Looking back, Ernie Ferguson can see the deception. It's all there in the photographs, as thick and smooth as the makeup on the con man's face. But when Ferguson met the model now called Storme Shannon Aerison, he wanted to believe. He wanted the blonde in the red dress, black gloves and high heels to be a cover girl. He wanted to photograph a glossy swimsuit calendar, shoot a round of golf in Puerto Rico, pocket a six-figure paycheck and cruise through town in a stretch limousine. He wanted to believe, he says.
They all did.
But now that this person in the photos, this black man posing as a white woman posing as a supermodel, faces jail time in El Paso County on charges of fraud and theft, there's not much that Ferguson can do now but laugh. "Oh, he's good," the photographer says. "I'll give him that. The guy could sell crucifixes to a synagogue. And I'll tell you something else: He has a great pair of legs."
The Early Years: Rap Sheets and Pom-Poms
Charles James Daugherty was born on June 1, 1964. For most of his childhood, according to his father, Charles was a "perfectly normal" kid who played baseball and hung around with the guys. But in high school, things changed. The boy who had been an athlete became a male cheerleader. Then on Halloween when Charles was eighteen, Leo Daugherty Jr. told a reporter, his son "put a dress on."
By the time he was twenty, Storme (to pick just one of Charles Daugherty's eight known aliases) was not only posing as a woman, but he was turning into a real con man. Pretending to be a female Air Force Academy student, he stole a $15,000 car from a Colorado Springs dealership. He was sentenced to four years' probation and mandatory counseling -- but that didn't prevent Storme from slipping on a wig again, borrowing the names of beauty-pageant winners and sashaying into the headlines.
In 1989, billing himself as Shannon Ireland Trump -- niece of billionaire Donald Trump -- Storme joined the all-woman cheerleading squad of the now-defunct Colorado Springs Spirit football team and managed to shake his pom-poms for months before squad leaders discovered the truth. "She was not what we could consider a very feminine, pretty cheerleader, but she scored high enough," Betsy Acree, the squad coordinator, said at the time. "I have nothing bad to say about the girl except she wasn't a girl."
A year later, in September 1990, Storme scored again. This time, using the name Cheyen Weatherly, he registered at Coronado High School in Colorado Springs as a seventeen-year-old junior. The new student explained that she'd been studying under a private tutor in Greece and supplied the school with bogus applications, report cards (listing all A's and B's), letters from her mother and even a doctor's physical-exam report. Despite their initial skepticism, school officials let the 26-year-old man enroll in classes until complete records could arrive.
For eight school days, Storme strolled across campus in a brown wig, tinted blue contact lenses and an assortment of women's business suits, blazers, skirts and high heels. He spoke in a soft breathy voice, sang soprano in the choir and flirted with football players, several of whom flirted back. At five foot nine and 160 pounds, Storme even made the all-girl cheerleading squad and performed at a Cougars pep assembly, short skirt and all. "We needed someone big," one cheerleader explained. "He was the base [of the cheerleading pyramid]."
As a coed, Storme was described as "really friendly" and "just like a normal girl," although one student noted that she "had more different kinds of pantyhose than I have in my closet." Others became suspicious when dark stubble poked through Storme's foundation during afternoon classes. School administrators finally called the cops after the addresses and phone numbers in the new student's file turned out to be false. Storme was pulled from a morning class and arrested in the hallway.
Facing two years in prison for third-degree forgery and criminal impersonation, Storme said he meant no harm and didn't think he was guilty of being an imposter because "being a woman is all I've ever known." He'd enrolled at Coronado High simply to get the diploma he'd never received, he explained; he had worked only one day in his life -- as a dishwasher -- and was tired of his friends supporting him. He wanted to attend college and study psychology. "I'm basically a shy person," he told reporters. "I'm slightly overwhelmed by all of this. I wish I had just been allowed to leave school peacefully."
But it didn't happen that way. Storme's saga attracted a swarm of national newspaper writers, tabloid reporters and TV crews to Colorado Springs, which recoiled under the spotlight. At one point, after an Iowa talk-show host wondered on the air what women in Colorado Springs must look like, Storme penciled a note to the judge apologizing for the frenzy: "I did not expect it and I thought it made you mad. Honestly, I didn't tell them I'd be here."
