In this week's New Yorker, Allen Kurzweil details his forty-year-long hunt for his childhood boarding-school tormentor, and his discovery that the former twelve-year-old bully had grown up to be a convicted felon. He has also written a book about it, called Whipping Boy.
In "Whipping Boy" (p. 66), Allen Kurzweil details his forty-year-long hunt for his childhood boarding-school tormentor, and his discovery that the former twelve-year-old bully had grown up to be a convicted felon. "In 1971, I met a boy who changed my life forever," Kurzweil writes. "I was ten and he was twelve when for a few indelible months we roomed together in a British-style boarding school perched on an alpine meadow high above Geneva." His name—Cesar Augusto—"his size, his command of the school's pseudo-military regulations, the accuracy he demonstrated when strafing enemies with ink from his Montblanc fountain pen, enabled him to transform our dorm into a theatre of baroque humiliation," Kurzweil, who moved home to New York after one year at the school, writes. Kurzweil, who became an outspoken opponent of bullying, was always curious about Cesar, and searched for him intermittently, to no avail. In 2005, he came across a news item about a group of con men who had allegedly hoodwinked a number of sophisticated investors into entering loan agreements with a Swiss-based investment house claiming to manage assets of sixty billion dollars. One of their names was Cesar. Kurzweil launched a personal investigation into the crime, and, with the help of a lawyer, uncovered a trove of legal materials related to the case. "I plowed through some fifty thousand documents before I found what I was looking for," Kurzweil, who confirmed that the con man and the bully were the same, writes. He uncovered extensive details about the scam, which included ﬁctionalized bloodlines, bogus bona fides, and an elaborate scheme that, for one year, was run from meetings held at the Park Avenue boardroom of the law firm Cliﬀord Chance—the largest law ﬁrm in the world at the time. Kurzweil tried to convince himself that his interest was purely journalistic. "It was a great story, and one I knew I'd write. But I also had an emotional connection to the victims of the fraud," Kurzweil writes. They finally met in person, and Kurzweil was surprised to hear that Cesar didn't recall the torments he'd inflicted. Furthermore, Cesar spoke of his own mistreatment at the school. Forty years after their time rooming together, Cesar apologized. "His childhood cruelties, however elaborate, could not explain my lifelong ﬁxation," Kurzweil writes. "Nor could his subsequent crimes."
Related: Don't miss Kurzweil's story about one of Cesar Augusto's swindler colleagues, who sold phony knighthoods and called himself His Serene Highness Prince Robert Michael Nicolaus Georg Bassaraba von Brancovan von Badische, Marquis of Hermosilla, Count of Cabo St. Eugenio, Seventy-fourth Grand Master of the Knights of Malta, who was, "in all probability, born Isaac Wolf, in the Jewish ghetto of Oradea, a small Romanian city."