Longform

Will the real Rick Strandlof please stand up?

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Rebecca Saltzman met Gold early last year through Rosenberg. Gold's outgoing nature and natural charm gained him quick entry into their social circle, where, over Shabbat dinners and regular devotionals, Gold gradually revealed more of his past: While his mom, grandparents and siblings remained in Israel, he had moved to San Diego and earned a bachelor's degree in geology at the University of California-San Diego in 1998. Later he enrolled at the University of Southern California's Gould School of Law, getting his degree in 2006. And somewhere in between, he completed army training for the Israeli Defense Forces, serving as an intelligence officer from 2002 to 2007.

Thanks to his dad's American passport and his own dual citizenship, combined with a devout calling to military life, Gold split his service between the IDF and the U.S. Marines. He told his new friends that he'd served as a captain until a traumatic brain injury led to his discharge. If he sometimes mixed things up, he said, they could chalk it up to the metal plate in his head — the result of an IED hitting his Humvee during a third and final tour in Iraq. And they did, attributing any unexplainable plot twists or subtle inconsistencies in his retellings to the scar on the right side of his head. "That was genius," says Saltzman, a psychotherapist who is familiar with PTSD-stricken veterans. "He couldn't have picked a better excuse."

Gold was successful and exuberant, if occasionally manic, and his only negative quality seemed to be a persistent body odor. "My children commented on it," says Yona Eshkenazi, director of StandWithUs, a ten-year-old pro-Israel nonprofit that Gold joined early last year. "He smelled like someone who doesn't use deodorant."

Today she attributes that scent to the fact that Gold was probably homeless at the time. Strandlof confirms this on his blog: "I sat in various Starbucks and other locations with my laptop, my reusable coffee cup, my Sigg water bottle, with expensive fancy shoes, wearing my Northface jacket while engaging in heated conversations with nonexistent people on a disconnected cell phone."

In January 2011, Denver police officers arrested Strandlof for first-degree felony trespassing after he pried open a locked window at the University of Denver Iliff School of Theology and stayed there until discovered. He pleaded guilty and served seven days in jail. In August of the same year, he pleaded guilty to shoplifting.

Eshkenazi met Gold in March 2011, when he called to ask for her support in opposing a speaker on the Auraria campus discussing Israel Apartheid Week — which she insists is more like "Hate Israel Week." She accepted, and sat with him throughout the speech, during which she remembers having to calm down Gold so that he wouldn't react to the speaker insulting "his heritage." After that, the two became fast friends. Eshkenazi admired Gold's passion for Israel, and regularly invited the single, gay, conservative Jewish lawyer to her home for Sabbath dinners. They talked about his childhood in Israel, and "he knew the beaches and the specifics," says Eshkenazi, who has visited the country several times. Gold claimed that Danny Ayalon, Israel's deputy foreign minister, was a family friend, and Gold offered to bring him to Denver for an event. "He must have done a lot of research," she adds.

When Saltzman took a trip to the Social Security Administration downtown to get a new card, Gold accompanied her — and promptly entered the line intended for international citizens with foreign passports. "What did he do when he got to the front?" she asks now. "It's not like he was actually from Israel. Did he just say 'Oops" and sit down?"

When the two became Facebook friends, Eshkenazi noticed Gold using Foursquare to check in at locations across the city. Whole Foods and Starbucks were his favorites, though he also checked in from Patton Boggs and "Rick's Home," an address at 33rd and Clay that does not exist but would have stood between two actual buildings in Highland. When Saltzman picked him up, Gold would meet her in the alley. What his friends knew of his place — which he said he bought with a military payment — they learned from the photos he posted on Facebook. "He had a messy kitchen," Saltzman remembers. "I guess it turns out he had no kitchen." And although he claimed to own an Audi with the license plate "BTCHPLZ," Gold's friends only saw him ride a bike. But like Rick Duncan, Gold said that his license had been suspended for medical reasons. And Gold wore only one pair of shoes, a stinky pair of Vibram Five Fingers.

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Kelsey Whipple
Contact: Kelsey Whipple