Joe Chatlain displays his Vigiliance Award as well as his new book, The Illusive Highwayman, recounting his efforts to catch a con artist. Photo by Mike Chouinard

Joe Chatlain displays his Vigiliance Award as well as his new book, The Illusive Highwayman, recounting his efforts to catch a con artist. Photo by Mike Chouinard

Book tells tale of how B.C. office fax led to U.S. con man

Island man spent a few years tracking down victims listed on faxes

Some 20 years ago, while working as operations manager at the Lafarge office in B.C., Joe Chatlain started to piece together faxes coming in from the western U.S.

The messages had nothing to do with the business in the Comox Valley on Vancouver Island. They weren’t even for Lafarge but rather a man with no connection to the company, and they helped Chatlain catch a con artist.

Now, he’s captured his incredible story down on the page, publishing a book, The Illusive Highwayman, which recounts the case that he helped crack.

Jozsef Rezsofi, occasionally using an alias or two, spent the better part of 30 years as a grifter and a drifter who conned countless people in seven western U.S. states.

“He was a very intelligent person,” says Chatlain, who now lives in the Nanaimo area.

For years, Rezsofi would wander the highways and look for help, saying he’d been mugged and his identification had been stolen. People would give him money, typically small amounts like $50 – maybe a few hundred – or they’d pay for meals or hotels or buses, or take him in overnight. He said he had a business in Prince Rupert and a home in Sidney. He’d leave the same number for these Good Samaritans to get in touch later, once he was back safe and sound in Canada, or so they’d been led to believe.

That number turned out to be that of the local Lafarge office, and Chatlain started collecting the faxes coming in. Often, they’d be wishing Rezsofi well, hoping he got back safely.

“Nobody but me knew that this was actually a fraud and a scam,” Chatlain says.

Rezsofi could spin a good story. He’d actually been in Canada, including B.C., after fleeing Hungary in 1957 following the revolution in the Soviet-run state. However, he was to be deported because of auto theft and skipped over the border to the U.S. There, he got married, had kids, got divorced, then started his life on the run probably in the late 1960s or early 1970s.

On the faxes, some people checked about getting their money back. One was a woman whose husband had cancer and was in bad need of funds, which was when Chatlain got serious about tracking down Rezsofi.

“That’s what sparked me at that point in time,” he says.

For a few years, he’d spent hours each week, going over correspondence, talking to victims, marking points on a map of the U.S. to estimate Rezsofi’s whereabouts based on where the faxes had been sent from and when they’d been sent.

Finally, in the spring of 2000, one of Rezsofi’s victims named Terry Churchill and local law enforcement in Montana managed to track the con-man using information provided by Chatlain. The con artist was arrested after a chase between Great Falls and Missoula, Mont. He did time behind bars in the U.S. and after his trial, for which Chatlain was subpoenaed as a witness, he was deported to Hungary. As a result, both Chatlain and Churchill received Vigilance Awards from Department of Justice officials in Montana.

Court records indicated Rezsofi had swindled a total of almost $5,000, but the authorities figured this was only a fraction. They don’t know how many people he bilked, Chatlain says, but they guess he could’ve brought in hundreds of thousands of dollars, all tax free. The faxes sent to Chatlain’s office only covered a small portion.

“There would be hundreds more that wouldn’t have contacted me,” he says.

By conning people out of relatively small amounts, Rezsofi almost had the perfect crime, one for which many victims wouldn’t even bother coming forward.

“The reason he was never caught is because he did small amounts,” Chatlain says.

Rezsofi’s one mistake though was that fax machine in Courtenay. It not only helped Chatlain track him down, but it provided enough evidence of the scale of Rezsofi’s crimes for prosecutors to make a case.

For a couple of years there, Chatlain says his fax machine was the talk of the town in coffee shops around Courtenay. Chatlain spent a year after trying to sort out more information and decided to start working on a story. He wrote out a draft by hand and had an editor develop it.

“I decided I should write a book,” he says.

The project fell by the wayside for years, but he recently decided to revive it and get it to print.

“I’m getting to be the age I need to do something with that,” he says.

Now he’s published it in book form, which he has made available on Amazon.ca and Amazon.com, and also as an e-book, a republished version of which should be ready by November.