A few days after his arrest, however, Storme did tell talk-show host Sally Jesse Raphael that between the ages of five and twenty, he'd been sexually molested by family, friends, babysitters and teachers. During that broadcast from New York City, he also claimed he'd been treated for multiple-personality disorder and at one point had five people inside him. It was the dominant female persona of "Shannon," which had come to the surface in order to cope with the abuse, whom he considered to be his true self. "Charles hasn't been around since 1985," he said.
A tearful Storme -- allowed by the court to use the name Shannon -- ultimately pleaded guilty to impersonation and was sentenced to two years' probation and more mandatory counseling. After sentencing, Storme told reporters that he did not plan to have a sex change, but would continue living as a woman.
Flat Chests and High Hopes
In the spring of 1995 -- Ernie Ferguson is not good with exact dates -- a woman calling herself Shannon Ireland phoned his photography studio in Colorado Springs. The woman -- at least, it sounded like a woman -- said she was the illegitimate daughter of actor John Ireland and the half-sister of model Kathy Ireland and was planning to shoot a swimsuit calendar in Puerto Rico. She needed a photographer. Was Ferguson available?
At the time, Ferguson -- an outgoing, cantankerous fireplug -- had been in the fashion business for half his fifty years. If this was a scam, he told himself, he'd sniff it out faster than the flash from his camera strobe. And as soon as he wheeled into the driveway of the supposedly famous supermodel's home, he caught a whiff of something fishy.
"The first thing I thought was, a supermodel wouldn't live in this part of town," Ferguson recalls. "I mean, it was a nice house and a nice neighborhood, but southeastern Colorado Springs has a bit of a crime problem, and you'd expect a supermodel to live in a $300,000 home instead of a $110,000 home."
But the model dismissed Ferguson's observation with a shrug. A suburban home was less conspicuous than a mansion, she told the photographer, and she valued her privacy. That sounded reasonable enough to Ferguson, who settled back in the dim light of the living room and watched the husky blonde -- Storme, who else? -- slink around in silk pajamas.
Storme's crew had just returned from a photo session in Hawaii, she told him, where the hotel had given them free rooms and rental cars in exchange for a mention in the upcoming calendar. The model planned to arrange the same deal in Puerto Rico. After a little more chitchat, Storme produced a portfolio of what appeared to be covers from major fashion magazines, including Vogue. "The only thing missing was Cosmo," Ferguson recalls. "I knew they could be computer-generated, but they looked like the real deal to me."
Storme then launched into a story about an ongoing rivalry with her half-sister and described how she planned to snatch the Sports Illustrated calendar away from Kathy Ireland. They discussed approaches, themes and the itinerary for the Puerto Rico trip. Storme presented Ferguson with airline tickets and a slick contract that promised a commission of $200,000 or more. The photographer was impressed but still wary, so the model dialed the hotel in Puerto Rico and booked luxury suites for Ferguson, his wife, his sister and his brother-in-law. "We were all going to go," Ferguson recalls. "First class, the whole bit. And I was told, 'Pack your golf clubs, because you're going to have plenty of time to play.'"
So Ferguson signed on. Over the next several months, in preparation for the Puerto Rico calendar job, he shot more than a hundred rolls of film. Storme in skirts. Storme in dresses. Storme in jackets. Storme in shorts. Storme in a black leotard flanked by two bare-chested members of Denver's now defunct semi-pro hockey team, the Grizzlies.
And yes, Ferguson admits, he did notice certain masculine features bulging through the designer clothing. "I mean, this is not the most attractive person in the world," he says. "The guy's got shoulders like a basketball player. But, hey, I've photographed lots of women who are built like that. They wear silk blouses really well."
He also noticed that Storme always wore gloves. "When I asked about that, I was told, 'I don't like my hands,'" Ferguson recalls. "Well, I know models who don't like their ears, and when you see their photos, you never see their ears." Then there was the model's "absolute lack of cleavage," coarse hair and layers of foundation, blush, mascara, lipstick and eyeliner. "But that's not a giveaway, either," the photographer reasons. "In this business, not everyone is Cindy Crawford. And they all wear tons of makeup. I've had to tell some models to go back in there and scrape some off."
