Just before the holidays, ELLE broke the news that Christie Smythe—the former Bloomberg reporter who first brought "PharmoBro" Martin Shkreli into the spotlight and spent years getting exclusive interviews with him—also may-or-may-not be in a very serious relationship with him.
Soon after quitting Bloomberg, Smythe visited Shkreli again, fuming about the book industry's rejection of him—and her. "I was so angry at the establishment, and people who wouldn't let me tell my story in the book: publishers, Bloomberg, everybody," she says. Without her job or her marriage "that totally eroded any defenses I had left." Before, she had tamped down the sparks between her and Shkreli, but now, she gave them air. She thought about when he'd teased her about being a nerd in an old photo he glimpsed, and how she felt when he added her to his visitors' list (he's not a big fan of visitors, but wanted her to come). A realization hit her. In the visitors' room, "I told Martin I loved him," Smythe says. "And he told me he loved me, too." She asked if she could kiss him, and he said yes. The room smelled of chicken wings, she remembers.
They couldn't touch beyond a chaste hug and kiss, per prison rules, and have never slept together, but the relationship moved forward through continued visits, phone calls, and emails. "It's hard to think of a time when I felt happier," Smythe says. "At first he's like, 'Can I call you my girlfriend?' " she says, and "this led very naturally into thinking about a future together." Soon they were discussing their kids' names and prenups. After Smythe worried about being too old to have children when Shkreli got out of prison, he suggested she freeze her eggs. She did so last spring. Rita Cushenberry, who befriended Smythe while visiting her own boyfriend in prison, observed Smythe and Shkreli together there. "He has the biggest, warmest smile ever," she says, and "it was a beautiful thing to see how her eyes would just light up."
In Smythe's telling, they are absolutely in love with each other, to the point that she quit her job, left her marriage, and even froze her eggs in anticipation of his eventual release from prison. Of course, the fact that he is in prison for securities fraud—and that prisons are having a particularly tough time with COVID-19—has certainly thrown a wrench into their romantic plans.
Of course, everyone around Smythe has been warning her for years that Shkreli is a master manipulator who clearly suffers from narcissistic personality disorder and has been using her all along for the sake of both public relations and a succubus-like need for affection and attention. But Smythe insists this is not the case. And she would know; she's seen the sensitive, anxious, broken but ambitious child of working-class immigrants hidden behind his smug face.
The fact that he literally has not spoken to her since she told him that she was going public about their relationship—people in incarceration can only make outgoing phone calls, so she can't call him herself—is definitely not a red flag or anything.
Whatever the truth may be: Smythe's story is a wild ride. And the obligatory ELLE fashion photos that accompany the story make it even more surreal; I'm particularly fond of the fact that someone thought to have Smythe model a dress from a place that's literally called The Vampire's Wife.
On the bright side, Smythe did get to hear that exclusive Wu-Tang album that Shkreli had bought. She's also committed herself to advocating for prison reform, which is pretty cool:
You can read more of Smythe's prison reporting on Medium, if you're interested.
The Journalist and the Pharma Bro [Stephanie Clifford / ELLE]
Image: Public Domain via House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform