When they make a film about Mark Acklom, a dog will be kicked in the very first scene. Last year his mother told the Daily Mail that “when he was two, I bought our first puppy.... She was sitting on the stairs. He went up and just kicked her out of the way. Most children would go up to a puppy and cuddle it.”
But Mark Acklom wasn’t most children. Mark Acklom would grow up to become one of the U.K.’s most prolific con men, and its most-wanted fugitive. Before his dramatic, balcony-leaping arrest outside Zurich last year—before his extradition, and before the five-year prison sentence he has just begun—Acklom had led a life of ostentatious criminality that walked a fine line between glamour and cruelty. A well-spoken fraudster pirate who sailed on the high seas of bullshit, he systematically ruined the lives of everyone whose orbit he entered.
Maybe you knew him as Marc Ros Rodriguez, or Mark Conway, or Marc Saunders, or Mark Long, or Marco Rossi, or George Kennedy, or Dr. Zac Moss. Perhaps he told you he was a barrister, or an ad executive, or an event manager, or a property developer, or a Swiss banker, or a gynecologist, or a spy. However you knew him, regardless of his identity, chances are you’re all the poorer for it now.
A life of ostentatious criminality that walked a fine line between glamour and cruelty.
Puppy-kicking notwithstanding, Acklom’s life of crime began young. At his private school, Eastbourne College—alumni include Woodrow Wyatt, Baron of Weeford—he swindled $16,000 from a teacher by presenting a nonexistent film company as an investment opportunity. At the age of 16, he posed as a wealthy 25-year-old stockbroker to secure a $575,000 mortgage from Leeds Permanent Building Society. A year later he stole his father’s American Express card and embarked on a three-month spending spree that ended with him owing $42,000 to a private-jet charter firm.
While on bail for mortgage and credit-card fraud, Acklom sold a story to the News of the World, in which he claimed that he was being paid to become a middle-aged woman’s sex partner. “Yeah, I’m giving her one,” he told the newspaper. “Although I’m only young, I know how to treat women. I’ve had dozens since I started using my brain to make money and get what I want.” The paper dubbed him “Kid Con” and paid him handsomely for the story, which subsequently turned out to be made up. According to the Daily Mail, he spent two years in a young-offenders institute, got released, married a woman (profession listed on certificate: “barrister”), and had two young children whom he abandoned for Spain, where he was soon arrested and imprisoned for unpaid-hotel-room fraud.
He claimed that he was being paid to become a middle-aged woman’s sex partner.
In 2004, he was arrested again, in Benidorm, for claiming to be the head of a retail consortium, despite not owning the land he said he would build on. In 2006, he appeared in an Alicante court for art fraud. In 2008, he convinced two brothers to pay him a $247,000 deposit for three Chelsea apartments that he didn’t own, resulting in another Spanish jail sentence. In 2012, he returned to the U.K. and defrauded I.T. specialist Christopher Frampton of his life’s savings in order to fund a string of concerts that never were. He’s started and dissolved multiple companies under multiple identities. A former associate of his once claimed that, as well as robbing people, Acklom enjoyed breaking hearts. “He loves making women fall in love with him. He gets a kick out of having them buy wedding dresses for a ceremony he knows will never take place because he’ll have vanished. In the decade I knew him, he fooled more than 50 women.”
Unfortunately for Acklom, one of the women he fooled was Carolyn Woods. A 62-year-old divorcée, Woods met Acklom when he entered her Gloucestershire boutique in 2012 and told her he was a Swiss banker named Mark Conway who was looking to buy a local airfield. Once she’d been successfully seduced, Acklom informed her that he was actually an M.I.6 agent on maneuvers in Syria, and moved her into a vast mansion. She began to lend him staggering amounts of money (ostensibly to help him renovate properties), which he used to pay the rent of the house he’d moved her into—until he asked her to marry him, abandoning her bang on schedule once she’d bought the dress.
He gets a kick out of having them buy wedding dresses for a ceremony he knows will never take place.
It was a well-worn ploy, but only Woods was tenacious enough to help bring him in. It was Woods who learned that Acklom had been placed in custody in Spain, and who convinced the British police to issue a European warrant. He was eventually traced to a luxury apartment near Zurich, where he was living with his Spanish wife and two children. Even with the net closing in, Acklom couldn’t resist one last grand flourish, attempting escape by trying to leap from a balcony.
Acklom lost his extradition appeal after claiming Brexit might negatively affect his human rights. He was due to stand trial in August for defrauding Woods of $926,000, but he changed his plea at the last minute, pleading guilty to defrauding her out of just under half that amount. He received a five-year sentence. Sparing Woods a day of traumatic cross-examination may well count as the only truly human thing that Mark Acklom ever did.
Fraudsters like Acklom, or Frank Abagnale, or Anna Sorokin, tend to inspire much less scorn than other criminals do. They don’t kill people. There is no blunt-force physical trauma. They get where they are on their wiles, their ability to see all human behavior as a series of transactions to be exploited. There’s a glamour to high-end fraud, and it’s fair to say that the Acklom-less list of most-wanted British criminals—now glumly made up of rapists and pedophiles and murderers—contains much less panache without his presence.
Acklom couldn’t resist one last grand flourish, attempting escape by trying to leap from a balcony.
But it is worth pausing for a moment to linger on Acklom’s victims. Almost all of them lost everything thanks to him, and so much more than he took. Christopher Frampton suffered a stroke after losing his house. Acklom’s parents got divorced, and his mother sounds genuinely at a loss at how to rationalize his monstrous ways, even going as far as to suggest that it has something to do with how he was delivered with forceps as a baby.
Then there’s Carolyn Woods, so destroyed by Acklom’s cruelty that she contemplated ending her life. She told Sky News that “I was completely devastated, he left me destitute and destroyed my life.... I’ve still got the wedding dress I never wore. It was all a charade. At the time I actually wished he had killed me. I was suicidal.”
The hope is that this sentence will be Acklom’s Catch Me if You Can moment, where he finally tires of life on the lam, atones for his crimes, and begins to cooperate with the authorities. But let’s not get too hopeful. This is his fifth jail term, remember, and after each of the last four he went straight back out to defraud more people. It might be compulsive. This probably isn’t the end of his story.
Stuart Heritage is an Editor at Large for Air Mail