Besides, Storme had an explanation for her dusky appearance. "Her dad had an affair with a black lady, so that made her half black and half white, but leaning more toward the white side, because it was harder for blacks to make it in the modeling business," Ferguson recalls. "Then she said something about her sister not talking to her and her dad not talking to her, and after a while, you just begin to feel sorry for this person."
When the doubts lingered -- and they did -- Ferguson was told to call Storme's alleged agent in New York City. "And they verified the story word for word," he says. "Every time I thought something wasn't right, they answered it to my satisfaction."
To further soothe his fears, Storme often phoned Ferguson at 3 a.m. to ask, "Are you okay? Is everything all right? You do love Storme, don't you? Well, you know I love you guys, don't you?" And before each photo session, Storme would gather Ferguson and the rest of the crew into a circle, where they'd hold hands and pray. "God was a big part of it," the photographer says. "I'm a Christian. So when people pray like that and bring religion into it, you tend to believe them. You don't go into church wearing horns."
The devil was in the details, too. Storme acted like a temperamental supermodel, right down to wearing a hooded sweatshirt and dark sunglasses in public and sulking after she had to eat at Denny's. One night Storme rented a stretch limo, flew in a male model and treated the entire crew to dinner -- after taking the model, who'd arrived in slacks and a T-shirt, to a Men's Wearhouse.
"Then out comes the gold Visa card, and 35 minutes later, this kid has a suit on that was tailor-made," Ferguson recalls. "When that kind of stuff happens, you think you've hit the big time. You really start to believe it. We really thought we were going to Puerto Rico to make these cool calendars. You're never too old to have sugarplum fairies dance in your head."
Ferguson wanted to believe, and he had reason to: In front of a camera, Storme created a certain quirky magic. "Man, he could move," Ferguson explains. "He sure moved like a broad to me. I tell you, he was one of the best workers I'd had in a long time, and I'd worked with a lot of models. My wife and sister-in-law came along during one session and said, 'Jesus Christ, she can move,' and I'd kill for those legs.'"
A few weeks before the crew was to leave for Puerto Rico, Ferguson hired a videographer to film a session featuring Storme in a red dress, black gloves and black pumps. The next day, the videographer called.
"Get down here," he said. "Now."
When Ferguson arrived, the videographer delivered the bad news. He'd seen that model's face before -- and not in Vogue, either.
"That's Charles Daugherty," the videographer said.
"Charles Daugherty. Remember the guy who got in trouble for impersonating a high school cheerleader? That's Charles Daugherty. And Shannon Ireland is Charles Daugherty."
The videographer handed Ferguson a few snapshots for comparison purposes. The photographer looked at one, then the other, and then back again.
"Aw shit," he said.
Va-Vv Vroom Service
One day five years ago, the phone rang at Castle Custom Cycles in Colorado Springs. Owner Kenny Castle found himself talking to self-proclaimed supermodel Shannon Ireland, who wanted to use one of Castle's bikes for a charity poster. Castle agreed, opening his shop after hours, ordering in food, plugging in the stereo, wheeling out a bike and welcoming Storme's entourage, which included an unwitting Ferguson. "They were very professional," Castle recalls. "And I've seen professionals before. They had a makeup girl, a manager and about four or five other people running around. They really went through a lot to fake me out."
And fake him out they did. Although Castle remembers telling a colleague, "That's the ugliest woman I've ever seen," the photo session clicked along smoothly. Except, Castle remembers, that "the goddamn idiot knocked over my bike. He was leaning back with the wind in his hair and all that shit, then all of a sudden, he knocks over my bike. That's the thing that really pissed me off. The asshole."
Still, a few of the black-and-white posters, which feature a sexy Storme astride the bike in cut-offs, high heels and black leather jacket, actually hit the streets. After Castle was tipped off to the model's true identity, he confiscated as many of the posters as he could find. "It was embarrassing as hell," he says. "I would have been the laughingstock of the motorcycle industry. Here I am, trying to promote this as the baddest-assed bike around, and then I have an ugly gay black guy dressed as a woman sitting on the back? The only thing I lost was a little bit of dignity."
