Don Lowry And The Lonely Hearts Con Job

“Who knows what true happiness is? Not the conventional word but the naked terror. To the lonely themselves, it wears a mask. The most miserable outcast hugs some memory or some illusion.” —Joseph Conrad, “Under Western Eyes”

In A Nutshell

Don Lowry was a con artist with a pretty despicable plan. He’d create a fake pen pal service, pose as a series of beautiful women, and write romantic letters to lonely men in exchange for cold hard cash. But when Lowry was finally arrested, many of his victims came to his defense, testifying on his behalf at trial.

The Whole Bushel

Don Lowry was a pretty sleazy character. Like most con artists, he preyed on the lonely and the vulnerable. But unlike his criminal peers, when Don was finally busted for his crimes, his victims actually came to his defense. Why would anyone stick up for the guy who conned them out of thousands of dollars? Well, if you ask Don, it’s because he was providing a valuable service. He was making people happy.

The bizarre Lonely Hearts con job got started after Don wrote a travel guide called Mexico, Bachelor’s Paradise. At first, the book was a major flop. Nobody was interested in Don’s advice on living it up below the border. But when Don republished the book under a pseudonym—a female pseudonym—it sold like hotcakes. Don realized there were a whole lot of lonely guys out there who were interested in hearing what women had to say about romance. And that’s when he came up with the Angels.

The idea was pretty simple. Don would create a magazine full of stock photos of attractive models. He’d then mail these catalogs out to single men. When his prospective marks opened up the magazines, they’d find pages full of women looking for a pen pal. And each woman went by the nickname “Angel.” There was Angel Pamela, Angel Linda, Angel Kristina, etc. Some were sweet, some were raunchy, and all wanted someone to write to.

Needless to say, quite a few men took the bait. They’d send the Angel of their choice a letter, and Don would write back. He’d create fictional backstories for his Angels, write about their daily lives, and most importantly, butter up his victims. Of course, after a few letters, the Angel would ask for a bit of money to pay for paper and ink. After all, letter writing is a pretty expensive hobby.

And for the most part, the men gladly forked over their change.

Eventually, Don decided to expand his little scheme, and that’s when things got crazy. Don came up with an incredibly elaborate story about a fictional paradise called Chonda-Za. This was where all the Angels lived, frolicking about in various stages of undress. According to Don, the Angels were all running from troubled pasts and abusive boyfriends. They were at peace in Chonda-Za, cared for by the saintly and magical Mother Maria (who was actually Don’s wife, Esther).

The Angels were at peace in Chonda-Za, but they needed support to keep the place running. If the “Knights of Chonda-Za” would only send more cash, one day they could come to live at Chonda-Za where the beautiful (and naked) Angels would take care of them forever.

Sure, it sounds absolutely ridiculous, but over 30,000 men in the US, Mexico, and Canada fell for the scheme. Between 1982 and 1985, Don racked up over $4.5 million in donations which he used to open his own publishing office (where he mass-produced the Angel letters), hire employees, and buy some pretty snazzy cars. He also started selling Angel coffee mugs, Angel pillows, and recordings of the Angels laughing and flirting. A few of Don’s employees posed for photos and lent their voices to his audio cassettes. Occasionally, Don would even hold “Gatherings” where his best victims would get to meet these “actual” Angels.

Of course, all good con jobs must come to an end. Don got a little too greedy for his own good when one his employees got a little drunk, crashed into a tree, and wound up in the hospital. This particular employee was the woman who posed for photos as Angel Susan, and Don could smell a golden opportunity.

He took pictures of her injuries and mailed the snapshots to his 30,000 victims. He explained how Angel Susan had been struck by a drunk driver and needed help. Of course, when the money poured in, he didn’t use any of that cash to pay for the woman’s medical bills.

Understandably ticked off, the woman went to the police and exposed Don as a crook. Soon, Don, his wife, and an employee named Pamela St. Charles (who’d posed as Angel Pamela) were charged with mail fraud, conspiracy, and money laundering. When the so-called “Knights of Chonda-Za” heard about the fraud, many of them showed up at Don’s trial. A few even testified on his behalf, claiming that his letters had improved their lonely lives.

