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November 19, 2003

Prose and cons
Posted by Teresa at 12:00 AM *

In a burst of activity, Melanie Mills—long known to be a scam literary agent—has promoted a nonexistent writers’ conference in South Carolina, which she then cancelled without sending anyone their promised refunds on memberships they’d bought; faked her own death, masquerading as her own assistant and possibly as her own daughter as well; shut down her operation in North Myrtle Beach SC, and decamped to Canada; while operating under the name “Elizabeth von Hullessem”, fraudulently promoted and sold memberships in a nonexistent literary conference in Banff (trading on the reputation of the prestigious Banff-Calgary Wordfest), plus an equally nonexistent charity concert in Banff to benefit autism; and vanished from Banff with tens of thousands of dollars in convention fees.

The happy ending to this story is that she has now been tracked down and arrested by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Her real name, it turns out, is Roswitha Elizabeth Von Meerscheidt-Huellessem. The Canadian courts have first dibs on her. Next up after that are Missouri and Arkansas, where she’s wanted on multiple charges of fraud and assault, including attempted murder. Only after all that does South Carolina get to take a crack at her.

Egoboo where due: At the point that word went out about Elizabeth von Hullessem decamping with all the Banff conference money, it wasn’t known that von Hullessem and Mills were the same person. However, the intrepid crew at Writer Beware spotted the similarities in Mills’ and von Hullessem’s conrunning styles. When they heard she’d been arrested, they got in touch with the RCMP, filled them in on Mills’ South Carolina activities, and put them in touch with the North Myrtle Beach detective in charge of the Mills case.

You can read the backthread of the developing story in the Melanie Mills thread on the Bewares Board, or get a nice summary of it on the utterly indispensable Writer Beware page. There’s a secondary tracking site at Preditors & Editors, too. It’s the most lurid scam agent case in years.

Comments on Prose and cons:
#1 ::: Derryl Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2003, 02:03 AM:

The Mounties: they always get their woman. Not just Wordfest goes on down there, so the pickings were ripe, what with everything the Banff Centre hosts. Editing workshops, writing workshops, readings...

As an aside, word has it that if they pull off Westercon in Calgary in 05, the same folks are going to try and get WFC for Banff.

D

#2 ::: Mike Kozlowski ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2003, 08:47 AM:

I suspect she'll beat the charges on the grounds that if your name is Roswitha Elizabeth Von Meerscheidt-Huellessem, the laws of the universe compel you to engage in lurid and illegal behavior.

#3 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2003, 09:00 AM:

Not in Arkansas and Missouri, she won't. "I have a funny name" is not a recognized defense south of the Mason-Dixon line,

#4 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2003, 09:02 AM:

While there is a certain compelling logic to what you say, I would not care to try to make that argument in a court in Alberta.

And while 'damaging the reputation of Banff as a tourist destination and conference centre' isn't officially against the law in Alberta, doing something which might be construed as doing so surely isn't a good way to improve the odds of an Albertan judge looking kindly upon you.

#5 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2003, 09:26 AM:

From the website:

Experience the splendor and grandeur of the lush forest up in the rocky mountains while meeting influential editors and literary agents of the literary industry at the BANFF WRITER'S CONFERENCE. One on one consultations and small group workshops enable agents to discover new, or self-published, talented writers.

Self-published authors are encouraged to bring autographed copies of their novels to promote and sell. A specific area will be set up for this purpose.

Special arrangements will also be made for authors published by small, mid-sized, and large publishing houses to promote and sell their autographed novels.

Literary Agents attending the Banff Writer's Conference are actively seeking new authors and self-published authors.

==================

US$1,299 a head fee.

#6 ::: Andy Perrin ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2003, 09:27 AM:

How do we know that's her real name? It sounds like an Elizabeth Peters character.

#7 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2003, 09:29 AM:

Ms. Von Meerscheidt-Huellessem's website is still up at http://castlemtnretreat.tripod.com/ for those who wish to see for themselves.

#8 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2003, 09:56 AM:

Yeah, in Missouri her name wold have been mud, no matter what. What a slimeball. Glad she's been caught. But unless she does time in the slammer (prolly even if she DOES), she'll probably be back at it again because such critters can't or don't know how to do anything else.

#9 ::: BSD ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2003, 09:57 AM:

Best name in history.
Its kind of amusing: if someone were to write a novel like this, they'd be exactly who she was preying upon.

Perhaps she went into the "scamming-would-be-authors" business in order to read Bond-alikes and romances where the female characters had names she could relate to...