Jay Soulia worries that some people lost more. Storme's bodyguard for ten months back in 1989 and 1990, Soulia watched Storme work the phones, choreograph fashion sessions and lure potential models into his schemes. On occasion, Soulia and a limousine driver, who had been hired to complete the illusion, were asked to recruit models themselves.
"Some of these kids were still in high school," says Soulia, a muscular guy with a blond ponytail and missing front tooth. "He even took one of these kids to the prom."
Although Soulia never witnessed anything criminal, Storme "really messed with a lot of kids' minds," he says. "One went through a lot of heavy therapy after he found out the truth. He's warped, man. I don't know how else to say it."
He was also clever. Storme always arranged to meet Soulia at night. Whenever they spoke face to face, Storme hid behind baggy clothing and dim lights. And as he had with Ferguson, Storme tried to build trust through personal notes and little gifts, such as autographed photos. But the biggest prize was a $270,000 contract that the supermodel promised the bodyguard.
"He just kept stringing me along," Soulia recalls. "When I'd say, I've had enough of this shit,' he'd refer me to some agent in New York who'd tell me to hang on a little while longer."
Soulia finally decided to investigate the supermodel on his own. Using his security credentials, he discovered that the Colorado College cheerleading uniform in Storme's closet was fake: Not only was Storme never a student there, but the college has no such squad. He also learned from Betsy Acree, then the coordinator for the Colorado Spirit cheerleaders, that Storme had attended Harrison High School. So Soulia brought a fashion snapshot to school officials, who puzzled over it before finally declaring, "That's Charles Daugherty! Our first male cheerleader!"
"I just sat down and said, 'I can't believe he suckered me like this,'" Soulia recalls. Humiliated, he decided to blow Storme's cover. He told Acree, the parents of Storme's underage models and the police about the deception.
The bodyguard then collected receipts, statements and phone numbers from others who'd been duped. Among them was a nineteen-year-old man who said Storme had stolen $500 in household goods and charged $900 on his credit card. But the evidence wasn't strong enough to build a court case, so Soulia decided to settle the score himself.
He confronted Storme over the phone and asked about all the people who seemed to have confirmed his story. "They were me," Storme told Soulia, and proceeded to switch his voice between a brawny guy and a really sexy woman. "Wow," Soulia told him. "You should be in showbiz."
"I was pissed," the former bodyguard says now. "For a long time, I just sat around figuring out ways to mess him up. But we had our fun. I can't tell you how, but we did."
Soulia also kept his file on Storme, thinking it would come in handy when the cross-dresser finally took the fall. "I always thought that he'd get his sooner or later," the former bodyguard says. "It was only a matter of time."
Busted: Floating Heads
AND RUBBER CHECKS
Detective John Amundson has been a cop with the Colorado Springs Police Department for sixteen years, dealing with everything from "stubbed toes to homicides." But nothing quite compares to the complaints about Storme Shannon Aerison (Charles James Daugherty's legal name as of 1992), which first landed on Amundson's desk in the fraud-and-forgery unit five years ago.
"See this?" he says, unrolling the poster of Storm straddling Castle's motorcycle. "Does this look like a woman to you?"
Ferguson and Castle were lucky, the detective says. The photographer only lost a lot of time and $1,500 (turns out he was the one who paid for the male model's visit, with a false promise of reimbursement from Storme); the motorcycle owner only lost face. Amundson has fielded complaints about Storme from hotel managers, calendar companies and fashion crews around the world, many of which claim to have been bilked out of tens of thousands of dollars.
One hotel manager in Puerto Rico told Amundson that Storme and his entourage charged $25,000 on his American Express card in 1995. During preparations for yet another alleged calendar shoot, Storme somehow got the manager's account information from a film receipt and launched a shopping spree that included eight airline tickets to Hawaii, limousine service and parties that raged all night. But since the manager had never met Storme face-to-face and the items were purchased over the phone, he could never prove who'd ordered what, so he never filed charges.
