Writing Man Overboard
By Burl Barer
On the surface, the story of Phil Champagne is about a man who “faked his death” in an insurance scam, vanished for ten years, and was then arrested for counterfeiting. That, however, isn’t the story. Oh, it may be one short-form version, but short-form versions are seldom accurate and certainly not entertaining.
More than anything, Phil Champagne is entertaining. Is he an inveterate liar? Hey, as Lawrence Block pointed out, those of us who write novels tell lies for a living. I can spot amateur fiction almost immediately. Show me a suspect deposition or bogus police report , and I can point out the paragraph where the lies begin. This is called “forensic journalism,” and those even better at it than I will explain it to you in detail.
My point is this: Phil tells some stories that many consider of questionable veracity. People usually tell lies to make themselves look good, or cover up for misbehavior. Phil’s stories don’t make him look better, and most of them are about misbehavior.
Did I investigate Phil’s stories? Damn right. So did the United States Secret Service, the US Postal Inspection Service, and other branches of our wise Federal Government along with the investigators for Federal Kemper Insurance who paid out big bucks to Phil’s brother when Phil vanished in the cold waters off Lopez Island, Washington.
What did they find out? They found out that Phil lied to them about his name (Harold Stegeman), his origin, and his upbringing. Aside from concealing his real identity, everything else was 100% accurate and correct. The Richard Kollister mentioned in the following report is NOT another alias for Phil Champagne. They are not the same person, despite both men using the alias “Harold Stegeman.”
If you think MAN OVERBOARD is a pack of lies, you are correct – but all the lies are 100% true.