It’s hard to know what or who to believe these days. Photo manipulation technology can make a landing on Jupiter look real. Three-dimensional printers can zap together a pistol or a stiletto with equal ease. And phone scammers will make you believe that beach-front property in Arizona is a good investment. About a week ago, I got a call from Brent Dorval, a fast-talking man in Massachusetts with a wicked accent. He said he was a WWII collector and researcher and that he was looking for contact details of Catherine Metropolous, a Charlotte resident. He had found an article in our archives that Metropoulos had written in November 2014 (goo.gl/yqLVAp) about participating in a reenactment of Operation Market Garden in Nijmegen, Holland, a battle in which her uncle, Pfc. John Rigapoulos, was killed.
This gentlemen claimed to own a military jacket that once belonged to Rigapoulos and was interested in “returning” it to the family. A noble deed, I thought. To boot, he seemed to know everything about the jacket and Rigapoulos—what the battle flag meant on the shoulder of the jacket, the plane Rigapoulos jumped from on D-Day, what time he jumped, who jumped with him, what he was doing on the beaches of Normandy once he landed, and how he was later killed in Operation Market Garden.
At first, I was overcome with excitement that this man had used our archives for something of import. (As you’ve probably read, building our archive has been an on-going project in my tenure as editor.) Then after I looked up the article and saw how much it might mean to Metropoulos, I was doubly excited.
The subheader of Catherine’s article said she was “part-time resident of Charlotte” so I wasn’t sure if she still lived here (this is, in fact, not correct—she’s lived here since 1984). All my internet searches turned up dead ends, so I asked on Front Porch Forum. And as serendipity would have it, the very FPF post in which I asked the community if they knew her, she joined FPF. The stars seemed to be aligning to return a piece of history to a small family in Charlotte.
Catherine, however, thought those stars looked more like strobe lights. She had spoken to Dorval and after seeing the photos of the jacket, was convinced it was a scam. He wanted $550 for the jacket because that’s what he paid for it. However, he claimed that he was offered “thousands” because it was a rare specimen.
In an email exchange after, Catherine wrote to me, “Shame on this man for using the name of deceased servicemen to try and scam those who have lost loved ones in the war.”
Disappointed that I was just one in a line of this fakery, I wrote a follow-up post to thank those who helped me find her and let them know the case was cold. But not so fast…the plot thickened this morning (Tuesday, April 19) when Dorval emailed me all the details I’d asked for about the jacket. In a subsequent conversation, I explained Catherine’s position as expressed in the email and in a mildly indignant tone, he said, “is there a chance it’s a fake? I’d be lying if I said no, but this is definitely not one of them.” (For more on the topic, see the level of detail referenced on page 5.) To his credit, he had told Catherine that “if she couldn’t afford it, he’d happily donate it.”
I muse on all this not to spread an increasing sense of suspicion about what is real and what is not, but to remind readers that there are always two sides of a story—and sometimes one appears more true than another. Journalism aims to look beyond appearances.
Do I fully believe this jacket is for real? Further research would be needed. Do I know either of these people from Adam? No. But, as Mike Donoghue, the keynote speaker at our upcoming Charlotte News Writers’ Workshop, says, “Your mother tells you she loves you…check it out.”
Come see Mike expound on what journalism’s all about and see how you can hone your skills and meet others with similar interests at The Charlotte News Writers’ Workshop at the Mt. Philo Inn, April 27 at 6 p.m.
Editor in chief