hotel as, apparently, the actor Walter Matthau, flabbergasted, looked on. Parr was caught with what was left of Heiam’s investment, including $3,000 in traveler’s checks. He had reserved a seat on the Concorde to London for the next morning.

Parr always maintained that he had planned to honor his deals — and, in fact, he did pay back small amounts at random. In total his ill-gotten gains were estimated at around half a million. He pleaded guilty to four counts of a 32-count indictment and served three years at Watertown Correctional Facility. “I look upon you and find no mercy in my heart,” said Judge Kenneth Rohl. “You are a Svengali, a brilliant, well-educated man who manipulates people who are close to you.” 

Incredibly, Parr continued to hammer out phony deals, calling his prospects collect from a prison pay phone. 

In what might have been his last recorded scam, Parr contacted The East Hampton Star in November of 1993.  “Due to an old Korean War injury, I have been unable to work for the last four years,” wrote Parr, who was indeed a war veteran. “I will be able to return to work in the next 90 days and would ask that you renew my subscription with the understanding that I will pay you as soon as I am able.”

In July of 1994, at the age of 62, Bill Parr died at the Northport Veterans Medical Center of kidney failure after a long illness. In his obituary in The Star, he was remembered for many accomplishments, among them that he had been the youngest boy to make Eagle Scout on Long Island, that he was a recipient of a Bronze Star, and that he was a senior warden at St. Luke’s Church on Main Street. It went unsaid that he’d been the only caddie ever to cross the rubicon, to skip over the hurdles of class expectation, and join the Maidstone.

Ellen T. White

The former managing editor of the New York Public Library, White is also the author of "Simply Irresistible" (Running Press), a book about the great romantic women of history. Of those romantic women, she most admires Cleopatra for her dramatic flair, Queen Elizabeth I for leaning in, and Lady Randolph Churchill for her sense of humor. Favorite quote? “I don’t mind living in a man’s world as long as I can be a woman in it,” from Marilyn Monroe.