Despite their testimony, Don was sentenced to 10 years behind bars. Eventually, the con man passed away in 2014, but before he kicked the proverbial bucket, he shared his only regret with NPR reporter Shankar Vedantam. Did Don feel sorry for bilking lonely men of all their money? Did he regret leading on so many poor souls? No, not really.

According to Don, “I think I did something very wrong. I suppose I made it a little bit too real.”

Show Me The Proof

NY Times: Thousands of Men Bilked In Lonely Hearts Scheme
Chicago Tribune: Knights of Chonda-za
This American Life: The Heart Wants What It Wants

  • Karen Glammeyer Medcoff

    glad that fucktard is dead. I was a victim of one of his “victims”

    • Jesus Diaz

      Do you have any of the materials they sent? Do you think you could upload it?

      • Karen Glammeyer Medcoff

        Oh god no. The minute I turned 18 I got the hell out of there and only laid eyes on him twice before he died 6 years ago. I didn’t even have a funeral for him.

        • Jesus Diaz

          I’m terribly sorry. I hope things are better for you now

          • Karen Glammeyer Medcoff

            Oh yes. I actually sleep now that has died

      • Alyson Doneau

        I continue to pray that someday, somebody, somewhere, will care to know and write about only what is true.

        • Jesus Diaz

          I’d certainly be willing to take your side of the story if you care to share. I did feel like they left a lot of unanswered questions