Neither did many of Storme's other alleged victims, Amundson says. Most are too embarrassed to have the scams revealed in open court; a few had received sexual favors from the alleged supermodel. Some unknowingly received gifts bought by their own credit cards, which complicates prosecution; others live overseas and cannot travel to Colorado Springs to present their evidence.
Even under normal circumstances, credit-card fraud cases can be tough to prove. Witnesses are hard to come by, solid evidence is scarce, and if the scams cross not just police jurisdictions but state and international borders, investigations become mired in complications. Throw in the red tape binding credit-card companies and credit bureaus, which cannot share information with one another, and you have a con man's carnival.
"A lot of the time, all these companies need is the name on the card, the number, the expiration date and the address where to send the stuff," Amundson says. "If you don't know who actually used the card, who do you prosecute?"
And so, the detective says, although Storme has been investigated by the Secret Service, Interpol and the Colorado Springs PD, he has never been charged with any major crime related to his modeling career. As a result, Storme continues on.
In the past, Amundson says, Storme found his marks through word of mouth, mutual contacts and newspaper ads. But now he's gone global, promoting himself on the Internet at StormeIreland.com. On that Web site, the supposed supermodel offers a dazzling -- though dubious -- array of fashion photos, magazine covers, swimsuit galleries, T-shirts, calendars and posters with titles such as "Ghost Logic" and "Italian Ice."
The site, which is packed with romantic scenes of waterfalls, flowers and sunsets, also includes religious references, inspirational sayings, sweepstake contests and a crew roster. The "Dreamteam" photographer is Storme's longtime boyfriend, Amundson says, and the makeup artist is Storme's sister.
There's even a biography of Storme, who's described as a blond, green-eyed nineteen-year-old standing five foot ten, with a 38-inch bust and a 24-inch waist.
"Storme was twelve years of age the first time she stepped through the looking glass," the bio reads. "An aspiring Little League hockey player, her parents were having photos taken for the family scrapbook, when the make-up artist decided it would be fun to give her the works. When Storme saw the pictures, which made her look twice her age, she burst into tears. Fashion editors had quite the opposite reaction, and Storme's exquisite features made her a top model before she was a teenager."
But like Storme's bustline, the biography, paraphernalia and many of the photos -- particularly the swimsuit shots -- are fakes, Amundson says. And those that aren't have probably been airbrushed or enhanced by computer.
The detective punches up an image of Storme in a bikini, showing plenty of cleavage. "That's definitely not real," Amundson says. And he should know: He asked Storme in person if he'd undergone transsexual surgery, and the answer was no. Police records and court documents also identify Storme as a male.
"He's one of those people who thinks he's a man trapped in a woman's body and is fine with it," Amundson says.
Although it's against copyright laws to digitally paste one head on another body, few modeling agencies are able to monitor frequently changing Internet sites. But last year, Victoria's Secret successfully closed down another one of Storme's Web pages after the company noticed that the body of one of its models had been topped by Storme's disguised mug. Kathy Ireland also has sued to keep Storme from making any more claims about being a family relation, Amundson says.
Storme's Web page is currently promoting the "Millennium Tour 2000," which will take the supermodel and Dreamteam crew to Tahiti, Morea and Edit on June 18, June 30 and July 7. "It's one of those deals that whenever he goes along on one of his trips, he finds two or three victims along the way," Amundson says. "He looks for people who have stars in their eyes and clouds in their heads. We're all gullible. We all want to believe someone is telling us the truth. And he tries really hard to portray himself as a woman. He wears falsies. He has a swishy walk. His voice is very soft and higher-pitched. Unless you've got a reason to doubt, why check it out? And how would you get ahold of Kathy Ireland, anyway? If I were a nineteen-year-old photographer and I had a chance to work with a supermodel, I might have jumped on this myself."
The gender-bending itself is not the problem, Amundson says. "If he's going to Tahiti, portraying himself as a supermodel and paying the bills, no one cares," the detective continues. "There's nothing criminal about that. And there's nothing wrong with playing a lady and succeeding. If this were a woman claiming to be a supermodel and running scams, we'd go after her just as hard. It's what he's doing with it. If he wants to keep dressing as a lady, that's his business, but he's got to keep away from the criminal activity."