#10 ::: PiscusFiche ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2003, 11:13 AM:

I ♥ the Mounties.

Andy: You said exactly what I was thinking--it's totally like one of those names that Elizabeth Peters comes up with. Except her characters with those names usually start off with the exotic name, and then are revealed to be plain ol' so-and-so later. Not the other way round.

#11 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2003, 12:11 PM:

How long until this gets worked into an episode of "Law and Order?" (Only instead of fleeing to Canada after faking her own death, she turns up stuffed with shredded manuscripts.)

#12 ::: Joy Freeman ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2003, 01:21 PM:

In Arkansas her name was evidentally Lisa Roswitha Hackney.

An Arkansas paper said she was wanted there as a "fugitive who jumped bond in 1999 after being charged with faking her mother's death and later trying to run over the woman"

wow.

Joy,
an Arkansas girl in Atlanta delurking briefly

#13 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2003, 01:43 PM:

Stuffed with shredded manuscripts! What a great idea! That comes after we administer the dreaded 10,000 Paper Cuts of Death.

Reports from the North Myrtle Beach investigation said the trashcans in the neighborhood of her office were stuffed with paper. Everyone's assuming she trashed her supposed clients' manuscripts. The real question is whether this was an anomalous procedure for her.

Joy, do you have a link to that story? Some of us are following this with scarcely-concealed glee.

#14 ::: Joy Freeman ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2003, 01:45 PM:

There's no way to edit one's own posts, is there? Sigh. Think I'll go back to lurking, so I won't embarrass myself further.

#15 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2003, 01:57 PM:

Joy --

Just how did you embarrass yourself?

(If spelling mistakes were met with much opprobrium around here, they wouldn't let me post.)

#16 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2003, 02:11 PM:

It's a perfectly good post.

I'm a compulsive rewriter too.

#17 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2003, 02:34 PM:

Madison County: Canadian police arrest fugitive
Published in The Weekly Vista - Indexed on Oct 29, 2003

Posted on Wednesday, October 29, 2003 A fugitive who jumped bond in 1999 after being charged with faking her mother's death and later trying to run over the woman, has been arrested in Canada, the Madison County sheriff's office reported. Police in Victoria, British Columbia, arrested Lisa Roswitha Hackney, 49, on Tuesday, Madison County sheriff's Capt. Robert Boyd said. Canadian police arrested Hackney on several charges related to charity fraud and hot checks, Boyd said. Hackney filed false documents in Madison County Probate Court on Nov. 3, 1999, saying her mother, Greta Von Huellessen, had recently died, Boyd said.

#18 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2003, 03:50 PM:

Faking one's mother's death and -then- attempting to kill her sounds like . . . well, like adding the shortening after stirring the batter.

Your Honor, the defense rests.

#19 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2003, 03:56 PM:

John, so in short, she battered her mother?

I'm all confused now.

#20 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2003, 03:57 PM:

That was for "John M. Ford," IF that's your real name. Or should we call you...MIKE?

#21 ::: Joy Freeman ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2003, 04:34 PM:

I've been looking but have found no more than James MacDonald posted above. I can tell you that Madison County is known for its eccentric residents. It's called "Booger County" and is so rural there's not a single stoplight in the county (as of a couple of years ago anyway). It's also some of the most beautiful acreage in the country.

#22 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2003, 05:42 PM:

The story from 10/29 can be purchased from the Daily Dog--excuse me, I mean the Arkansas Demogogue-Gazette--damn it, I can't spell toady either.

While looking, I did find this utterly unrelated link which will be talked about on my weblog soon.

#23 ::: T.L. Hines ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2003, 05:59 PM:

Hmmm. This reminded me of a recent news item from my neck of the woods. Check out this story about a doctor who faked his death in Florida, fled to Yellowstone National Park, then committed suicide. My question is: why fake your own death, then commit suicide?

#24 ::: adamsj ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2003, 07:01 PM:

Maybe he was hoping for better reviews in the first obituary?

#25 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2003, 09:26 PM:

Are there any photos of this woman? I'm just curious what she looks like. If she's arrested, there may have been a "perp walk" photo op.

#26 ::: Simon ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2003, 11:05 PM:

Does anyone remember the scam literary agent who was a character in Donald Westlake's Dancing Aztecs? He just pocketed reading fees and sent his clients hopeful letters. But he was developing an ulcer from reading all the crappy writing they sent him.

