Presumption of Innocence, Part One

It was just supposed to be enchiladas. A nice, quiet lunch in a sleepy little backwoods town with a friend. And as I drove the sixty miles to Parsons, Tennessee, thoughts of chips and salsa wet my pallet. Little did I know that in a few precious moments, the story of a lifetime would begin to unfold.

When I arrived at the Mexican restaurant, my friend greeted me with an embarrassed smile and immediately blurted out the reason, “Would you mind terribly that I overbooked? I’d forgotten I made plans with two other friends. I thought we could all have lunch together.”

Knowing it would be the chance to meet new people, I simply replied, “the more, the merrier.”

Moments later the two women arrived and after ordering, we began to chat. One is retired and the other is a financial planner. Innocent, ordinary ladies who would never be involved in anything illegal… until Virginia.

It appears the saying, “Virginia is for lovers” does not apply to a former resident of this town so tiny, it’s not even on the map. If Virginia Volner was ever suspected of a crime,

she would be presumed innocent just by her looks. Well into her sixties, she was America’s grandma, even down to the neat Pentecostal bun she wore her hair in. Once married to a preacher, she gave all appearances of a dutiful Christian wife and role model. But things are never quite as they seem. And when she solicited the help of Penny’s friend, Ruth, things went from friendly to dangerous.

Since Ruth was a financial planner, she was just the professional Virginia desperately needed, particularly since she was inheriting billions of dollars. There was lots of fees to pay, red tape to cut through and it was imperative it be done the right way. She would not be able to navigate the maze alone and needed many people to get through it.

Or so she said.

Virginia had already talked several people into giving up their hard earned money to pay the inheritance fees in exchange for a million dollars once the inheritance came through.

She regularly traveled to Kentucky and Illinois, rented adjoining hotel rooms and set up shop. Someone would preset appointments then Virginia would come in, posing either as a counselor or a psychic. Victims waited in one room and met with her in the adjoining room. She convinced them their lives would be better if they would just cough up their life savings to her, in this risk-free loan of sorts. In return, would be paid millions for their trouble. She just needed their money immediately and in cash.

Perhaps she got tired of traveling. Or maybe working out of hotel rooms became a drag but one day Virginia decided to work from home in rural Tennessee and solicited Ruth’s help. She needed someone with presumed authority and savvy to contact her victims and convince them that all was on the up and up. There was just one problem. Ruth was no ordinary professional and was not to be duped.

Ruth knows the laws, knows the ins and outs of inheritances and became suspicious from the start, so much so she approached her friend with her concerns. Virginia was renting a room in Penny’s home. Surely, she would have noticed if something strange or illegal was going on under her own roof.

But it wasn’t.

Still, Ruth convinced Penny that something wasn’t right. Her story did not ring true. Though she could not put her finger on it, improprieties were occurring and they should do something about it. They put on disguises and decided to sleuth it out.

Two ordinary women in a one-horse town in rural Tennessee set out to crack one of the biggest scams our nation has ever known, armed with nothing but wigs, determination and guts.

Come back tomorrow to read part two of Presumed Innocent.