When Amundson finally busted Storme last winter, it didn't have anything to do with falsies or fashion calendars, Web sites or lost dignity. Storme was tripped up by simple check kiting.
In December, Storme opened an account at the Digital Federal Credit Union in Colorado Springs using his mother as a sponsor. Within a few weeks, Storme allegedly had deposited in that account three $20,000 checks from an Ent Federal Credit Union account -- one that had been closed two months earlier for insufficient funds.
Storme then withdrew cash with his ATM and debit card and made payments on his Mustang. He also bought $2,000 in traveler's checks and $7,000 in airline tickets for his boyfriend and another Dreamteam member to use during the Tahiti photo session. In all, Storme is accused of passing $185,000 in hot checks -- some of which were created on a home computer -- and pocketing $30,000.
Storme was arrested on January 21 after two Secret Service agents -- who'd investigated him before -- spotted the supermodel and his entourage at a Colorado Springs shopping center. Tipped off by the agents, Amundson and his partner clamped the cuffs on Storme outside a Party America shop. Storme was carrying $1,100 in cash that he'd gotten from the credit union.
During an interview with Amundson, Storme said he thought his old Ent account was still open; a business associate was supposed to have been making regular deposits. Amundson tracked down the so-called associate, who had met Storme at a bar and thought he was a woman. The man said he knew nothing about the Ent account or any business association with Storme. (In fact, Amundson had to break it to the man that Storme may have opened two American Express accounts under his name.) Storme's mother knew nothing about the scheme, Amundson says. But detectives had Storme's signature on bogus checks, videotape from Digital and witnesses at Ent who said Storme knew the account was closed.
At last, Storme had been caught with his pants down.
The Broad Was a Fraud
In April, Fourth Judicial District Judge Ed Colt determined that there was enough evidence to bring Storme Shannon Aerison to trial on charges of fraud and theft. If convicted, he could get twelve years in prison. But despite his two-page rap sheet, since none of the charges have been for violent crimes, it's likely that he'll get more probation and more counseling. Besides, some law enforcement authorities worry about what could happen to a cover girl behind bars.
Storme has not yet entered a plea; his next hearing is set for June 26.
At Storme's tidy, two-story home in southeast Colorado Springs, four cars sit in the driveway, and a front-porch light burns late into Sunday morning. No one answers the bell. Storme does not answer a note left in the mailbox. Storme's public defender does not return phone calls; the cop who's dealt with him the longest, Sergeant Robert Driscoll, doesn't want to talk about Storme and bring him any more press attention.
At another tidy home a few miles away from Storme's, Leo Daugherty Jr. comes to the door and says, "Sorry, I have nothing to say."
Storme's dupes, however, still have plenty to say. "You can't knock the guy for his ability to come off as a woman," Ferguson says. "You could knock the fact that he's a complete and total asshole, but he is good at what he does. And if he wants to be a girl, fine. Go down to Trinidad. But stop messing with people's minds. Some people had really tough times over this."
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What bothers Ferguson most is that Storme preys upon people's willingness to trust -- and does so without a hint of remorse. Ferguson had called the police after he learned about Storme's Puerto Rico ruse and later confronted Storme at police headquarters. But Storme didn't apologize or offer excuses. In fact, Storme didn't say much of anything.
And so, people continue to wonder about Storme. They wonder not just why so many people fall for the charade, but whether Storme, too, is so deep into the fantasy that he also believes it -- and why none of his longtime Dreamteam members does anything to discourage it. In fact, Amundson suggests, some of the crew might be contributing to Storme's delusions -- and benefiting from them.
When he appeared before the judge in April, Storme asked permission to travel out of the country this month in order to complete his scheduled fashion-calendar shoot. The judge refused.
Yet on Storme's Web site, the Millennium Tour continues. And there, with water sparkling in the background, blue eyes shimmering and blond hair spilling onto her shoulders, Storme Shannon Aerison smiles for the camera.