#27 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2003, 01:26 AM:

"It was apparent to [the fake agent/cabdriver] that, all over America, thousands of people threw down a book or got up from a television show and said, 'I can write better than that!' It was amazing how many of them were wrong."
-- from DANCING AZTECS (quote from memory)

That may be my favorite Westlake novel, which is saying something. Thare are many other fine things in it (and a vastly complex plot to drag them all in) besides the "agent," but that's the bit I recall best.

#28 ::: Noel Schutz ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2003, 05:13 AM:

There is a photography sent to one of her clients and it apparently was instrumental in connecting von Hullessem with Melanie Mills. I have a copy and was thinking of posting it on my website, but am not sure of legalities. Send me an email and I will email it to you. It is a revealing photo and if I had seen it before I signed up with Melanie (who I rather liked, sigh!) I may have had second thoughts.

#29 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2003, 12:41 PM:

Well, I am just lol all over the place.

I was invited to be one of the editor/speakers at the (nonexistent) October literary conference.

I declined for various reasons.

#30 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2003, 03:10 PM:

Here at Evil Geniuses for a Better Tomorrow, we are developing literary conferences that fit into standard shipping containers, for distribution throughout the developing world.

If you are a writer, editor, or would like to be, or think you would lke to be, or you just fit into a standard shipping container, you can have a C-deck cabin on this exciting opportunity.

#31 ::: Simon ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2003, 03:58 PM:

John M. Ford, be careful or we shall be quoting bits of _Dancing Aztecs_ at each other all week.

We didn't even mention what happens to the agent. He steals an idea from one of his clients, and writes a novel called _The Neurotic and the Profane_, about a girl who kidnaps a psychiatrist to force him to cure her nymphomaniac twin sister. It becomes a huge best-seller.

But this isn't even Westlake's best book about writing and writers. (For one thing, that's only one small plot point.) For that, I refer to you an obscure novel called _A Likely Story_ (Penzler Books, 1984). Not a mystery at all, it's about a year in the life of a writer, his book proposal, his editors, his publishers, his agents, his ...

Cameo appearances by real-life writers abound. I can't quote from this briefly enough. It's my favorite lesser-known Westlake.

#32 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2003, 04:18 PM:

I wanna see the photo too, is she hot?! I may be in love.

#33 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 24, 2003, 10:08 AM:

More about Melanie, with a photo, here.

Banff ? When Elisabeth von Hullessem blew into Banff last summer, some locals in this posh Alberta ski-resort town found her a bit odd. She had a big nest of bleached-blond hair, didn't wear fleece and crested through the streets ? almost always alone ? imperiously.
Little did they know how truly bizarre her story really is.
#34 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 25, 2003, 02:23 PM:

It just keeps getting weirder: Here's the e-bay auction for Melanie's novel.

#35 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 25, 2003, 05:31 PM:

And here's Melanie's novel itself. Published by (drumroll please) PublishAmerica!

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/1591292603/

#36 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 25, 2003, 09:14 PM:

Okay, okay. You got me. I hereby declare that Melanie Mills/Elisabeth von Hullessem is the current leader in the competition for Weirdest Behavior by a Publishing Scammer.

#37 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 26, 2003, 11:51 AM:

And now ... she's copped a plea in Canada, sentenced to time served, and is out on the streets, whereabouts unknown.

Next time an agent asks you for cash up front, ask yourself.... could it Melanie?

#38 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: November 26, 2003, 01:44 PM:

I am not a doctor, or a psychiatrist even, but boy she sounds like a manic-depressive with major bouts of manic state to me. Reminds me of my aunt trying to set up a Star Trek convention for charity that would be huge while she was confined in a mental institution....

Cheers,
Tom

#39 ::: Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: November 26, 2003, 02:48 PM:

One aspect I've found interesting about scams is the degree of similarity between scammers and scammees.

A lot of traditional cons involve convincing the mark to help you con someone else (actually an accomplice).

I liked that the winner of the eBay auction would win "invitation to a 1 hour lunch with the author, the first week of May 2004 in beautiful Victoria BC. Background check of buyer will be required."

What about a background check of the author?

#40 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 26, 2003, 03:34 PM:

They let her walk? What about Arkansas and Missouri and South Carolina?

#41 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2003, 01:12 AM:

Arkansas, Missouri, and South Carolina had not filed extradition requests by the time she cut her deal and walked.

#42 ::: Aussiegal ::: (view all by) ::: November 29, 2003, 04:55 AM:

This is completely off the topic, but you people are hysterical. Never have I lurked on a more interesting forum. Cheers all round.