READ MORE: BC Hydro telephone scam making the rounds

He’s also hoping to hold some book events and would like to see the story take on another life, perhaps as some kind of TV series or movie. He’s even hoping to draw some attention in the U.S., and maybe even get the word out to others there that had fallen prey to Rezsofi’s charms.

Through it all, Chatlain was motivated by a sense of doing right for the victims, all of whom opened their hearts and wallets to help out a man they believed to be in distress. Many thought Rezsofi would never be caught.

“I’d been told and told and told he’d never be captured,” Chatlain says.

Some even refused to believe this was all the work of a real person, but Chatlain held out hope all his work would pay off.

“I believed in what I was doing, and I just wouldn’t give up,” he says. “I knew he’d be caught.”



mike.chouinard@comoxvalleyrecord.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Elvira D’Angelo, 92, waits to receive her COVID-19 vaccination shot at a clinic in Montreal, Sunday, March 7, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
110 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

Provincial health officers announced 1,005 new cases throughout B.C.

File
TNRD to test emergency alert app

The Voyent Alert! emergency notification will be sent April 23.

Interior Health nurses administer Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines to seniors and care aids in Kelowna on Tuesday, March 16. (Phil McLachlan/Kelowna Capital News)
69 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

The total number of cases in the region is now at 9,840 since the pandemic began

Kelowna General Hospital (File photo)
Interior Health hospitals not strained by rising COVID case counts

While provincial hospitalizations rise, health care systems in the B.C. Interior remain robust, say officials

An Interior Health nurse administers Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines to seniors and care aids in Kelowna on Tuesday, March 16, 2021. (Phil McLachlan/Kelowna Capital News)
105 new COVID-19 cases in Interior Health

Just over 8,000 new vaccine doses administered in the region for a total of 158,000 to date

Rainbow trouts thrashing with life as they’re about to be transferred to the largest lake of their lives, even though it’s pretty small. These rainbows have a blue tinge because they matched the blue of their hatchery pen, but soon they’ll take on the green-browns of their new home at Lookout Lake. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)
VIDEO: B.C. lake stocked with hatchery trout to delight of a seniors fishing club

The Cherish Trout Scouts made plans to come back fishing soon

Photos of Vancouver Canucks players are pictured outside the closed box office of Rogers Arena in downtown Vancouver Thursday, April 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Canucks games against Leafs postponed as team returns from COVID-19

The team has had 11 games postponed since an outbreak late last month

Vancouver Police Const. Deepak Sood is under review by the Independent Investigations Office of B.C. after making comments to a harm reduction advocate Sunday, April 11. (Screen grab)
VIDEO: Vancouver officer convicted of uttering threats under watchdog review again

Const. Deepak Sood was recorded Sunday saying ‘I’ll smack you’ and ‘go back to selling drugs’ to a harm reduction advocate

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry prepares a daily update on the coronavirus pandemic, April 21, 2020. (B.C. Government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate persists, 1,005 new cases Friday

Hospitalization up to 425, six more virus-related deaths

Premier John Horgan receives a dose of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at the pharmacy in James Bay Thrifty’s Foods in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, April 16, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. Premier John Horgan gets AstraZeneca shot, encourages others

27% of residents in B.C. have now been vaccinated against COVID-19

The Nautical Dog Cafe at Skaha marina is getting its patio ready in hopes Mother Nature will provide where provincial restrictions have taken away indoor dining. (Facebook)
‘A lot of instability’: B.C. restaurants in layoff limbo

As COVID-19 cases stay high, restaurants in British Columbia are closed to indoor dining

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau looks on as Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland responds to a question during a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Expectations high as Trudeau Liberals get ready to unveil first pandemic budget

The Liberals will look to thread an economic needle with Monday’s budget

Coldstream students took over the Your Letters page in the April 9, 2021, edition of the Vernon Morning Star to offer advice to adults about COVID-19. Interior Health took notice and offered their praise. (Vernon Morning Star)
‘We can get rid of COVID together’: B.C. kids share heartwarming advice

Grade 2 and 3 classes from a North Okanagan elementary took over Letters page of this Black Press newspaper

Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops. (Dave Eagles/Kamloops This Week file photo)
RCMP intercept vehicle fleeing with infant taken from Kamloops hospital

The baby was at the hospital receiving life-saving care

Most Read