          • Alyson Doneau

            I am Pamala from the stories, all of them. Not one story has ever been accurate or truthful since the nightmare began on April 8, 1985 for me. I have no trust for the media as I’ve been manipulated and lied to by them many times. People Magazine, Geraldo, Current Affair, Chicago Tribune, New York Times, London Times, Associated Press and so many more…every story was false. Every news report was false, and I have since learned how it begins to get out of control – that truth is lost, once one inaccurate story reaches the Associated Press. Perhaps truth about who I refer to as “bad man,” Don from the stories, but no truth at all about me. That organization was founded in 1965, two years after I was born, yet, not one person has ever cared to do the math. I have seen national and international stories which indicate that I was involved with this organization, some have stated since the beginning and some have stated since 1974, again impossible, as I was age 13 and had not even met bad man. Nearly all of the stories refer to me as one of the “angels,” which is completely false. The “angel” part of this scam was disbanded immediately after the investigation began, and that information is very easy to discover. I did not even meet “bad man” until April 8, 1985. The investigation into his business began in early May of 1986, barely a year after I met him. The story on ‘This American Life’ and later NPR was designed for the entertainment of others. While what Jesse “believed” may have been true to him, it was all brand new to me. More than that, the words Jesse spoke, although I feel he may have been “led,” were hurtful to me. From any moments I can remember at all about my trial, I believed every person who came in support of me, came for the right reasons. The right reasons to me can only be in the interest of truth and justice, not as Jesse described. I feel victimized now, in some ways, even by those who were there “in support.” Perhaps they didn’t support me for reasons of truth and justice. That they may have been there for reasons as Jesse described hurts me deeply, because that is disingenuous behavior. All the media ever cared about was the salacious story; a story not involving me at all. I was never an “angel,” nor was I ever involved at all with the Church of Love. I had no knowledge of this organization, as the company I knew was Lydian Manor Printers. Their parent company was Col International; however, all I knew is that the word “Col” meant something in Spanish having to do with nature, or at least it is what I was told. Not one media source has cared to learn the truth. When I shared truth with the young journalist from ‘This American Life,’ I believed foolishly again that somebody was finally going to publish truth. To that point, I knew nothing about them. I wish I did, however, that would not have kept them from destroying me, once again. I “bled” pages of truth to the journalist responsible for this story. Not one of my words, not one bit of truth, made it to this story. It was all shared on LinkedIn, and I still have those words. Those words shared and that they were never cared about is a stark reminder of how the media operates. When I tried to tell people on the social media pages, the truth, I was blocked. The truth does not match their agenda, nor is it “entertaining.” The truth is very difficult for any person to hear. In life, I have learned that many people turn their backs to truth, especially when it is frightening or when it is something so closely resembling circumstances which could happen to them, or their sons and daughters. For any time I have even tried to reveal truth, I have been blocked in some way. My blog, which was my only true healing journey, my only way to release pain, had all search results removed. Unless any person would know it’s URL, they would never find any of the truth. Google was petitioned to remove search results. Even now, in writing this, it is difficult, and it too, may be removed at some point. I don’t even know what this site is – it’s just one of those days I hurt inside and sometimes I search for more answers. Usually what I find instead is a reason to hurt even more, like there will never be a time at which all the inner pain may be released. It feels as I will never truly be emotionally free. It is why I constantly must ask God, “who am I supposed to be?” I do not expect you or anybody to understand – it’s just how it feels inside.
            All that was said and so much more was truth about “bad man.” He was very evil and hurt many people. I was his biggest victim, not his assistant, not an accomplice, just his victim. That I spent nearly every day with him, for business unrelated to any of this, placed me in constant danger. I learned years later information which makes me know I deserved protection from him. I met him at age 21, right after escaping from a literal attic closet in which I mostly lived, after being locked in there and abused by my husband. I was suicidal the day I met “bad man.” I guess he saved me in some ways, because I lived, but the truth is, I walked right through a calamitous door on that day, April 8, 1985. I was the perfect target for him. Young, hurting, abused, alone, suicidal, depressed…he and his family became as the first family I had ever known. His son became my best friend and I was invited each Friday to their “family night,” a time at which they communicated about their week and ate dinner together. It was only a doorway to more abuse and permanent harm done to me, I just didn’t know it at the time. I was not protected by those whose job it was to keep me safe from a very evil man. The women who were part of the scandal; the ones who posed nude for photographs; the ones who prostituted themselves – they were protected. Every employee (over 30 of them), and especially those involved with the scheme for many years – most were given immunity in exchange for their testimony. Me? My life was threatened by the evil man and I was forced to be represented at trial by the same attorney he had. I would not speak to the FBI, nor the officer who wanted bad man behind bars. I wouldn’t, because I was terrified of them. Perhaps had they tried to approach me using a female investigator, one with knowledge of dealing with abused women…I keep wondering why they did not try. Why did they not help me? I was very mentally sick at the time and it has taken many years for me to even be able to speak about it without falling apart, but my mental health and medical records were sealed from view by the court. Because I was not protected, even after conviction, the door was left wide open for bad man to kidnap me at gunpoint and take me out of the country. I was raped multiple times by him and harmed in other ways too despicable to write about, or even think about. It hurts inside because, once again, rather than protect me from irreversible damage, I was made available to bad man so that he could take me far away and hurt me.
            I only want to heal and for one time to feel as a normal person- somebody who is safe and free. Instead, I must continue to suffer, while others are very entertained. I promise you, I never read any story written about another human being without at least wondering if the truth is contained in those words. I feel sad every day for all that is so wrong in society. I hurt for those who hurt. I hurt for those people who feel trapped in abuse; those who feel as life has no meaning. I hurt even for those who are entertained by the painful realities of others. To be so, must mean something in their own life just doesn’t feel right. I am sorry to ramble. Again, it is just one of those common days that end similarly…that I would try to sleep, knowing I will never truly be “heard.” But I genuinely thank you to respond. By doing so, and though old wounds open, I released some pain through only these words.

  • Alyson Doneau

    When will anybody care to know the truth? When will anybody even wonder what I, (Pamala), endured at the hands of a very evil man – Don Lowry? When will anybody care how much I suffered then and still suffer? There is a great deal more to this story, and instead of caring to publish the truth, the media continues to focus on what is salacious. Even ‘This American Life’ misrepresented this story after being presented with the truth. When they were confronted with the damage they had inflicted upon an innocent woman, they did not care. The source for their story, as has been the case for over three decades, was only a series of false newspaper articles. All they sought from me (Pamala), was the opportunity to “ambush” concerning letters I was not even aware existed. I continue to pray that someday, somebody, somewhere, will care to know and write about only what is true.

    • Susanna

      You say you were never an angel who posed for any photographs. How did the men get pictures of you? You want people to know you were a victim, but why did you try to start your own business of sending out letters asking for money?

      • Susanna

        You were not his “biggest victim,” you chose to be there with him because you thought you were going to benefit monetarily. No one forced you to be around him. You even said in your own words in the Current Affair video clip that you intended to keep your “dream” alive by continuing to send out letters asking for money through the mail.

  • Xan Xan
  • Xan Xan
  • Angry Tom

    This article was plagiarized from the November 3, 2015 episode of Hidden Brain on NPR.