#43 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 29, 2003, 07:57 AM:

Thank you! Do please stick around.

#44 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 29, 2003, 12:44 PM:


Retired social work consultant Stanley Weinstock of Boynton, Fla., is one of nine people who police have identified as victims of von Hullessem. He said he met her in March of 2002 and knows her as Melanie Mills, owner of the M.W. Mills Literary Agency in North Myrtle Beach.

She told him his first book, a psychological thriller entitled "Primary Client," was close to being bought by St. Martin's Press in New York.


http://www.myrtlebeachonline.com/mld/myrtlebeachonline/news/7374233.htm

Should we be surprised that St. Martin's never heard of him, despite the $1,000 he paid to Melanie?

Sad, so sad.

#47 ::: Bernard Yeh sees comment spam ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2007, 03:11 AM:

Somehow, these comment spams (#46 & 47) got overlooked... Dropping a comment to bump the post for attention.

BTW, just rereading the various ML publishing posts from TNH's email to Neil Gaiman that he posted on his blog. You know, you probably should put a copy of this list of publishing-related posts somewhere on nielsenhayden.com. I seem to recall a commenter looking for this list but not finding it on Making Light, because the list was actually on Neil's blog.

#48 ::: Rm ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2007, 02:06 PM:

Ths s th lf stry bt Mln Mlls/lsbth vn Hllssm: Th MM Jrnl by L.R. Thms

#49 ::: Rm ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2007, 02:09 PM:

Ggl.cm bks xcrpt bt Th MM Jrnl:

http://bks.ggl.cm/bks?d=Md9BlmJCwC&dq=th+mm+jrnl+by+lr+thms&prntsc=frntcvr&src=wb&ts=nZGLLV_xz&sg=jqQxKWD6S2HYSDjyV2dj8qS#PP7,M1

#50 ::: abi muses on philosophical questions related to tinned meats ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2007, 02:35 PM:

Is relevant spam*
Welcome since it's topical
Or just potted ham?

-----
* linked to a spamblog, too, set up to sell the book

#51 ::: abi investigates further, and calls down the fires of Heaven on the spammer ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2007, 02:41 PM:

The comment is spam.
The blog is spam.
The book begins with a lurid description of child molestation.

Make it go away.

#52 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2007, 03:12 PM:

Is this the scammer herself posting at ML?

I'll let Teresa deal with it.

#53 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2007, 06:14 AM:

Wow, was that Melanie Mills/Elisabeth von Hullessem herself? That's kind of cool, in a "felony scam artist/pathological liar/attempted murderer/wanted in multiple states and provinces in two countries" kind of way.

On the other hand, it is spam, and the URL is definitely unwanted. I fix. There are few things more pathetically useless than a disemvowelled URL.

Thank you very much for the heads-up.

#54 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2007, 06:37 AM:

The URL for the Melanie Mills thread at Absolute Write has changed. It's now http://absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=889.

Remember when she auctioned off Lunch With Her on Ebay?

#55 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2007, 07:18 AM:

There is a stamp-collecting coolness to it, yes, but thank you for disemvowelling. Ugh.

I guess this is the book she was threatening planning to write last year.

#56 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2007, 07:38 AM:

There is a stamp-collecting coolness to it, yes, but thank you for disemvowelling. Ugh.

I guess this is the book she was threatening planning to write last year.

#57 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2007, 07:38 AM:

There is a stamp-collecting coolness to it, yes, but thank you for disemvowelling. Ugh.

I guess this is the book she was threatening planning to write last year.

#58 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2007, 07:38 AM:

There is a stamp-collecting coolness to it, yes, but thank you for disemvowelling. Ugh.

I guess this is the book she was threatening planning to write last year.

#59 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2007, 07:38 AM:

There is a stamp-collecting coolness to it, yes, but thank you for disemvowelling. Ugh.

I guess this is the book she was threatening planning to write last year.

#60 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2007, 07:42 AM:

Wow...I only hit "post" once!

#61 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2007, 08:24 AM:

Abi the pentuplicator........

#62 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2007, 08:32 AM:

Well, it may have been pent up before, but it's pretty well released now...

#63 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2007, 09:19 AM:

No, Fragano... Abi the Time Lady...

#64 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2007, 01:58 PM:

abi #62: Indeed so.

Serge #63: Doctor Whom?

#65 ::: Fragano Ledgister sees spam ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2011, 11:07 AM:

Not to mention fake-looking text.

Choose:
Smaller type (our default)
Larger type
Even larger type, with serifs

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